I’m all about Girl Power, y’all. I’m the hairiest feminist in Piedmont North Carolina, unofficially. That I’ve championed the cause with three girls of my own is not surprising.
But what if I’d had a boy?
His name would have been Tyson. Or Kyle. Or Hudson. He’d have carried on the name, but what else? What expectation? The first and every time he stomped around like a dinosaur in the super market, or snagged a pinch of bacon bits with his bare hands in the buffet line, or made unfortunate noises at the dinner table, he’d be labeled – well, stamped – as unmistakably, hysterically, pathetically Eli Junior.
This is just the way it would have gone. We inherit things, we men. Me? There’s a skill set and a range of expectation and a persona that I established somewhere along the same timeline as, um, I began KINDERGARTEN, that has been as easy to shake as onion breath. Not fair, but true.
There’s a lot of pressure in raising a boy, I gather. From reading. TV. Observation.
Grace can play with Matchbox cars. Marie can tug her Red Sox cap on tightly, and swing for the fences. Elise can rear back and fire a perfect spiral, right on the money.
But if Tyson or Kyle should dress up a Barbie or craft with mom or wear anything pink …
It’s a double-standard, I know. And if I’d had three boys – or even two, or even one – perhaps I wouldn’t have these comments on my columns, lauding my attitude and approach as a father.
How would I handle it?
Would I be that dad/coach who chastises his son when he lets Elise rip a shot past him into the goal? Would I be the father who shakes his head when Marie again fakes his boy out with a little shake-and-bake? Would I be gracious and acknowledge a parity among sexes, teach my boy that he should feel no shame in losing to a girl, that he should give her his best and see how it plays out?
What began as a cute display became more tenuous with every score. You see, that was usually someone’s son getting schooled. Another man’s boy getting burned. A nephew. A grandson.
So the chants began.
Get IN FRONT of her!” moms and dads bellowed.
SHE’S JUST A GIRL!”
I’m usually stellar at muting the parents’ side of the field. But I heard it. I saw boys grit their teeth and take aim. I saw her jersey tugged, her feet taken out from under her. I wondered what I should do.
Then, she got up. She giggled at halftime, asking me, “did you hear that lady, daddy?”, as she covered her mouth in embarrassment. The boys on her team stuck up for her.
Then, the tide turned.
Maybe they saw the enthusiasm, the spirit, the refusal to consider gender when she played. That she just cared about the color of the shirts.
Those moms began to see themselves in those ribbons in her hair, in that expressive face that would scowl at an opponent, then smile at him if she missed a shot.
“C’mon Grace!” I began to hear, even from opposing moms. “Don’t take that from him!”
I like to think that if it were my boy takin’ the schooling from a kid like Grace … I’d show a little grace, too.