I feel like I owe you an apology. Or, maybe, at least an explanation.
Your mom and I have been working really hard to make sure you’ve gotten enough attention over the last few months since Shayna was born and, to be honest, I actually think we’ve done a pretty good job. We’ve each taken you bowling by ourselves a few times, you and I went out for ice cream, your mom has gone swimming with you… I can’t remember everything. My playing with you every morning before I leave for work is somewhere on that list too. There have been times when we’ve been more successful than others, obviously – it’s always hard with a newborn in the house – but I think we’ve been okay overall.
I’ve been thinking about the ways that women are treated in our society a lot lately, especially with regard to parenting. I’ve noticed that I’ve been reading and sharing a lot of articles that have to do with empowering women and girls (or, at least, I feel like I have been). I’m sure that I’ve been taking more notice of these articles because of Shayna. I’ve always taken notice of these kinds of pieces but, since Shayna was born, I’ve found myself even more drawn to material that promotes women’s rights and helps women break through the obstacles Western culture places on them. You’re largely unaware of my social media presence at this point, since you’re four years old and are only starting to learn how to read, but you’ll have to take my word for it.
It’s always been important to me that you grow up respecting women and being aware of the privileges that are available to you as a male. I’ve written about this a few times, usually in terms of situations that arise with professional athletes.1 There are, unfortunately, still so many people in the world who seem to think that women don’t deserve to be able to speak for themselves about their own jobs, their personal space or their bodies. We, as men, need to make sure that we’re being upstanders, rather than bystanders, when issues like this come up.2 That doesn’t necessarily mean fighting women’s battles for them, because that’s not exactly helpful either, but it does mean being available and talking about these issues so that people become more aware of how ingrained some of these views are in our culture.
The “apology” comes up because I feel like I’ve been thinking a lot more about the things that your sister will encounter as she works to find her place in the world than I have about what will come up for you. It’s not that I’m worried about Shayna; at least, I don’t think I’m any more worried about her than any parent would be about their daughter. I do think, however, that I get so wrapped up in thinking about what it’s like to grow up as a girl in our culture that I sometimes forget that you’re going to encounter your own set of challenges.
Boys struggle with body image issues, self-esteem and other social pressures just as girls do, but boys tend to not receive the same type of support in dealing with those issues. It’s not that the support isn’t available; I tend to believe that quality counseling services are considerably more prevalent in most communities than they were even five or ten years ago (there’s even an app for that). The problem is that boys are conditioned to keep their feelings quiet and figure things out on their own, rather than ask for help, so they don’t pursue the help to begin with.3 Even if we won’t know for a few years how most of these issues are affecting you, I should be keeping these things in mind for both you and Shayna. It’s not fair for me to tell myself that you don’t need as much attention because you’re a male; if anything, I should probably be putting even more effort into maintaining open communication with you because you’re going to be getting the message from society that you should be keeping your problems to yourself.
That’s really the reason I’m writing. I want you to remember, as you grow, that there are going to be times when Shayna is going to get more attention than you or it’s going to seem like more focus is being put on her life because she’s a girl. But, even if that’s the case, your mom and I are not forgetting about you. We’re both here for you and we want to help you as much as we can, no matter what challenges come your way. Please keep us in the loop as you get older; we’ll keep asking what’s going on anyway, but we’re going to need you to keep us informed so we can figure out how to help. We hope you’ll always feel like you can trust us to be supportive and honest, no matter what struggles you’re facing.
That’s what we’re here for.
3. This is one of the reasons why girls might be more likely than boys to attempt suicide, but boys are four times more likely to die from suicide. Girls attempt suicide and (hopefully) get the help and attention they need; boys complete the attempt because they don’t believe help is available for them in the first place.↩