In light our current times and all the brave women speaking up and out, sharing their #metoo stories, there is a lot of focus in parenting circles on the importance of raising a girl to understand her power, inner strength, and to help her develop strong, healthy boundaries. Rightfully so. We want the cycle to stop. But as I read these stories, and think of my own #metoo experiences, I can’t help but think of my sons and the responsibility a mother of boys has in creating a better, more just and verdant world. I’m raising three white boys, who before I know it will be grown men, and I take that job seriously.
Here is my top 10 list of what I need my sons to know as they grow into men. If I’ve done my job well, they will take these values into adulthood, and hopefully leave the world a better place.
To My Dear Sons,
Love yourself deeply.
First and foremost, let’s put manhood aside, and talk about your role as a human being—plain and simple. I need you to love yourself with the fervor of a thousand suns. Let me be clear. I’m not talking about self-indulgence or self-absorption. I’m talking about self-acceptance, self-respect, self-motivation, and self-reflection. Do you understand the difference? Be your own best friend, best advocate, and best companion. Everything else comes second to self-love. If you don’t love yourself, you can’t leave the world a better place. That’s a fact.
You are better than no one, and you are as good as anyone.
Never forget this. I’m going to say it again. You are better than no one and as good as anyone.
Every person you meet—the barista, the janitor, the mailman, the doctor, the homeless person on the street—they are all worthy of your time and your respect—equally. Take the time to learn their story. Listen more than you talk. You will be amazed at how much you learn of someone’s story when you simply listen. We all have beauty. Open your eyes and ears to recognize it in those around you.
Of equal importance, I need you to know that you are as good as anyone. You can do anything you set your mind to if you meet the task at-hand with passion and hard work. No one is better than you. No one. Work hard, work with people, and make choices guided by kindness. Life takes grit and heart, my dear, but you have plenty of it. Use it.
Respect the fuck out of women. I’m no fool. I know that when you grow to be a man, you will look at her breasts and thighs. I’m not saying not to be sexual, but please don’t objectify her. She is more than that. Remember that she is not only someone’s daughter, sister, friend…but she is someone. Period. She is her own person…just like you. Treat her accordingly.
And please, be the guy who takes the drunk girl home. That’s right. Take her home, tuck her in bed, and make sure she’s okay. No always means no, and yes sometimes means no.
And in this society so caught up in photo filters and staged selfies, you need to know that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Every BODY has beauty. Every body has strength. A woman’s body, in particular, is miraculous. She can grow life…nourish and feed her baby. Remember, a mother’s arms held you. They were mine. And I will one day hold your grandchild, and these arms that were once so strong will be weaker, but they are still the arms of a mother. Know that if you marry a woman and decide to have kids, her body will change, too. I hope you only find her more beautiful for all she has given. Find beauty in her brain, her love, and her quarks, too.
Find discomfort in your privilege and “man-up.”
Not everyone has it as easy as you, my boys. You are white men. This comes with privilege. It is sad and it is unfair that your privilege is simply born from the color of your skin and your anatomy. Know this. Know that you didn’t earn this privilege you sit in, and please don’t sit comfortably in it. Stand up for your sisters. Fight for people with skin a different color or eyes a different shape than yours. Fight for equal rights for your LGBTQ family, and for those of varying religions.
Being tolerant isn’t enough…not when you have the privilege of a white man. Use your privilege to shake shit up. Stand up and don’t stand down.
Know that we are all one in the same and don’t stop fighting until the world truly understand this. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced this will happen in your lifetime. But maybe it will in your son’s lifetime, or his daughter’s. But it starts with you. Never feel like you are one person and can’t make a difference. You absolutely can.
It’s okay to cry.
We all cry. Respect the fact that you have emotions and that your emotions only make you more alive. Cry when you are sad. Cry when you are happy. Sit in it. These emotions will move through you. You won’t feel sad or happy or angry or vulnerable forever. Emotions make us human. Celebrate your humanity, and don’t apologize for it. When you numb sadness, you also numb happiness and joy, and that is no way to live.
Find true connection.
In the age of social media and texting, please don’t forget to make real, meaningful connection with people. Be the kind of father, friend, husband, boyfriend, boss, colleague that you’d want in your own life. This means connecting with others. Put your phone down. Work can wait. The news can wait. Social media can wait. Enjoy friends. Spend time with those you love. Lose yourself in something fun. Step outside in the dark of night to look at the stars. Feel small. Close your eyes and inhale the air around you. Breathe it out.
If you don’t know honey, honey than you don’t.
This is a line from one of my favorite songs and I find that can be applied to anything, but it is particularly true of love. “If you don’t know honey, honey than you don’t.” Listen to your intuition. It usually doesn’t lead you astray. Your gut is often right when it comes to love, and frankly…life. Don’t let your hormones overpower this. Walk through love with integrity. If she doesn’t make your heart sing, don’t waste her time or yours. Intuition is powerful. Don’t underestimate its accuracy.
Be yourself. Besides, that’s the best version of you.
You will spend a lot of time trying to be something you aren’t as you falter through your childhood and young adulthood. We all try on different hats. But deep down when you sit in those quiet, alone moments, you know who you are. You can hear it in the wind. You can feel it in your chest. Listen. You already know. And while you will falter and fumble along the path, I know you will find your way. Just keep in mind you are at your very best when you are the truest version of you. And if someone doesn’t love you for exactly that, then it very well may be that they simply haven’t discovered how to love themselves. Understanding that not everyone will like you (and that this is okay) is powerful. There is so much freedom in knowing you can’t please everyone, but that you are still of value.
Wealth isn’t about money.
You cannot tell someone’s wealth—both financial and as it relates to happiness—by the car they drive, house they live in, or the brand of their clothes. The millionaire might drive the Camry and the person living paycheck to paycheck may be leasing that Lexus. Don’t try to live up to the expectations of marketers. Be smart with your money. Spend it on things that matter: people, experiences, and giving to your community. And save some, too! True wealth is found in love, not possessions. When you know this, greed cannot get the best of you.
Don’t just walk in someone’s shoes, offer to help them get to their destination. Certainly give back to your community financially, but also volunteer, and practice daily acts of kindness. Give back in small ways. Give back by being kind to the cashier. Give back by helping the woman who dropped her groceries get to her car. Give back by listening to a friend who needs to talk. Give back in everyday moments. When you give, it fills you up, and it fills others up, too.
Kindness is the antidote to fear, my loves. Have the courage to be kind. When you look at the world through a lens of kindness and compassion, you will see good people all around you. You will see people just like you…people who are brave enough to live in kindness and work toward a better world. We need you, boys. Stand tall. You’ve got this!