It's OK Not to "Fight Back": Why I Am Teaching My Sons to Embrace Their "Soft" Side

by Opal Stacie

“That’s for girls!”

My five-year-old son said, like I had uttered a curse word or disrespected him in some way. He was having none of it, with the pink-ish pants I placed on the counter to purchase for a spring BBQ we were attending.

For the record, the pants were not pink. They were a salmon color, but his statement still didn’t sit right with me. His statement was confirmation that because he identifies himself as a boy, he would inevitably place limitations on what he can enjoy.

When my oldest son was three, his ability to flip and his natural athleticism had me considering enrolling him into gymnastics. I had hopes of my son being one of the best, even going as far as the Olympics. I pictured a full-ride scholarship and the chance to study at an amazing university whenever I imagined what he could accomplish if he participated in the sport, but his father and uncles saw it as feminine. They insisted that gymnastics would somehow “turn him gay” and he should be playing football instead.

My five-year-old was born with the physique of a footballer—broad shoulders and a large frame. Big boned, as they say. But the truth is, he does not have an aggressive bone in his body. After a minor physical incident with another child, he expressed that he did not strike back because he did not like the idea of hitting his friend. I smiled, my heart was warm. I was proud—my son was thinking at a mature level for his age. Yet his father was disappointed, disgusted even. “Boys are lions! Boys fight back! Boys don’t cry, they get mad and fight!”

Like any parent, I want my son to defend himself if need be, but if he chooses to do so with logic and restraint—rather than conflict and violence—I can see the strength in that too. I won’t encourage him to allow people to take advantage of him, nor will I allow him to avoid confrontation, but I fully embrace the intrinsic inclination he has towards logic and reasoning.

Unfortunately, if you ask most men (including his father), they’ll call his logic “soft” and adamantly disapprove. This has got to change.

If we raise our boys by the virtues of the outdated “boys don’t cry” ideology, they don’t necessarily stop crying. They learn to dislike themselves each time they do. Personally, I don’t like the idea of my child hating who he naturally is on the strength of conformity.

The same goes for raising girls. Girly girls are cute and I adore the color pink, but scolding a little girl who prefers playing with blocks over Barbie dolls is as slippery a slope as encouraging boys to swing first and ask questions last. In my opinion, this kind of teaching does not help children; it stifles their growth and makes their journey to self-discovery muddied with “should be’s” and limits.

I am striving to raise free black boys in a world where their father, uncles, and society at large has a stringent view of the “right way” for them to be a man. The world already has a distorted view of the character of black children. I refuse to allow my boys to accept defeat and conform to those ideas as well.

I’m not a feminist, nor am I trying to be. I’m just a woman who once upon a time, to quote Brene Brown, “traded her authenticity for approval.” I am grateful for the lessons learned along the way and I am compelled to teach my sons to be great, but I cannot do that authentically if I continue to hold on to patriarchal views of who they should be. The “should be’s” and limits I learned as a kid had a hand in the tumultuous experiences that plagued my teenage years and I want different for my sons.

I am not interested in teaching my boys to be the “right” version of a man. I’m more focused on helping them to be the most genuine version of themselves, whatever that may be.

Photo: Shutterstock

Opal Stacie is a freelance writer out of the Miami area. She is the blogger behind Keep up with her on Instagram @thesnapbackmom.

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