Thursday, August 8, 2013

Think twice, speak once

Mark 9:7-8 (NIV)

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
Two of my college friends and fraternity brothers are single fathers of young daughters. Both had marriages end in divorce, and are unafraid to discuss via social media the resulting difficulties they face in life and in parenthood. I am routinely amazed at their openness and honesty just as I am heartbroken at the unfairness of it all. They love their children at least as much as I love mine. We all have our mountains to climb, but I often wish I could help shoulder some of their burden.

One friend’s daughter is about the same age as my oldest son. He used to blog about his parenting journey as well, and I found that incredibly beneficial as our offspring were generally in the same state. Even now when he shares proud moments about her growth and budding maturity, I beam with a sort of disconnected sense of pride. She’s not my kid, but she’s kind of like my kid. I’m happy for her dad and for their relationship.

He posted this afternoon about a public encounter, and it smacked me between the eyes. His words:
No, woman at the fabric store. I can’t just ask my wife for help when I get home. I’m sorry that my questions are mundane and beneath you, but when my 9-year-old kid is working on a sewing project, I’m the one around to help her. So just answer my questions or find someone who will quit telling my daughter that her mother will be more help and that it’s a “special day” to get to shop with dad.
Any hopes this was an isolated incident were dashed in the comments that followed when he added:
Pretty standard for single dad time with daughter. People dote on my daughter, comment to me on how nice it is that I spend some time with her as a treat, and then assume I cannot feed, monitor, guide or help her on anything without a woman’s support. It’s almost as much fun as when we go places and the kids interact and the moms with kids scowl at me as if I were going to steal their children and vomit in their purses.
I don’t even know where to start. A former newspaper colleague once explained to me why he gets angry when he hears fellow dads announce they’re “baby-sitting” if mom is away for the night or weekend. It’s called parenting, he expounded, because they’re your own children. If you suggested a mother was baby-sitting her own kids, she might be legally justified in boxing your ears. So why the casual acceptance of the notion dads watch the kids alone only by default?

Frankly, the sexism my friend experienced at the fabric store was insulting enough even if he were married. But the added implications add injury to the mix a few times over. I think now of another couple I’ve known for twenty years who had their first child earlier this year. Career wise, it makes sense for the dad to be the primary at-home parent, though both have jobs. I’m thrilled for them they are able to make this arrangement work, but I shudder to think of the reactions he may be exposed to from people who can’t accept anything other than worn-out, stereotypical, gender-based roles.

His road probably will be easier since the child is a boy. On the many occasions I’m alone with one or all of my boys, I tend to be seen as a regular dad. Aside from my wedding ring I don’t think there’s anything about me visually that indentifies me as a married guy. Every so often someone who thinks they’re being cute makes a remark about me having my hands full. I tend to brush those off since, well, I do have my hands full. But I never say anything similar to another parent because I have no idea if they’d be offended or not my me commenting on their children or whether or not they’re a burden. I have my hands full by choice and I consider the workload a blessing. There are countless people who only wish they had three kids to drag through the grocery story, and I’m not going to disrespect them my acting like I’d rather not have mine around.

Chances are the woman at the fabric store wasn’t trying to be offensive. But clearly her insensitivity struck a nerve, and it’s easy to see why. Speaking to strangers about their children ought to be akin to the carpentry axiom of measuring twice and cutting once. Thinking before speaking would go a long way toward civility in our culture, and I guess I’m here to say one of the things people should think about is there are a great many reasons why one adult may be spending time with one child (of any gender) and it’s best if we all just talk to them like real people instead of try to force them into some preconception of what their roles must be based solely on our own experience.

More simply put: be good to each other. Spread love wherever possible. Consider how something might sound to your listener and what your words might mean to them. Usually this only takes a moment or two, and certainly we all have that much to spare in the name of kindness.

A prayer for August 8:

Lord, help me remember to think before I speak. Remind me how I have a chance to let your kindness show through my words and actions, and also how much damage I can do when I act for my own interests. Let me see those I encounter as someone else’s mother, father, son or daughter. Encourage my humility before you and others. I know you made us all equally, and I am trying hard to treat everyone I encounter with the same respect I’d give my dearest friend. Let me see with your eyes, hear with your ears and love with your heart. Amen.

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