Every night my daughter grabs my face and says “Nigh Nigh.” She gives me two kisses, one on the lips and one on my forehead. It is impossible to explain the amount of love I feel in that moment, really every moment, with her. She does this because since the day she was born I have smothered her with kisses.
I have never felt ashamed or self-conscious of the kisses that I give my daughter. It has always felt very natural and appropriate. In fact, I never even thought about it. But what if I had a son? Would I feel differently?
You’re a faggot!
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in elementary school, maybe like 1st or 2nd grade, as my Dad was dropping me and my brother off at school I gave him a kiss bye. One of my classmates, we’ll call him Sean, saw and used it to roast me. I remember coming back at him and hitting him, just like a real man would.
I don’t remember those particular details as much as I remember talking to my Dad that night and telling him I didn’t want to give him kisses goodbye anymore. He told me (and my brother since we had bunk beds) that Sean was wrong and that I didn’t need to feel bad or ashamed of it. Still the lesson was taught. I learned that day that boys don’t kiss other boys, even their Dads.
I continued to learn the twisted lessons of patriarchy and masculinity. I learned that the best way to prove myself a man was through closed fists. I learned that real men don’t cry. I learned that when threatened or made to feel uncomfortable by another man the best defense is to attack his manhood by calling him a “bitch” or “fag.”I learned that the most valuable thing we can have is a woman willing to have sex with us. I learned all those lessons. I embraced all those lessons. It got to the point that when people talked about my “short man’s complex” I felt a sense of pride. I wasn’t nobody’s punk. The unlearning has been a journey.
“Yea you wouldn’t be like that if you had a boy.”
The words felt like a knife slicing through my soul. Would I really not be as loving and affectionate to my son as I am to Zoe?
The question stayed with me.
The truth is I’m not sure I would have been. Would I be as quick to turn into the “kiss monster?” Would I have been so willing to use skin to skin to bond? When Zoe hurts herself I pick her up and tell her it’s ok and that I know it hurts. I’ve never told her she needs to be tough, would I tell my son to toughen up? I don’t know. What I do know, now, is if we decide to have another baby, and it’s a boy, I will be.
I knew that being a father would change my life. I knew it would change me as a person. I was prepared to be more responsible. I was prepared to be more tired. I was prepared to be more worried. What I wasn’t prepared for was my daughter teaching me to be a better man.
Seeing her reflect the unfiltered love I have shown her has been a mirror for my own internalized patriarchy. I don’t want those parts of me anymore. I don’t want to be so afraid of being called soft that I can’t acknowledge pain. I don’t want to become so desensitized to that pain that I can’t recognize its violence in my own actions. I don’t want to be this far from humanity. I don’t want to be this far away from god. I want to love like my daughter loves. I want to heal. I want you to heal too.