How To Explain DADT to a 4-year-old

This morning, in response to a story on NPR, Ruby asked me what “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” means. Never one to shy away from an opportunity to explain extraordinarily complicated issues to a young child, I dove right in…

First I started by explaining that the people in the army and navy don’t have as many rights as we do. For example, if I wanted to quit my job, I could do that any time I wanted. But people in the military aren’t allowed to quit. And if my boss told me that I had to move to Kansas, I could just say no. But in the military, if your boss tells you to move to Kansas, you have to do it. Ruby asked why people weren’t allowed to quit, and I said it’s because sometimes people in the military have to do really difficult things, and that too many people would want to quit. “Couldn’t they let just one person quit?” she asked.

Okay, now that we’ve established that people in the military have fewer rights I started explaining about love. I said there are some people who love other people who are the same sex as them. I said my friend Justin at work is married to a man and he only loves men. And I told her that I only love women. I asked her what kind of people she thought she would love, and she said she’d want to marry a man — not surprising given her age, gender, and that I was in the car with her. 🙂

Then I gave her some examples of people she knows who love both men and women — maybe that’s the kind of person she is? And she immediately said that *that* is how she is. She loves both.

Note that through all of this I wasn’t using any labels: no “gay”, “straight”, “bisexual”, “homosexual”. Those are shortcuts that are handy when talking with adults, but I think they’re too rigid to use when introducing this kind of a concept to a child — especially when I’m framing the conversation in terms of the individuals you love.

Okay, next step was to talk about where love comes from. I told Ruby: “love isn’t something you choose. It comes from deep inside you and it just makes you love someone. Do you think you could choose to not love Mama?” She said no, of course. “And do you remember when you started to love Mama? No, it was just there and it happened without you thinking about it. You didn’t choose it — it just happened”.

Moving on, I told her that some people don’t like it when a man loves a man or a woman loves a woman. I told her it makes them feel weird or uncomfortable or angry, or that it isn’t something they’re used to. And I told her that older people are more likely to feel this way, and that people in charge of the military are older and so they think a man loving a man is strange and don’t like it.

Finally, tying everything together, I explained that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” means that if you’re in the military, it’s okay for a man to love a man or a woman to love a woman, as long as it’s a secret. But if they find out about it, then they’ll fire you. And that’s bad because the people who are getting fired really love their jobs.

I told Ruby that all of my friends and just about everybody I know thinks that it’s okay for a man to love a man or a woman to love a woman, and that we think “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a bad idea. But there are people in other parts of the country who disagree, and sometimes it takes a long time for the country to change. I said sometimes, this country changes too slowly.

“But Papa,” she said, “it just changed to fall yesterday!”

Offbeat Papa

Welcome, Offbeat Mama readers!

Today I was the featured DILF at OffbeatMama.com: http://offbeatmama.com/2010/09/single-dads-are-extra-dilfy.

Maybe with all the attention I’ll get around to adding some new entries to this here little blog.

Princess Party Redux

The Princess Party has come and gone and Ruby is none the worse for wear.  Despite the omnipresent generic princess decor, Ruby has yet to ask to be saved from any dragons (although she does need rescuing from the occasional uncooperative button).

Pretty Passive Posing Princess Pastry<br>(yes, that's a cake)

Pretty Passive Posing Princess Pink Pastry (yes, that's a cake)

Ruby chose to dress in her bee costume (her other option was ladybug) and she was the only non-princess among the half-dozen girls.  But crinoline and satin bodices notwithstanding, it was about what you’d expect from a gather of three- and four-year-olds: chasing, screaming, stickers, face painting, and juice boxes.  Ruby made the most of being a bee among the lilies of the kingdom and spent her time chasing everyone around.  She didn’t seem to mind that she was the only non-princess among the girls.  The fact is, I really wasn’t worried so much what she would think — it was the parents I was worried about, and what they’d think of the dork who brought his kid in a bee costume to the princess party.

Which brings us to the best part of the whole experience: spending time with Ruby’s classmates and their parents.  I only get to make a very brief appearance at Ruby’s school once per week before rushing off to catch a bus, and so I don’t get much opportunity to chat with the parents or get to know them or their kids.  But Ruby is going to be spending lots of time around these people for the next few years, and she’ll be invited to more birthdays, playdates, and the like.  It was good for me to have some pleasant conversations with several of the parents and get to know them a bit better.

The Bee Gets A Bee

The Bee Gets A Bee

p.s. The decor (princess decals strewn about the house) and a Princess Pageant Castle Cake did confirm my earlier conception of the Princess meme (or at least the way it is marketed).  These ladies do nothing but stand around — can’t one of the them hop on a horse, pull out a book, or even, you know, walk somewhere?  Even a model’s strut would be a step up from the static subvervient pose these princesses present.

Pretty Pretty Papa Princess

It was bound to happy sooner or later. Try as we might to shield Ruby from the infectious outside world, we knew that eventually she’d be exposed.  Sending her to preschool only increased the odds, and now, finally, it has happened:  she’s been invited to a Disney Princess Birthday Party.

original by flickr user PinkMoose

original by flickr user PinkMoose

Kate and I both anti-princessification, for reasons I’ve mentioned before. Looking at the cheap invitation (printed at home, not Officially Licensed Merchandise) a whole new objection sprang to mind: they’re posers.  Literally — all they do is pose.  They’ve been stripped of their original, entertaining and worthwhile myths and stand inactive and vacant. Instead of watching their actions, you should just watch them…  as they do nothing.  Added to our original objections over the cultural appropriation, incessant marketing, pressure to conform, and rigid gender roles and segregation, and you can guess how we want to RSVP.

But ultimately, we decided she should go. These are friends she sees at school every day and it’s good for her to also see them outside of school.  And she’ll be exposed to the princess culture whether we like it or not, so at least one of us can go along and frame her experience in ways that we think are important.

Still, we’re not going down without a fight.  And so, gender roles and pretty princesses be damned, it is I who will be escorting Ruby to the Disney Princess Birthday Party. I won’t be surprised if I’m the only non-related adult male in attendance.

Actually, I’m kind of looking forward to it. Ruby is just starting to learn how to play with (instead of alongside) her peers and it’s a pleasure to watch her social skills develop. I don’t get many opportunities to watch her play with her schoolmates — complete strangers (to me) she’s developed complex personal relationships with. It’s fascinating to see her trying to flex her leadership muscles, or be polite and kind, or be totally socially oblivious.

I’m sure Ruby will have fun, and I’ll do my best around the grown-ups, and this little foray into the world of princesses will soon be forgotten amidst our summer of swimming and building and jumping and thinking.

Oh, and the invitation encourages children to wear costumes. Do you think Princess Ladybug will work?

Courtesy Among Men

Every weekday morning, around 9:30am, most of the office gets up and walks down the block to our usual espresso joint for coffee and tea. We pass through several doors on the way out, and again on the way in, and being the mature, courteous men that we are, we’ll hold the doors open for each other. The first person to reach the door will generally hold it for the rest of us to walk through.

You can imagine, then, what was passing through my mind yesterday morning as we filed out the building, nodding our thanks to the door-holder, after reading this about Ken Hutcherson, pastor at Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland:

[One Sunday] Hutcherson was preaching on gender roles. During his sermon, Hutcherson stated, “God hates soft men” and “God hates effeminate men.” Hutcherson went on to say, “If I was in a drugstore and some guy opened the door for me, I’d rip his arm off and beat him with the wet end.”

Hutcherson’s arrogant, opportunistic bigotry is well-known and I’m saddened, but not surprised, by his hatefulness. What is shocking, though, is that he preaches such violence at church. His message is so counter to my understanding of Christianity it borders on blasphemy. How is he tolerated in the Christian community?

I’m an atheist. I have thought long and hard, and with as much humility as I can muster, about religion and its place in my life and the world around me. I’ve also considered the place of religion in the lives of my family and friends. I have been inspired by the passionate joy of my friends’ faith and the quiet humility of their service. My views about faith are continually challenged by the compassionate, intelligent beliefs of my family and friends. Their diverse beliefs motivate my quest for understanding, keep me asking questions, and keep me humble.

When I hear about someone like Ken Hutcherson, though, I’m filled with smug righteousness. Thank god I’m not a believer like him.

More on Princesses

Kate’s Mom sent us a very good article from the NYT about the Princess trend. I expect to be dealing with a lot of the issues raised in the article over the next few years.

This paragraph from the article sums up my objections pretty handily:

“Playing princess is not the issue,” argues Lyn Mikel Brown, an author, with Sharon Lamb, of “Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers’ Schemes.” “The issue is 25,000 Princess products,” says Brown, a professor of education and human development at Colby College. “When one thing is so dominant, then it’s no longer a choice: it’s a mandate, cannibalizing all other forms of play. There’s the illusion of more choices out there for girls, but if you look around, you’ll see their choices are steadily narrowing.”

Don’t Think Pink

We’re anti-pink in our household. It’s not just that we don’t like the color (which, for the most part, we don’t). It’s also one front in our battle against the princessification of our daughter. We want Ruby to be an independent thinker. We want her to experience every color of the rainbow, and then decide for herself which one is her favorite.
DaddyTypes posted about this today:

The answer: far less than 2.5 years.

The question: how long before your soul is crushed and your kid’s soul is stolen by the whole pink-blue steamroller?

Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s worth resisting, and truth be told, we decided to let some pink into the kid’s life early on, rather than burn 75% of the gifts she receives. It’s a losing battle, but it’s not like you can just stop fighting and turn your kid over to the Disney Princess-o-lizer.

The source of the frilly pink-for-girls hegemony in our culture is still a mystery, and frankly, the first couple of waves of feminism haven’t really helped clear things up–or stem the tide, for that matter. My money’s on, well, money. Somewhere behind and under and at the root of it all is gender-coded capitalism, with products and marketing and design that are designed to reinforce gender-specific roles, but only/really as a means to a sale-making end.

Or turned around, if people didn’t buy more pink Pottery Barn kitchen toys, Pottery Barn wouldn’t be making and flogging it. If Toys for Boys and Toys for Girls weren’t a more profitable segmentation strategy, someone in the increasingly desperate toy industry would surely figure out a better way to separate you from your money.

With respect to the last paragraph, above, I think the inverse is also true: people wouldn’t be buying it if Pottery Barn wasn’t making it. The gentrification of the American shopping experience means that every mall has more-or-less the same assortment of national chains. To maximize profit, each of those chains attempts to find the fewest number of things with the broadest appeal to their designated market segment. Pink sells, so they sell pink. People buy pink because pink is for sale.

Stores also sell pink because it is a safe, easy choice. Is green a girly color? How light can the shade of green be before it’s effeminate? Can girls wear brown? Beige? By dividing everything into blue and pink, stores make our shopping experience quick and painless.

The best way we’ve found to spare our eyeballs from pink overload is to avoid shopping at the mall altogether. Local destinations such as our favorite used clothes and toys store and the Cotton Caboodle outlet store ensure that Ruby’s sense of style is preserved intact for her to enjoy when she’s older.

Hope for the Princesses

Ruby and I went down to the park yesterday.  She rolled around on a blanket while I kicked a soccer ball around the field.  After I’d been there a while, a few girls (maybe 10 or 11 years old?) came by and started playing a game.  Guess what they were playing?

FOOTBALL.

There were no boys or parents to impress or goad them on.  Just three girls who figured the best way they could spend a sunny fall afternoon was tossing the pigskin around the park.  Awesome.

A Man and His Baby

An unnamed poster had this to say on the parentingideas.org blog:

Somehow some basic human instinct suggests that ‘man’ is neither capable nor fit to look after a baby! This instinct immediately raises the hairs on the backs of people’s necks, images of disaster loom in their minds and unseen forces push them forwards to offer help. They do not see a happy and carefree father pushing his laughing baby along in the pram, they see a harried father who is at his wits end and who is desperate for help. They see a tormented and unwilling baby, screaming and kicking in desperation, a father who is pulling his hair out and desperately looking around for somebody to just show him what to do.

He goes on to relate his experience at the grocery store and the department store.  The general message is that people assume he doesn’t know what he’s doing, step in without any knowledge of what his baby really wants, and make things worse.

I’m happy to say that I haven’t experienced much of what this guy refers to.  Perhaps it’s a cultural thing; he’s in the UK, where I believe stereotypes and class are much more influential than out here in hippy-dippy Seattle.  In fact, my experiences are generally the opposite.  When Ruby was about a month old I had one woman at the deli ask if I was “filling in for Mom today”, and that’s about all I can recall.

In fact, I think I’ve received the most friction from the people who are closest to me (not Kate, but others among my family and friends who will go unnamed).  They make little jokes and asides about how something I’ve done has made the baby cry, or I’m not playing with her in the right way, or there’s some developmental milestone that she hasn’t reached yet and I’m clearly not pushing her hard enough towards it.  The comments aren’t severe or malicious and so don’t warrant a direct response, but taken together they do lead me to fume in private.  And I have a suspicion that I get more of these comments — especially the first two kinds — because I’m a man.

We Are Fabulous

Everywhere we go, people point us out.  At the mall and the market and the grocery store, they stop in their tracks, elbow their friends, smile in our direction, laugh with delight.  Everyone loves us.

ruby-sling.jpg

Actually, since people don’t point and whisper when I’m alone (unless it’s behind my back), I’ll have to give most of the credit to Ruby.  She is a pretty freaking cute baby to begin with, and when she’s riding joey-style in my sling, with just her big head and the odd arm poking out… well, we can’t be beat.

For the most part, I ignore the adoration.  Part of me is just plain anti-social, but most of me wants to send a message.  It is perfectly normal for a ruggedly handsome man to be walking around the grocery store in the middle of the day with an adorable baby.  We are just doing our thing.  We’re not showing off, and this certainly isn’t a rare exception while we give Mom a much-needed day off. This is just our ordinary, fabulous life.

However, and despite my brusque demeanor, let me just say to all our passing fans: I’m glad we make you smile.  I think Ruby’s cute, too, and I can’t stop staring at her either.