As I engage in this work - anti-patriarchal masculine performance - more deeply and with more intention, I am constantly challenging the deeply-rooted notions of what it means to be a 'good man,' and even more: what does modeling that entail?
As my son creates space for me to come along while he grapples with his personal life, I find myself sharing examples of similar situations from my childhood that seem to resonate well - a lot of shit goes on in elementary school. He also remembers a relationship of mine that lasted half of his life and asks questions about that relationship, rightfully so. Since ending that relationship over a year ago, I've been mulling over how to bring other people into his life: is that fair to him? Is it right for me as a parent to have him see me in relationships that aren't with his mom? Is it best to remain single until he's living on his own? A few questions keep coming back to the forefront.
How can I protect his heart? Can I protect his heart?
Do I have control over what happens or how he engages with people I bring around him? I feel like I can at least control who comes around him and be explicit with them about the expectations I have for their interactions. I've done that before and it can get messy because people do what they want, both kids and adults.
When I'm hurt, he will be hurt. Whether or not he know about my pain, he still feels my energy and knows he won't be able to engage with this person who treated him well - let's just assume. Kids know and feel and love us parents so we can only protect so much.
Do I have to wait until I find the one before making the introduction?
I've been spending all year committing to making friends with people I'm attracted to rather than pursuing eating their face, etc. This has given me an opportunity to re-imagine this notion of having to be in a serious relationship before introducing someone to my son.
What I'm thinking about is how awesome it may be for a child to see his parent navigating the complexities of romantic relationships - not in such a way that it is over-informing the child of the parent's personal life but such that it allows for some great examples for a child - around coping with heartache and longing and still maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
While befriending really attractive people this year, I've also sought out examples of real life love that is healthy and not manufactured by Disney. I've had no luck. If we had that somewhere, I don't know how I'd feel about modeling this necessarily but we are here and now and it is possible that there is power in me doing it either way.
How nice would it be for my son to see me healing from difficult relationships and moving into new relationships?
My son is bound to face a bunch of crap from people he is attracted to and in those moments, what resources will he be able to pull from? I wonder a lot about men who I interface with - and myself even - who are just over being vulnerable with people they are attracted to. This could be why I'm just on this whole friend kick.
"It is too risky, it isn't worth the heartache, it isn't worth it."
I think this narrative could come from just not knowing what to do. Feeling stunted by the trauma. It is too risky, it isn't worth the heartache, it isn't worth it. I can't be mad at that reaction but I do wonder what it would be like if we had examples of processing these emotions and working through them to come out the other side healthy and whole and open to loving again in even stronger and more visceral ways.
What is the potential impact that seeing his dad perform healthy romantic love can have on my son?
He comes to me with questions about relationships. I know that my actions are much more important to him. Since he was an infant he has done things that I do before doing things that I say I do before doing things that I say he should do.
I don't smoke because I don't [like smoking and don't] want him to like smoking.
Same with alcohol.
Same with fast food.
Same with soda.
Same with violent video games [in front of him, (I'll save this for another post)].
Isn't first grade too soon in his life to be thinking about this?!
If I can model all of these really important behaviors that have a significant impact on his physical and mental health, then what am I doing for his emotional health as it relates to relationships with people that he is attracted to? (Note: I believe mental, physical, emotional health are all one but I don't have language to talk about this just yet in this context.)
It would be naive for me to say that at his age he isn't attracted to people. It would be naive to say that he is too young to be attracted to people. It is probably fair to say that my life is more complicated than his so the relationships I enter are a bit more complex but it doesn't remove the overbearing importance that these things have on him and the people (other 6/7 year olds) within his various social communities.
I think we fear our children being individuals and want to own them more than set them up to make their own decisions and have agency in their worlds. I want that. I want him to be able to tell me he feels something and for me to not tell him he is too young to feel that thing. Especially when I remember becoming aware of emotions in my life and being confused by feeling like I was too young. We aren't doing that.