I’m not a religious person but I do appreciate the extra time at this time of year to relax and read for my own interest and priorities at my own pace, rather than squeezing it in at the end of the day after work, kids, responsibilities, preparation for work and just before sleep. So I’ve found and read leisurely through a couple of posts from different corners of my Reader and have some tenuous linking thoughts percolating from them.
Firstly, David Truss’s Girl Power was an interesting read. I didn’t get too far before inversing his words with my thoughts and going off track in my brain.
I’ve always been surrounded by women. I grew up with three sisters, and I have two daughters and a wonderful wife.
I’m the reverse – my household is male dominated, two sons – but my life is hardly testosterone filled. After all, I am a teacher and my working life has always been spent in the gender minority. Yet I barely think of my colleagues in terms of their gender. Certainly not consciously. The leaders I’ve worked under have been an even balance of men and women and even if there was a “boys club” at any of my workplaces, it is highly unlikely that I would invited to be part of it. I don’t think that I am a typical male teacher either, whatever that supposedly looks like. I’ve never felt comfortable with locker room humour, possibly because my poor sporting abilities ensured that I was never really in them growing up. So I suppose, David’s post just got me thinking about our perceptions about gender and how these headsets can affect how we raise the next generation – namely in my case, my two young sons.
The second post that took these ponderings and bounced them around some more came after reading Jose Vilson’s It’s The Hardknock Life. His post succinctly reflects on how his circumstances growing up have affected and shaped him into the person he is today. I mean I know that has happened to us all to some degree but what I found particularly insightful was the razor sharp honing in of affecting factors and the effect of those factors. For example:
But it always annoyed me when dudes broke out with 150$ Jordans and I could barely get the Ewings. While others got a million games for their video game systems, I only had a few. I never had the luxury of going to the latest concert or have any connections to some music artist or celebrity. I never even got to participate in the big events everyone else did like when the NBA All-Star Game came to NYC or any of the comic book conventions my friends went to. The worst part is, at that age, kids are so willing to flaunt their luxuries in the faces of those who have not.
Sometimes, it made me resentful, but more than anything, it helped me build character. It forced me to rethink my finances and become responsible. More than anything, my upbringing made me much more self-reliant. Nowadays, while I’m still very limited in my purchases, I get whatever’s within my means. I’m patient with purchases, and have a better sense of prices.
My own upbringing has certainly manifested itself in the way I conduct my life. Some of the outcomes have been unintended – example, being sent to boarding school at age twelve from a sheltered life on the family farm where Saturdays were work days (not a day for playing footy or tennis with the local kids in the district teams) and Sunday was the day of worship and rest (enforced as only devoted rural Lutherans can) forced me to become resilient, independent and self organised even as my self confidence was being shot to pieces by the bully culture within said boarding house. I feel that my parents abdicated much of their responsibility during my vulnerable teenage years. It’s no wonder I react instinctively whenever someone starts talking about high school cliches – boarding house culture was raising me with male cultural characteristics at its worst. And I wasn’t equipped with the academic talent or the athletic skills that would have earnt me immunity and credibility in that particular environment. I started as the country bumpkin wearing glasses for the first time whose parents naively thought their world view was represented in this school and had to carve out my own unique identity patch based on my creative skills and willingness to be a bit player in other people’s success. I was the one who organised a Boarders vs. Day Scholars football match, the one who invented cartoon games to while away the study periods and Sunday afternoons while others snuck off to meet up with girls or to go on illicit pub crawls. I couldn’t bear to disappoint my parents – but that was all based on what they disapproved of rather than what they expected.
Where are I going with all of this? Well, a deep appreciation of how environments and people can shape the final person has me critically viewing how I tackle my job as father. Although parenting can be a very reactionary and unplanned journey, I do have to make conscious choices about my behaviour and my expectations for my sons. Too much and I won’t be letting them make their own way. Too little and I will be repeating the mistakes of my parents. And there is no better mirror to one’s own frailties than to look at one’s own children. Example: My eldest has always had low muscle tone and attends a number of therapies to improve this area. Bingo! Now I know why I struggle to throw a ball further than twenty metres and why my one and only shot on goal from twenty five metres out for the Ceduna B Grade back in 1989 was never going to make it through the big sticks. Next example: My youngest exasperates me with his impatience and his ultra-competitive nature. I’m not competitive by nature – this scares me because how do I ensure that his natural tendency is channeled in the right direction?
I know all I can do is my best and I know that there will be things that my kids hold me accountable for by the time they reach adulthood. But there are things that they will have hammered into them with my words and actions – as with David, I want them to be balanced in their respect for and with women and like Jose, I want them to be their own person and not be reliant on others for their own self worth.