My prayer for the world…

“Tobias” by Christopher Matthias

My child is almost three years old. They are typical in their development. They are 38 inches tall and close to 40 lbs. They love trains and cars and really big machines that are “too loud.” (Their words, not mine) They love books and will ask for my partner and I to read the same stories over and over until they can finish sentences with us. They love TV and electronics. They love running in circles and jumping in puddles and giving hugs. They love the color purple. If I were asked to describe them in a phrase, I would say that “they love.”

They are concerned about children who are crying. They (sometimes) share their candy, even without being asked. They say “I’m sorry” when they accidentally do something wrong. They are getting better at saying “please” when they want something. They call people “friends.” They are beginning to describe their emotions; and they like to play with words, wrestle, and make silly games of hide and go seek. If I were to describe how they exist in the world, I would say, “They are compassionate.”

Which is why I am so afraid that I, and this world, will break them. Being human, I can be moody, frustrated and selfish. I have inherited systems of racism, misogyny and toxic masculinity. If therapy has taught me anything it is that the unexamined life is filled with a happy ignorance, but the price paid is usually in the pain and suffering of others. I have a choice, be aware of my brokenness so I can mitigate its transmission to my child, or leave him at the mercy of society and media.

When I see my news feed filled with people who hate; who are greedy; who assault; who are the worst parts of humanity, and then see them elected into positions of authority, my instincts tell me to shelter my child to the best of my ability. And my heart breaks knowing that there is nothing I can do to stop their being broken, little by little, as they get older. Which is why my partner and I have made the decision not hide things from our child; but to try and hold everything in their life in context. There is an art to being “age appropriate” and we want to err on the side of transparency. Topics like “sex” and “god” are not off limits (regardless of our own hangups on the subjects). Feelings are encouraged, not stuffed away. There are no off limits toys, colors, or clothing as long as they are enjoyed in playful and loving ways. The only things in our house that are not tolerated without being challenged are “hate” and “supremacy” and “ignorance.”

My example to my child will not be “how to be a strong man” but “how to be a better human.” That to have power and privilege means being a servant leader. That to live simply and with happiness means giving a damn about others and not just themselves. That what matters isn’t the color of skin but the content of character. That listening is better than talking. That the greatest rule is to treat others as they would like to be treated. That if they are not part of the solution they are part of the problem.

I refuse to let the systems that have come before me break my child. They will know the definitions of evil by example: prejudice and bigotry, selfishness and narcissism. And they will know the definitions of good; love and compassion, vulnerability and empathy. If parents cannot help but put our hopes and dreams into our children, at least I can hope for peace and dream of a better future. In this way, my child is my prayer for the world made incarnate. I hope it is a joy for them and not a burden.

What can I teach my son about violence?

3811620119_american_flag_gun_xlargeWith another mass shooting by an armed white male, I am once again reminded (as if I could ever forget) that I live in a society with the potential for murderous violence. And no matter what the NRA and Fox News or any other pundit tells me, I agree with President Obama’s assessment: “Now is the time for mourning and healing, but let’s be clear: at some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”  It doesn’t. Not with the frequency as it has been happening. Not with the body count. There is something wrong with us as Americans.

I’m at a loss, because I don’t know what else I can do. I already work for a peace and justice non-profit. I am studying in ministry so I can work and preach out against violence and promote systemic change. I try to be an active part of my neighborhood and community. But it is not enough. None of it seems to stop the killing; not in a park or a school or even a church. I confess, I am afraid not for my life, but for the life of my partner and son.

flat,1000x1000,075,f.u2No amount of armed escalation on my part is going to keep them safe. I cannot be with them 24/7. I am also not arrogant enough to believe, should I ever own a gun, that my preemptive killing of an assailant will make things better. One thing I’ve learned through studying ancient texts; violence only begets more violence. So what else is left other than being a man of peace? I can raise my son to be a man of peace, too.

I will teach my son that Black Lives Matter.

Tobias will also be taught that all lives matter. But in particular, he will know from an early age that specifically, black lives matter. Because it is black lives that have been put through our cultural meat grinder. I will make sure he understands, at least as much as he is able, what the black community has gone through in our country. I will not sugar coat the history or the reality of the killing and the incarceration and the lack of educational and economic opportunities his black brothers and sisters have had to endure. I will raise him to acknowledge his own prejudices when he finds them, and to challenge the prejudice around him.

I will teach my son to respect Women.

I want Tobias to learn the history of patriarchy and the importance of equality. He will learn about women who have shaped the world through religion, science, literature and politics. I will work to make sure he sees women as partners who are just as capable as he is in everything from sports to education to work to family. I will make sure that he understands that a woman’s body belongs only to her and that he has no right over it at all. I want to show him that taking away the rights of women and girls only hurts our world. I will raise him to be a feminist ally.

I will teach my son to respect Sex.

I can teach my Tobias to respect his own sexuality and the sexualities of others. He will be shown a healthy respect for his body and that the bodies of other people are just as sacred as his. I want him to see himself as beautiful, and acknowledge that the beauty in others comes not from their appearance but from their humanity. I will teach him that sex is good and fun and healthy and so very special that he should never be ashamed of sharing intimacy with another person.

I will teach my son about his Privilege.

Not the kind of privilege that makes him better than other people. I will teach him about the responsibility that comes with his access to education, a safe home, new clothing, clean water, healthy food, electricity, and access to computers and information. I can impress on him that, because he was born to my partner and I, he has already won the lottery and lives better than most of the world. I hope he can understand and accept the guilt that comes with receiving what he has not earned. I pray that he uses that guilt to change the world; to understand that with great power comes greater responsibility. I will raise him to know that his privilege requires him to be a servant leader.

11406657_709812235797484_1988572270914461636_oThis seems like an impossible task. He has everything working against him, from history to mass media, education to religion. And as much as we want for our children, I know that I can only do so much; he is his own person. But if I can make the world a better place through my son, I will. Along with my partner, through gentleness, love, guidance and prayer, I will try to shape his young mind toward justice. I will teach my son how to be a better man than I could ever be, for him and for his future.

The (In)Sanity of Impending Fatherhood

Leia seems a little confused…

It’s official. I’m going to be a dad. Which means in the last month, I’ve become the liberal stereotype: I’m going to grad school and having my first child. AT THE SAME TIME. I’m going to have to start brewing a lot more beer…

Last Friday my wife and I went in for her first ultrasound. We had known for a few weeks that she was pregnant. We didn’t want to say anything until we saw the heartbeat. It was a strong 166bpm (which is apparently very good for a protohuman barley the size of a raspberry). The kid already has crazy cardio endurance!

When Heather told me she was pregnant, it took a few days to sink in. At first, I didn’t know how to feel. We’d been trying for a while. It was something we were committed to and wanted. Still, the “concept” of having a child was much different than the “reality.” All of a sudden, shizzle got real. Perhaps it was a mild form of shock; or at least disbelief.

I was all like...
I was all like…

Then I saw a live shot of the little heart beating. A switch flipped in my brain and for the first time I was ecstatic about fatherhood. I helped make that little heart. Now, for the rest of my life, that little heart has a place in my own. I’ve made very few lifelong commitments. The first, when I married Heather. Now… I’m going to be a parent. Forever! I have no words to describe the crazy amount of emotions that went through me at that point. It was like understanding the meaning of life and tasting chocolate for the first time. Mind=blown.

paranoidThen a few things happened after that switch flipped in my brain. First, I was like “Holy crap! I made a human being! I have successfully passed on my genetic code! Go me!” Then the whole universe became a terrifying funhouse of insanity. That road in front of our house? Death trap. That guy walking his dog down the road? Possible mass murderer. The tables in our living room? Concussion generators.  Everything in the world suddenly had the potential to inflict serious harm. To a guy who usually sees the world “glass half full,” I was unaccustomed to severe paranoia.

vB2eYSQ (1)I’m also incredibly worried/cautious to touch Heather’s belly. What if I do something wrong? Or put too much pressure? This alternates with wanting to hug/squeeze/hold her because that means I’m closer to my potential son/daughter. This is insanity. I always knew parents were all a little crazy… I thought it was because of the lack of sleep and constant running around. Little did I figure that it was a constant state of hypervigilance and protection instinct.

Hopefully, this will mellow over time. I’m pretty sure it will. Thankfully, I have a plethora of role models to draw from. My own parents; Heather’s parents; many of my friends (some of whom have kids graduating from High School). I don’t have to go this alone. Which is a huge relief; because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing at this point.

greatest_dad_mugI’m trying to read all the books and know all the things. I’ve also been told enough times that you really do just “figure it out as you go.” You can prepare all you want, but you don’t know how to ride a bike until you actually ride a frackin’ bike. Who needs training wheels? Not this guy. It’s time to earn that “world’s best dad” coffee mug…