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A Father’s Optimism in the Face of Harsh World

A Father's OptimismMy son Felix asked my wife, his mother, if she would knit him a sweater for the winter. “Of course!” she said. “What color?”

“Rainbow.”

While searching through her supplies, Felix pulled out a hank of pink yarn. “This is nice,” he said.

At times like these, I feel lucky having a four-year-old boy who hasn’t been to school. Just the other day, at a friend’s birthday party, a little girl told him she never wears anything blue — that’s a boy’s color, yech! He ignored her, I think because he doesn’t understand that colors might signify anything other than color.

Nor does he think it odd that, in this sweltering heat, I spend most afternoons with one of his linen baby blankets wrapped around my waist like a towel, or half-toga, or — more accurately — a skirt. In fact, just yesterday he came upstairs to show me how he looked in one of his mother’s skirts. “Very nice,” I told him. “I bet that feels comfortable, huh?”

He nodded, his face lit with pride.

Yesterday, while watching Felix frolic in a wading pool with a group of kids he’s never met before but which he had no hesitations in splashing and chasing, my wife and I realized that he’s never dealt much with aggression, or feeling different. He identifies strongly as one of three Mommy, Daddy, and Felix. And we’re not the type to draw many lines, other than those between right and wrong. So he knows nothing about bullies, or being ostracized from a group, or getting made fun of.

Felix is an open minded, wonderfully curious, loving little boy, full of confidence about his choices. The stories of Snow White and Cinderella appeal to him as much as Finding Nemo and Toy Story. (And his favorite character continues to be Jesse the Cowgirl, not Sheriff Woody.) He greets new food with an adventurous spirit, and enjoys eating vegetables. He likes to roughhouse, but pretend guns rarely enter his play. He is, in many ways, the picture of innocence.

What will change when Felix goes to school?

Obviously, I can’t answer this question with certainty, but it seems likely that, surrounded by peers, he’ll hear judgements passed on clothing and color and toy preferences and behavior, some of which he may begin to internalize. This is a normal process of growing up that I witnessed often as a teacher. A current of peer pressure ran through the classroom, and I did my best to guide and tap it for my own nefarious, educational purposes. If I could convince certain influential tastemakers that S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders was a dangerous, emotional story about friendship, sacrifice, and being true to oneself in a compromised world, then chances were the whole class would come along for the ride.

Besides, as Felix’s perspective fattens with experience, his interest in and knowledge of human nature will expand. Right now he asks questions about insects, and subways, and whether or not things can hurt him. Soon enough he’ll wonder about people and why they act in the ways that they do, and he’ll consider abstract concepts like justice, faith, and conformity, and somewhat less abstract constructs like gender, race, and sexuality.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot today, what with race, justice, and violence making yet again for hot topics of conversation in our country. I’m happy that I don’t have to yet explain current events to my son, that I can watch him, innocent in so many ways, and be reminded of all that’s pleasurable and right about life.

Though on the other hand, the more altruistic part of myself looks forward to these conversations, difficult as I’m sure they’ll be. Because Felix is a wonderfully warm, smart little boy who I’m sure will have some light to share with the world, whatever direction he decides to direct his energies. So as much as it’s sad thinking that he’ll become cognizant of the horrible injustices of our society, and the nasty ways in which people judge one another over ultimately meaningless things like race, gender, and religion, I’m optimistic.

They say the seeds of your personality lie planted from the start, and I believe it true. I think my son will continue to greet each day with a wide, open heart, and a smile that, even if tinted with sadness at the edges, brims with love and happiness.

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