Father’s Day is for Fathers. Period.

Father’s Day just passed, June 20, 2010. It was a beautiful day, for the most part, and it was so wonderful to see so many fathers out with their children. Their proud smiles beaming, happy children laughing… it was just amazing.

However, it wasn’t so positive for a number of people, mainly a lot of single mothers. Every year, I see more and more single mothers being wished “Happy Father’s Day” and every year, it really grates my nerves. Women are not and can never be fathers. It’s against every possible biological, emotional, mental, spiritual law known to us. It is an impossibility! Similarly, men cannot be mothers.

Father’s Day is already a diminished holiday as it is. The top day when greeting cards are exchanged? Mother’s Day, followed by Christmas. Father’s Day was created after Mother’s Day. Much of this dates back to the time when mothers stayed at home and took care of the children while men worked and remain somewhat disconnected from their children. Mothers have since been looked at as the primary parent, so giving special attention to fathers has not been something we’ve done as a society. The tide is changing, however, and more fathers are taking active, hands-on, equally nurturing roles in their children’s lives. More and more men are staying at home and more men are acting as single fathers. Fathers deserve their day and I don’t think we should do anything to take that day from them.

Yet, there are those women who are rather bitter about being abandoned and believe they deserve to be celebrated on Father’s Day in addition to Mother’s Day, because they believe they play both roles.

No, they don’t.

Single parents more often than not have to work harder, spend more money, time, and energy raising their children. Single parents probably experience more stress on a day-to-day basis. Some single parents may find that they don’t have a lot of support when raising their children. However, this does not mean they somehow have absorbed the role of the missing parent. They are just doing what they are supposed to do and what the other parent is not doing. Do single parents deserve kudos for not giving up in the face of adversity, when it is easy to do so? Sure. Should they receive special treatment for being the parent that didn’t leave? I don’t think so. Leaving is not the default; staying is. Therefore you get no extra props.

What is up with us congratulating parents on doing what they are supposed to do? Like, why do we give special props to Black men who are active in their children’s lives, when that is what they should be doing?

I read so many Facebook posts and tweets from some really bitter women! I kept saying, why are we focusing so much on the ones that don’t when we should be focusing on the ones that do? I asked a number of women to explain how they “play both roles” and I have yet to read a coherent answer that justifies those assertions. Nothing they described was any different than any mother who has an active partner co-parenting with deals with.

I understand being hurt. I understand wishing your child had a father around to provide that fatherly attention and support. I understand wanting to give up. I understand that the struggle is harder for most single parents. I’m sympathetic to that, really and truly. But there is no way a woman can fill the role of the father. Fathers bring something different to a child’s life, something that cannot be mimicked or reproduced by a woman. As strong as single moms might have to be, that strength doesn’t translate into some weird morphing into fathers.

I think wishing single mothers “Happy Father’s Day” undermines the spirit of the day for fathers. I think it steals something from them and I don’t think it is fair. I really hope that we move past this and we stop saluting mothers on Father’s Day. It’s just sad all around.

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No Boy Is an Island

I tend to follow Benee’s and the other Cocoamamas’ pieces about raising boys closely, without really daring to interject. The fact is that my own relationship with my mother—with all its glorious and inglorious extremes—has driven me to form some very firm opinions about how to raise my own daughter, but I’ve given far less conscious thought to raising my boy. I know I want him to be respectful of women (and everyone really, but especially women) and kind and service-minded but beyond that, the canvas has largely been blank.

My boy is challenging in a different way than my girl. He’s loud and impulsive, can’t sit still and concentrate for long periods of time, tests boundaries constantly and can be found bouncing off walls quite often. I’ve generally shrugged at his behavior and observed: “It’s all that boy energy!”

An incident last week started an avalanche of questions and thoughts in my head, prompting me to rethink my strategy. We have observed for a while that while my girl (who is 5) can accept a no as a no, my boy (who is 4) thinks no is his cue to start a maddening crying and whining campaign to get whatever it is he wants. My husband and I have had a long-standing rule about whining: We don’t negotiate with whiners. And so when he begins whining, I walk away: no explanations, no sympathy, no begging and cajoling.

I thought our rule worked well until the other day when my four-year-old turned to me and said: “Mama, how come when Mina (his sister) cries, you be nice to Mina and when I cry, you get mad and be mean to me?” And two beats later, his sister chimed in: “Yeah, mama, I’ve noticed that too!”

Ladies (and gentlemen): This question stopped me cold in my tracks. My boy, my beloved boy, was hurt because he felt that he was being mistreated. That he was being treated unfairly. And, at 4, he is not necessarily connecting the dots of varied causation: that he gets no sympathy because he cries mostly when he’s whining whereas she gets sympathy because she cries mostly when she has hurt herself. All he knows is that when he cries, we get stern, and when his sister cries, she gets sympathy.

And we are not connecting those dots for him. We’re just expecting him to get it, to intuit the difference in treatment, and to be a boy and get over it. There is a lot of emotional nuance, most of which is not being explained in the way it needs to be.

I went in search of more information and found this blurb in Dan Kindlon’s Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, which really resonated with me:

There is plenty of reason to be concerned: a confused young boy grows into an angry, emotionally isolated teenager, and, predictably, into a lonely, middle-aged man at risk for depression … Boys need an emotional vocabulary that expands their ability to express themselves in ways other than anger or aggression. They need to experience empathy at home and at school and be encouraged to use it if they are to develop conscience.

All this is not to say that my boy is now going to be coddled and get his way when he whines. But I intend to be more expressive about why I’m not sympathetic to the whining, about how much he is loved, how sad I am when he is hurt, how much compassion I feel for him when he is frustrated or angry. He may still be one hyper bundle of pure boy energy, but surely he is just as deserving as his sister of the emotional exchanges that come with the childhood hurts and tantrums.

When did we sign this silent pact that our boys are to be islands, cut off from the same emotions and connections we provide so freely to our girls? I don’t know how and where it all got started but I, for one, am out.

For the Children

“Everyone wants someone to take 100 white infants and 100 African American ones and raise them in Disney utopia and prove once and for all that we are all equal on every dimension, or at least the really important ones like intelligence. I am merely not 100% convinced that this is the case.”

http://abovethelaw.com/2010/04/hls-3ls-racist-email-goes-national/

This statement comes from a minor controversy that was brewing among law students (and perhaps others) about two weeks ago. As a law and sociology student, of course I saw all the flaws in the thinking, and crafted what I thought to be a perfectly rational response, aided by some other perfectly rational people, and we sent something to our law students that amounted to a big debunking of her incorrect thoughts on race, biology, and intelligence.

But when I was thinking about what I was going to write for my post here tonight, I really started thinking about the little excerpt above, and it made me feel something different than the outrage that I felt two weeks ago. I felt something different than indignant, or embarrassed that a fellow law student didn’t know how ignorant she sounded.

I feel sad.

I feel sad that there continues to be people out there that will look at my little boy and my little girl and really believe that just because his and her skin is a different color that that fact has anything to do with their intelligence. I feel sad that there are people who are so simple minded that they really believe that it would be “settled” if they could just take 100 white babies and 100 black babies and raise them on an island and then “test” to see if they are equal. I feel so sad that even with Barack Obama in the White House, a man we all know has a “white” mother yet we still call him “black,” meaning that we all do have some sense that race is socially determined, not biologically determined, we fail to apply that knowledge to our children, who deserve the benefit of that knowledge the most. I feel so sad that a woman like the one who wrote the little thought experiment above might be an important cog in the wheel of deciding the law in one of the most influential courts in this country.

It just reminds me that we have to keep fighting the good fight, wherever and whenever it comes our way. We do it for ourselves. We do it for our children.

Who is the “Fairest” of the Them All?

Don’t want to beat a dead horse here. But last month’s issue of Vanity Fair with the nine lily-skinned–albeit lovely and talented–young women with the banner declaring them the acting talent for the next decade really pissed me off. And I’m just not over it. 

The whole decade?

The last time I was this bitter was back in 2000 when Vogue featured Gwyneth Paltrow with a headline that screamed something about her being the “It-girl for the Millennium.” I’m sure that Ms. Paltrow is a fine human being but wasn’t the last millennium the millennium of the blonde, blue-eyed beauties? Do they get this one too?

Just so that we are clear: I am committed to the principle of unity. I believe at my core that at the end of the day there is only one race and that is the human race. And everything in my life bears witness to this belief.

Here is what I don’t love: Unfairness. Injustice. And piles of crap handed to me like it’s chocolate cake.

Have you ever heard of the doll experiments conducted in Harlem by Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark back in the late 1930s? These series of experiments found that black children often preferred to play with white dolls over black ones. That when asked to fill in a human figure with the color of their own skin, they frequently chose a lighter shade than was accurate. And most devastatingly, that when asked, African American children gave the color “white” attributes such as good and pretty, and the color “black,” bad and ugly. These experiments caused an uproar back in the 30s and contributed to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education.   

Oh no, you say! That was eighty years ago! These are different times! This is the age of Obama, Winfrey and … I don’t know … lots of other folks. Well, sure, some things are different. There has no doubt been progress. But consider this: in 2006 a filmmaker recreated the doll study and documented it in a film entitled A Girl Like Me. In spite of everything that has changed, she found the same results that the Drs. Clark did in the 1930s and 40s.

I could have told you that watching my five year old and her friends these past few years, in spite of very explicit lessons that my friends and I have attempted to instill in our children of color. I myself have seen and heard things that have triggered a hysterical phone call or two to my girlfriends.

We don’t know exactly why children attribute negative characteristics to their beautiful brown and black skin. But many of us have our suspicions. And somewhere at the top of my personal list sits the images and messages they are bombarded with every day of their lives–very much like the one on the cover of Vanity Fair last month. Yes, Disney, you do get credit for Tiana and we do appreciate the bone you threw us but how about a true reflection of who we are and what we look like as a human family every single day and not just on special occasions? How about it, Hollywood? Are you in?

When I arrived in America on the cusp of my teens 30 years ago, I didn’t NOT feel beautiful. But I wised up very quickly. The message was loud and clear and explicit! Not only was I hearing: “You’re not pretty” (actually what I heard was: “You’re ugly” but … tomatoes, tom-ah-toes …), I also never saw anyone on TV, in the movies, in the magazines, anywhere, that looked like me (and who was considered beautiful). Remember, there was no bevy of ethnic beauties like Eva Mendes or Salma Hayek or Shohreh Aghdashloo back then. There was, however, Iman and Naomi and Tyra and a handful of Huxtable women. Oh and Diann Carroll.

Reflecting back, I realize that at some point I developed a coping mechanism: I started to interpret select images I saw in the media very literally as evidence of the possibility that I, too, may be beautiful. Here’s the short version of how it went:

I’m hearing some very negative messages about my beauty.

I’m not seeing anyone who looks like me who is considered beautiful.

I do see a few black women on TV and in the movies.

Black women have brown skin.

I have brown skin.

They’re brown like me.

These women are beautiful.

Maybe I’m beautiful too.

The bottom line is that our brown and black girls and boys need to see people who look like them achieving, inventing, excelling, curing, leading, creating, thinking, innovating, writing, being lauded, being recognized. They deserve it. They are entitled to it. (There, I said it! The word that makes so many people so uncomfortable. But I don’t understand why entitlement is treated like a natural-born right of some and as a favor for others.)

Our Caucasian children need to see people of color achieving, inventing, excelling, curing, leading, creating, thinking, innovating, writing, being lauded, being recognized.

You are doing every last one of our kids–no matter what race they are–a disservice. That includes you, Vanity Fair, and every one of your brethren across all media.

Stop barraging our children with the nonstop madness. Really! Because you might have gotten away with robbing us of our ability to feel beautiful–and comfortable–in our own skins but we have no intention of letting you do it to our sons and daughters too.

An Ode to Entitlement

Last Monday was “Bat Day” at my daughter’s school. She had been talking about seeing these bats for days so after school I was expecting her to bound over like she usually does, talking one hundred miles a minutes about bats. What I got instead was a subdued child, chewing on her bottom lip.

“Not the bottom lip!” I thought. My girl has been chewing on her bottom lip since she was about six months old. She does it when her lips are dry—and when she’s upset about something.

“What’s up?” I asked.

She shook her head without saying a word. But something was clearly off. She was moody and petulant in the car, picking silly fights with her little brother and behaving unreasonably. It got so bad I had to pull over.

“What is going on with you?” I demanded again.

This time she burst into tears. The story came out in heartbreaking sobs. Two kindergarten classes had consolidated to look at the bats together. Mina’s little friend had gotten up to hang her jacket. Mina got up to do the same. The teacher from the other kindergarten class had yelled at Mina: “Sit down! You don’t get to get up!” Mina had sat back down, scared.

“Well was she far away so she had to yell for you to hear?” I inquired.

“She was right in front of my face, mama.”

“Were you doing something that you were not supposed to be doing?”

“No, I was hot and I wanted to hang up my jacket.”

“I’m sorry you had your feelings hurt, sweetie.”

“I felt scared mommy. When she yelled at me, I got scared!”

I gave a her a hug and a kiss and that was the end of it for me.

Before you judge, let me explain myself here: I come from a LOUD family. If you are a Star Trek fan and have ever seen an episode involving Klingons talking, then you’ve pretty much seen a casual conversation between my family members. We all sound mad all the time—even when we’re not. That’s just us.

And let me give you a little more context: I remember getting slapped by a school administrator in maybe second or third grade. Not a little tap. A hard slap that left a mark on my face for a good couple of hours. I think my crime was giving a hug of support to a first grader who had gotten in trouble somehow. He looked so little and scared. I felt bad. My sympathy earned me one heck of a slap.

So with all this in mind, you will perhaps understand that the idea of a teacher yelling at my five year old didn’t exactly faze me. I thought the insult would pass. My daughter thought otherwise. She brought it up the next day. And the day after that.

On the third day, she said: “Mommy I want to explain something to you. I don’t think you understand that my teacher had told us that we don’t ever need to ask permission to get up to hang our jackets. That we can do it anytime we choose without asking.”

“Was your teacher there when you were yelled at?”

“Yes, she was sitting right there.”

“Did she say anything?”

“No.”

This was clearly going to be a problem and I was out of my depth. I brought it up to a few of my mommy friends.

One said: “This is a public school. If you go around looking for issues, you’re going to find them.”

Another said: “If this had happened to one of my daughters, I would not have been able to get them to go to school for a week or two.”

I got to thinking about how hard my husband and I work to draw my daughter out of her shell. She’s bright, she’s thoughtful and she’s sometimes shy. And so we encourage her to look doctors, store owners and other adults in the eye, to ask questions, to order her own meals, to pay sometimes (with our money, of course!)

My husband, who is Latino and who works in education reform, never stops talking about how the underlying sense of entitlement that white children feel about some of the most mundane things in life helps propel them in very significant ways later in life. That white kids are often encouraged to question and demand, while Hispanic and African American kids are taught the opposite.

My take-away from my husband’s quite frequent rants is that I need to raise some entitled children if I want them to succeed. No problem! I grew up in Iran. America’s baggage about color wasn’t handed to me until a little later in life. I’m loud and I’m proud, and can act entitled with the best of them!

But wasn’t I sending my child the exact opposite message here? You were yelled at unfairly. Hug, kiss and now drop it!

What about raising children who feel entitled to respect and fair treatment? Children who deserve not to feel scared because of a teacher yelling at them? Listen, I do yell at my kids (and quite often), and I can see circumstances where it would be more than warranted to yell like a banshee. But I also like to think I’m fair and appropriate—at least most of the time.

So I sat down with my daughter and I told her I could see that she was very upset. What did she think we could do to correct this situation? She wanted to write a letter to the principal. “Fine,” I said, “you dictate and I’ll write.” She expressed herself quite eloquently while I typed. She signed her name with great pride, and after we dropped off her letter on Monday, she finally seemed satisfied and resolved.

Today’s Thursday and we haven’t had a call from school yet to discuss the matter. That annoys me but I’m giving it a few more days and then going in like the crazy Klingon I was raised to be.

Here’s to raising some entitled brown and black kids. Are you in?