Letter to the Boys: What #morethanmean Teaches You About Being a Man

Dear Jack, Reid and Cal,

If manhood was a business, then our stock took a pretty big hit this week.

The podcast Just Not Sports asked a bunch of men to read tweets that female sportswriters get. It’s the kind of thing that Jimmy Kimmel does, with celebrities. Those can be caustic and mean, but funny.

There was nothing funny about the tweets sent to these women.

There was nothing terribly surprising about them, either. The boorish, terrible behavior — both online and off — of men toward women is becoming a louder conversation and an increasingly obvious situation we — as a society — have to deal with.

And, full disclosure, the men who created this piece are two men I happen to work with. But even if they weren’t, I still would have seen this. It’s everywhere. There’s going to be a conversation about this. And there should be.

That worries the hell out of me, for you.

There will come a point in your lives when you will no longer be seen as cute. Or funny. Or charming. Or energetic. Or surprisingly polite. When you stop getting the benefit of the doubt.

I’m not sure when that point is will be when you will tip from being good little boys to insufferable, terrible men. But it will come. It will make you angry that people make assumptions about you because of your gender. Or the color of your skin. That people will judge and act as if they know you. Because you will be the very worst kind of man there is.

You will be a white man in America.

I recently heard a smart and passionate woman, Cindy Gallop, speak about gender equality in the workplace. She made me angry. Not because of what she had to say about how more companies must create more opportunities for more women. About how embarrassing the lack of female leadership in most industries is.

About that, she’s right. Of course she is.

What I found unacceptable was what I took to be her belief that it’s men’s time for some traditionally female challenges. That if you, when you enter the world of work, have to have fewer opportunities or bear the brunt of discriminatory behavior, that it’s your turn.

I sat there and listened to her and thought, “How could anyone want that for my sons? How is this different than any other kind of discrimination? How would that be progress?”

Sadly, there is so much evidence, so much cultural proof, that men are a problem. Being an adult and getting through life is a damn sight hard enough. But you’re going to face some challenges that I never did.

As your father, I want to have answers for you, some guidance that won’t be completely obsolete by the time you are grown. This is unrealistic, I know. But I believe it’s my obligation to try.

In this, I don’t have much advice.

But I can offer you one difficult, challenging burden that I believe that you should try to bear your entire life.

Defy expectations.

Do not allow yourself to be the kind of men that it may feel that people may expect you to be, filled with insecurity and anger about your place in the world.

Do not be the men who wrote these things to women, these cowards who believe the internet gives them courage and permission. Be the men who read these things. Watch them when you’re old enough to do so. Look at them. Notice their discomfort in the saying. These are men worth emulating. Because they know how terrible it is to put such venom and hate and aggression into the world.

Do not be the kind of man who believes it is your birthright to be able to say these kind of things to women or anyone else. To do things that hurt.

There is a line between being funny and abhorrent. There is a line. And you should not cross it. Because it is the line between treating others with dignity and inhumanity.

And, to quote our current president, let me be clear. This line is not a fine line. It is an easy line to see, bold and unmistakable.

If in doubt, ask yourself if you would say or do the thinks you are thinking of doing or saying to your mother. Literally, to her. To her face. (God help you if you do. One of the reasons I married her is her strength of character and her intolerance for bullshit. She would destroy you if you ever had the gall to say such things to her or anyone else. And then you’d have to deal with me.)

My father was not one for long, serious talks. But he taught me things, things that maybe I didn’t appreciate enough or do a good enough job of thanking him for. One of them is an unshakable belief he taught me through the lens of his work and the way he approached his job. It’s something I believe to my core, almost to a fault. And it’s this.

The world owes you nothing. If you want anything in life, then earn it.

Being a man entitles you to nothing more than the ability to pee while standing. If you want people to respect you, then respect yourself and others. Don’t expect it.

Because, and this breaks my heart for you, I think you will go through a period where you all will be assumed guilty until you prove your innocence. Behave in a way that deserves respect.

So, defy expectations. And I don’t mean the low ones. Being a dad, I get a lot of credit that maybe I don’t deserve. Women see me out in public with the three of you and tell me what a good dad I am.

They say these things because the expectation of fathers is low. (It’s getting better. But still. It’s nowhere near the kind of thing Moms deal with.)

When I tell you to defy expectations, I’m talking about the highest ones. The hard ones. The ones you literally have to work at, every day.

Hold onto the things I see in you now with all of your might. Your empathy. Your innate sense of right and wrong. Your aversion to the mean behavior of other people. Maintain your bravery. Your willingness to get up and dance or sit down and paint. Your friendships with girls and boys.

Be the kind of man who doesn’t have to apologize for being a man. I’ve said this to you before and I’ll say it again. Be good humans.

I know you will be, because you are. But don’t let a person or the world or ease or difficulty or culture rob you of that. Be unexpected. Surprise people in the best of ways, the same way you do with me, every day.

You didn’t create these problems. Don’t add to them. Try to solve them. Because THAT is what real men, in the very best sense, do.

All my love,

Dad

  4 comments for “Letter to the Boys: What #morethanmean Teaches You About Being a Man

  1. April 28, 2016 at 6:59 am

    Alan – I love your post. I’m in complete accord with it. Actually, your interpretation of what I was saying was wrong. I absolutely neither wish nor advocate that for men. I’m not sure where you heard me speak, but if you read this interview with me:

    http://shriverreport.org/heres-why-the-future-of-business-is-gender-equal-cindy-gallop/

    and watch this talk:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4g_Utz_gCI

    you will see that I am out to help us all create a far better world for men as well as women – which it becomes, when men welcome women into equal partnership to design that world together.

  2. April 28, 2016 at 7:02 am

    Ah – apologies, I had to dig a little to find your identity, and I now realize you saw me speak all-too-briefly within a limited timeslot at the Weber Shandwick leadership summit. Do please read the piece and watch the talk above to get a much fuller, and better, sense of where I’m coming from.

    I love where you’re coming from. 🙂

    • April 28, 2016 at 8:26 am

      Cindy –

      When I saw you speak last — first time was at Cannes last year and you LIT the place up — you made a comment during Q&A about men’s feelings about feeling discriminated as we seek equalization that felt afield from your general stance on things. It was a clunker that stuck with me, clearly.

      Appreciate your engagement and the longer pieces that provide some clarity to your position around men in the workplace. What you’re advocating, about a more human workplace that combines the best of both genders, is a better future for my boys. And the notion of redesigning the workplace around parenting is a better present for me. So let’s keep the revolution going.

      Thanks for the read.

      a

  3. April 28, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    I’m very glad this was your reaction. It was mine, also, except a touch different since I have 3 girls, 11,12, and 20.

    You’re a good man. I’m glad I know you.

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