I sometimes wonder how different my parenting style is compared to my father’s. In many respects it’s very similar – like my ability to give what we used to fondly call “the look”, which is a method of non-verbally showing my increasing displeasure at whatever my two boys are currently doing.
However, since we live in an ever-progressing world, fatherhood has become much more complex. It seems I have questions my dad never needed to think about. The question of “educational style” was never a thing back in then. You just sent your kids to the best school you could afford, regardless of their personality or talents.
“We have always emphasised body autonomy. If they don’t want to get a kiss or hug, we don’t force them.”
He never had to ask himself about the appropriate age to give his kids a cell phone (because they didn’t exist). He didn’t have to find ways monitor our internet and media usage, and he never had to think about training us to think critically about what we read and watch. This is mostly because we only had TV. It was easy to switch off the TV. And TV was not a critical component to functioning effectively in the world, so it could be taken away if needed.
One of the big things that he didn’t really have to think about was the idea of consent. Sure, he taught us to respect everyone and that no means no. But all of that was taught through an exceedingly patriarchal lens. There wasn’t a clear message of body autonomy or an understanding of power dynamics between genders or any of the concepts that we’ve been grappling with over the past few years.
The fact is, I don’t want my sons to be in a situation where they’ve made another person uncomfortable or scared, or worse. I definitely don’t want them to join the many infamous men who have been exposed by the #MeToo movement. I really think the best way to teach kids how to engage with others is to show them how they should expect to be treated.
For example, we have always emphasised body autonomy. If they don’t want to get a kiss or hug, we don’t force them (yup, even with aunties and grandmas). When they do refuse a kiss or a hug from us, we try to not to show disappointment because we don’t want them to think that the consequence of body autonomy is that people they love are unhappy. We don’t want to get kisses because they feel guilty, basically.
Honestly, I thought I had this whole thing waxed until we had the very first loose tooth. Now, when I had loose teeth, it was the unspoken law that my dad had the privilege of pulling it out … as soon it could be done without too much pain. It was now my turn to take up that mantle … and my young son told me I couldn’t do it. I explained to him that it was fine, that the tooth was ready to come out, that he would get a visit from the tooth fairy … and he still refused.
Then my wife dropped this:
“It’s okay, my boy. It’s your body and your tooth, so if you don’t want anyone to touch it, that is your right. If you need us to help you we will, but this is totally up to you.”
She was right, of course. Who was I to tell him that it didn’t hurt or what he should do with his body? This might seem really silly to some people, but I believe that this kind of behaviour happens when you are constantly surrounded by examples of it. When you understand your rights to your own body, it’s much easier to understand the rights other people have to theirs. This isn’t silly. This is massively important and is one of the most critical functions a father of boys needs to perform. We’ve seen the damage that can be done when we don’t.
AfroDaddy, a.k.a. Terence Mentor, is a place for parents, especially dads, to come together and share in the “duality of parenting” – the fact that being a parent can be fantastic, wonderful and beautiful, while simultaneously being exhausting, frustrating and awful. A husband and father to two boys born 18 months apart, AfroDaddy shares his unique view and experiences, while opening himself to new experiences, learnings and people. You can find him at AfroDaddy.