Daily Update: Something a little different today
First, if you’ve read this, keep reading. If you haven’t read this, go check out Mur’s letter to her daughter.
I’m not going to cry or complain about my childhood here, I’m just going to explain how it was for me growing up.
Growing up as a kid in the backwoods of Minnesota, it was expected for you to ‘be a man’ even when you were an 8 year old weakling. I wasn’t ever that strong, or at least I didn’t think I was. I never really liked all the things that other boys liked. I’d rather play jump rope with the girls instead of hitting a baseball. Sports were boring and I wasn’t big on pain. This earned me a lot of ridicule and I was called gay/girlie boy/fairy/fag you name a term, they gave it to me. Girls started to shun me because they didn’t want to be associated with me.
My step-father was a man’s man. He was a roofer, hunter, baseball coach, self-employed, all those things that made a man a man. My brother and I spent a great deal of time in the woods cutting down trees, loading them into a truck, and splitting the wood to be stacked for our own use or to be sold. It was hard, backbreaking work, but it made us stronger.
Because I was so shunned by boys and girls alike, I grew up very self conscious and hating my very existence. The girls were less mean than the boys, so when I had the choice between shop (all boys take shop) and Home Ec. (All girls take home ec) I took Home Ec. I had already learned how to sew from my mom and how to cook, clean, iron, all those things. So the class was easy for me. I even taught some of the girls in the class how to thread a needle because they just couldn’t get it. Being the only in class got me a lot of harassment from the boys in shop class.
What happened because of this? Teachers saw that I was the only boy and how well I did and a new policy got passed. All children had to take shop and home ec. Sex no longer matters, all girls would take one semester of shop and all boys had to take one semester of home ec. This earned me even more hatred from the boys who had no desire to do girlie things.
Back to my Step-dad for a moment. In his eyes, it wasn’t alright for a boy to cry. I’d get a smack upside the head if I did. It didn’t matter if I had stepped on a nail and could see it protruding through the top of my foot or if I had dropped a log on my foot. I was a clumsy kid and hurt myself often. His ‘tough love’ was to hit me to make me stop crying. Brilliant.
What did happen is I grew stronger during my youth and during an arm wrestling competition with the other boys in 9th grade I bested all of them except one. The only one I didn’t beat was a kid who had flunked twice and was 3 years older than I was. I was also the youngest kid in the class. Even some of the kids from the class behind me were older than I was. But being strong gave the other kids a little respect for me even if I was a dork/geek/insert bad name here.
I also wasn’t smart. I grew up and had a sever lisp, I wore glasses (the only kid in the class to wear glasses), I was overweight, slow, shy, and I had dyslexia. It wasn’t until 6th grade that my lisp got help from a speech therapist, and my dyslexia got diagnosed and I also got help for that. Getting the right strength glasses also helped me seeing the blackboard better. Gee, I wasn’t stupid, I was just having other problems.
I still didn’t like sports .Fortunately it was at that time that my mother divorced my step-dad and I moved in with my father. It wasn’t fortunate that I moved away from my mother, I missed her a lot. But I was now away from any stigmas that I had grown up with. I moved to a land where I wasn’t judged by which sports I played, or how strong I was, or anything like that. I made friends and life moved on for me.
Reading Mur’s letter sparked a lot of memories for me. One thing I’ve always tried to instill in my favorite daughter is to be proud of who she is and what she does. She plays volleyball for herself. Some boys had teased her that volleyball is easy. During gym class she spiked a ball into more than one of those boy’s faces. Not to be mean, but because that’s what she’s learned to do playing volleyball and the boys who said ‘it was easy’ couldn’t return the ball coming at him that fast. They’ll learn quickly enough that my kid isn’t one to be messed with.
She also took kickboxing lessons for a short time. In the Navy, I was taught how to take a hit and how to deliver a punch. I taught my favorite daughter how to hit. I did this so well that she bruised both my arms. I wish I had bought a punching bag. I also taught her what to do it someone tries to grab her, assault her, kidnap her. Yes, she can be a shy, delicate little flower, but she can also defend herself. I had the bruises to prove that.
I would have done the same thing if I had a boy. I’ve never tried to put limits on my kid’s imagination, inspiration, or focus. I’ve let her wander into any topic of her choosing. She grew up with Barbies and Dinosaurs. Unicorns and trucks. She was the only kid in her group during science class that wanted to cut open the cow’s eye while the boys cringed and squealed as she did this. I always let her pick up bugs, crabs, tiny fish, anything she wanted that I knew wouldn’t hurt her, but I would explain the dangers of other things like spiny sand crabs that pinch hard.
Just like my mom let me be me, I’ve let her be her. Her choices in music and television shows may bother me to no end, I still accept her choices. If something it inappropriate I will intervene, but if she wants to watch Pretty Little Liars with her mom and Mythbusters with me, I’m good with that. She’s not a girlie girl, she’s not a tomboy. She’s her own person and I couldn’t be happier with the person she’s become.