Our Sons Deserve Better Than Donald Trump’s Example of “Manhood”

noahmetower

My son is 11 years old; bright and beautiful and fitted with a heart far larger than it has a right to be. He’s that kind of brilliantly alive that only an 11-year old boy can be.

And this year, we let him down.

Donald Trump did.
The GOP did.

The Evangelical Right did.
Much of America did.

I did.

This year, while so many people openly (and rightly) lamented the devastating effect Donald Trump’s disgusting treatment of women (and the inexplicable defending of said treatment) will have upon young girls looking on, we all forgot something: our sons were watching and listening too.

I’m not sure we’ve stopped to think about what kind of young men we’re creating right now.

I don’t know if we’ve considered the collateral damage this is doing within the boys in our collective care. 

I don’t think we can fathom what our sons in a Donald Trump America are likely to grow into:

Men with a dangerous sense of entitlement when it comes to the bodies of women.
Men for whom violent, hateful, objectifying words about women are viewed as normal.
Men who believe that money and power and their penises give them license to do whatever they want with a woman regardless of what she wants.
Men for whom the very idea of consent is unimportant.
Men who believe they will get rewarded for their misogyny and sexism and filth, because they’ve watched it happen.

This week my son asked me what Donald Trump said about women, and I did the best I could to relay it all without using the actual words, because to use the actual words Trump used, would have meant subjecting my son to the kind of explicit, angry vulgarity that isn’t normal and shouldn’t be normal for 11-year old boys—or boys of integrity of any age.

The words about women from a man who is now President, unfit to be repeated by a father to his son. Let that sink in for a minute. 

Trying to find any scenario in which any man talking about grabbing a woman by the genitalia and forcing himself on her physically is at all normal or acceptable, underscores the tragic absurdity of it all. It also illustrates the depths to which we’ve fallen and the sickness which is so pervasive; that our politics now so easily trumps our humanity.

The fact that a man with such a well-documented pattern of misogyny was the GOP representative for the highest office in the country (let alone garnering the support of millions of people who claim faith in Jesus) should be an embarrassment to any self-respecting parent and Christian. We should be sick to our stomachs right now, realizing how poisonous this all is to the hearts and minds of our boys. We should be openly condemning it all, if we had any regard for them and any interest in who they are becoming.

That so many fathers (and mothers) are not doing so, means that maybe Donald Trump is exactly the person to best represent us in the world. Maybe that is how low the bar we’ve set for our young men really is. Maybe the support for Trump is a true measure of the hatred so many men have toward women and the self-loathing too many of those women are afflicted with.

I have better dreams for my son than this.

I want him to know that girls and women are worthy of respect and decency and gentleness.
I want him to know that dehumanizing a woman is never normal; not in a locker room or a frat party or a board room or a bedroom.
I want him to know that another woman’s body is not his jurisdiction.
I want him to know that a woman’s outward no is louder than his internal yes.

I want him to know that there is a huge difference between being a man—and being a gentleman.

I believe my son deserves better than this week. All our sons do.

They deserve far better than a Donald Trump presidency. They deserve a higher definition of what it means to be a man, than an insulting, groping, bragging predator who treats women with complete disregard. 

They deserve a Christianity that isn’t as pliable as the Conservative Right and so many professed believers have made it in order to accommodate their candidate.

They also deserve better than to see adults making excuses for the words Trump has said and the things he’s done. They deserve parents, mentors, and role models who won’t sell their souls to align with a party or retain power.

One day my son will be a man, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to ever worry that he’s not a man who recognizes women as valuable and equal and worthy of respect, and I’m going to shout down all the voices that would speak something different into his ears, even if those voices are of family members, friends, pastors, and Presidential candidates.

Rationalizing sexual assault and violence toward women as just “boys will be boys”, is the best way to ensure that our boys grow-up to become abusive men who have contempt for women and believe that to be what all men do. I refuse to participate in that.

At this point, opposing this kind of language and behavior shouldn’t be seen as a political move—but a human decency move. There shouldn’t be an alternative side to choose here; not if we love our sons and daughters.

Right now my son and millions of other bright and beautiful boys with big hearts and bigger questions are watching and listening to Donald Trump, and to us.

He is failing them.

We can’t afford to.

 

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A Funeral for My Christianity

 

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“You seem really angry lately.”

Someone said that to me recently—and at first it really pissed me off.

I instantly mounted a spirited, vigorous defense laying out the reasons she had assessed me incorrectly, but soon found myself trailing off and resigning myself to a harsh, unwelcome truth:

She was right—or at least she was in the ballpark.

It’s an easy mistake to make. From the outside grief looks a lot like anger. The external markers tend to be similar; impatience, bitterness, violent outbursts, a loss of optimism (I’ll cop to those), but the difference is that the source, is a profound loss. Something or someone has died, and this is the mourning that has come to take up residence in your chest cavity in its absence. Yes, you’re all negativity and rage outside but it’s because sadness has fully saturated your heart, and carrying around that heaviness takes its toll after a while.

Looking around at my country right now I can’t help but grieve at the passing of the faith I used to know, the one I grew up believing was home for me, the one I once wanted to make my life’s work. I am witnessing the second death of Jesus here in American Christianity and no I’m not dealing with it well. When someone you love dies, the disorientation is profound, but when you lose your religion it’s an existential sh*t storm, so you’re going to have to excuse my unpleasantness while I process it.

Last night I came across a Facebook post from an old friend from a church I served at nearly two decades ago that crystalized it all. She and I have remained in contact all these years, albeit through the artificial closeness social media provides. In truth, we hadn’t had a substantive conversation in well over a decade, but she was one of those people I figured as a Christian, was some kind of sacred extended family and so I should keep the connection.

She was delivering a fiery political manifesto about the election, and sharing with great zeal why Jesus wants her to vote the way she intends. Beneath her heavily coded words I could see it all: a fully ignited fear of terrorists, Muslims, immigrants, gay folks, and people of color, mixed with some impending sky-is-falling spiritual doom that she believed only her candidate could rescue us from. Over the past few years these sentiments have become familiar in the circles I’ve traveled, and I’ve spent a good deal of time rationalizing them away, minimizing them, and looking past them. Today, reading my old friend’s words I realized that whatever this thing is that she and I used to share as a common thread has frayed beyond repair. Her Jesus and mine bear no resemblance to one another. I don’t belong in this tribe anymore. I am the outlier now.

That’s not to say that Jesus matters any less to me or means any less to me, it’s just that in so much American Christianity it feels like all that’s left of him are ghosts and fading memories—and this genuinely grieves me. It feels like a funeral.

I don’t say these things for hyperbolic effect or to curry attention or sympathy. This is just what is. It’s the clearest, most sober revelation I’ve had about the state of my spiritual union; that I feel like something is gone for good. I see what’s become of the Church here in America and it’s like a wake for the religion I once called home.

I’m not sure what all this angry, chest-thumping, bullying, “don’t tread on me” thing that we’ve come to call Christianity is, but it isn’t the Gospel. It’s isn’t Good News. It isn’t the Prince of Peace. It isn’t the perfect love that casts out fear. It isn’t Jesus. It’s a strange cocktail of power, control, fear, nationalism, and white privilege that looks much more like Rome than what the early Church was about.

Many times over the past few decades, my faith tradition has been life to me. It’s been the place I’ve found hope and rest. There was something bigger that I knew I was a part of, and in the people of Jesus I felt like I belonged. This faith isn’t giving me life anymore. I am no longer finding hope and rest here. I don’t belong in that gathering like I once did. This is cause for real mourning.

But as with all funerals, they are necessary to mark the loss and to pivot toward life beyond it, as uncertain as that may be.

So yes, it might seem like I’m angry, but you’ll have to take my word for it I’m not. I’m just finally accepting the grief that comes when something you loved is gone and you wish that it wasn’t.

 

 

A Love Letter to Teens in the Closet

TeenHiding

If I remember it correctly, being a teenager can be Hell.

In the middle of so much changing in and around you, it can impossible to figure out just who you are.

Trying to navigate it all; the desire to fit in, the fear of rejection, the cruelty of other people, and your own daily inconsistency—can all be rightly disorienting. Some days it’s a battle just to take the next tentative step into the world, knowing what might be waiting for you out there. It’s not a natural thing to purposefully walk  toward pain that way.

I don’t need to tell you this.

You know it all too well. You understand better than most teenagers, and that’s why I’m writing to you.

I can’t fathom what it’s like to be stumbling to finding yourself, while being told by the voices around you that this self is an abomination; to be discovering truths about you, that instead of bringing joy, only confirm your greatest fears that you are different and that this difference is a liability. The tension that can create within a young soul must be nearly too much to bear.

I can’t imagine how much it hurts to hide in the middle of the crowds, to be silent about the deepest longings of your heart with those close to you, to sit in the middle of a joke that is about you and having to laugh along with friends and peers oblivious to the bomb going off inside you—and to believe that God Himself is against you.

It must be exhausting to keep your guard up all the time; to have to weigh every word, manage every conversation, carefully maintain the facade at home and at school and with friends, so as not to ever be fully transparent. It must be a nightmare to never get to be real anywhere.

And I guess I just wanted to tell you that I see you and that I’m sorry if this is the road you have to walk, because you deserve far better.

I wanted to encourage you not to let the voices around you drown out the one within you, because that one is the only one worth listening to. And I don’t mean the voice that now parrots back the terrible things they may have said about you. I’m not talking about an inner voice that’s gradually learned to agree with the bullies and bigots and the brimstone preachers.

I’m talking about the voice that says, “Yes, this is who I really am.”

Because that is the voice you need to cherish and protect and to hold tightly too, until you are able to speak and fully live what that voice tells you. One day I pray you will be able to do that. One day you’ll feel strong enough or loved enough or safe enough to say everything. But that day isn’t anyone’s business but yours. It will happen on your terms and in your time.

But in the meantime, I wanted you to know that you are loved; not only the carefully crafted version of you that you share with the world to protect yourself, but the real, true, most authentic you that so rarely gets to show itself.

That you, much of whom you are still discovering, is original and beautiful and made for greatness.

Keep going, dear friend and know that someone sees you and is for you.

Be so encouraged today.

 

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Dear Angry Sports Dad,

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Dear Angry Sports Dad,

As a rule, I try to stay in my lane as a father; to not tell other fathers how to do their jobs, because I know how difficult and draining a job it is.

But I also know that we all have our blind spots. We all have trouble seeing ourselves clearly at times. I’m looking at you tonight and I’m wondering if this is one of those times.

You were unhappy with your 9-year old son tonight at football practice, that much was clear.

It was clear to his teammates as you stepped onto the field several times to chastise him.
It was clear to his coaches, as you shouted over their instruction to give your own.
It was clear to the other parents, who squirmed a little each time you did.

And it was clear to your son, whose obvious embarrassment and dropped head you might have missed.

I know it’s been a while since you’ve been 9, and you may have forgotten how difficult that can be, especially when you’re the youngest or the smallest or a little overweight, as your son is. When you are those things, you don’t need any help feeling like an outcast—it’s as natural as breathing. I wonder if you can remember that.

I also wonder if you remember how big a shadow a 9-year old boy’s father can cast over him, how loudly his father’s voice can resonate in his tiny ears, how much 9-year old boys just want to make their daddies proud.

I don’t know you or your son very well, but I lived long enough and been a father long enough to know that this anger of yours—it’s not about your son.

It’s not about the fact that he’s slow or that he seems hesitant to take a hit or that he missed a few tackles tonight. None of those things really merit that kind of outrage or disgust. As with much of our anger, it’s not about what it’s about.

This is probably a you problem.

Maybe things are really crazy at work or your marriage is strained or money is tight or you’re not happy in the shoes you’re in or with the way things are going.

Or maybe you do remember what it’s like to be the youngest and the smallest and a little overweight. Maybe you remember all too well how easy it was to feel like an outcast. Maybe you remember that hurt distinctly, and the 38-year old version of you feels more comfortable letting it out on the field now than you ever did when you were 9.

But whatever this anger is about, you should know that even with his oversized pads on—your son’s shoulders aren’t made to carry it. They’re made to carry 9-year old things: dropped balls and missed tackles, failed tests and messy rooms, forgotten homework and lost socks. Those things are heavy enough.

9-year old boys should only have to carry 9-year old boy stuff, not 38-year old man stuff.

They shouldn’t have to shoulder the frustrations of their fathers.

You might feel your exasperated sighs and loud outbursts and sideline tirades are toughening him up, teaching him how to deal with adversity, pushing him to be the best player he can be—and maybe they are. But I’m not sure that’s what’s happening here, at least not if his body language means what it seems to mean. I might be completely missing it—but I don’t think I am.

When I was a 9-year old boy, my father was my hero. He was tall enough to touch God. He was a massive, towering presence in my life that could eclipse the sun, and all I wanted was for him to be proud of me.

Knowing that he was, steadied my legs when the earth would shake.
Knowing it, made me fearless in the darkest times.
Knowing it, gave me peace in the loudest storms.
Knowing it, made me unafraid to fall—and certain I could fly.

I bet that’s all the 9-year old you wanted from your father, and I imagine that’s all your son wants from you right now on this field. Remember, he won’t be 9 for very long. In the blink of an eye he’ll be 38—and he might be standing on the sidelines too.

Again, this is probably none of my business and I’m off-base and out of line here, but in those times when I can’t see clearly as a father, I hope someone helps me notice my blind spots so that I don’t miss the chance to be the daddy my kids need.

Be loudest with your love, Sports Dad.

 

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