I must be honest with you. I have always been terrified of raising a son.
As a woman and as an only child, the lived experience of a man seems a foreign and strange thing to me. What do I know about boys feel, act, think, behave? How do I, with all of my strong woman instincts and wants and desires, guide you to become a good, true man in this strange world that we have found ourselves in?
I am not yet a parent; when you eventually read this, it may be a very dated telling, and I may find myself feeling very differently. But let me tell you what I have learnt about men from the most important men in my life, and how I have thus dreamt you into being.
My dear son, I want you to be kind. If you were a daughter, if you were a human being who did not want to identify with any one gender, I would tell you the same thing. I want you to be kind. This world needs kindness; it needs people who are soft – not weak, mind, but soft – soft in their compassion and generosity for others, soft in their patience, soft in their empathy and willingness to care. Because this softness will save you from all that is hard and wrong and difficult about humankind. It may not necessarily make it easier for you to live this life – this world is structured to try to bring those who do good, down. But for the growth of your soul, your heart and mind, this will be good for you.
Son, another thing I want for you is to understand the sanctity of respecting others. Respect other men, like yourself, men who will be dark and brown and big and who will be picked on or sometimes even persecuted institutionally, for the smallest of nothings. More importantly, because you will be a man, I want you to respect all womxn. Never must you consider them/us to be beneath you, never must you think that they/we can be intimidated or coerced into doing anything just because you have the power of this patriarchal society behind you. Never must you think that as a man, you are entitled to doing specific things, while womxn “have their place”. This world is big enough for men and womxn to be successful, to love, care for and respect one another. You must never think or act otherwise, my son.
Watch the way your grandfathers interact with your grandmothers. Watch the way that your father interacts with me. The womxn that you descend from are strong and brave and have fought hard for their place in the world. The men that you descend from are respectful and have understood the meaning of real and true equality. Continue this legacy that you’ve inherited, and continue it well, my son.
I worry about raising a son because this world is structured to both empower you (as a man) and diminish you (as a man of colour). Because we still live in a world where the lighter, fairer man is primed for success and wields considerable power, your skin colour will be forced upon you; it may dominate your identity even if you wish for otherwise. I hope and pray that you will learn to wear this with pride; that you will not fold yourself into dark corners to disappear; that you will not double over in an attempt to make yourself smaller, to be less of anything. You are beautiful the way you are. You will have a lot going for you and against you. Focus on the first driving you; focus on the second to bring about change.
Because you are born of a “mixed” heritage (Indian ultimately but, part North, part South, part from India, part from Singapore), you will struggle to find acceptance among your people. You will wonder where your real home is, and what it means for you if you’re always between homes, physical or otherwise. First, you must remember that you will make your own home. Love and honour your existence, your body, your mind – your physical being is the home that you’ll inhabit for all the time that you’re here on this Earth. Second, remember that where this is love, there is home – your father and I will do everything that we can to make wherever we are, a welcome home for you, a safe haven for you to lie your head, to rest your heart.
My son, you have so much to see and hear and live of this world. It will be a wild ride, filled with the good, and the not-so. And that is okay. There will be successes and downfalls. That too, is okay. There will be love and there will be heartbreak. You will survive them both and realise that you are a better person for it.
You are born into a family where your mother and father will love you more than life itself, but who also realise that you have your own path to walk. We will try very hard to guide you, to hold your hand in your early years, and gently nudge you into the open when it is time, or when you want to be free.
You have a whole life ahead of you, my son. And we will be here to watch it, take pride in it, share your joys and bear your sorrows with you.