Author's Note: This piece has been a long time coming. Earlier this year I ran across this TED Talks video from poet Sarah Kay where she performs her piece, If I Should Have a Daughter (see below). I fell in love with the poem instantly. Much later this school year my English 9 students had some great conversations about society's expectations of girls---and many of my 9th grade young men surprised me with the maturity in their comments. One of my boys stated poignantly, "I'm attracted to girls who are more natural, the ones who don't wear make up," and right then I thought, man, if I have a son--I want him to be like so many of these young men I have in my class. This summer I finally got time to sit down and write the piece in response to both of these incidents. I should also preface that I realize this is all a bit idealistic of me--but I've always been one to dream big....
If I should have a son I will be sure he knows we will always be here. His dad and I will not leave him like so many parents do. We will stay and remain firm, and though we won’t have all the right answers and make all the right choices, he will know we love him. And later, much later, he’ll want the same for his own family.
I’ll teach him that he was divinely and wonderfully created, and though he was adopted, his momma loved him more than words. She loved him so much she made the difficult choice to grow him and then give him to us so he could have all he needed. I’ll let him ask questions about her. And I’ll work to keep her involved in his life, and I’ll be sure he knows that she is his mom just like I am his mom.
I will teach him that to be strong does not not require hours in the weightroom; instead it requires openness to feel, to respond, to engage, to love, and to stand firm on his convictions when all around him the sand shifts.
I’m gonna be sure he opens doors for me so on that day long in the future when he picks up a girl for a date, he does the same without thinking. And when he drops her off, he will walk her to the door, thank her parents, and shake her father’s hand for allowing him the privilege to date their daughter. I wanna teach him to look beyond makeup and clothes, to see each girl as beautiful and unique and worthy of his respect. When that first girl breaks his heart, his dad and I will be there to comfort him. We will not let him speak hate out of hurt or turn to destructive outlets to ease the pain. We’ll teach him to get back up though he might not want to. And if he should choose to marry, he’ll pick a wife who loves Jesus and serves others before herself, who brings out the best in him and helps soften all those not so awesome qualities.
“Because you are a man, you have the responsibility to lead well” I will tell him. And he won’t like it because some of his friends will neglect this responsibility and it will require him to be different, to be bold during the tough moments when he’ll want to give in like the other “cool” guys. And he’ll mess up and take wrong turns. But we won’t yell at him, even though we’ll want to. We’ll help him examine the situation and find out where he slipped up so he won’t make the same mistake too many times.
I will raise my little man to be decent towards others, to be genuine, and when that one boy in his English class doesn’t get picked for a group because he smells funny and talks different, I want him to reach out to him and say, “Come work with me.” And later on in life when it would be easy to slip into a middle class comfort zone, I will encourage him to step out and into tension so he doesn’t remain stagnant and close-minded.
When he asks a thousand questions a day, and when he questions my rules, I will breathe deeply ten times reminding myself that to question is to learn. “What else do you wonder?” I’ll ask.
And when life catches up with him, and he feels too tired to take another step, I’ll teach him to go another mile. I’ll run alongside him in this marathon and help him fight past the wall of exhaustion that so often paralyzes because giving up is not an option.