Advice for my Son 4/6/19

By Richard Bleil

Some time ago, I wrote a piece on advice for a daughter that I did not have. I admitted that I had young women in my life that I think of as my daughters, and it was for them and others like them. Similarly, I have no sons, but again, if I had sons, and for those I think of as my sons, these are the things I would like them to know.

The world is inherently unfair and biased. As a man, you will benefit from many of these biases, but that doesn’t make them right. It is the responsibility of every individual to help those in need, those who have less. This is how we, as a species, as a country, and as a culture grow. Selfishness and greed leads to stagnation at best. Because current social bias favors men, the responsibility to help others falls heavier on your shoulders. This doesn’t just relate to monetary handouts. If you have food or money and see others in need, yes, it is important to help, but more than that. If you see someone who is being bullied, find a way to help, preferably not by violence, but through humor, logic, communication if possible, but just standing with the victim will often scare off the bully. If you see inequity, if you see women being treated with less respect of if you see privilege for yourself because of gender, it is your responsibility to do what you can to stand for resolving these inequities. If you see bias based on race, fight the bias. It’s a heavy burden, and can be frightening and difficult, but it is how we as people get better.

Our society, for too long, have been too restrictive on men in other aspects. In my generation, we were taught to hold our emotions in, stand alone, and never ask for help. This is still frequently being taught today, but it is beginning, at least, to change. But, even as a man, you are part of a greater society. Just as it is your responsibility to help those in need, there will be times that you, too, have need. One of the hardest lessons for men is to learn that holding needs in, not allowing others to help, is also an act of selfishness. Asking for help, admitting weakness, is one of the greatest strengths a man can have, and display. One of the greatest weaknesses is refusing. People want to help, especially those that they love, that are important to them. Refusing to let them help is refusing to let them in, denying them access to you, your life and who you are. Being raised as I was, this is perhaps my greatest weakness as well, but I am learning, and getting better. Learn this less on as early as possible. The longer it takes to learn this lesson, the deeper the weakness will be ingrained, and the more pain to excise it.

Towards that end, our society is far too judgmental on far too many menial aspects of life for men. Men are not allowed to like bright colors, to enjoy intellectual pursuits like chess, to create art, to bake. Instead, we are expected to dress down in practical and drab clothes, watch sports, fix machines, grill red meat. If you enjoy sports and motors, that’s great, but by the same token, it’s great if you like the color pink, or making layer cakes. Gender roles stifles creativity, enjoyment, and personal growth, and such oppression is terrible for individuals, and a loss to society. You be you. Love who you love, and provided it does not harm others, do what you want to do. As a traditional male from an older generation, this was also a difficult lesson for me to learn. As odd as it may sound, I learned this lesson best from my participation in Renaissance fairs, another thing men are not supposed to learn. Dressing for the era, and walking through public areas in the garb before and after the fairs, taught me that there is no harm in enjoying what I enjoy, even in public, and had some marvelous conversations and interactions as a direct result of the courage it took for me to do this. I have struggled to fit in for my entire life, being more interested in intellectual pursuits than athletic, and somehow found the courage to follow my own interests. It is because of the way that I was different that I taught and had a positive impact on literally thousands of students, added, even if weakly, to the literary body of society with my own book, and helped our environment through my work as an analytical chemist.

Be happy. Live your life as you choose to live it, not as others tell you it should be lived. Love, openly and honestly who you love. Help when you are in a position to help, and ask for help when you have needs.

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