When I don’t have an immediate (usually work) deadline, I love watching news at the top of the hour, especially on weekends, to catch the headlines even though more and more in this crazy world, I have the sense that fate is being taken out of our own hands.
Or is it?
Since the last presidential election, close friends and I have encouraged each other to be more active in defending our beliefs. Protest or solidarity marches throughout the country and even other parts of the world, the Me Too Movement, and, most heartening, many of America’s students emerging as relentless and articulate advocates for gun control legislation have given me hope.
I’ve been writing (and even publishing) more poetry. I’ve become more vocal in my support of the Fulbright program. I’ve supported my husband who is becoming active in politics, a great step for an openly gay man just like the very promising sign that a record number of women have announced they are candidates for political office this year.
Yesterday, when I was about to leave for our family’s Saturday visit to the YMCA, after I had already caught the morning headlines, I asked my husband and our young daughter for a few more minutes. Katty Kay was being interviewed about her new book, The Confidence Code for Girls.
Wait a second.
I’m a guy.
I’ve always enjoyed being a guy even when, growing up on the edge of Appalachia, I was taunted every day, and often faced physical harassment, after about age 9 because I was told I threw like a girl, hit a tennis ball like a girl, did my homework like a girl, sometimes sounded and acted like a girl.
The verbal taunting continued well into my 20s and early 30s, interestingly enough even by some gay men when I first came out of the closet who told me I was too sensitive, that my desire to have a family and a stable home and life was more “how a woman thinks”!
My ex-wife (yes, I married a woman I loved) told me that she was really disappointed that I wasn’t earning more money, that a real man could provide all the financial security that was needed for his family.
Let’s see. Maybe when I was a young teenager I wasn’t the first pick for sports teams, but I’ve played tennis and have been a runner most of my life. I’ve finished 21 marathons and am a better tennis better now than I was as a member of my college team.
I always turned in my homework early. I didn’t know that made me a girl or a woman.
I have a voice that’s pretty manly, but I wanted to try somehow to make it even more low octave until my mother said, “You have a great voice. Don’t ever change it.”
I wanted a stable marriage, have children, a steady career, be a team player in guaranteeing security, financial and otherwise, with a partner I love.
I’m lucky today to have a husband and daughter I love more than the world, a fulfilling career, good friends, lifelong interests like sports, music, and languages.
And I’m plenty comfortable at this stage with my manhood. I enjoy it. I have no need to go overboard with it.
But it took me a while.
In an interview about The Confidence Code for Girls, authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman help girls navigate challenges they face every day such as social situations, self-confidence, feeling intimidated, wondering how they look, what people think, if they should try out for a sports team, if they’re smart enough.
Let’s put it this way: thinking back on my youth, and even looking at my present sometimes, I can relate!
I was a perfectionist, often a people pleaser. I’ve learned, sometimes painfully, that I would set ridiculous standards for myself. I had to learn how to relax. I underestimated my abilities. If a boss asked me what I should earn, I always was too modest, hoping that my work ethic would prompt a boss to give me a raise without my asking for one.
Kay and Shipman have uncovered that girls’ confidence drops dramatically as they move into their teens and beyond. Kay has noted that it takes a lifetime for women to regain the confidence that hopefully is a given for girls and boys when they are young.
So after all these years, I still need to take a deep breath and square my shoulders when I know I need to speak up. I sometimes even lift weights the day before I have an important meeting.
Most importantly, I’ve finally learned to take risks without fearing failure, a lesson for my most worthwhile endeavor in life: being a good father and teacher to a young girl, especially one born with an extra chromosome who has many strengths, is fluent in two languages, a wonderful thinker, and thank heavens full of confidence.