April 25, 2022
After turning 2 years old, my son, Avishai, started demanding that he only wear tractor shirts, and my mind spiralled into darkness.
So writes Jay Deitcher, a social worker and therapist, a declarer of pronouns, and, it seems, someone accustomed to the aforementioned mental spiralling:
I catastrophised worst-case scenarios, imagining a world where he fell for everything stereotypically manly. I envisioned him on a football field, barrelling through mega-muscled opponents. Imagined him waxing a sports car on a warm summer day.
We seem to be in a high rhetorical gear. For a two-year-old’s choice of shirt.
Mr Deitcher - who has, he says, “always judged other guys who seemed boxed in by masculinity” – airs his view of maleness:
Men didn’t hug. Men didn’t say I love you. Men were angry. Aggressive. Inept as parents. I became determined. I was going to create a bond stronger than any parent had ever achieved, but I told myself that to do so I needed to distance myself from anything deemed masculine.
This line of thought goes on for some time.
I grimaced at anyone driving a Ford car, the John Wayne of automobiles. I hated men who wore plaid. Felt ill if someone mentioned a wrench or another tool.
And because things aren’t sufficiently dramatic:
My body spiralled into panic any time I attempted manual labour.
Given these fevered thoughts, all this tool-induced upset, readers may wish to peek at the photographs accompanying the article, and which may bring to mind the words grown adult, albeit ironically. Readers may also wish to ponder the prospects of a father-son relationship premised on a dogmatic, near-hysterical disdain for maleness, for “anything deemed masculine.”
The author says all this despite telling us that he grew up with a father, a role model, who had none of these alleged shortcomings of the standard male humanoid. We’re told that Mr Deitcher senior was affectionate and “was never afraid to blur boundaries,” and “spent nights sitting at the kitchen counter beautifying his nails.” Hardly an obvious example of unfeeling masculine brutishness.
And that’s before we touch on Mr Deitcher’s assumption that tractors – or, rather, shirts with pictures of tractors – could only interest boys and can therefore only signify a damnable state of boyness. A conceit that may amuse the tens of thousands of female farmers in this country alone, and the hundreds of thousands more in Mr Deitcher’s own country, at a time when agriculture classes are often majority-female.
None of which impedes the unfolding drama.
My son was born in Albany, New York, on the bedroom floor of the apartment I shared with my wife. Minutes after his arrival, we took turns cuddling him against our bare chests. While the midwife and her assistant cleaned up, my wife, always one to joke, even soon after giving birth, bragged that she had a connection to our new baby that I could never attain because men couldn’t bond with babies like women could.
It occurs to me that this is not an entirely happy thing for a new mother to tell her husband, the father of their child. Indeed, a thing to brag about. Perhaps it was the stress, or the drugs.
I immediately cut my hours at my social work gig, taking on the role of caregiving full time… I held resentment that so much of society acted as if dads couldn’t care for their kids (therefore putting pressure on women for the brunt of the caregiving).
Women hardest hit, of course.
Mr Deitcher tells us,
All my life, I’ve prided myself on blurring gender lines.
And so, naturally,
When my mom-in-law bought Avishai a coverall with footballs on it, I shoved it into the depths of his closet, never to be found.
Because nothing says blurring gender lines - and being totally cool with whatever your child chooses - like pre-emptively hiding away anything with footballs on it. Mr Deitcher did, however, ensure that his young son had access to dolls:
Once my son could walk, I paraded him through the park while he rolled his baby doll down the sidewalk in its stroller. I felt accomplished because he mirrored being a caretaker.
In the midst of this gender-blurring utopia, however, the nightmare began:
But then came the tractors. It started with YouTube. On days I was especially drained, I’d sit Avishai in front of the TV and click on “Little Baby Bum.” He fell in love with the tractor songs, and I was so worn, I didn’t care. When he asked to watch clips of construction equipment, I mindlessly pressed play. But when he demanded the shirts, I felt like I failed him.
Small child is amused by songs about tractors. Oh no. Total progressive parenting failure.
I had difficulty understanding my son’s interest in tractors, and at first, I tried to nudge Avishai toward different videos and clothing.
Again, it’s curious how the author’s professed openness – all this free-and-easy blurring of gender lines – seems to require quite a lot of nudging and censorship, and the anxious hiding away of objects deemed too manly. It seems strangely uptight and proscriptive. (At which point, it’s perhaps worth mentioning that readers’ comments are not welcome at the Today site, and Yahoo News, where the item above is also published, is “temporarily suspending article commenting.” This, we’re told, is in order to “create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions.” Yes, we will engage and connect by not talking about things.)
And then, just when all seems lost, there occurs a dim, rather belated realisation:
I took on being an at-home father because I wanted to bond with my son, and I realised that meant I needed to let him discover his own interests. He had to define his own identity, not influenced by my own bias of what I deemed to be too masculine.
I started taking joy in his joy. He radiates wearing his shirts emblazoned with diggers and dozers and excavators. At 3 ½ years old, he can name dozens of types of tractors (I always thought there was only one). He makes up quasi-gibberish tractor stories, sings quasi-gibberish tractor songs.
A happy ending, then. We don’t often get those.
Mr Deitcher is now bragging that “big manly men are being triggered by my essay.”
Oh well. Baby steps.
In the comments, Alan notes,
Funny which articles we’re not supposed to reply to.
It does often seem that people writing on certain topics, and with certain political leanings, are to be spared the indignity of discussion or disagreement. Say, people who use their own small children as a political experiment. Or whose list of things deemed “too masculine” includes:
A shirt with a tractor on it.
A shirt with footballs on it.
Cleaning a car.
Owning a Ford car.
Any reference to wrenches or other tools.
And so, Mr Deitcher can continue on his way, seemingly untroubled by further reflection, and boasting of people quoting his own “dope lines.”
Lest there be doubt, Mr Deitcher’s personal growth has limits.
We’re told, “The thing that upset people was that I was right about many aspects of masculine culture.” Though, inevitably, the details of this alleged rightness are a little sketchy, indeed entirely absent. Possibly because Mr Deitcher is much too busy applauding himself for exposing “patriarchy” and “hyper-masculinity.” And anyway, people can only have been mocking his assumptions because they are “clearly threatened.”
This being the only conceivable explanation.
Heavens, a button. I wonder what it does.