He is young and still learning

Mike Skerrit asks his son what it means when she says stop.

My son is three years old. My daughter is five. They play. My son is strong and sometimes he gets the upper hand and giggles as he sits on top of his sister. She says stop. He won’t. He’s laughing so hard he doesn’t hear her. I come running. “What does it mean when she says stop,” I say. Silence. There is no missing my message. He is upset. “It means stop,” he answers ruefully. “When does it mean stop,” I say. “Stop right now.” “It means stop right now. Always. We don’t keep doing it, we don’t ignore her, we don’t make her say it twice. When she says stop, we stop.” “Okay.”

He is young and still learning. The lesson remains a work in progress. We will probably have to do it again tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that. We will continue as long as it takes for him to understand that my message is not only about his sister.

Because where once was urgency there is now desperation. When he grows up, my voice may very well be the only one he hears telling him to stop. It won’t be the judge, who sees a white, blue eyed, handsome young man and decides he can’t go to prison because it just wouldn’t be the right place for him. It won’t be the lawyer, who warns against admitting guilt when guilt is beside the point. It won’t be the media, whose fickle masters don’t click for truth. It won’t be the schools, whose stated, budget-minded goal of providing a safe environment for students cannot be maintained amidst the perception that they do not provide a safe environment for students. It won’t be the coaches, who prize his alpha male qualities and have no use for nor interest in his understanding of right and wrong. It won’t be the peers, who are products of that same sphere of entitlement.

Someday my children will enter a world without shepherds. Just as we must teach our daughters that they are not sheep, we must teach our sons that they are not wolves. That responsibility and entitlement cannot coexist. That self-worth comes from what is earned, not what is taken. That alcohol is neither an alibi nor a key to unlock the basic inviolate rights of others. That accepting rape culture is unacceptable, no matter how many winks and nudges they get.

They will not learn these lessons unless we teach them. Diligently. Emphatically. Lovingly, but angrily if necessary. And, immediately. As in, right now. Today. If they are old enough to make demands, they are old enough to be told no.

For now, my son’s world is his sister. My job is to keep it that way.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all parents taught their sons that? Is that really too much to expect?

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