Nils Pickert responds to the viral article about him wearing a skirt to support his son on this Huffington Post blog entry. The original article (which I mentioned here the end of August) garnered the usual mix of responses, from “your son is so lucky to have you as a father” to “if your son wanted to go in public naked, would you let him — why are you abdicating your role as parent?” In yesterday’s response, Pickert says in part:
Of course, the work of teaching our son how to interact with people — and how to get along with society and understand its rules and patterns — is mainly up to his mother and me. But he is my son, not my property. I don’t own him. If there is such a thing as owning a human being, he owns me. I made him, I dreamed of him, I longed for him; now he is in my life, and I am responsible for him as long as there is breath in me. So I teach him the rules and what to do with them. Not every rule makes sense. Some rules tell us to behave with violence and cruelty to other human beings, even if we have a distinct feeling that our actions toward them are wrong. It is not OK for anybody to mess with my son about his outfit. Hence I wear dresses and skirts so that any person who has a problem with that and feels the necessity to express his or her resentments can mess with me.
Of course, this reminds me of Kahlil Gibran’s famous lines from The Prophet on children (which I always hear in my head sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock):
…though they are with you, they belong not to you. You can give them your love, but not your thoughts; they have their own thoughts. You can house their bodies, but not their souls, for their souls dwell in a place of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You can strive to be like them, but you cannot make them just like you.
I visited with a woman from our church last night, perhaps in her late 60s. I stopped by her house to drop off a plate of food, as she has recently had surgery, and we ended up talking for more than an hour. At one point, she said, “So let me just ask you . . .” and related her surprise at seeing our son standing in the front of the church to receive his first Bible (a custom to celebrate first graders’ transition to “big church”) wearing a dress. “At first I thought they had gotten his name wrong,” she said. “But then someone assured me that it was him. So, does he wear dresses often?” I loved her directness and her comfort in asking! I explained that he does, and that he was very pleased to have on his new red flowered dress and gold metallic gladiator sandals. Considering that this is a kid who avoids standing out in every other way, the fact that he wanted to represent himself this way to his church at his presentation tells me that it is an integral part of who he is. I said that we (my partner and I) figure that we have absolutely no say-so or control in who our son is. What we do have control over is whether he grows up knowing that he is valued and valuable.
“I think you are so wise!” she told me. “You are exactly right; he will be whoever he’s going to be. I just think it’s great that you are letting him be himself.”
Ironically, the same day I had that affirming conversation, I also had a conversation with my son about what he would wear to a church we are visiting this weekend. We are traveling to a historic church important to my family’s past for a special homecoming service. I don’t know the folks there – but I’m pretty confident that they will be older, conservative Southern Baptists. I don’t think they will understand a boy in a dress, or be curious in the wonderfully open-hearted way expressed to me yesterday evening. And as we’re not going to be in ongoing relationship with or proximity to these folks, I don’t feel the effort to make a stand worthwhile. Maybe that’s not fair to them. But I vetoed dresses this Sunday. We have compromised on a suit with a favorite tie . . . and the gold gladiator shoes.