Parenting with Pride
Looking beyond the parade, columnist Ariel Foxman reflects on what pride means for his young son.
A friend recently asked me if my husband and I would be taking our toddler son to the NYC LGBT Pride March at the end of the month. “You don’t take Cielo to the parade, do you?” She had asked in that reverse negative nudnik way. “Actually, probably,” I replied. “I mean … yes, sure.”
My husband Brandon and I had taken Cielo last summer, when he was a little over eight months. He really enjoyed two things: (1) the rainbow hand fan we bought from a street vendor that made a fast whirring noise when opened and collapsed and (2) the mylar fringe that blew in festive abandon from passing floats. He also really loved being held and carried by his two dads on a beautiful sunny day for over an hour.
The simple truth is, he went because he goes wherever we take him. We were excited to attend with friends, and we were happy to spend the day out as a gay-dads family. It had been a deliberately good time, but the day was not meant to be some sort of grand gesture, or statement. Still, I have wondered since, to what degree is our pride, as gay men and gay parents, also our child’s pride? Is this another lesson for us to impart to our son—specifically?
The answer is not in those few hours watching the fabulously liberated parade-goers on Fifth Avenue, nor is it in contemplating the blizzard of rainbows that moves in for the entire month of June. Sure, both put a huge smile on my heart, and both are a stark reminder that most people on this planet do not share any or all of the same freedoms my husband and I do. I honor and celebrate the struggle and the heroism that got us to where we are today. But what is the take-away for my son?
I suspect that learning to develop a sense of pride, like most every lesson a child truly receives, is one that must be modeled day in and day out and as time goes on. Consistency in these three areas is what matters most to my family, parade or no parade:
For decades we have been told that we must tolerate others and their differences. But tolerance is too low a bar. We tolerate a crowded subway. We tolerate a spoiler alert. It is not okay to simply tolerate the inherent magic that makes every individual an individual. The actual aspiration should be to celebrate these differences and revel, as well, in what makes us all the same. If jubilee is the goal, then the starting line has to be acceptance. We simply must accept that nobody is like me and not every group is like us. Cielo accepts that he has two fathers because we teach him that families come in all sorts of combinations. It’s a fact; there’s no room for subjectivity, no room for hierarchical judgment.
Teaching empathy ensures that children honor what is true for all of us—that we share a collected set of feelings and emotions. I can know your fear because I have also been afraid. Remember the Golden Rule, and you are bound to choose compassion over consternation. But how do we teach a child to honor that which is different in others? You promote visibility. Living your truth in its full dimension is the only way our children understand that we all have our own truth and each one is best expressed in its entirety. If Papa and Daddy hold hands and kiss in public, Cielo understands that this is not only who we are, but that it’s ok to express a shared emotion differently. Love is love, for sure. We all want to give and receive it, but we might not do so in the same way. If we hide who we are, we lie and tell our children that there is only one way and that the rest are shameful, inferior, or worst of all, wrong.
I understand that pride in the context of being a counter to shame is a definite positive. Still, I think it’s reasonable to be thrown by the competing principle that being prideful is a ‘sin,’ culturally or spiritually. For centuries, in fact, pride has held down an impressive top-10 slot as a no-no. Is that because in order to be proud we have to see ourselves as better than someone else or others even if for a moment? What if we focused less on how we are outstanding in a competitive sense and doubled down on how we are all outstanding because we all simply are. When it comes to parenting, we aim to show Cielo that we are all equal and equally worthy of feeling proud—just because. Take the space and time to be kind, to see others and to honor who you are by honoring others. When pride faces inward, it’s up there next to gluttony. But when pride fuels mutual appreciation, there’s heaven in the details.
And when June turns into July, we will still be celebrating Pride teaching our son to be open-minded, honest—and most of all, human.