Strong

“Look at this dad”, yells Tyke as he hoists himself up the kitchen ledge with his arms. He feigns a pull-up, actually manages two (I’m thinking those tiny shoulders and that tiny back must hurt) and he drops back to the floor, staring at me in triumph.

“I’m STWONG!”

He’s still w-ing his “r”s, which I find unbelievably endearing. I smile and grant the look of approval he so eagerly seeks. The days I do a little workout at home (busy lives, etc) he joins me for the push-ups. When he was two, he’d get down on all fours and try to go all the way to the floor before grimacing and pulling himself back up. That technique soon evolved into a half-drop, as he utilized the rest of his stwength to flash his beaming smile at me. These days, he also keeps count and encourages me to finish my eggs and eat meat.

Stwong. For better or worse, children first learn this concept through its physical manifestation. The ability to run faster, climb the jungle gym, do cute pull-ups, watch adults work out. Somewhere along the way, this manifests into something insiduous. How do I teach my son about the insidiousness of strength? The false sense of bravado most men subconsiously gather through their teens like squirrels stowing away nuts and berries. It begins with “men are strong” and slowly makes its way to “men are stronger”. This gets peppered with phrases like “the weaker sex” or its contemporary, more politically correct and equally insulting version, “fairer sex”. It gets reinforced with gallant opening of doors, fixing flats or other modern Herculean feats of wonder designed to elicit admiration from women.

From there, it’s a short and pleasant stroll to the lifelong delusion that men can do what they want because they tend to have bigger muscles.

I want to tell him it’s not strength that lets a man violate a woman’s modesty, her personal space, her self-respect. It’s primal instinct. Strength is the ability to rise above that primal instinct.

When he’ll casually bandy about words like “pussy” and “balls”, I’ll tell him the latter is probably the worst example of strength. Flimsy, delicate and can make its owner crumble into a whimpering heap with a just a mild blow.

I’ll tell him about women. I’ll tell him about the strength they exert over themselves as their bodies are taken over in the process of giving life. Taken over by well-wishers, nature, primal spasms and excruciating pain I know nothing of. Every physical sinew’s mutiny held at bay by nothing but her determination. Just so that she can bring into this world another human being who’ll either learn about strength the hard way like her mother, or through delusions of masculine physical grandeur reinforced by society.

I want to tell him it’s not strength that lets a group of kids bully someone smaller, more timid. Actually, they’re weaker and are crying for help. I live in constant dread that he’ll be the one who will have to understand someone else’s weakness someday and stand up, not with physical fury, but real strength. That of the mind. That of conviction. That of understanding.

He’ll learn about love. He’ll learn about the strength it takes to tell someone you love them. Strength they had to muster because their world turned upside down and eating and sleeping and relaxing and studying and playing and hanging out was just too painful with that huge slab of genuine affection crushing their chest.

I dread these lessons of strength. It’s going to be tough for me. I’m a man after all. Perhaps the first sign of real strength is to admit you don’t really understand it. It took me years to get to this point. I lived in a fool’s paradise. I’ve hacked away at that dense jungle of ignorance, guided by examples of real strength. I learn everyday and I want to ensure my son doesn’t take as long as I did. But it will be so tough.

I’m grateful he has a fierce tigress of a mother to teach him that.

The other day she took tyke for his vaccinations. She had told him to expect a needle and some pain because she doesn’t believe in lying or unnecessarily deceiving. Tyke had nodded solemnly. He’s four now, and understands a lot of what’s going on. When the doctor called him in, he sat down and waited for the needle. The first shot was simple. He was taken aback, but quickly regained his composure. The second shot was going to be more painful. It stunned him. His face was in shock but he blinked back tears. Mom saw him look up, fight his fear and stay still through the pain. There was a stray tear that had managed to make its way to one eye. He wiped it away and told her proudly “mommy I took the shot and didn’t cwy. I was stwong.” My wife held back her own tears and called me to tell me about my son.

Perhaps he knows already. Perhaps I worry needlessly.

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24 responses to “Strong”

  1. Megha Sane says :

    Phenomenal post. Even Gandhiji had proved the same point made by you – “stand up, not with physical fury, but real strength. That of the mind. That of conviction.” That’s how he stood up against the brute British force and finally got us our freedom.
    Tears are not sign of weakness but sign of being human.

  2. Asmita Sinha says :

    I loved the entire post except the last bit. Why is display of fear, pain in form of tear(s) considered being weak. Even if your son had bawled with pain, the fact that he trusted the world to accept him in pain would have been an act of courage.

    This is a question that has been in my mind for long so asking – did your son’s choice of not crying stem because he has been told that brave people don’t cry or was it of his own choice?

    Parents like you who are always trying to be the best by questioning conventional attitudes are a boon to the next generation. Not only would your son imbibe this attitude but through him, many might learn it. It is a whole generation that you would be affecting. Kudos to parents like you!

    • daddysan says :

      Great point Asmita, one brought up by Abha above. I think it must’ve been something his friends said at school or we remarked casually.

      Thanks for reading and the kind words!

  3. mydaughtersmum says :

    “I dread these lessons of strength. It’s going to be tough for me. I’m a man after all. Perhaps the first sign of real strength is to admit you don’t really understand it.”

    This is really one of the deepest lessons I have been handed over as a parent. I started out with such gung-ho confidence about ‘protecting’ my children and being the fierce tigress a parent needs to be. Things turn out so much more complex…the most important part being about one’s own vulnerability to life events and changes. Now I am happy to admit,”Look, we are not going to get this right all the time. I’m not sure how everything works…lets hold hands often enough and be kind as we figure out things together.”

    Thank you for opening up so well…it helps others heal as well.

    • daddysan says :

      You are one of the most perceptive and insightful people I’ve come to know. I agree as a parent it takes much more strength to confess ‘I don’t know, let’s find out together’ than imposing an arbitrary set of rules handed down from one generation to the next.

  4. At Sita_Iti says :

    One thing I’ve realized is that children are very perceptive. What ‘we’ do and how we live, handle things are closely observed along with what we say. Also our unconditional love goes a long way.
    The hope is even if mistakes are made as they grow, they will be strong enough to come back, thinking “I really did not like that path”.
    That their minds will be strong enough to not be afraid of their vulnerabilities. That being strong in will come easily and effortlessly in times of calm and without too much pain in times of hardship, throughout.
    Nice post, yes you do seem to worry needlessly. :)

  5. SD says :

    I loved what you have written about the false standards of masculinity. I wish more men would realize that. It would certainly make lives easier for a lot of women. Your post is incredibly touching.

    • daddysan says :

      Thanks SD. I used to conform to those false standards of masculinity. But what’s the point of screwing up if you can’t light the way for others? ;)

  6. abha says :

    bawlfest! in a very good way ofcos! :) but doesn’t being stwong also mean it IS ok to cry when it hurts as long as you can push yourself to face the thing that scares you so much?! :)

    brilliant read! :)

    • daddysan says :

      Absolutely Abha. Good point and I think something Asmita also brings up below. I didn’t imply that his not crying was being strong. It’s just an example of the paradigm in his mind. Perhaps he learned that from his friends, or we must’ve said something casually. Scary how much and what kids retain!

  7. Shruthi says :

    Such a heartwarming post. Thank you for telling all the young parents out there that it is not impossible to imbibe the values that once we chose to ignore. It’s the toughest job being a parent and every small fear and insecuritity are so tenderly captured on this post. Brilliant price of writing. Big fan!
    @nonstopbakbak

  8. Mihir Fadnavis (@mihirfadnavis) says :

    Brilliant. Also, I must mention that while reading this post my hankie experienced a big change in its moisture content.

  9. ganpy says :

    Dude, stop writing such tender posts will ya? having an 8 year old boy and having experienced many of what you manage to narrate rather matter-of-factly, I find it hard to hold back a tear while reading your post..:)
    Where is my stwength ?? Cheers!

  10. Priya Sreeram (@priyasreeram) says :

    A heart warming post; strength is acting positive and tough in-spite of the pain. I am reminded of what Dumbledore tells Harry Potter- It’s the choice that shapes who we are rather than our abilities. Choosing to be strong, choosing to be brave and choosing to be good maketh a man . Your son is blessed to have you as his dad,friend ,philosopher n guide ! Cheers

  11. rainbowblr says :

    Hi Daddysan, ’strong’ – Great post as usual. very well written. made even better since it is a personification of the way you think. Only point where I have a fight with is ’primal instinct is what causes a man to violate a woman’s modesty’ .. now primal by definition in this context is ’first’ or ’chief’ or ’most important’… even using a variant of this definition, find it hard to agree with this reasoning :) pliss to explain your rationale when you wrote this. thank you and have a great day

  12. rainbowblr says :

    Hi Daddysan, ’strong’ – Great post as usual. very well written. made even better since it is a personification of the way you think. Only point where I have a fight with is ’primal instinct is what causes a man to violate a woman’s modesty’ .. now primal by definition in this context is ’first’ or ’chief’ or \’most important’… even using a variant of this definition, find it hard to agree with this reasoning :) pliss to explain your rationale when you wrote this. thank you and have a great day

  13. ACS says :

    This was such a touching post. I totally relate to you. I am a mother of a soon to be three year old. And these are things I worry about too. I keep thinking how I can educate him about respecting people, how manliness doesn’t lie in the muscles and brute power, how he needs to stand for himself and doesn’t need to follow the crowd. Like you, I am lucky to have a partner who echoes my thoughts and we are struggling to get our points across in ways the little one can understand. We try to teach by action – he learns a lot by observation and we are constantly on our guard about how we behave in front of him, we are very careful not send him the wrong signals, unintentionally. But he goes to school, he meets other people and I see how that affects him. And it is so difficult to tell him not to do something when most people around him are doing it and getting appreciated for the same. Its a challenge. But hey! we are learning and growing as parents as well.

    Salute for this awesome writeup

    • daddysan says :

      Thanks for sharing your story ACS! It’s about how much learning we can cram into them before they head out and test it against their friends :)

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