The Fierce Dads Of Gender Non-Conforming Kids

Men are gradually rejecting society's stereotypical ideas of "proper" male roles.
06/17/2017 09:45 am ET Updated Jun 17, 2017
My child Harry and his father Ken, 1994
Julie Tarney
My child Harry and his father Ken, 1994

“I have a Harry,” a young dad in Minneapolis-St. Paul told me last month, as I signed a copy of my book for him. I’d heard that before and knew it meant that his five-year-old son liked playing with dolls and wearing mom’s heels.

“I’m okay with it,” he said, “but my wife isn’t quite there yet.”

While we didn’t get into the reasons his spouse was struggling to understand their child, I liked the optimism he projected with the word “yet.” I saw endless love, acceptance, and support reflected in his eyes. How fortunate that little boy and his no-doubt-worried mom are to have someone so secure and grounded in their family of three, I thought.

Harry and Ken, 1992
Julie Tarney
Harry and Ken, 1992

That fierce dad crossed my mind this Father’s Day weekend. He’s a reminder of the growing number of straight, cisgender men who are rejecting society’s stereotypical ideas of masculinity and “proper” male role models for their sons. And I reflected on comments my now-adult kid Harry’s awesome dad Ken made last September at my book event in hometown Milwaukee.

“Gay back then was the worst term of derision,” he said, “and it usually preceded getting beat up by somebody.”

“I think we mature generationally,” Ken began, as he told the story of how his father, a modern guy for his time, had worried about Ken as a creative kid who didn’t conform one hundred percent of the time attending a small-town high school. “Gay back then was the worst term of derision,” he said, “and it usually preceded getting beat up by somebody.”

“I grew up caring about what other people thought and believing one had to have the approval of people, but Harry taught me otherwise.”

Ken shared that his first concern when Harry came out in high school was for our son's safety. “Because I loved him so much, my concern was that people would hurt him emotionally,” he said. “So my number one objective was to be there for him.”

Harry and Ken, 2012
Julie Tarney
Harry and Ken, 2012

Ken told the audience that in the process of being there for Harry, he also learned from him. “I grew up caring about what other people thought and believing one had to have the approval of people, but Harry taught me otherwise,” Ken said, describing himself as lucky to be our kid's dad. “There’s a confidence about being himself; Harry defined for me self-love in a way that I thought was very healthy.”

Ken and Harry, 2013
Julie Tarney
Ken and Harry, 2013

When I think about Ken’s dad in the sixties, Ken as Harry’s dad since the nineties, and the fierce 21st century dad of the fortunate five-year-old in Minnesota, I see the generational shift in knowledge and growth Ken talked about so thoughtfully last fall. And I’ve seen the confidence kids get from the freedom that comes with being allowed to be themselves and express gender as they see it in ways that give them absolute joy.

The world needs boys who can nurture and girls who question authority. So I think it follows that fathers be as proud of their young sons who dress up as Wonder Woman as they are of their daughters who want to be Batman. Happy Father’s Day to evolving, gender revolutionary dad’s everywhere!

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You can read more from Julie on her personal blog, My Son Wears Heels, and also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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