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06/23/2014 03:08 pm ET Updated Aug 23, 2014

A Father's Letter to Young Men About How to Treat a Woman

Noel Hendrickson via Getty Images

Dear Young Men,

Our confusion about women starts early:

Last spring, a new family moved into our neighborhood. They have a school-aged daughter, and on moving day she was playing alone in her new yard. Meanwhile, a group of six boys played in our yard. When I suggested they go invite her to play, one of the boys cried out, "We don't know how to treat girls!" The rest of the boys nodded vigorously in agreement.

Our confusion about women starts early.

We're told they are fundamentally different from us. Women have emotions, but men have muscles. Women nurture, but men protect. Women like to talk, but men like to act. Women want love, but men want respect. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. We've been trained to believe they are alien.

We've even been trained to believe they play differently on a spring afternoon.

Our confusion about women starts early.

On that spring afternoon, I told those boys I knew the secret about how to treat girls. I waved them in close. They smiled conspiratorially. Then I whispered, "You start by treating them like a person." They quit smiling. They asked the girl to play and, in minutes, they were all jumping on the trampoline. Same energy, same laughter, same joy. People being people together.

Young Men, we can stop treating women like women and start treating them like humans.

And our subjugation of women began early, too:

For millennia, we've been taught to believe they are not only different from us but also less than us. In the United States, the 15th Amendment gave racial minorities the right to vote in 1870; it took 50 years and four more amendments before women had the right to vote. For centuries, we've silenced them. We've used women as bodies in the most violent of ways and we've used them as entertainment in the most subtle of ways--with glances and gestures and jokes and fantasy and plausible deniability about all of it.

Our subjugation of women began early.

We've inherited this legacy.

Young Men, we can stop treating women like subjects to subjugate and objects to objectify, and we can start treating them like humans to humanize. Like mouths with a voice and souls with a purpose.

But there is only one way to do so: We have to quit hating ourselves first.

If there is a golden rule in life and in love, it is this: the quality of your love for another is always limited to the quality of the love you have for yourself. Our rejection of a woman's humanity is a reflection of our own self-rejection. We fail to embrace her fragile heart and her broken story because we've failed to embrace our own fragile heart and our own broken story.

Young Men, we've been taught to loathe ourselves if we feel vulnerable and weak. We've been trained to think we're only as good as our next conquest. We've been taught to predicate our worth upon being right and righteous. So when we look inside and see all of our insecurity and self-doubt and fear and loneliness, we despise what we see. Feeling an inward emptiness, we seek to fill it up with outward experiences,

like achievement

and wealth

and things

and people we treat like things.

Women obsess about their bodies because they have been trained to believe beauty is found on the surface of themselves, rather than in the center of themselves. We obsess about their bodies for the same reason. Having been trained to believe there is nothing of inherent value on the inside of us, we look outside of ourselves for worthiness. We look at them.

Yet, in the words of Celtic poet John O'Donohue, "We cannot fill up our emptiness with objects, possessions, or people. We have to go deeper into that emptiness; then we will find beneath the nothingness the flame of love waiting to warm us."

So, Young Men, the only way to change centuries of confusion and subjugation is to go deeper into your own hearts.

Quit trying to win the heart of a woman or conquer the body of a woman. Settle into your own soul, instead. Discover there that your worth is not about what you do or what you have, but about who you are. Find a Love there that can embrace your entire humanity -- both the strength and the weakness, both the glory and the mess. And once you have discovered that love, start to give it away to everyone around you. Including women.

Especially women.

With Hope for All of Us,

A Father

This letter was originally published at DrKellyFlanagan.com.

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