To my father, (and fathers like mine)
I will probably have to mail this to you and cross check if you have read what I have written. But I want to say thank you. Grateful and blessed are children like me who have parents like you. Thank you for raising your children, and if I may say so for raising them well. Thank you for participating in our lives. For teaching us that the dictums of ‘men are good workers’ while ‘women are good nurturers’ is a myth. For teaching us that both parents can be equal partners in being involved in the lives of their children and that it has nothing to do with long established social constructs. For being there whenever we needed you and even when we thought we did not. For teaching us that the societal notion of ‘men’ and ‘father’ did not mean anything, but it was the person you are that actually mattered. That to be a ‘father’ is not a patriarchal title but a relationship that comes with duties, responsibilities and emotions. To fathers like you who believe that sons and daughters must never be discriminated against each other, for teaching me that integrity and loyalty goes a long way. It must not be easy, being a father in a largely patriarchal society. Thank you, to you and all those fathers who let their sons and daughters dream, dare and pursue the life that we desire.
To my brothers,
you both are turning eighteen this year. You will now officially be branded as ‘men’. Don’t ever let that word tear you down and stop you from being who you are. Never let society dictate the life you want to lead. It can be something as simple as the colour of your shirt, to the career you choose, to the hobby you want to pursue. I remember the time I was supposed to learn cooking (because I was moving out of the house) but one of you decided to pick it up instead of me. Do not let hegemonic masculinity dismantle the amazing people that you are. Hegemonic masculinity in simple terms refers to a set of traits that men are expected to perform in order to retain and project the societal notion of the ‘male’. This is heteronormative (where society expects people to fall into either the male or the female genders with their stereotypical characteristics). You both are some of wittiest and smartest people I know, and I hope you will go on playing the guitar and football/basketball, and sew and cook till whenever you want to stop. I hope you and young boys like you will grow up to be good people rather than subscribe to society’s notions of what ‘men’ must be.
To my best-friend,
I’ve known you since I was four. You are one of the cleverest and smartest people I know. I have reminded you (for decades!) that being a nerd never made anyone less of a man (And what is a complete man anyway?). You might have been called a nerd, like it is a bad word, you might not have been the football captain but it is nerds like you who run the biggest foundations and enterprises in the world, who create life changing policies for people across the globe, who become billionaires who fund projects that transform lives and undertake life-changing research, make breakthrough inventions and discover new galaxies. So to nerds like you, I would say don’t hide behind your trophies. Don’t let them tease you for being a boy who cared more about his books. Because at the end of the day they’ll need you. And if there is one thing more important than being who you are, it is being happy being who you are.
To my gay friend, I am sorry. I am sorry for the hell that you have gone through. I am sorry for the hell that you go through every day. Offhand remarks, discriminatory behaviours – you have seen them all and you see them often. You are a fair fighter in an unfair world and that is what makes you the best among warriors. You once told me that the dignity a man owes himself is more important that the one he holds to society. When governments debate your sexual orientation, when people make ‘gay jokes’, when we hear stories of boys who are bullied at home, in school or at their work space for not conforming to societal norms, your strength and resilience gives hope to those around you. May the odds be ever in your favour my friend.
To my male friends who chose arts instead of STEM (STEM- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), while we talk so much about encouraging girls to take up the STEM subjects, it is also important to talk about boys taking up arts, because the process of making all disciplines of study - gender neutral and accessible is a multi-faceted one. Congratulations for doing what you do, it must not have been an easy decision. Especially in India, where anything less than an engineer, doctor, lawyer or investment banker is a failure and more so if you are a male. I am glad you chose your passion over prescribed patterns and though the road ahead seems a little less encouraging at the moment, I hope you will excel in your field and have a fulfilling career.
The list of men I want to write to is long, some of you are family and some of you are not. Some of you I have known for a lifetime and with some of you maybe I have just shared a smile. From the friend who decided to hit the gym because he felt he was too thin to be a man, to the one who was left upset because his ex-partner felt he was not making enough money expected of a man, to the one who loves dancing, to the one with the long hair, to the one who cries at movies – it is time to stop being hard on yourself because of certain archaic social norms that need dismantling. We start young, my cousin at the age of twelve was expected to have facial hair because most people in his class already did. Men are expected to be less emotionally expressive than women. Misquoting another man who believes in breaking norms: Because it is the year 2017, it is time that these notions are done away with.
At the end of the day it is not about men being from Mars or women being from Venus. We all belong to planet Earth. Not all men want war and not all women want love, but it is our individual wants and needs that gives shape to who we are.
To the men I know and the ones who relate to those that I know, I hope you’ll never let ‘be a man’ define who you really are.