Now that the holiday shopping rush is over, I’d like to open up the discussion to a topic that I find really interesting. Remember that Wal-Mart commercial where the woman and her son are in the store searching for a gift and he reaches up to grab a doll? By the end of the commercial we see that the doll was a gift for a little girl whose dad proposes to the woman. Cute, right?
Don’t front, I’m sure you heard the collective gasp when that little boy grabbed the doll. Given most commercials aimed at Black consumers that rehash images of the perfect Soul Food movie image to portray positive Black families, this new one was a shocker. If there’s one thing that most Black folks are gravely afraid of, it’s having a gay son.
Not to say that other ethnicities don’t share the same fear but nothing scares us more than finding out our children (I think boys get it the worst) have joined the rainbow side. If this was indeed the plan of the ad agency or internal ad department, it was a win. The commercial got the attention it wanted.
So you may be surprised to know that my toddler son isn’t a stranger to dolls. In fact, he likes them a lot. If he sees one, he’ll yell ‘It’s a baby’ and he’ll pretend to take care of it. While playing with dolls might make some fathers go all Lucious on Jamal I noticed that when he played with dolls, Liam would mimic how I took care of him. Feedings, changings, hugs and all were part of how he expressed himself to this doll “baby.”
Liam even pointed at things around the house and told the doll what the objects were. At no time did he express any desire to also put on a feather boa and vogue to house music. Any fear of him “turning gay” by playing with dolls is ridiculous. If he is gay, there’s no amount of bro conditioning that will change it. And as he gets older and begins to figure out the differences in the genders, I’ll be there to guide him regardless of what sexual orientation he is.
The common misconception is that this type of pretend play only encourages maternal behavior. I think that it also encourages positive paternal behavior. As the world changes and traditional family roles evolve, it’s an advantage to update our kids’ life skills to make life futures easier. For example, when I was a younger man, I learned how to cook so that I wouldn’t have to depend on a woman to eat.
Learning to prepare my own meals gave me an appreciation for what it takes to function domestically. Hopefully, my son won’t have the same domestic shock so many other men have when faced with things usually assigned exclusively to women. I think most kids are just curious about all toys they come across. Everything is new to really young children. They have no concept of gender roles and really don’t care.
My kid’s enjoyment of the occasional dad-play hasn’t stopped him from doing “boy stuff” either. Liam still pretends to be Darth Vader, loves trains, cars, robots and dinosaurs. At the same time, he’s learning the fundamentals of family building and home maintenance. While I’m in no rush to get my son a Barbie Dream House (although the new one is pretty dope), I’m not alarmed by him pretending to be a dad every now and then.
Kids discover how life works in different ways and I think it’s our duty to recognize how they learn and point them in the direction that will give them the best advantage. Times have changed. In order to change with them, we’ve got to get rid of our old baggage, whether those bags are pink or blue.