Pistols and Penises

Driving Monster back to home from his Mom’s, I had queued up some music from Hamilton, the Broadway musical. In the song, Washington on your Side, the phrase “The emperor has no clothes” comes up during one of the stanzas.

Fun times for sure.

And, if someone thinks that a musical that critically evaluates our founders politics and personal lives via multicultural rap and hip hop is inappropriate for a 4 year old… well, you’re probably right.

Monster: “Dad, why doesn’t the emperor have any clothes? That’s silly!  I mean, he would have to stay inside the house so he doesn’t show his penis to everyone!”

Me: *Hysterical Laughing*

Monster: “If the emperor needed new clothes, he would have to wear a towel to the store to hide his penis!”

I’m not exaggerating or paraphrasing at all. This exact conversation happened in the car this morning.

Now, I know what you are all thinking. You’re thinking that I’m going to talk about and juxtapose the differences between how we as a society teach our children about sex organs and how we as a society teach our children about guns

Wow. I really know you all. That’s exactly what I’m going to talk about. How did you know? Was it the post title? Man, this issue matters. It’s something that’s  so core to so many of my beliefs as a (sort of) responsible  father that it was inevitable that I would share it on here eventually. Apparently, Monster asking a question about a Broadway musical score that referenced an old fable by Hans Christian Anderson is all it took to get it in the open.

Okay. Here we go.

There’s a big problem in children’s culture. Its something I see every time I watch children’s TV, cartoon or otherwise. It’s something I see whenever I take a stroll down the toy aisle in Target. It’s something pervasive throughout children’s books, specifically boy’s books about superheroes.

Guns, violence, and Good Guys vs. Bad Guys has an unbelievably strong presence in little boy’s culture. So strong that I feel I’m fighting a losing battle with Monster when it comes to peaceful solutions. Guns go bang! Guns kill bad guys. Guns look AWESOME.  They are so much more appealing to play with and imagine with than my alternative.

I mean, talking to a four year old about how generational poverty, and imbalance of power, and lack of privilege, can cause a young person with a rough childhood to view robbery as the only way, and countering that with suggesting that we provide real solutions to poverty in our country, instead of just giving guns to everyone, is fun and all, but let’s face it – Monster is only four, and guns go Bang!

We spend so much time glorifying guns and violence, we glorify superheroes in larger-than-life situations, we even dress our kids up and let them hold play guns, but we; for some reason, are afraid to talk about basic anatomy.

We talk about penises all hush hush. No-no parts, naughty bits, privates. We project shame and a feeling of dirtiness upon our kids whenever we talk about it. The word penis even gets replaced. Willy, wee wee, etc.

Here’s something to think about. I don’t ever want my son to have to shoot someone. I don’t want him to get shot. Even if he chooses to be in the military or law enforcement, I sincerely hope that he would never have to actually take someone’s life. I think we can all agree that no one wants their child to have to kill someone else, for any reason, good or bad.

However; I want my son to use the bathroom and understand how and why his body expels waste. And I want him to not be ashamed of his body parts when he grows to the age where he is going to have sex. I sure hope he isn’t ashamed of his anatomy. I want to educate him so that he knows and is comfortable with visiting a doctor and getting regular men’s health check ups.

His genitalia are part of his anatomy as they are a part of every human being on this planet. We all have genitals, and we all use them. For many things. The activities we do with them are natural. Of course there are many codes of conduct with our genitals, especially when it comes to sharing them with people, but come on. Monster is four. That’s a battle for a few years later.

The age appropriate battle I am fighting is instilling Monster with the sense that his body is his and his own. And his anatomy – all of it – is wonderful. And beautiful. And certainly not something to ever feel shame about.

And in that light, it’s a travesty to me that we fill a kid’s brain with heroic thoughts of killing humans – something I never want Monster to have to do – but we hide and closet anatomy and genital function – something that Monster is going to do, whether I approve or not.

I am losing the battle to the no guns rule at our house. Part of that is that at his other house he’s allowed to play with guns. Part of that is what he is exposed to that I have no control over.

I know he will play with guns. I even will allow it in my house when he is older. Far be it from me to think that sheltering Monster from such a pervasive cultural force is within my power. But all I can do is hope and wish that my continued thought questions about what killing someone actually means will sink in in some way.

In the meantime, I want to assure Monster that sometimes,  just like little boys, even emperors don’t  have to wear clothes.




Don’t Pinch Me! (Consent Matters)

“But dad, we don’t REALLY get pinched by leprechauns. That’s not kind and leprechauns are just a story we tell on Paddy’s Day”

“That’s right, monster. And in our house, we don’t follow that tradition. We don’t allow anyone to pinch or touch us against our will. The only time it’s okay for funny pinching to happen is if it is a game that you consented to.”

In a 4 year old’s mind, selling the pinching tradition as fun it is tempting. Laughter and
squeals are sure to abound. Thinking of little red-bearded leprechauns with pots of gold liftarn-Hat-and-shillelagh-colourand wry dispositions conjures hilarious imagery and sets the stage for some great storytelling. But, the core mechanic of the tradition doesn’t sit right with us.

Perhaps Ashley and I are overthinking it. Perhaps it it just a silly tradition, but chasing people down and pinching them for not wearing a specific color is rude at first look; and it’s a bit more sinister when you think harder about it.

Teaching the tradition quite literally teaches our son that it is OK to bully and pinch people based on what they wear – and that it is OK to do so without their consent.

I want that to sink in a bit. In our lives, consent is a big deal. We talk about it in all aspects:

shamrockIn play:“Zephy, if you want to play catch, can you first ask with your manners, please?”

With our pets: “Sassafras got in trouble because he didn’t ask the kitty if she wanted to be carried around by her head.”

With physical touch: “Do you want to give me a hug? No? Okay! I won’t hug you!”

Consent is so important to us that we assuredly annoy Zephy constantly by asking him to codify his requests in a respectful, asking manner. Over time, though, he’s learned how important it is. He knows when Dad or Mom says “No” to a request, there isn’t any grey area to change their minds. The beauty of teaching consent is that it is a two way street. He knows there are boundaries he can enforce as well.

Boundaries like: “I would like to put my coat on by myself, please don’t help me.”

Boundaries like: “Please don’t touch me.” or “I don’t want a kiss right now.”

And, boundaries like:“I don’t want to be pinched by you or anyone.”


-Daddy Levi


How does your family feel about pinching traditions? Comment below!