"Let's skip," my daughter said on our way to school the other week. She took my hand and started skipping along, pulling me forward to urge me to do the same.
Wouldn't it look, well, gay, for me to skip down the street? In public? I wasn't willingly going to make myself look like a sissy.
I'm a grown man but I had the same fears I had back in school where I was teased daily – for not being good at sports, for the pineapple juice box I took in my lunch one day (and never again after that), for my name, for hanging out with girls, for what I wore, for how I walked, for my high voice.
I spent so much of my time and energy trying not to draw attention to myself. I learned not to carry my books at my chest like the girls, but had to practice carrying them at my side, casually, like the other guys did. But even then, carrying books that way made them so much easier for bullies to tip them out of my hand from behind. I couldn't win. The best way to avoid being teased was to avoid people altogether. That instinct still lingers.
But my daughter wants me to skip with her, without all those hang-ups. She doesn't doubt herself, but is strong and confident. In fact, walking up to the grocery store the other day, she said "look at my superpowers." She swept her hand forward then outward, commanding the (automatic) doors to open, and they did. "Who rules the world?" she says, and we all know the answer to that.
Over the years I had forgotten how to be spontaneous and silly. But children bring back a license to play, be it dress up or with dolls (like I did as a kid), or blocks or trains. I even enjoy playing basketball with my son now after deciding that I don't care if my form is terrible or if I can't sink a single basket. It is more important to spend time with my kids, doing what they want and what they enjoy, and not worrying about what others may think.
Right now I'm sitting at a gay café writing this. There's a large Big Bird sticker plastered on my laptop, but it makes me smile. Should I take it off? Nah, I leave it on and even embrace it. Why should I be embarrassed? Yesterday I dropped my daughter off at her ballet lesson and then walked home alone. A handsome fellow walking the other way smiled as he passed me, which I thought was fun and flirty, maybe I still got it... But then I realized I had my daughter's flowery pink backpack over my shoulder and her ladybug umbrella in my hand. I'm holding on to it being a cruisy smile from him, though!
With my daughter pulling my hand, skipping and laughing, I abandoned my fears and joined her. Skipping was easy and natural. I felt light and free and didn't care what people thought. It was fun.
Perhaps I've gone too far, though, as I'll even sing on the way to school now. My singing is awful but I enjoy it and I'm no longer self-conscious. My daughter said, "could you stop singing, at least when we get close to the school?"
"Why, are you embarrassed?" I asked her. "No," she said, "I'm not embarrassed if you're not embarrassed." Good save, sweetheart, good save. So we sang together the rest of the way.