A message to men

CW re: Olympic-Gymnast Father Lunging at Dr. Devil

When I was 9, I watched as my dad charged toward my neighbor’s house with a bat in his hand and rage in his eyes; he just learned that my neighbor molested me, and he was intent on enforcing justice.

A little girl watching her life rapidly change, this reaction made me more afraid than I already was.

I know he meant well, but it felt like I was spiraling downward in a moment where I already didn’t have any footing. Everything felt out of control, and this outburst shocked me.

Within a few minutes, my dad calmed down—I don’t remember if it was because of my mother standing between him and the house, or if he saw me witnessing him behave this way, or if he realized the short-sightedness, but he stopped. Instead, he, my mom, and I retreated from the summer heat, and sat down to talk about what happened.

With this in mind, please note that it is with faith in men that I share this perspective.

The Olympic gymnasts’ father attacking Dr. Devil sickens me; watching it, and hearing the girls shriek, it is almost more traumatizing for me than hearing the testimonies.

This is not what being a “hero” looks like. Although I understand his anger, and I get the urge to attack him, I am disappointed that he was unable to control himself, and that so many people glorify his behavior.

Families of victims, men specifically, please remember: this moment is not for you.

Attacking him does not change what happened.

Attacking him does not keep your loved ones safe.

Attacking him does not heal your loved ones.

Instead, it jeopardizes their healing.

If you are in this moment as a parent, first you must recognize the sensitivity of the situation—how hard it was for your child to come forward, and how afraid they are of the consequences.

Think about it: it might feel good for a moment, but the chaos you create and the punishment you might receive for “defending their honor,” or however you justify it, makes healing harder for your child.

They already feel guilt and shame. They already feel the painful emotional fallout. They already have a difficult time understanding what happened. They do not need the added burden of coping from your actions, too. They do not need to think, even for a second, that what happens to you is their fault.

They are just beginning to unravel the emotional shifts of their trauma, and they need you to be there for them. Use your emotion, your broken heart, to bond and connect with them; I promise you this feeling will permeate much longer than an impulsive reaction.

Even with all of the rage, disappointment, disbelief you feel, your child is the priority.

You cannot be their hero if they suffer because of actions you take in their name.

Become their hero by showing them healthy male love. Remind them every day, in many ways, that they are beautiful, powerful, capable and worthy.

Become their hero by listening, and being an open avenue for them to speak their truth.

Become their hero by teaching boys how to treat girls.

Become their hero by holding your friends, your coworkers, your family accountable when they do something gross (such as hitting on the waitress, commenting on the sexuality of another coworker, shouting at someone walking down the street, etc).

Become their hero by emulating respect and appreciation for women.

Become their hero by doing all of this before there is a need, a hole to fill. That way they know it’s safe to come to you if the unspeakable needs to be spoken.

This is how you become their hero. This is how you hold your male power. This is how you use your masculinity in a safe, healthy way.

Committing violence in their name distracts from their voice and energy.

Committing violence in their name perpetuates the narrative that men are inherently erratic.

Committing violence in their name takes you away from them.

I know when you learn of something so horrible, it’s so hard to figure out what to do. It feels like a blast of energy; your adrenaline pumps, your vision blurs, and the ringing in your ears makes it feel like all sound has escaped you. It’s difficult to reason when your brain is sending fear and rage and panic messages through every cell of your body.

I know you feel this way because that is how it felt when it happened, and every single moment after. It still feels this way sometimes when I recollect those memories.

Every step feels like the ground could break away.

Where will you be when your child feels like they’re falling? With their abuser, in jail? Or will you be there to catch them?

If you are given the chance, be the solid ground they very much need, my brothers. You are stronger than you think you are. You are needed more than you know.

Leaders can’t have green lips.

I learned my first real leadership lesson in 5th grade.

The educators at Finland Elementary selected me to represent the school in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at another school close by.

It was a big deal, and I was so excited. My parents were excited, too, taking time off work to show support for their over-achieving daughter. The principal even promised to drive me there in her car.

I dressed up, trying to look like a grown-up, like my mom who I thought always looked so ready for business.

I forgot, however, that it was St. Patrick’s Day. I forgot to wear green.

When I arrived at school before the ceremony, the kids noticed, and desperation overcame my small stature. No kid likes getting pinched (what jerk created that rule anyway?).

A brilliant idea lifted my spirits.

I went to the bathroom, taking with me a bright green marker. It was in that small, poorly lit bathroom where I made a conscious decision to color my lips green.

Walking back into the classroom, I felt tremendous pride for outsmarting the cruel rule. I guess I’ve always been a trendsetter, because everyone wanted green lips or green hands or green nails.

With a grin, I showed my teacher, Miss O’Brien, thinking she would admire my creativity. I can still recall her horrified, disappointed expression. And it still makes my cheeks turn red.

Miss O’Brien hurriedly grabbed my hand and brought me outside for one of the most straight-up discussions of my life. To paraphrase, she told me that when one is chosen as a leader, it is because he or she is held in high regard. It’s because that person makes decisions which positively influences people. That person sets an example.

Miss O’Brien taught me that day that humility is a power. She taught me that being myself, the excited girl who wanted to dress to impress the audience, is what made me vibrant. She taught me leadership isn’t about fitting in, and that I don’t have to look stupid to stand out.