I am posting these thoughts for a number of reasons. First, I respect the hard work that many of you have been doing in the discussions in this group. Second, I have gained some insight from the wonderful Mentor Institute in June at Claremont College. Third, I want to contribute toward our country moving forward at a time when tragedies such as in Orlando can occur. Fourth, in light of the fairly illuminating cover story in Sports Illustrated about a single individual – Caitlyn Jenner. But most of all, because I sense that we, as a group of men an advocates for men in ECE still have some work to do.
Part of me hopes that my life experience – I’ve managed 57 years on this planet – can shed some light on a variety of thoughts. You see, I grew up in a rather conservative, upper-middle class (according to my perspective we were upper middle class, although we certainly lived more the middle class lifestyle) family.
By the time I arrived at college, I was a bigoted, misogynist, but not beyond reforming heterosexual, privileged male. And deep within me remain the anxieties, fears, biases, prejudices of that child. At some point during my college career, I was “called out” on my bigotry by a West-Indian-American on my dorm. I’ll forego the details of the conflict, but I will say that before I had turned 20, I had learned that I wasn’t nearly as smart, or kind, or gifted, of generous, or caring as I had imagined that I was.
Fast forward nearly 30 years, and I still remember Raphael, for the lesson he gave me those decades ago. I also reflect upon the extreme privilege of my upbringing that has permitted me the opportunity to “commit the class suicide of becoming a preschool teacher”.
I know that each one of you has a history. I know that each one of you has had disappointments and disappointed others. For many of the men, we’ve disappointed our parents who look at us bewildered at our career choice. Perhaps we’ve disappointed spouses with the paychecks we’ve brought home. But hopefully, we haven’t disappointed ourselves. And that, assumes a certain degree of privilege. We are privileged to be able to survive and hopefully thrive (in non-monetary ways at least) in a career of our choice, of our love, of our passion. And because of this privilege, we must be able to move beyond the perceptions of wrong, or slights to ourselves – and focus on the wrongs to others. How have we as a society wronged others (both men and women) who did not have the privilege to embark on a journey such as ours for the minimum and near minimum wages that many of us receive? How have we wronged the children who never received the mentor, the guide, the nurturer, the disciplinarian, the whatever-the-hell-it-was-they-needed because that intersection of lives never took place?
We can get lost in the slights we’ve received. We can focus on the disrespects (overt, covert, or entirely unintended). Is it harder to be a man in ECE? Is it harder to be African-American? Is it harder to be LGBTQ? Is it harder to be old? Is it harder to be tattooed and a perceived gangster? But when we get lost in the slights we’ve received, we lose focus on the important mandate that our privilege has thrust upon us – to be the best we can be for the generation just beginning their journey in life. These young children (we like to think that they are resilient) are fragile. There is an instinctive, genetic imperative of the “seven year” (some say 4 year) itch. A human child benefits immensely from the presence of both parents for far longer than most other animals. Our young children are fragile. They need our very best.
A toddler named Kylen taught me that many, many years ago. He was a smooth child, the smoothest, happiest, easiest toddler imaginable. Until one day he had crying jags. Desperate, clinging, crying bouts in the morning. Snot dripping from his nose joining the tears that rolled down his cheeks. We requested a parent conference immediately. “Has anything changed at home?” The parents assured us that everything was fine at home. We continued to ask… “anything at all?” Apparently Dad had just started taking a class and left for school early in the morning. Apparently, Kylen and his father were accustomed to playing every morning before Kylen came to school. Dad wasn’t sure it was appropriate to wake up his son so early in the morning. We asked him to give it a try. Within a day or two, Kylen was his good, old, smooth self. Children need us to attempt at least to view the world through their eyes, their hearts, their spirits. They need us to work through our slights and be there fully for them.
Every one of us brings pain and anxiety along with joy with us as we embark upon a new day. Those things are who we are and we have a right to those feelings. But we each bring with us the privilege of being able to do one of the most important jobs imaginable because we choose to do it despite the obstacles. Each of us has made huge sacrifices to be with these children. But each of us has had that powerful privilege of choice.
At the Mentor Institute in Claremont, I learned a new perspective on cultural respectfulness. I learned to lose the notion of “cultural competence” and embrace an acceptance of “cultural humility”. As an older, Japanese-American, straight, male – I cannot somehow channel the empathetic capacity to become competent in the culture of an African-American colleague’s family. I cannot become competent in the culture of a gay, lesbian, transgendered colleague. I can become humble. I can ask how I might become more respectful. I might reflect upon a time when I was somewhere unfamiliar and felt out of place and anxious. I might seek within myself the humility to accept that I don’t understand nearly well enough the pain and anxiety and joy of another – but seek also the courage to do everything within my power to embrace that child, that family, their hopes, their fears.
I want us to worry less about whether it is more difficult to me a male teacher or a gay teacher, or an African-American teacher, or a dyslexic teacher, or a Muslim teacher, or a non-English-proficient teacher, or…. Let’s not worry so much about the languages being spoken in the break room or the suddenly-octave-lower voice of Mr Greg when he greets Marshawn’s dad in the morning.
I want us to worry that not enough children have us all! It wasn’t until college that I got that particular life-changing lesson from Raphael. Let’s not make our children wait. Let our babies be embraced by men and women. Let them be sung to in many languages. Let them taste foods from many kitchens.
In my program (a small State Preschool in Sacramento), I am one of 5 teachers. One is a Muslim woman, one is a Latina from Los Angeles, one is a European-American from a rural part of the county, one is an African-American who has farm animals at home. These teachers speak a variety of languages. They have a variety of teaching styles and natures. The young children have four very different models of what it is to be a caring, nurturing woman. I don’t want to be the only man they see over the next several years of schooling. I desperately want them to know Brian, and Patrick, and Franky, and Tom, and the fellas from Iceland and New Zealand and New England, and Colorado, and Jay, and Rodney and Rick, and Moises, and… I want them to know that there are infinite ways to grow up to be a good man, a caring man, a nurturing man.
Is it harder to be this or that or him or her? I want to gain the cultural humility to know that there is no easy answer. But I do know one thing – I do not want to be the only version of what it means to be a man. I am not that good. I am not that worthy. And for me, that is what the Men in Child Care Movement essentially is all about.


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