We were discussing ice cream–frozen yogurt, actually–and how we weren’t going to have any that particular night.
“But that’s not fair!” My oldest, my daughter–her life is tragic. I explained that we were going to Tennessee. That we didn’t want to spend any extra money before that trip. That two sets of grandparents would be there. Ice cream and candy would most likely flow like Manna from the paternal and maternal grandparent heavens.
And then I said, “Basically, all your wildest dreams will come true in Tennessee.”
It was a joke, a throw-away attempt at humor that I thought would silence the whining and continued attempts to get me and my wife to amend our decision.
I went back to my dinner just as my son–calmly looking at his plate of rice–said, “So, My LIttle Ponies will come to life in Tennessee?”
Some backstory. My son is what you might call a Brony. His love of My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic is unparalleled. And at six years old, this sort of interest is still considered cute and acceptable for a boy. Personally, I have no problem with him watching or enjoying My Little Pony Friendship is Magic. This doesn’t mean the show is good–far from it. But unlike some of the more alpha-male dads in the community, I’m not the type who’s going to go out and buy him a football in hopes of persuading him away from the world of unicorns, ponies, and cutie marks (whatever the hell those are.)
Of course, at some point–if his interest in magical ponies persists–this will bring him some kind of trouble. Most likely, this will happen in middle school. And while every part of me wants to save him from that sort of ridicule, I know I can’t. It comes like puberty–you can’t stop it. But I also don’t want him to buy into the crap of the world–the stuff that tells him he can’t like what he likes, that he can’t get addled with laughter whenever Pinkie Pie does something hilarious–at six years old. Hell, at sixteen–if that’s who he is. If that’s who he wants to be.
Of course we laughed–it was so hard not to. He was so earnest. So excited about the possibility. For him, I guess, having those Ponies prance around is the definition of wildest dreams. He told us–in great detail–about one of the plot lines he particularly enjoyed and the day faded away.
But that night, as I was beginning to type the conversation into Twitter, I realized some people might take it the wrong way–as if I was actually making fun of him. As if I somehow think that this could affect his ability to become a Real Man someday.
While I never had an interest in Ponies, I can remember being the one guy in middle school who had an active vocabulary when it came to musicals. West Side Story, Oliver!, The Music Man–I could quote (or, you know, sing…) them flawlessly. A guy would say, menacingly, to another friend, “Consider yourself warned!” And I’d bust out a little Consider yourself, our mate! Consider yourself part of the family! Somebody might say, “We’ve got trouble…” And I’d add something like, Right here in River City.
I was very popular.
I can’t tell you a specific moment when this threatened the public perception of my approaching manhood–when it specifically broke the Manly Code we’re all supposed to follow–but it did. Because when high school came around, I did not try out for the musicals. And the things I did do–namely, the school newspaper–I never talked about. It was as if we all thought it was something I should be ashamed of, something I should bury as quickly and deeply as I possibly could.
I think I missed out on a lot because of this. Now, as then, the theater types are a lot more interesting to me than most anybody you’d find in a sports bar, at an NFL game. I can’t change that, but I can be a part in making sure it doesn’t happen to my own son.
Most likely, this fascination with sparkly, rainbow-drenched ponies will pass naturally. Like Bakugan, Pokeman, and various other things, it will slowly be pushed to the corners of his mind. And I’m sure–at some point in the future, most likely about the time he brings home his first girlfriend–it might slip from my mouth. My hope is we’ll all laugh about it–that the connection we have now will still be intact in the same way.
However, what I am not sure of, is how to teach him that it is okay to have interests outside the norm. That it is okay to like things that make you happy. And while I hope–for my own sanity–that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic disappears from our television, from our dinner table, I also hope that he continues to be the sort of kid who doesn’t care when one of his friends ultimately says, “My Little Pony sucks.” That he won’t feel the need to hide things that are fundamental parts of his childhood.
And if he can, then maybe he will have learned something that took me too many years to figure out.