Oh, Like, Baby, Baby, Baby…I messed up!

Justin Bieber taught me a lesson about not being a big jerk. On Tuesday I was driving my four year old to the zoo and she was in charge of the music thanks to the bluetooth connection between the car radio and an iPad.

Bieber concert Tacoma 2012

Justin Bieber at the Tacoma Dome in 2012. Photo taken by the author, who attended the concert with his two teenage daughters and 20,000 other screaming fans.

While listening to a young Justin Bieber sing Baby, my daughter asked if the person singing was a boy or a girl. I told her it was a boy named Justin Bieber and she giggled, saying that he sounded like a girl. I didn’t really respond but was laughing inside because I thought it was hilarious. I shared that brief exchange on my personal Facebook page to bring a bit of levity to my timeline. What I didn’t expect was to realize that I had missed an opportunity to talk to my young and impressionable child about a very important topic.

A dear friend shared a very personal comment on that thread about his lifelong (he’s 62) struggle with not fitting in with society’s gender expectations because he doesn’t look or sound like a man. Part of his message is here.

The answer to your child’s question should be guided by grace and understanding. That voices and bodies sometimes don’t match up. Every man’s voice is not like Daddy’s. Every man’s body is not like Daddy’s. The the most important thing is God has made us all in his image. My condition has caused me lots of emotional pain, depression, heartbreak, and embarrassment, and left me…sometimes angry.

As I read and reread my friend’s words I began to realize that I was wrong. And that I was a pretty big jerk for not having that kind of conversation with my daughter when she innocently asked her question. It’s an important reminder to me that sometimes our parenting moments are not in what we say, but in what don’t say. In this case, the moment passed me by and I failed to respond how I should have. I did, however, bring it up to my daughter later that afternoon and shared with her how not all men or women sound or look the same and that we can love and affirm them no matter what.

Additionally, I realized I was an even bigger turd as for fishing for a few laughs by sharing about it on social media. Here I am, at age 45, thinking that I’m a champion for equality and compassion and kindness and all that kind of stuff, yet I didn’t even realize that mocking a teenage Justin Bieber’s voice was basically bullying. So, I’m owning my mistake and publicly acknowledging that the change that I want to see in others needs to start with me. If I think that toys and colors and clothes and such aren’t necessarily boy or girl, then the same goes for how people look or sound. I’m sorry to people like Justin Bieber and the Hanson Brothers (of Mmm…bop fame) for mocking you. I’m sorry for any pain I may have caused to any of you who feel that you don’t fit in with society’s gender expectations. (Please know that you are dearly loved!) Now that I know better, I will do better.

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