Monday, April 7, 2014

Stereotypical Dad

To my son Tommy,

People have stereotypes. There are stereotypes for daddies and mommies, for men and women, for people who are straight and gay, for black and white, for rich and poor, for city folk and country folk, and for every classification in between. This is just a fact of life, wrong or right, stereotypes exist.

A dad is supposed to be strong and fearless. A dad is supposed to mow the lawn. A dad is supposed to know cars and love football. A dad is supposed to sit around drinking cheap beer and saying "pull my finger". A dad is supposed to be a bumbling idiot who relies purely on his wife to accomplish everything while maintaining a sense of superiority based in a sexist attitude. All of these stereotypes are bullshit, even if some of them fit, but they still exist.

Your mother and I buck most of these stereotypes and yet play to some of the others. I have been known to sarcastically mock these stereotypes by playing to them. I have been known to use these stereotypes to my advantage to get out of work. I have been known to challenge the stereotypes to get out of work. I have been known to call out stereotypical thinking and challenge others to see past the stereotype. I have been known to surprise people who have predetermined opinions on who I am supposed to be. I have been known to let someone else maintain their opinion because I have a predetermined opinion that they are not smart enough to handle the truth.

When dealing with stereotypes, there are a couple rules to remember.
  • A stereotype is what someone else thinks of you. What other people think of you is not your business. If they want to believe you are some pocket protector wearing super nerd because you have good grades and like computers, they are going to believe it...or at least at first. Your actions and your personality might convince them otherwise, but chances are they will consider you an exception to their stereotype rule. 
  • Changing a stereotype is an uphill battle. If you decide you want to redefine a stereotype, you are in for a challenge. You can change people's misconceptions about you, but to change them for a whole group? You will need to enlist a bunch of like minded people. You will have to get them to actively change that stereotype. Then, just when you think you are starting to make headway, some guy, like me, will make a sarcastic joke meant to poke fun at some bs stereotype, and someone else will point to the joke as to proof that the stereotype is true. Then you are set back to the beginning.
  • Distancing yourself from the stereotype will get you nowhere. Take my pocket protecting protagonist from earlier. If he stops hanging out with the other "geeks" and gets contacts and stops putting pens in his shirt pocket, people will still think he is a "geek". Mocking and chastising your group to be cool, won't do much either.
  • Seed the change. Change will happen slowly, if at all. You need to plant the seeds of change. You need to gently remind people that they are playing to a stereotype. If you must call out an egregious error, don't do so publicly, unless your plan is to alienate just about everybody in your hopes that people don't have that stereotype about you. There is a power in a gentle private correction that actually has a chance of making change.
  • A stereotype should not and will not define you. Don't let it. You decide who you are and when a stereotype fits and doesn't fit and when you decide to change. Don't spend your time fighting what other people think. Spend your time defining what you think, especially of yourself.
Sincerely with love from your dad,

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