By Andy Malinski.
Oftentimes, men intimidate me.
I’ve spent a lot of time very uncomfortable around men. A group of women makes me feel much more at ease than a group of men. Why? The surface answer is that I’m not the typical guy. Although I enjoy a baseball or hockey game, I’m not a big sports fan and don’t follow any teams of any sport; I much prefer music and theater (and even when it comes to music, I’ll take Beethoven any day over any rap artist). I’ve taught my wife terms like valance and duvet and Mirepoix.
The deeper answer is that I’ve experienced some intense bullying in my 35 years and so my hope, through The Dadvocate, is to reach out to men and help establish healthy ways to express emotion and bond with wife and baby. Fearful about having a boy who might, someday, have to endure what I did in grade school, our midwife asked me, “Why wouldn’t the world want another you?” That’s a big motivator, right there, to do all I can for him, for my family, and to try and reach out to others with what I have experienced and learned from over my years.
Bullying started for me around 1st grade. At that point it was the “fatso” name-calling on the playground. When I was in 4th grade, I was out riding my bike one afternoon enjoying a beautiful New Hampshire afternoon when a group of bullies from school approached me. They destroyed my bike, throwing pieces of it into the woods as I stood there, helpless, not knowing what to do. Once they left, laughing, and were out of sight, I picked up all I could and made my way home, holding back my tears as long as I could, carrying a wheel and a seat, scared more about having to tell my parents that my bike was broken than I had been bullied.
Junior high was relentless. One particular bully would give me a “red neck” often at lunch time (smacking the back of my neck until it glowed bright red) while calling me names. 2 brothers and a friend of theirs would call me names on the bus and at school, and spread rumors that–because I was in choir and band and not the “manly” sports; because I did the drama club; because I hung around with girls and wasn’t the typical guy–that I was gay. At one point I actually went home and had to ask my mom, “Am I gay?” Although I knew what that meant, the constant bullying and mentioning of it made me believe that, although I found so many of the girls at school pretty and charming, the bullies had to be right–I must have been gay. Believe it or not–this bullying continued into college, even after I was dating who would eventually become my wife.
One afternoon when I had stayed home sick (my stomach issues were probably more anxiety than the “24-hour bug”), I’d taken some money mom left for me when she came home for lunch and walked down to the store for some light snacks and–now HERE’s dating myself–Crystal Pepsi (*smiles*). The aforementioned brothers and their friend caught me on the way home, saying they wanted some soda, too, and if I’d let them have some, things would be cool. So I did–all but 1 can. They smiled and thanked me and patted me on the back…and the next day resumed their name-calling and pestering. Many lunch hours were spent eating in teacher’s classrooms helping them with papers, or oftentimes alone, in the dark, in the orchestra room where I couldn’t be found. I honestly don’t know how many of even my closest friends know how often I sat and ate in the dark as opposed to sitting with them on the outside patio of the lunchroom.
Remember “Red Neck” Bully? I’d gone to the principal and let him know I was sick of being hurt by him all the time, and he was actually suspended for his actions. During my first week of high school, over a YEAR later, he found me at the new school, and let me know he was holding a grudge. I was slammed into the lockers and told I was a goner. A young man with a ponytail and already sporting a beard, a Sousaphone player in marching band with me, approached him and told him if he wanted a fight, he had one…but not only with him, but with about 100 others–the whole Marching Band. Red Neck Bully never bothered me again.
In college, my roommates in the dorms must have thought I was nuts. I had Muppets on the walls. I mean, c’mon…I had to be me, right? Well, my first roommate’s girlfriend interviewed me one evening (an assignment she had for a class of hers) about my learning to become a teacher (I majored in English Education). At the end, she asked me a question totally unrelated to anything school-related or pertaining to her assignment: “So are you gay or what?” I was dumbfounded! She’d seen me with my girlfriend (the woman who is now my wife), she’d seen us kissing and holding hands…I mean, wasn’t the answer obvious? “She’s a good front,” she said. Her boyfriend, my roommate, was a nice guy–he liked the Penguins hockey team, loved his bulldog, was a Dave Matthews fan, and–like her–worked at Home Depot. I had Muppets on the wall, didn’t talk much about sports, missed my cats, and worked for the library.
Well, apparently that made me gay and unmanly. I’m not sure I ever convinced her otherwise.
I’m not a teacher beyond what I try to convey through The Dadvocate—teaching, as it turns out (at least in the grade school classroom) was not where I was meant to be. I am, however, a “Safe Zone Straight Ally,” having gone through training with the my employer’s LGBTQ Alliance to show support and guidance for anyone seeking solace as a member of the LGBTQ community–letting anyone who may be scared, lost, or needing someone to talk to or a safe place to be know that my small cubicle is a welcoming place. I show support, love, and guidance via Facebook to my friends and colleagues on a daily basis. I put my talents as a cook to work making dinners–as I did last night—for my family and for friends who have had children and may need some food to stock up the freezer (a bit PP Doula of me, hmm?). I‘ve dreamt about possibly becoming something like a life coach or a motivational speaker; I actually had one of my oldest friends–the girl who I shared my first slow dance with in 7th grade–tell me that I should become a teacher to men who have no idea how to talk to or treat a woman! I don’t know about THAT, per se, but I do have a desire to support, guide, and advise people–men and women–through life (in this case, a very big, important, game-changing time in their lives).
And so, welcome, my friends, to a little piece of my world. Welcome to my hope that someone, somewhere, learns something new about themselves and feels stronger, braver, and more empowered.
Welcome to The Dadvocate.
Andy Malinski is a writer and aspiring motivational speaker in Northern Colorado. Inspired by the home birth of his son (which also included a midwife and birth doula), he created The Dadvocate to help dads (and moms) be educated about the many decisions and dynamic changes that come with pregnancy and birth. He uses humor and raw insight to show the birth world and parenthood from a dad’s point of view. His articles have appeared in such online blogs as Macaroni Kid and San Francisco-based Doula Spot.