Whether it’s refusing to circumcise your son or giving your teenage daughter birth control, breaking with tradition still makes people uncomfortable.
“We’re not doing Easter this year,” I said.
“You have to color eggs,” my mom replied.
“I don’t have to do anything.”
I’ve had the same interaction with my mother a dozen times or more. She is the sweetest lady ever, but she believes all family and holiday traditions must be maintained at all cost. I started dumping many family “traditions” about 10 years ago. Every one discarded is a small victory for my sanity.
If humans were fish, we’d swim in tradition. Holidays, clothing, mating, and our most personal interactions are dictated by it, but I’ve grown resentful of the obligatory pull of tradition. I’ve discovered that the more I reject, the more some people get uncomfortable, even hostile.
I began to question my own adherence to tradition about 10 years ago when my first wife left. Tradition dictated that my kids, aged 3 and 9, should stay with their mother, but I didn’t want to lose them. I was lucky that my ex-wife opted to let me keep them. Being a single father made me see the folly of artificial traditions and constructed masculinity, but that was only the start. As the years have passed I’ve become ever more convinced that many traditions do just as much harm as good.
My rejection of plastic Easter eggs and marshmallow Peeps (which are disgusting) is mostly harmless, but small acts of rebellion quickly morph into unforgivable insults to religion, politics, and culture.
For instance, when my wife and I added a son to our blended family, the first question I faced at his birth was: Should I eviscerate the end of his penis for aesthetic reasons? I’m a circumcised man and I had my first son circumcised (sorry, Eddie), but when faced with the scalpel this time around I asked “Why?” Since I haven’t gotten a good answer even six years later, my now kindergartener son still has intact foreskin.
Many of my family and close friends were horrified that I rejected this accepted custom, but I’ve come to believe that mangling a baby’s penis at birth is at best a senseless tradition. As with most traditions, the word that poses the most danger is “why.” Why do we dress girls in pink? Why lop off the foreskin of our boys? Why must women do all the housework? Why does the mom always get the kids after divorce? Why do we call effeminate boys “pussies?” Tip of the hat to Fiddler On The Roof, but asking why we adhere to tradition makes some people very angry.
Tradition peddlers always seem to target children. Ask a 20-year-old man if you can cut off the end of his penis, and he’ll give you a hearty “fuck off,” so we do it to babies who cannot object. Religion, politics, and so-called family values are all foisted most strenuously on children.
The genders seem to suffer equally but in different ways. For instance, there is an entire industry in America that worships female virginity, yet we expect “normal” boys to act as sexual aggressors. The slut shaming of American girls is as old as the Republic and just as sacred. The duality of hyper-sexualized girlhood coupled with the expectation of chastity is preposterous.
When my oldest son started dating seriously at 17, I understood that he might become sexually active, so I bought him condoms. I will do the same for my daughters. Chastity is not my expectation, and in fact, I would think it unwise for a person to marry without first exploring (safely) his or her individual sexuality. No, I will not slut shame my daughters. If they choose to have sex at 17 or 23 or never it will be none of my business. My only job is to give them tools, like birth control and self-confidence, so they can make good and safe decisions.
Despite my disdain for mindless tradition, I haven’t been able to give them all up. I still see value in marriage and family, for gay and straight people. Nothing has brought me more pleasure than having a loving partner and raising children. When I met my current wife, I gave her a big, stupid diamond and got on one knee and proposed to her like I was in a ’50s romance movie. I didn’t know any better way to express my love and trust to her. After being in an awful marriage for almost 10 years, getting remarried was an act of faith for me, but I didn’t do it because of tradition. I got married again because I wanted to.
The most dangerous traditions are those enforced through coercion and the rule of law. The more people like me and my family who choose to adopt or discard traditions as we see fit, the more the dominant culture is going to howl in protest. I have to admit, I almost enjoy it.
Edwin Lyngar is a writer and author living in Reno, Nevada. He graduated from Antioch University in 2010 with his MFA in creative writing and also holds an MA in Writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Bellingham Review and Ontoligica. He blogs about parenting, family life, and writing at www.edwinlyngar.com and is in the process of finding a home for his first book, a memoir titled Guy Parts.