This is what good parenting looks like

Date

Christopher Scanlon

German father Nils Pickert wears a skirt in solidarity with his son.

German father Nils Pickert wears a skirt in solidarity with his son.

I'm usually against Father of the Year Awards. While the recipients are no doubt great fathers, the idea of making fatherhood a competitive pursuit with its own award is about as meaningful as beauty pageant awards.

 

But there are exceptions to every rule. My vote for Father of the Year — no, scratch that — Father of the Decade, goes to German father Nils Pickert.

 

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Pickert made headlines around the world last week when pictures of him wearing a red skirt while out walking with his 5 year old son, who was similarly attired in a red dress, circulated on the internet. 

 

Like many small boys, Pickert’s son prefers wearing dresses, and was being bullied at school. Rather than just give his son a pep talk about being true to himself and not listening to what anyone else says — or worse, buying him some footy shorts and ordering that he ‘man up’ — Pickert led by example, donning a red number in the street with his son in a very public demonstration that it’s not only okay to be yourself, but it ought to be encouraged. 

 

While many comments on the news sites that carried the story were supportive, seeing Pickert’s example to his son as an example of unconditional love, his gesture also brought out the worst of human nature. 

 

For some reason, a number of commenters took it upon themselves to quote biblical verse. ‘Havey’ for example, picked Proverbs 22:17 17: ‘Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; He will also delight your soul’. 

 

I’m not sure if Havey has been to church lately, but the last time I was at Mass, I distinctly recall seeing Jesus and his disciples depicted in what looked suspiciously like frocks. Sure, they’re technically called ‘robes’ or ‘cassocks’, but they’re pretty much the same as a dress.

 

Havey and his/her ilk might also do well to have a closer read of the New Testament. If they do, they’ll find that Jesus spends a scandalous amount of time exhorting his followers to ditch conventional social norms, such as encouraging them to turn the other cheek instead of seeking revenge, to treat people from other cultures (notably Samaritans) with care and respect, and to fraternise with those who society despises (tax collectors and lepers, for example). He also bangs on a fair bit about loving thy neighbour, even when he or she does you wrong.

 

Many others, predictably, missed the whole unconditional-love-thing and saw the images of Pickert and his son as an opportunity to demonstrate to the world once and for all that they are violent homophobic psychopaths who probably ought to be sedated. 

 

‘Anthony’, for example, explained ‘If I saw a guy abusing his son like that guy in the article, I would run right up to him on the street and beat him to the ground. If he wants to be queer that’s [sic] his business, but to force his adopted [sic — there’s no mention that Pickert adopted his son] kid into a lifestyle of sodomy just aint [sic] right! It is child abuse.’ 

 

It’s remarkable that an example of love can provoke such hatred in people. It’s also remarkable that donning non-traditional clothes still creates so many anxieties —  particularly for men. 

 

Children are not Mini Me’s. Our job as fathers isn’t to make them duplicates of ourselves, but to give them the courage and freedom to choose their own path. And yes, that applies even if they turn out to be nasty, vicious little internet trolls who threatens violence against complete strangers for displays of acceptance. 

 

Pickert should be applauded both for his demonstration of love for his son and his questioning of restrictive gender roles. While most of us talk the talk about ‘staying true to yourself’, 'unconditional love' and all that stuff, when it come to the crunch how many of us have the guts to step out of our socially prescribed roles? 

 

While Nils Pickert’s boy might grow out of his love of skirts, I hope the lessons that his father loves him no matter what will endure forever.  

 

Christopher Scanlon teaches journalism at La Trobe University and is co-founder of www.upstart.net.au, the site for emerging journalists. 

46 comments

  • good on him! definitely father of the year!

    Commenter
    fi
    Location
    melb
    Date and time
    September 03, 2012, 8:59AM
    • He gets my vote too.
      There is nothing wrong with being who you are and dressing how you want, and supporting your children in doing that is one of the best things a parent can do.

      Commenter
      Em
      Date and time
      September 03, 2012, 9:00AM
      • A true example of a man, a man that loves his son unconditionally. That little boy will grow up in such a secure safe environment with a wonderful father.

        Commenter
        Bishop
        Location
        Sunny Coast
        Date and time
        September 03, 2012, 9:23AM
        • Fabulous article! Not only is it wonderful to see parents showing such love and support for their kids even against socially expected "norms" - I just love your comments on the bible too! "I’m not sure if Havey has been to church lately, but the last time I was at Mass, I distinctly recall seeing Jesus and his disciples depicted in what looked suspiciously like frocks. Sure, they’re technically called ‘robes’ or ‘cassocks’, but they’re pretty much the same as a dress. " Priceless...

          Commenter
          Pink
          Location
          Brisbane
          Date and time
          September 03, 2012, 9:51AM
          • What a great story and awesome father.

            A bit scary reading about some of the comments from people - just goes to show you how many scarily homophobic, unfit parents there are in the world.

            Funny though, we gays can't have children out of some deep seeded fear that we will breed *gasp* more homosexuals.

            In reality, we would probably end up raising extremely, balanced, tolerant and functional adults for society in the future...

            Commenter
            Adrian
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            September 03, 2012, 9:57AM
            • The comments quoted are worrying. Dress norms are so fashion, time and culturally dependent it is amazing some people can still manage to get that much anger meanwhile missing the important point of love and support that is demonstrated. What's wrong with us?

              Commenter
              Ken
              Date and time
              September 03, 2012, 10:04AM
              • I'd like to see "Anthony" run up to some big Samoan and beat him to the ground for wearing a skirt. Good luck keyboard tough guy!

                Commenter
                Petri Dish
                Location
                Sydney
                Date and time
                September 03, 2012, 3:16PM
            • pffft If you can't teach your kid how to behave in your society he is doomed to be put down and bullied...... sad fact but it's true.

              Commenter
              Frost
              Location
              Sydney
              Date and time
              September 03, 2012, 10:05AM
              • I'm probably going to be attacked by all the softy do-gooders for saying this, but in this case I would have gently gone down the ‘man up’ road of fatherly advice.

                In the real world, by supporting his son wearing a dress in public, he will probably do more damage then good IMHO. The bullying his son may suffer may scar him for the rest of his life.

                I'm not saying punish him or force him to wear footy socks, play with toy soldiers and eat meat pies, etc, but he does need to be gently guided about how a male should conduct themselves in public. One would think a typical well adjusted son would be trying to emulate the behaviour of their father, so you have to wonder if the chicken or egg come first in regards to the dress wearing...

                The way society has been going in recent years, I don't think the do-gooders will be happy until all me have morphed into pseudo women losing all traces of their masculinity.

                Commenter
                Stephen
                Location
                Sydney
                Date and time
                September 03, 2012, 10:06AM
                • I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one, Stephen (even if that makes me a "softy do gooder").

                  kids don't always emulate their parents. despite attempts by parents to try to make kids behave/present a certain way, kids will do what they like. they need to know that even if they are different from everyone else, they have someone who loves and respects them for who they are.

                  it isn't always the right thing to do to prioritise "fitting in" over being yourself. not long ago (and even in 2012 in some places), parents would've offered the same advice to young people who realised they were gay. that they should be "gently guided" into being straight, because that's what people are in the "real world". that kind of advice doesn't help. that just makes the kid miserable.

                  it's not about feminising men into "losing their masculinity". it's about allowing kids to be who they are and showing them that you're there for them when the rest of the world thinks they're freaks.

                  Commenter
                  Jen
                  Date and time
                  September 03, 2012, 2:03PM

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