Leeben\’s Letter

As you turn one, I struggled to think what to put in this birthday letter to you. It was easier with your sister – I always knew what I wanted to teach the daughter I was destined to have, the books I would read with her, the poems I hoped she would memorize. I know the resources that go into making a strong woman but had not really considered the beautiful if daunting task of raising a future man until the sonographer announced \”it\’s a boy!\” I squeezed your dad\’s hand in gratitude and as the tears inevitably came, I fell in love with the idea of being the mother of a boy.

I know there are also other things to teach a man but as a mother and one whose life purpose is equality, what is more important than writing to you on your responsibilities as a man-in-making?

Telling you to respect women is too easy and you will have no choice but to grow up in an egalitarian household. You can be sure that you won\’t be kicking around a football while your sister serves cookies at your birthday parties and I can\’t wait to bake with you like I bake with your sister. I will do my best to teach you to cook and clean not only so you are able to \’help\’ your future partner but so that you know it is your job too. If you eat, you can cook.

Whenever you hear the phrase \’wonde neh\’, I advice you to stop listening as very little good has ever come out of such a beginning. There is absolutely nothing you should do differently or that you are entitled to because of your biological sex. It has actually started already, even though you\’re just a baby whose gender isn\’t apparent yet, a man we met at the grocery store told you the other day, \’Wonde ayferam\’. Suppression of your feelings starts here, if you let it. Be man enough to cry and to admit fear or defeat. You were human way before you became your gender.

To go farther, look to the men around you for inspiration. To your father, grandfathers, uncles and godfather.

Be brave. Your father, normally the personification of calm once told off an older colleague who was harassing their female secretary, blasting him \”set lij yelehim?\’\’ I know it will never be easy but try to intervene when you encounter sexism, harassment or violence – the struggle may be women\’s but you can be an ally. Call out sexist jokes and language when you hear them, or at the very least, don\’t be the one using them.

Stop when she is not enjoying it anymore.  I have laughed when, as a baby, you\’ve bonked your sister on the head but I won\’t laugh again, and I won\’t tell your sister \”silemiwodish new yemimetash.\” I want you to be part of the new Ethiopian male generation that doesn\’t need to be physical to show his interest or affection. If you like her, tell her, don\’t grab her.

No means no. That\’s all there is to it.

Don\’t brag about your success with women, that is not classy. By the looks of it, you will be a good-looking young man but don\’t let that influence how you treat women, or men. A good heart and an authentic personality are a thousand times more important than a toned chest or a handsome face.

Cultivate your sense of humor. It is what I love most about your father, and when you\’re funny, you help soften the edges of the world.

Question your (male) privilege. If you\’re able to walk around at night, consider why are safe and your sister might not be. Acknowledge that your female classmates and colleagues must be working twice as hard as you just to be sitting at the table with you.

Respect what you don\’t know. Don\’t comment on pregnancy or childbirth and if you don\’t give up your seat to a pregnant woman, I will find you. If you and partner-to-be decide to become parents through childbirth, be present in the delivery room. Hold her hand like your dad held mine and be the first to welcome your child into the world as your father welcomed you. Change your babies\’ diapers. Call it parenting, not babysitting. If the future king of Britain can do it, so can you.

Sehin Teferra
October 2014