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Letter to a 13yr old boy

16 Apr

I’m a week away from another birthday and am in a really great place in life. I don’t have all the answers – far from it, I’ve got more questions than ever – but there are lots of things I wish I’d have known earlier. Today I came across a letter I wrote a while ago just before a family member’s 13th birthday. While it’s 22 years too late for me, it might be today for someone.


You’re almost 13! Happy birthday buddy!

So now you’re a teenager, taking a big step toward being an adult – being a man. 🙂
I bet that’s SUPER exciting, and also a little scary too. This email is a little long, but I hope that it helps with the scary part… it is a letter I wish that I’d gotten long ago.

I don’t know about you, but I heard a lot of confusing things about what that meant when I was growing up – especially from other teenagers. And I’ll let you in on a little secret… the majority of men don’t have any idea what it means either – they’re still trying to figure it out and just have a lot of practice hiding it really well (I’ll explain how you can tell in just a minute).


Maybe the most important thing I can share with you is that the answer – about what it means to be a man – is that you already are. The hard part is to accept and truly believe it.

What the heck do I mean? I know, it sounds crazy! By now you probably have learned that most people assume that to be valuable, guys need to be MEN. The really sad part is that the kind of “man” they think they’re supposed to be, isn’t even possible – and more importantly, you’re already good enough. You’re valuable; you’re the center of your mom and dad’s (and even little brother and sister’s) world because you’re a good, kind, and love-able person, not just because they’re your family.

The guys who act extra “macho” are performing… they’re trying to be SUPER convincing that they’re something they aren’t already, because they don’t think they can be loved as they are. When I was younger those guys used to piss me off because they made me feel bad and not man-enough. Now, those guys make me deeply sad. They don’t love themselves and don’t think anyone else can unless they’re something or someone else. But they’re good enough already – they just don’t believe in themselves. That is SO sad to me.

You and I can take an incredible amount of pride in the Mennonite families we come from. We come from people who believe in hard work, not to make themselves rich, but to help those in need – after all, that might be us next time. We come from people who love people with an open heart – even those who hate them – so much they set everything aside to help them. We come from people who know that we are only as strong as our connections to the people we care about and friendships we have. The real measure of any of us is not what we do to make other people respect us, but what we do when others may never see it.

So if I were to offer a list of my tips for how to be a man, it might look like this:

1. Take a long look in the mirror, and see the tender heart, the love, strength, and courage that make you a great person. See the big brother that Maggie and Leo see – the most incredible person they know.

2. Commit to love yourself, even when you don’t feel like it. You already know life isn’t always easy, and sometimes it is really hard. But, never let yourself believe the lies that you aren’t enough – you already are.

3. Commit to love others, even (or especially) when you don’t feel like it. This can be SUPER hard, but the truth is that being mad at someone else is exhausting and doesn’t help you be happy. And, you may help them see that they can love themselves too. Sometimes being open and caring is dangerous to you, but sometimes it is free-ing for you and others. Strive to learn the difference.

4. Believe in and chase your dreams just because they’re beautiful – no matter what others say. What is the point in living a life that’s just ok anyway – nobody goes to Disneyland and just sits on a bench right? Your life is a precious opportunity – like Disneyland with no lines and no closing time, or not just seats at your favorite pro-sports games, but playing time too!

5. Know the real meaning of Courage. Courage isn’t not feeling fear. Courage is being terrified, and still doing what you know is right because it is right… it comes from love for yourself and for other human beings. THAT kind of courage is rare, and is what real strength looks like.

6. Know that you’re a leader – especially when it seems impossible. Even when you feel like nobody cares what you think or do, you must remember that people are always watching to see what you think. We all influence people – ALL the time. And this is especially true when you live with real courage, because it is so rare.

7. Expect the best from yourself, but never perfection. Striving to be true to your expectations for yourself is important, but so is giving yourself permission to make mistakes. Those mistakes often teach us important lessons, which we could never have learned otherwise. Just remember, you’re enough and try again. 🙂


There will be other things that you want to add too… things that make you happy. Don’t ever stop listening to that little voice that paints beautiful pictures of things you might love doing. Keep chasing your dreams even when you have no idea where they went – just trust them to have slowed down, just around the corner… waiting for you to catch up.

They will be there, and the playful pursuit of your dreams is what makes a full and beautiful life – the kind others will aspire to live themselves. And as long as you do that surrounded by and with a loving community of people who care about you, I’m really not sure what more there is 🙂

Happy birthday – a celebration of you!

– Jonathan


Celebrating foundations: Sustainability for social change

6 Dec
bell hooks.  (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

bell hooks. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently with white men doing anti-oppression work, and what they seem to struggle with most is a solid foundation. As cliche as it sounds, bell hooks has been an important teacher in my life, and I’d like to start my contribution to this blog with a powerful lesson I continue to learn from her, and that she has regularly returned to. Not only has her work on love and belonging been important to many, I also believe that this is a critical foundation for anti-oppressive political projects of all kinds – this blog included. Now, I realize that you may have just read that statement and wondered how talking about masculinity is an “anti-oppressive political project,” so let me explain that before I get any further. Continue reading

Introductions: Thoughts on accountable scholarship

27 Nov

Hi, pull up a seat and join me. You know those pictures of ancient buildings, where all you see are the foundations? Much like this one, where there is a foundation, there is always opportunity to create something new. That is what my first two posts are about. But since I’m big on understanding context and this is my first post, let me tell you a bit about who I am and where all this comes from.

Continue reading

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