Tapestry

Sportswriter Will Leitch reckons with race and privilege in raising sons.

Sports writer Will Leitch, founder of the sports news site Deadspin, reflects on what it means to raise his two white sons in 2018. As a father, how can he best teach them about sexism and racism?
Sportswriter Will Leitch writes about raising his young boys.
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(Originally aired May 2018)

Most parents are thrilled when they hear a teacher compliment their children, but one teacher's praise left sports writer Will Leitch a little uneasy.

His son's pre-kindergarten teacher praised him, calling him a 'golden boy'.

But these compliments left Leitch wondering how much his five-year-old had truly earned this praise, and what role privilege may be playing.  

"My son looks like the person who traditionally succeeds in her class, or at least she believes traditionally succeeds in her class," said Leitch.

Being a supportive father today

For Leitch, this scene reveals a difficult dilemma — how should a father raise boys in an encouraging and supportive way, while incorporating lessons about privilege, entitlement, and equality into the parenting process?

"I know the world is a better place if white males have a little less power and do a little less better in a macro sense. The problem is, I have two little future white men that I love," said Leitch.

"Where's that line between encouraging their self-esteem, encouraging their self-worth, and encouraging even aggressiveness a little bit without that going into a level of entitlement and privilege and even active cockiness and bullying? I think that's a difficult line for any parent."

Will Leitch and his boys

Acknowledging an unfair playing field

Leitch asks these difficult questions in his recent article for New York Magazine.

"How am I supposed to feel about my children's success when I know, deep down, in my heart of hearts, that the world around them would be a better place if more children like them won fewer of the spoils?" wrote Leitch. "I want equality, and a fair playing field, and more opportunities for people who haven't had them in centuries past. But I'll be damned if I want my kids to fail."

Leitch attributes a lot of his own successes to his work ethic, a trait that he learned from his parents, and he wants to pass that attitude onto his sons. But Leitch also acknowledges the role that privilege has played in his life and wants to make sure that his sons see that too.

"I was able to follow my own muse individually without having to deal with all the things that people of colour and women have had to deal with for centuries. I'd love to be able to tell my kids, 'okay, be like me, work really hard and you'll make it,' but that's not entirely the whole story," said Leitch.

Teaching boys how to be men

In his article, Leitch reflects on one of the ways his own father tried to teach him to 'be a man' when he was little — by teaching him how to fire a gun.

Will Leitch and his dad

"My father was an electrician, and he noticed that his son was perhaps a little bookish," said Leitch. Even though neither he or his father had any interest in guns or hunting, Leitch's dad felt that shooting guns, "this is the type of thing that as a father, I'm supposed to teach my son."  

Leitch was hesitant, and as he nervously pulled the trigger, the recoil from the gun launched it from his hands leaving both him and his father shaken.

His father said, '"I know you didn't want to, but I thought it was something that a man was supposed to do. It wasn't." He smiled. "To tell you the truth, I didn't really want to do that either."'

Three decades later, and Leitch is grappling with the same question his father was — 'how do you raise a boy?' Leitch is open about the fact that he doesn't have a definitive answer.

"One of my strengths as a writer is my lack of self certainty, we're all just guessing." said Leitch, "Mostly I'm closer [to an answer] in realizing that nobody else knows anything either. So that makes me feel a little better that nobody else has figured this out, just like I haven't."  

But there is one lesson Leitch is sure about teaching his sons — "Right now, we're just trying to concentrate on core fundamental respect, diligence, being aware of your surroundings, being gentle, and being good to people."