Nils Pickert's 5 year old son likes wearing dresses. If anyone thinks that's odd they can take it up with Nils. He's the guy in the skirt.
The German dad has become a role model not only for his son, but for parents around the world, after a photograph of the pair holding hands in red skirts, spread across the internet.
"Yes, I'm one of those dads, that tries to raise their children equal," he explained in an essay published alongside the photo in Emma, a German feminist magazine.
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Pickert never minded that his son liked dressing in little girl's clothes, but when his family moved from West Berlin to a small southern town in Germany, he learned that other people did. In fact, it became a "town wide issue," according to Pickert, whose essay was translated by Tumblr user steegeschnoeber.
A new school didn't make life any easier or his young son. Shortly after his first day, he stopped reveling in his own tastes and Pickert worried about the damage it could wreak on his self-confidence.
"I didn't want to talk my son into not wearing dresses and skirts," Pickert explained. "He didn't make friends doing that in Berlin… so after a lot of contemplation I had only one option left: To broaden my shoulders for my little buddy and dress in a skirt myself."
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If it sounds like a big leap, consider Nils' rationale. "You can't expect a child at pre-school age to have the same ability to assert themselves as an adult," he wrote. Instead of teaching his five-year-old to repress what he loved, he wanted to teach him to stand up for it. But with no other man in his life showing as much conviction, Pickert realized his son needed a role model. "And so I became that role model."
That's where the red skirt came in, an pants-free option Pickert, himself, would sometimes take back in Berlin, without getting even a second glance. He'd stopped wearing skirts when they moved to their small village, knowing a man in women's clothes could cause rubbernecking accidents at the very least. But when his son asked his father to wear a skirt again, he decided to step up to the challenge.
For that he's been hailed as "Father of the Year" by Gawker, and praised in parenting blogs around the web for his progressive approach to nipping self-esteem issues in bud.
Hand in hand, the Pickerts paraded their custom together around their small village, and soon the shame died away. His son became emboldened again, even giddy at the reactions his father got from slack-jawed strangers. Being different, he found, wasn't so scary after all, especially when Dad's got your back.
After Pickert's son learned that lesson, he began passing the wisdom on to his classmates. If he's teased now, he tells them: "You don't dare to wear skirts and dresses because your dads don't dare to either."
For parents and educators, bullying is a critical issue with no clear-cut prevention method. How do you protect a child from the cruelty of others and how can a bullied child walk away without feeling defensive or ashamed? Pickert's plan comes down to more than just a dad in a skirt. It's an approach that translates across borders, both physical and theoretical: If a child is attacked for being different, don't leave them hanging. Be different with them.
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