Aaron Gouveia’s 5-year-old son, Sam, enjoys a lot of activities that society often associates with being a “boy’s boy.”
“He’s rough and tumble, he’s loud, he’s always dirty, loves trucks, plays sports and knee drops me from the couch,” Gouveia, who lives in Franklin with his wife and three sons and runs a Twitter account about fatherhood, called “Daddy Files,” wrote on social media Monday night.
But Sam also loves a lot of things that are stereotyped as being for girls, Gouveia said — like collecting purses and painting his nails a pretty red color, because Sam thinks they “look beautiful.”
And Gouveia wants everyone to know there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
When Gouveia’s son came home from school distraught on Monday because his kindergarten classmates apparently teased him about his manicure, the father of three shared a series of tweets blasting “toxic masculinity” and the idea of “gender norms” and encouraged parents to teach their children to be more accepting of others.
Within hours, his rant went viral.
“It’s been nuts,” he told the Globe in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I thought maybe a few hundred people would read it; that’s usually in my wheelhouse. But to go to sleep last night and wake up this morning and my phone is basically shutting down, it’s been absolutely wild.”
Gouveia said he decided to write the tweets Monday after Sam was “ridiculed for being a boy with nail polish,” an incident that led to a day’s worth of name calling and demands that Sam take it off, he said.
“I know these kids are only in kindergarten but this toxic masculinity [expletive] is LEARNED,” he wrote. “My wife and I spent five years successfully preaching tolerance, acceptance, and the importance of expression and your kids unraveled that in one school day.”
When his wife picked up Sam from school, “he collapsed into her arms and cried uncontrollably,” devastated at how other kids had turned on him, Gouveia said.
“He called me at work, his words barely decipherable through the sobs, and I told him nothing those kids say matters,” Gouveia wrote, “That his nails are BADASS! And the only thing that matters is whether he likes his nails.”
At first, Gouveia’s advice didn’t seem to help, and Sam asked to take the nail polish off so he could avoid being teased the following day.
But after a bit of encouragement from his father, who told him of the many men who wear nail polish, Sam decided to keep it on. Gouveia and his oldest son even put polish on their own nails in solidarity.
Gouveia told the Globe that Sam was further encouraged to keep his nails sparkling after Gouveia’s tweets went viral overnight.
“This morning, before I left for work, Sam came down and I said, ‘Hey buddy, you have all these people responding to you,’ ” Gouveia said. “I started showing him pictures of men and boys wearing nail polish and supporting him, and his face lit up. He literally squealed and said, ‘I can’t believe people like me and my nails, this is the best thing ever.’ ”
As of Tuesday morning, just hours after he wrote about his son being bullied for painting his nails, Gouveia’s tweet-thread had been shared nearly 10,000 times, with many showing support for Sam and his love of nail-painting.
The tweets even got the attention of Gemma Styles, sister of pop sensation Harry Styles — “GENDER INEQUALITY IS BAD FOR ~EVERYONE~,” she tweeted — and former New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett.
“I rock pink nails all the time,” Bennett wrote to Gouveia. “And one of my favorite activities with my daughter is when we do each others nails.”
Gouveia said the unexpected flood of support has been incredibly inspiring.
“Let’s face it, Twitter can be a cesspool of humanity sometimes, and I’ve been on the receiving end of that in the past,” he said. “This, though, this has been overwhelming. And to me, surprisingly positive, which has been fantastic and I’m really grateful for that.”
On Tuesday, Sam returned to school with renewed confidence and fresh red nails — “because ‘it’s pretty and good luck for the Patriots.’ ”
Gouveia said he hopes to convey the message to parents that they should talk to their kids about the way they treat people who “look different.”
“I hope somebody somewhere is going to see this and say, ‘Hey, it’s really not a big deal,’ ” he said. “I just hope it gets people used to seeing this so that in the future when you see a kid with nail polish, no big thing.”
In his final tweet about the ordeal, Gouveia had a personal message for his son, and a send-off photo for anyone who thinks boys can’t wear nail polish.
“Be brave and shine bright, my beautiful polished boy. Know that mom and dad always have your back and if the rest of the world has a problem with your nails, they can check out my nail polish!”
And then he posted a picture of his manicured middle finger.
Sam is my middle child & he’s a terror. A “boy’s boy” as so many (not me) would say. He’s rough and tumble, he’s loud, he’s always dirty, loves trucks, plays sports and knee drops me from the couch. But he also loves a lot of “girl” things.— Daddy Files (@DaddyFiles) October 23, 2018
But his classmates did have a problem. A big one. Sam was ridiculed for being a boy with nail polish. They called him names and told him to take it off. This lasted the entire day.— Daddy Files (@DaddyFiles) October 23, 2018
When my wife picked him up from school he collapsed into her arms and cried uncontrollably. He was devastated at how other kids turned on him, even his friends. He asked them to stop but that just made it worse. Only 1 kid stood up for him.— Daddy Files (@DaddyFiles) October 23, 2018
He called me at work, his words barely decipherable through the sobs, and I told him nothing those kids say matters. That his nails are BADASS! And the only thing that matters is whether he likes his nails. And then my heart broke…— Daddy Files (@DaddyFiles) October 23, 2018
“Daddy, I want mommy to take off the nail polish so they don’t make fun of me.”— Daddy Files (@DaddyFiles) October 23, 2018
My son is far from perfect but he’s got a huge heart and empathy for miles. He finds beauty in everything around him and for 5 years he’s never been afraid to be different because different has never meant “bad.” Until now.— Daddy Files (@DaddyFiles) October 23, 2018
My wife and I spent five years successfully preaching tolerance, acceptance, and the importance of expression and your kids unraveled that in one school day. He now feels the shame you desperately want to associate with being different.— Daddy Files (@DaddyFiles) October 23, 2018
But I want you to know I talked to Sam and I told him those other kids are just jealous of his nails. I told him to wear an even brighter shade tomorrow. And I told him to ask these kids why they’re so upset and see what they say.— Daddy Files (@DaddyFiles) October 23, 2018
But more importantly I told him it doesn’t matter what anyone else does because what you wear and how you look should make YOU look good. And to hell with everyone else.— Daddy Files (@DaddyFiles) October 23, 2018
After careful consideration, he’s leaving it on. Because he likes it and it makes him feel good. Then Sam’s 10-year-old brother painted HIS nails in solidarity with his sibling, at which point I nearly cried.— Daddy Files (@DaddyFiles) October 23, 2018