David Pendragon, of Charlotte, North Carolina, says he remembers being “teased” as a kid. So the man wanted to do something special for his 10-year-old cousin who was bullied for carrying a “girly” lunch box.
“He loves cats and he loves space so [his mom] got him this cool lunch box,” Pendragon, 41, says of his young cousin Ryker. “He took it to school and got teased because it’s pink and purple and blue and its got pictures of kitty-cat heads on it.”
Ryker’s mother posted a Facebook message about the incident and Pendragon says, “my heart went out to him.”
“I responded and said I was going to buy a lunch box just like it, take it to work with me, take a picture of it and send it to him,” Pendragon recalls to PEOPLE.
Just as he promised, the father of one ordered the lunch box online. It arrived about three days later and, on Monday, Pendragon waltzed into the “large, conservative, corporate workplace” where he works as a data analyst.
“Obviously, it draws attention,” he says, adding that his co-workers asked him about the colorful lunch box. “I told them the story and I told them why I had it and what I thought about it and they were very supportive. They all thought it was great and said to definitely take pictures and send it to [Ryker] to show him it’s okay to love what he loves.”
Pendragon shared a photo of himself with his lunch box on Facebook and, in just three days, the post has amassed nearly 120,000 “likes” and has been shared more than 48,000 times. Pendragon says Ryker, of Gaston, South Carolina, appreciated the gesture.
“He was very happy,” he tells PEOPLE of the boy. “His teacher heard about it and she talked to the students in the class. Once it was explained to them, they were very apologetic. He’s brought it to school every day since! As far as I know, he’s not getting any more trouble.”
Pendragon says he never expected his post to get so much attention, he simply wanted to send a message about manhood.
“Masculinity is multifaceted and complex. Too long in our society we’ve been conditioned to express masculinity in certain approved ways. Men aren’t emotional, and men aren’t expressive, and boys don’t cry. It’s just not true,” he tells PEOPLE.
“It’s never been true. I wanted Ryker to know that’s not the case and I want my son to know that. There’s no one right way to be a man.”