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My father has always been a man of few words. In fact, one of my fondest memories of him involves almost none at all.
One year, he wrote my mother a Christmas card. On a small, folded piece of paper, in his almost illegible hand, he’d written three deliberate words: I love you.
My mom stared down at the paper, holding it so tightly that it crumpled in the center. She was silent for a long moment. Eventually, she looked over to my dad, laughed and started to cry.
Across the room, my father leaned casually against the fireplace, looking back at her with pride. And if you weren’t paying attention, you’d have missed the moment he dipped his head and wiped a few tears from his cheeks.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that anyone might take this show of love and masculinity and make it ugly, as is so often the case in 2020.
But the state of things today often makes me take a long, hard look at my parents, who had an inevitable and powerful hand in shaping my views towards men and women.
When I was younger, I never noticed the love between my parents. I knew it was there, but I never took the time to look at it and understand what it meant. I never really looked at my dad’s role and what it meant for my life.
But to my father, I owe so much. Because if it weren’t for the love exchanged between my parents, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today.
I’ve always thought my dad was a complicated, enigmatic man. I expect I will have that view for the rest of my life. And, although at times he was harsh to be kind, there was always a compassion in him that you’d miss if you blinked too soon.
Throughout my life, my dad’s softer side wasn’t always on display, at least not when it came to words. It was clear in his actions.
I remember clearly the day he hid his eyes behind dark sunglasses at his business partner’s funeral, and the afternoon he sat outside, hands clasped together, and cried after hearing my mum had been diagnosed with cancer.
I didn’t need to hear about his depth and kindness to know it was there. You simply needed to know what to look for to see it.
Growing up, my brother and I came to know and understand a man whose expectations were always high and, at times, poorly communicated. We came to expect of ourselves the same things our father expected of us.
We were raised to know the value of hard work, honesty and never taking the easy way out. And if we were rewarded for those things, it was with little more than a slight nod or half-smile. But it was enough. And we always knew he was proud.
When I take a moment to look around at the place we’ve carved out for men, the way we talk about them as lesser-than, the monsters in society who must be trained out of their violence, I think about the man who had so much influence in shaping me. It is because of this that I find many societal conclusions irreconcilable.
A man embracing his masculinity is not shameful or toxic. Masculinity, as I have always known it, is the meeting of power and magnanimity. Demonizing men for their unique traits, rather than celebrating them for their achievements, is a disservice to our society as a whole. It is a disservice to our young men and boys who go through their lives being told to be anything but a man, associating who they are with violence and negativity.
My childhood – and even my adult life – has been marked with the integrity and strength that comes from a present, loving, tough father. There was no perfect way he could have imparted his values on us or made my brother and me good enough people for society. All he could do was set an example. And he did.
In recent years, someone somewhere arbitrarily decided that to be masculine is to be wrong, that it is something we must breed out of our boys and men if we intend to protect our women and girls.
But I disagree.
The masculinity in my dad, and now in my older brother, has always shown me that strength, resilience and love are not ideals only attached to femininity.
They are the calling cards of men.
I saw masculinity in my father each time he quietly, reassuringly reached for my mother’s hand in public.
I saw it in their secret language of stolen glances and hidden smiles.
I have seen it my whole life. And I take pride in knowing I grew up with this as my example.
I have had half a lifetime to know what love looks like, to know what masculinity does when it is respected.
And, the truth is, it is because of my dad that I will go through life knowing what to expect from those around me.
For that, I am grateful.