My Father taught me to be a man. He did not teach me to be a cultural stereotype or a caricature. He didn’t fill me with gender role rhetoric-conservative or liberal. Sometimes he told me to be tough and sometimes he held me and gave me a kiss.
My Father taught me to be a man. There were times when we spoke about manhood. But mostly, I think I just followed his example. He is six foot tall, solidly built, well educated, exceptionally intelligent, articulate, and self motivated. There are many situations in which he is the most powerful person in the room whether in terms of influence, intelligence, capacity, position, or physical dominance. And routinely as a matter of intentional habit, I have watched him use his power in those situations to empower others.
My Father taught me to be a man. Not a macho man with no feelings or pain. A flesh and blood man who accepts pain as part of living and walks through it believing that it has purpose. He taught me that there is no shame in the unavoidable fact that there are some things in life that you cannot overpower or be the best at. Resilience-getting back up-is a skill set that has value whether you win or not.
My Father taught me to be a man. He taught me that being well rounded means being able to access and utilize a diversity of responses. He is not monochromatic or static. Life is nuanced and so is he. Hammers are good for some things. But any man can tell you that having the right tools is half the job. Life is the most complex job that exists. Sometimes it needs blunt force. More often it needs precision and care.
My Father taught me to be a man. He never went looking for conflict. He taught me that physical violence was a last resort or a rare necessity to avert a crisis. He taught me that the greater nobility was in not having to strike back. He taught me to use power to protect the vulnerable and stand up to those who abused others. The most honorable use of strength is to serve the interests of greater virtues such as love, equality, and peace. And the highest outcome is forgiveness and reconciliation.
My Father taught me to be a man. He didn’t use words like “sissy” or “wimp” or “gay” as pejoratives to shame his sons into building a facade of pseudo-strength. He let us express pain or disappointment appropriate to the circumstances and stage of life we were in. There is a time to cry and a time to suck it up.
My Father taught me to be a man. He treats my
Mother with respect. He never told me girls were gross or that women weren’t as smart or capable or valuable as men. I have never heard him practice or excuse sexually domineering behavior or language of any kind.
My Father taught me to be a man. To be strong and meek. To be willing to fight but be eager for peace. To be able to speak up but to practice being a good listener. He taught me to play to win, to play to learn and to play to have fun and that it’s possible to do any one of those three without the other two. He taught me to stand up to the oppressor and serve the oppressed.
My Father taught me to be a man. The things he taught me I am striving to teach my son AND daughter. Because the virtuous and ethical use of strength and grit and competitiveness, are not exclusively applicable to one gender. These lessons may apply to different people in different ways. And they usually apply to the same person in different ways at different times in their lives. If that’s too complex and nuanced for you perhaps you should spend some time learning from my dad.