Andy Hinds lists the top 10 reasons his father is a shining exemplar of masculinity.
1) Don’t be an idiot: Dad is really smart and, as far as I know, never did the stupid stuff I used to do like wrecking cars, wasting money, and generally being a liability to himself and others.
2) Don’t be an asshole: I never witnessed or heard an account of my dad being unfair to anyone. I’ve seen him get angry about five times, and all of them were with good reason. At least two of those incidents were caused by me.
3) Don’t be a pussy: Dad was in the Army for about 25 years and retired as a full colonel. He did two tours in Vietnam, had a chest full of medals, a Ranger tab on his shoulder, and Airborne insignia even though he doesn’t really care for heights. I’ve never seen him show fear. (Except that one time when he was a little nervous at my wedding–see #10)
4) Don’t be vulgar: I’ve heard my dad cuss about five times. Usually it’s while quoting someone in the context of a story. If the cussing is in anger though (see item #2), you know things have gotten very serious. It’s really effective to only cuss in the most extreme situations. Unfortunately I have not learned this lesson well, and I have no high-impact words in reserve, should the need for them arise.
5) Have some style: According to legend, Dad used to get his fatigues tailored, and Mom would press and starch them. When he became a civilian and worked for the Defense Department, he favored Armani shirts with French cuffs. I don’t think he’s ever had a car that wasn’t customized in some way. He still skis like it’s the seventies: you can pick him out from two hundred yards away because no light is visible between his legs—it’s not the way they teach people to ski these days, but it looks pretty badass.
6) Have some culture: Although he’s from Montana via Arkansas, and everyone else in his family makes (or made) their livings farming, ranching, driving trucks, working on the railroad, etc., Dad loves opera, espresso, crusty ciabatta, and highbrow literature. We lived in Europe for many years when I was a kid, and Mom and Dad dragged us around art museums and historical landmarks all the time.
7) Do cool stuff: My dad is way cooler than me, and I wouldn’t be able to forgive him for that if I didn’t hope that by the time I’m his age I will have caught up. If that’s the case, I have some busy decades ahead of me. During his career, Dad learned Vietnamese and Russian fluently (even now, Russians think he’s a native speaker with a slight regional accent), led troops into battle, trained ROTC cadets to fight on skis (among other things—but that was the coolest), was a diplomat at the U.S. embassy in Moscow during the Cold War, and negotiated arms reduction treaties in Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union. Now he spends the winters skiing and the summers mountain biking.
8) Books are good for more than just book-larnin’: Dad always had those Sunset home improvement books around, as well as Chilton manuals for the cars. Armed with those, a basement full of tools, and a cultural background in which men were expected to be able to build and fix things (women too, to some extent–my mom certainly has driven her share of nails), we built a log cabin on the side of a mountain (literally–the downhill side of it is on sixteen-foot posts) in Montana, upgraded every house we lived in that wasn’t government property, and kept all the cars more or less roadworthy.
9) Beverages are important: I’ve never seen my dad act buzzed. But he sees no reason not to have beer, wine, coffee, and cognac with a meal.
10) Do cool stuff for your kids: Here’s one example. When my wife and I got married there were 350 people at the reception, 275 of whom were, like my wife, Vietnamese. Probably 150 of the Vietnamese guests were my dad’s age or older, and most of them had been in or around Saigon at the same time my dad was there, and had fled the country when the communists took over, or had been imprisoned and arrived in the U.S. in the eighties.
Over the course of the reception, the old Vietnamese guys had been flocking around Dad and comparing notes about the old days. I’m sure Dad hadn’t been around so many Vietnamese people for 35 years, and it must have been surreal and maybe disorienting (I know even I had a couple flashbacks, having watched Full Metal Jacket twice). But when the MC asked my dad to give a toast, he finished his beer (and his wine, and the beer of the guy next to him as I recall), and took the stage.
He gave a toast, in Vietnamese, which he hadn’t spoken for over three decades, honoring all the Vietnamese heroes he had served with, many of whom, he said, were in the reception hall at that moment. I had seen some of my father-in-law’s buddies get choked up while singing patriotic Vietnamese karaoke songs, but never before had I seen a hundred ong‘s weeping in their Heinekens like that.
For the nine years preceding that moment, I had been painstakingly clawing my way into my future in-laws’ good graces, which was necessary since I was the first non-Vietnamese person to attempt to marry into their family, and I wasn’t even a lawyer or engineer. I was on pretty solid ground with the nuclear family by that point, but the community of which my father-in-law was a pillar was certainly skeptical. After that toast, I was golden. As far as the crowd was concerned, I was from the best of stock. And regardless of which lessons I did and did not learn from my dad, I couldn’t agree with them more.
Photo courtesy of the author