Frederick didn’t know what type of man he’d become. Then he discovered that masculinity is inheritable.
At the heart of it, masculinity for me is defined by the attitudes I inherited from my father. He and I share the same name, same build, same voice, same unapologetic Sybaritic passions. I grew up in his shadow, mystified as to why he was so proud of me, why he carried me everywhere on his shoulders and showed me off to his friends. I was so frail, weak, soft, pretty. And yet he was so obviously proud of his oldest son.
So I watched him. Closely. Going into a store to buy a gallon of milk, he’s so easy and natural with the owner, a recent arrival from Pakistan with a tenuous grasp of English. In two minutes my Dad is laughing and joking with the guy. He can’t go anywhere without friends coming up and clapping him on the shoulder. Thanking him for driving them to the hospital that time last week, or for shoveling out their driveways after the last storm.
He never, ever, ever, ogles women. He glances appreciatively. Talks with them passionately about any topic they want. Food, wine, their parents. He loves them, truly. He makes them laugh. They, in turn, worship him. In the years immediately following his separation from my mother, he sowed enough wild oats for a hundred men. Then he met his soulmate — a woman who had been in love with him since before I was born, and who had become his friend just to be closer. They married and I was best man. He cared for her parents in their final days, attending to their most personal needs without ever complaining once.
My Dad has worked his entire life, every single day, since age fifteen. Hard jobs. Physically demanding. A welder, a materials engineer, a manufacturing specialist on some of the most advanced armor steels in the world.
The ingredients listed above stewed together in me over the course of my adolescence—stoicism, athleticism, respect, integrity, dignity, passion, warmth. When I turned thirteen years old and we had “the talk,” I started to cry. I was so afraid of disappointing him. But I marshaled my feelings and announced in my breaking teenage voice that I was gay, and only interested in other boys.
He looked stunned. Then relieved.
He swept me up in a hug, kissed me on my cheek and said the words I’ll never forget:
“Thank God. I was afraid you had no passion, you never reacted when I pointed out a pretty girl in your class.”
Now my Dad will be at my wedding, to my future husband, in August of 2014. My Dad and his wife adore him, and also their future in-laws, with whom they have much in common.
At forty six years old here I am. I’ve grown into a strong, muscular, healthy, successful man. The type of man I would have admired as a child. Didn’t see that coming.
This submission came as a result of What’s Good About Masculinity?