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 piece of folded paper, in his coarse, illegible hand, he’d scrawled three deliberate words:
I love you
My mother sat silently for a long moment, grasping the paper so tightly that it crumbled in the centre. Eventually, she looked over to him, laughed and started to cry.
Across the room, my father leaned against their fireplace, beaming 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 silent tears from his cheeks.
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.
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 believed my dad to be a complicated man. I expect I’ll believe that for the rest of my life. And, although at times he was harsh to be kind, there was always a softness in him that you’d miss if you blinked too soon.
Over the years, I never pointed out his softer side. I didn’t need to. It was clear in his actions, not his words.
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 look at the way society is heading, I often look to the man who had so much influence in shaping me. It is because of this that I find many societal conclusions irreconcilable.
There is nothing shameful or toxic about a man embracing his masculinity. There is nothing shameful about the way I grew up, where I so often followed my father and his example, nipping at his heels just to be involved.
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.
Recently 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 card of men.
I saw masculinity in my father each time he quietly reached for my mother’s hand in public, entwining his fingers with hers.
I saw it in their secret language, the conversation of stolen glances and hidden smiles.
I have seen it my whole life. And I will see it until the day they’re gone from this world.
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 so grateful.