My father has always been a man of few words.
In fact, one of my fondest memories of him involves fewer words still.
He wrote my mother a Christmas card one year. His almost illegible writing spilled out onto a folded piece of paper, spelling out three delicate words in his coarse hand:
I love you
My mother – my beautiful, emotional mother – grasped the paper so tightly that it crumbled in the centre. She looked up at him with her gray-blue eyes, her mouth pulled tight, and wept quietly. From across the room, my father leaned against the stone fireplace, his face turned downward, wiping silent tears from his own 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 all meant.
As I got older, my father’s behaviour never wavered. There was always a softness in him that you’d miss if you blinked too soon.
The truth was, it was that same subtle love and tenderness that I often saw my father give my mother that made me the woman I am today.
Over the years, it never struck me to make comments about the softer side of the man who raised me – not even when he hid his eyes behind dark sunglasses at his business partner’s funeral, or the afternoon he sat outside, hands clasped together, and cried just after hearing my mum had been diagnosed with cancer.
You see, my father has never been the kind of man who is forthcoming with his emotions. He was stoic and unflinching.
His expectations were always high and, at times, poorly communicated – leading to what I can only describe as fiery exchanges. He was always the guiding hand, but he was never the kind for overt gentleness and flowery words.
Growing up, my brother and I were expected to know the value of hard work because that is how my father was raised. We were rarely rewarded for it with more than a slight nod or half smile. But it was enough. And we always knew when 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 and I find many societal conclusions irreconcilable.
There is nothing shameful or toxic about a man embracing his masculinity. There was nothing shameful about the way I was raised, where I so often had a shovel in hand, following my father closely, 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.