On the outside, dads are like steel. Anodized steel to be exact. But way down, deep inside, they’re all mush. Every last one of them. Show me any cantankerous, tough as nails, testosterone-driven Neanderthal, and I’ll show you his softer side—and we needn’t even be near a Sears Department Store.
For some unknown reason, back when the rules of life were written, people got the harebrained idea that men, and little boys who would eventually grow to become men, weren’t supposed to show any signs of sensitivity. Period. They were expected to go through life as no-nonsense, rough-and-tumble, insensitive, emotionless creatures capable only of fathering children, providing for and protecting their families, fighting wars, shoveling snow and fixing whatever happened to be broken around the house. Most of them could also be counted on for lugging heavy stuff here and there—which isn’t such a bad thing.
Any man worth his salt developed a callous exterior by the time he could vote, which was sure to shield him from whatever touchy-feely stuff life threw his way. This protective shell served not only to keep things from getting in, but also to prevent seepage of emotions to the world outside. Surely the sky would have fallen if anyone had ever discovered that men had feelings. Look out, Chicken Little!
Unfortunately, as I look around even today, a lot of men still play by these silly unwritten rules. They obsess over what others may think of them and worry about appearing weak or unmanly if a mere smidgeon of sensitivity spills out. They refuse to allow themselves to blubber during movies, to whimper at weddings, to sob over sprained ankles or to bawl over breakups. Even crying over spilled milk is deemed unacceptable. Furthermore, should any man under any circumstances ever admit to “needing a good cry,” immediate banishment from the He-man Woman Haters Club would undoubtedly result. I just don’t get it. It must be “a guy thing.” At least women have enough sense to cry it out once in a while—or to gorge on chocolate.
Of course, all the real men (lovers and haters of quiche alike), who have adopted these impossible societal standards as their own, can’t fool me. I know the real score. Those hardened exteriors, seemingly impervious to anything and everything, are capable of melting away, layer by layer.
Watch closely as men become fathers. Their stone-like barriers soften as they
provide comfort and support for their wives during pregnancy and childbirth, as they hold their wriggly newborns, kiss their boo-boos and sweep monsters from beneath their beds. As they teach their children to cross streets, throw a ball and balance a two-wheeler dads often beam with pride. They give so much of themselves as they read to them, listen to them and answer their endless questions. They rarely refuse a requested piggy-back or horsie ride and they know no bounds when it comes to making faces, singing silly songs or holding tea parties with imaginary guests. Eventually, their true colors come out whether or not they want the world to see.
Even as their children progress through adolescence and it seems as though nothing but frustration is felt, hidden deep inside are compassion and sensitivity. Dads, too, instinctively worry—about the driving, about the dating, about the decisions that face their delicate and inexperienced charges. They hope and pray and dream for their children, like any parent should. Graduations, engagements and weddings serve only to peel more buffers away, revealing the tenderness inside. Personally, there is little else I find more appealing in a man.
Happy Father’s Day to all those who understand what it means to be a real man—and a good dad. You know what your youngest child likes for breakfast, that your middle child is afraid of the dark and that your oldest hates to be embarrassed in front of his friends. You realize that parenting calls for teamwork in order to be successful; so you do your part. You’re tuned in. And sensitive. And, like it or not, mushy inside. But it’s okay. Your secret is safe with me.
Planet Mom: It’s where I live.
Copyright 2004 Melinda L. Wentzel