My Dad was old school in the ways that mattered, and he raised me to be the same.
When I say old school, I mean he believed that men should behave in a certain way. I always saw him hold open doors, keep cuss words (yes, I said “cuss words”) to a minimum in gentle company, and stand up for the things he thought was right.
My father was not a big man, nor was he a fighter, but when I was small (probably 5 or 6 years old), I saw him confront a huge, red-faced, beer-bellied man who was kicking a dog in hot parking lot. My Dad got out of his truck (a cream coloured 1977 Ford pickup), and told the man (who outweighed him by about a hundred pounds) that if the kicked the dog again my old man would kick his teeth in. I don’t know what the guy saw in my Dad’s face, but he didn’t argue, picked up his dog, set him gently in the bed of his own truck, and drove away.
When my dad got back in the truck he looked at me seriously, and told me it was never okay to be mean for no reason, or to let someone else do it, either.
The most poignant story I ever heard about my father came from one of our neighbours. I was about eighteen years old, working at Safeway, and she saw me in my dandy smock working an afternoon shift, and (for some reason), decided it was an appropriate time to share a story. On Christmas Eve, in the early 1980’s, she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant, driving home in her Camaro, in a white-out snow storm, and was struck with a flat tire. She told me the weather was miserable, and while she knew how to change a tire, she couldn’t manage it at that stage in her pregnancy. She had her hazard lights on, and tried to wave down several cars, but no one stopped.
Except my old man.
He pulled over (in his cream-coloured, 1977 Ford pickup), helped her get in the passenger seat where it was warm, and changed her tire on the side of the highway. She told me she had never forgotten that my Dad did that for her, and that he was a good man.
When I asked him about it later, he shrugged. “That’s just what you’re supposed to do,” he said, and would discuss it no further.
My Dad wasn’t often expressive, but there were moments where I could get him to talk about certain things. And one of those things was what he believed were the qualities of a good man: Keeping your word, helping people when they needed it, stopping cruelty when you saw it, doing the right thing – especially when there was no one there to see it.
As I grew, and spent a lot of time being angsty and trying to figure out who I was, I thought a lot about what made a “good man.”
Then I met my wife, Sayeh.
We had only been dating a short time, when we stopped at Walmart to buy a few things. There was a guy out front, obviously struggling with life. It was a cold, wet, evening in March and the guy was sitting on the wet concrete, shivering. I was willing to walk by him and carry on with my life, but Sayeh pulled me towards the McDonald’s inside the Walmart, where she ordered a meal and a hot coffee. She went back outside, told the guy he looked hungry, and handed the paper bag of food and the warm cup.
I thought the guy was going to cry, and he was so happy he couldn’t get out a thank you, just kept bobbing his head and wiping at his face. Sayeh told him she hoped his day went better, and we went back into the Walmart. She saw me looking at her and shrugged. “It’s only eight dollars to me,” she said, “but it’s a big deal to him.”
About a month after that, we were meeting to go out for dinner. I was waiting out front of a restaurant for her, and as she walk up, in a black cocktail dress and high heels, I noticed she was limping slightly. I asked her what happened, and she showed me the broken heel of her shoe. On her way to the restaurant, she noticed an elderly man on the side of the road with a flat tire. The guy was not very mobile, and didn’t have a phone, so Sayeh stopped – in her cocktail dress and high heels – to change the guy’s tire so he could get home. She cursed over her ruined shoes – which she described as ‘so beautiful’, but didn’t complain over the act itself.
As we grew closer, moved in together, purchased a home and eventually got married, I had numerous opportunities to observe my wife do the things that my Dad thought were important. She is generous, always keeps her promises, and is not afraid to fight a man twice her size (she, also, works in law enforcement). She is a veteran of the CAF and has seen combat overseas, showing, time and again, her capacity for courage.
I often joke, if we were involved in an episode of the “Taken” franchise, that it would be me who was kidnapped, and her who was stabbing people to get me back.
I’ve heard it said that men often marry women who are just like their mothers. I, on the other hand, married a woman who was just like my father.
Living with Sayeh has made me realize that the qualities I aspire to are not the sole dominion of men. They are not “manly” qualities, but human qualities. That doesn’t make them any less important for young men (many of whom could use a lesson in what makes a decent human), but it puts a different spin on it.
When you(me), as a middle-aged man, realize that you’ve got a whole new set of role-models to study, it tends to open your perceptions and give you a lot more to think about.
Now, as I go through life, I will remember the lessons my father taught me, things my wife – whether she knows it or not – is constantly helping me remember.
As always, thanks for reading.