Recently, I told you about a brilliant project called The Perfect Gift For A Man, a book that has been compiled to allow men to tell their personal stories of what it means to be a man. For them.
This chapter from the book is not written by a man but it is about manhood. Whether you realise it or not, the male role models around you as you grow up – whether fathers, uncles, teachers or older brothers – shape your view as a woman of what it means to be a man. Annik Skelton wrote the following about how her Dad has influenced her view of men…..
“I was probably twenty one before I realised that my Father had become the standard by which I measured all men. Of course, I had been doing this my whole life — rejecting teachers, youth group leaders, friends’ fathers and potential boyfriends as substandard — but it took me a while to figure out exactly why the other men I came across in life were never good enough.
My Father has never been what you would describe as a “manly” man. Dad is very gentle. He is soft-spoken, compassionate, and peaceful. When he holds babies, they immediately grow quiet. Animals and children have always seemed to be drawn to him. As a kid, Dad spent every afternoon after school at either of his grandmothers’ houses, where they taught him to bake, sew, and stay away from black people. Their feminine influence has strongly shaped him today, and people usually ask me whether he’s gay when they first meet him.
When I was in high school, my friends would often frown at my Father as he swayed around the kitchen in his apron, stirring frantically and humming to Rick Wakeman. “I’ve got to get these muffins in the oven before my aerobics class starts,” he would explain, giving me a wink.
When I was very young, I sometimes felt cheated that my Father wasn’t like all my friends’ fathers. I’d never been to a football game or watched a car race or a boxing match. I’d never been fishing or turned up at the dinner table covered in grease or stolen sips from my Dad’s beer, because he didn’t fish or fix cars or drink. Instead he played Gershwin for hours on the piano and made his own trail mix. I felt like I was missing out on certain childhood experiences because my dad worked too much and didn’t have enough time to take me through what my friends and the media told me were mandatory steps in life.
However, I needn’t have worried, because what he did teach me turned out to be richer in the end: a love of reading, how to bake, an appreciation for history and music, impeccable manners (which I have chosen to ignore as an adult, but the ability and knowledge is still there), reverse parallel parking, and how to resolve conflict without violence. Dad taught me to question, observe and note details. He taught me that the very act of learning itself is a gift.
My father is a GP, which meant I witnessed some grisly stuff as a kid. I’d seen dead bodies before I turned five, because Dad often got called out to certify deceased patients, and he couldn’t leave me at home by myself. I read about gory accidents and sexually transmitted diseases in medical journals I found lying around the house. I watched Dad stitch neighbours, relatives and friends back together on our kitchen floor. I developed a strong stomach and learned to keep my cool during emergencies. “It’s just blood,” Dad would assure me, and I remembered this later in life as I pulled splinters, picked shards of glass out of friends’ feet, and wrapped split limbs in beach towels.
Dad often went the extra mile with his patients — picking up dinner on his way to a housecall or driving someone home after a dizzy spell. One of his patients, a green grocer who never had enough spare cash for medical bills, always paid Dad in fresh fruit. And a tiny Vietnamese lady with severe diabetes dropped off home-cooked meals to us when she couldn’t afford medical insurance. Dad showed me the beauty in helping others; in listening and serving.
As an adult, I still don’t really care about sports or cars, and the same things that were important to me as a child are the qualities I believe real men should have. I despise violence and prejudice of any sort. I respect men who are generous and compassionate. Men who can hold their shit together when they’re angry, then wear a nightie without being embarrassed. Men who can cry openly, then amputate gangrenous limbs when necessary. I think that in an ever-evolving society where physical prowess is becoming less crucial to daily survival, men often struggle to find the balance.
But if my Dad has shown me anything, it’s that ‘being a man’ simply comes through being the best person you can be.”
How has your Dad or the other men in your life as you were growing up, shaped your adult view of men?