Dad

The following is a reprint of something I wrote about my dad back in the fall of 2016, around the time that Donald Trump's infamous Access Hollywood tape was surfacing. I try to stay out of politics these days, but I thought this was worth a repost for Fathers' Day, whatever your politics.

I wrote about my mom a while back, and how proud I’ve always been of how she ignored her family’s expectations that she aim to work a menial job, and instead became an accomplished pathologist. I want to write about my dad now, in the wake of the audio tapes released of Donald Trump.

My dad came from a blue collar family and, with a lot of hard work and dedication, became a very accomplished doctor in his own right. He ran the cancer centre in my hometown for years, and when my family moved to Prince Edward Island he regularly worked eighty hour weeks at the hospital, treating PEI’s cancer patients.

My dad is the hardest working man I have ever met. He’s a kind, decent, selfless human being, and he’s saved many lives through his practice, and improved the quality of life of many, many people with terminal cancer. My dad likes to consider himself an ordinary man living an ordinary life, but he is far from ordinary.

My dad also made me a feminist.

I grew up with two brothers, which meant my poor mom was sorely outnumbered. She didn’t mind, though; she’s never really been a conformist. When my brothers and I started playing hockey, my mom strapped on the pads and played alongside us.

Then she joined a women’s league, playing a regular shift with women half her age every week at our local arena. She was always my catcher when I wanted to practice my (awful) curve ball.

She took up the piano when my brother and I did, and she’s still working hard on it today, when we dropped out years ago. Basically, my mom did whatever she wanted, societal norms be damned.

So when people learn that I grew up in a house with two brothers, plus my dad and my mom, they’re always surprised when I tell them it wasn’t a boys’ club, in the traditional sense. Partially, that was thanks to my extraordinary mom, but my dad played a huge part in that, too, and in shaping me into the person I am today.

My dad isn’t a macho man. He’s never been much of a drinker, never really been into sports (though he did come faithfully to all of my hockey games, and even coached T-ball one year), never kept a stack of Playboys in the bathroom.

He didn’t view women as conquests, or objects, and he didn’t gauge his own worth, or anyone else’s, on the number of sexual partners they’d had. If you believe the hype, my dad wasn’t really what you’d call a Real Man.

But my dad did take care of three toddlers by himself when his wife was studying for her medical exams. My dad did make dinner for the family on the nights when his wife was on call.

My dad did sit me down with my brothers when he found our stash of racy pictures (we were hormonal teenagers; so mortifying) to explain to us that women were more than two dimensional pieces of meat to be lusted over, that they were people, and people first, and that we were never to forget that.

My dad treated my mom like the world began and ended with her, but not in a way that condescended to her, or treated her as anything but his equal. He was/is madly in love with her, and he made sure she knew that, but he also recognized that she was her own person, a strong person, and he was secure enough in himself to let her do her own thing.

He respected her opinions, deferred to her preferences. He was man enough to celebrate her accomplishments without feeling in any way that they diminished his own.

You talk about masculinity, and our culture’s perverted ideal of it. You imagine that you have to be tough, strong, mean. You begin to imagine that kindness is a liability.

You gauge your own worth by your number of sexual partners, or the number of beers you can drink, or how much you can bench. The car that you drive, the watch on your wrist, how much money you make. Where you go on vacation.

You begin to believe, maybe, that being a man makes you special, makes you worth more than others. That your masculinity means you’re entitled to do what you want, take what you want, whatever.

My dad drove the same beat-up Suburban for years. He wears a $15 Timex, and he prefers light beer, and just one, thanks. He listens more than he talks. He gives of himself. He treats everyone he encounters with the same amount of respect, no matter their social station.

For a long time, I believed that my worth as a man depended on the number of women I’d slept with, or an expensive car or clothes. I thought if I were a Real Man, I would excel at those things, and the failings I perceived in myself in that regard took a serious toll on my mental health.

But I looked at my dad, a man who has accomplished so much without seeking recognition, without basing his worth on external validation, who never strayed, never cheated, just built and maintained a happy marriage for well over thirty years now.

I look at the man who treated my mother like the extraordinary woman she was, without forcing her to be anything more than a fellow human being.

I look at people like Donald Trump, and I don’t see a shining example of manhood, regardless of his bank account or his sexual exploits. I see a petulant child who cries out for recognition, who operates exclusively for personal gain, who treats women like meat and believes that’s okay.

I hope that the rest of the world is seeing this, too, and that we can stop revering people like The Donald, and look instead to the quiet, strong, decent men like my dad, to find the extraordinary in their ordinary lives.