Sunday, June 15, 2008

Two Fathers

I have two very different fathers in my life. My father, Daddy, and my children's father, The Husband.

When The Husband and I married -- just kids of 21 and 22 -- I would have sworn that the two were as different as night and day. Daddy reflects his southern, Depression-era, Calvinist upbringing. Quite strict, rarely emotional, never effusive. He loves the joke about the married couple, where the wife complains her husband never says, "I love you." The husband says, "I told you I loved you when I married you. If that changes, I'll let you know."

But when he does say, "I love you," to his kids or his wife ... you know he means it.

When my brother was about 4, my father explained to him that men don't hug and kiss. From then on, they shook hands.

He tried this with my son when he was 4, but The Boy just laughed at him, pushed his hand out of the way, and gave him a big hug and kiss. At 12, he still does. And Daddy loves it.

To The Boy, he couldn't hear Pop's words as anything but a joke, because his experience was completely the opposite. His own father was a man, and that man hugs and kisses and cuddles and wrestles and dances. Dances. Even with a big ole 12 year old boy, he'll obediently pick up any kid who requests it, spinning them around madly while they giggle hysterically.

My siblings and I very loved -- love - our father. But there was a good dose of fear mixed in, too. Daddy was The Boss and you didn't talk back, you didn't roll your eyes, and when he wanted something, you didn't walk to get it, you RAN.

My children adore their father and look at me bemused when I ask if they're ever afraid of him. The Boy ponders it ... "Well, if I'm in trouble, I guess ..." He and I discuss it. I use the phrase, "healthy respect," and his face lights up. Yep, that's it.

But at their core, both Daddy and The Husband are very alike. Old-fashioned in some ways, they have a strong sense of duty. They each have a strong opinion about what makes a man A Man. Responsibility. Treating others with respect. Protecting one's spouse and children. "Spouse" is chosen deliberately ... they both have friends with other Men who happen to be gay and don't feel their orientation conflicts with being A Man.

And, though I don't think either one would think to define themselves as such, both are feminists. My sister and I were up on the roof helping Daddy reshingle the garage as much as our brothers. Both Daddy and The Husband are fierce in their belief that their daughters can accomplish anything in life.

I can't write of the two of them without using the word integrity. Their word is their bond, and venturing into any grey areas of ethics isn't something they want to do. They eye askance the whole idea of "justification." They know how easy it is to justify what you want, and are therefore wary about it.

They both love old cowboy novels and that perhaps defines them as much as anything. They metaphorically wear white hats and love women, children and dogs, and expect other people to do right. They know who they are, but don't think that's important. They work hard, talk straight, and help others.

My cowboys.

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