Men are being asked to be so many things today: great providers, caring spouses who are “in touch with their feelings” — and, of course, the most amazing dads on the planet.
A single friend said recently, “I’m looking for a man who doesn’t exist, I think — a man who can cry at a sad movie, bake cookies, and tune into my emotions, but also protect me with his fists if he has to, work on my car, and hit a homer at a men’s softball game. That’s asking a lot of any one guy!”
My dad is an old-school dad. He worked many hours providing for my mom, my sister and me, and during the week, we didn’t see him a lot. He and my mother chose a safe town for us to live in that was farther away from his office in Washington, D.C., than he would’ve liked, but we always came first.
His daily commute alone often took several hours each way — by bus, by subway, and on foot. But he made this daily slog without any complaint.
Somehow, through some sort of dad magic, he was there for us, too.
He always knew what was happening in our lives, and he always took our calls to his busy office, even if it was just to tell him about a good grade, a nightmare, or a fight with a friend.
On the weekends, he was ours — teaching us how to weed the yard, throw a baseball, or build a fire. He happily drove us to friends’ houses and regularly took us to thriller movies our mother didn’t always approve of (naturally! Every mom or grandma knows where she’s coming from).
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As we grew older, although he still worked tirelessly, he listened to our laughter, spats and conversations with interest, saying little but enjoying being around us. While he didn’t share every feeling with us — far from it, he was regularly deep in thought — his constant presence spoke volumes about what “being there” really means.
We need dads like this today. We need the quiet strength that an old-school dad can provide — one who knows who he is and wants to teach his children and other loved ones whom they can be.
“I’m all for gender equality, but there are some things that define us as men,” writer Ian Lang said in AskMen. “It’s fine to cry when Old Yeller dies, but when the family pet needed to be ‘taken out back’ and cooler heads needed to prevail, I know who I appreciated having as a role model.”
Lang also said, “Not much, if anything, is easy in life, and someone has to be the rock for your family. That’s a dad’s job and, more broadly, a man’s job. Even the most ardent feminist appreciates a man who can stand by her in times of hardship and remain confident.”
I ended up marrying a man who became an old-school dad. He’s a traditionalist in the best of ways, imbuing in our three sons the traits of responsibility, generosity, and strength of character.
The kids know through his constant strength and commitment to family that they are each uniquely loved for exactly who they are.
My husband may not know exactly how to respond emotionally with our sons (they turn to me for that) — but they know he is there, ready to guide, teach, and defend if necessary. They know through his constant strength and commitment to family that they are each uniquely loved for exactly who they are.
“I married someone so much like my father,” I said to a friend recently. Quiet, consistent love speaks for itself, and the security and depth of feeling my dad has offered me all my life continues now in my marriage, too, and becomes part of our unique family history.
I see glimpses of the old-school dads my sons may someday be: when they listen intently without judgment, help a neighbor without being asked, or treat women equally and courteously. I know my father — their grandfather — along with my husband, have imparted so much without saying too much.
Leading by example creates its own excellence, every time.
Thank you, all the great dads out there, for what you mean to families, communities, and this country. We couldn’t do it without you.