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My dad died Thursday. That’s a sentence I’ve been thinking through over the last couple weeks, but I’ve never wanted to say.
Just under a month ago when they took him to the hospital with stroke-like symptoms, that was bad enough. It got worse when we found out that it was a brain tumor. We thought we could fight it at first. Yeah, it would be hard, but we could do it. But as time progressed and complications amassed, it came to the point where treatment options fell off the table one by one, and all we were left with was palliative care. But even through that, dad was still himself. Sure, the tumor caused him to lose the use of the left side of his body, but he didn’t lose his personality.
After he had been airlifted from West Palm Beach to Halifax1, his first request was for a bucket of KFC. And even on his last full night, he got my sister to pick up an appetizer platter from Boston Pizza2. He was still telling jokes to us and laughing at every one we told him. He was thanking the doctors and nursing staff at every chance he could get, even to the point of sending my mom to pick up pizza for the nurses. And he took every available opportunity to lean in for a kiss (or six) from my mom.
Long story short: He was still my dad. And I miss him already.
But as I’ve seen this dreaded day drawing closer, it’s brought me to think. We’ve seen various groups decrying “toxic masculinity” over the last few days, first from the new APA guidelines for counseling men and boys, and then from the most recent Gillette commercial. I’m not going to complain about those things because I know that would only serve to add fuel to an already raging cultural dumpster fire. The thing that I feel is often missing from this discussion is not the admission that masculinity can be toxic, but rather the discussion of how true masculinity can be curative.
In my dad, there was, at times, a mixture of both, just as Martin Luther wrote that Christians are simul justus et peccator – at the same time righteous and sinner. He never committed any of the worst atrocities associated with toxic masculinity, but at the same time, I’m sure he was “traditionally masculine” enough to be considered problematic by some.
He had a big, booming voice, and would use it liberally when his anger bubbled up. In his anger, he would at times deliver ultimatums that were not negotiable. If you got on his bad side, it was tough to get back. He could be stubborn, pig-headed, and firmly set in his ways. And at times he exemplified some of the “harmful” aspects of masculinity that the APA outlined in their document — “stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression.”
But my dad was so much more than that. Through his relationship with my mom, he taught me that men and women are different but equal. He loved mom with every fiber of his being, and he respected her just as much. While they shared the load in the home, there was a clear division of labor between my parents in many areas, most of which fall into the category of “traditional gender roles.” But he never thought less of her for it – they were equal partners in their marriage, and each did their part for the good of the whole. Together they modeled for me what it means to be faithful in marriage, and especially why our vows include “in sickness and health, for better or for worse, forsaking all others, until death do us part.” He showed me what it means to be faithful to the very end.
And while he could be tough at times, he was also capable of being tender. His manner with kids, whether in his dental practice or with my darling little niece, was a sight to behold. He loved children and the joy they bring to the world around them. And he had a laugh that could bring joy to the heart of everyone around him – if his jokes didn’t do it first.
He taught me the value of working through pain. He taught me to take responsibility for my actions. He taught me to consider the needs of others before my own. He taught me as many things as he could from all the things he knew – from how to change a tire, to how to use a table saw, to how to grill a burger. (And so many things in between!) Most importantly, he taught me right from wrong, and he taught me to love Jesus.
He was my staunchest defender, my most vocal ally, and my wisest sounding board. He did everything he could to prepare me for the world and help me avoid the mistakes that he had made over the years.
In his final days, he would keep telling me two things: that he loved me, and that he was proud of me. It’s almost as if he was making sure that the last words I would hear from him were those words of affirmation. But there was one thing that he got wrong. He said that he’s proud of the man that I’ve become in spite of him. But that is not the case.
I am who I am precisely because of my dad. He was not a perfect man, but he was a real man. The kind of man that our world needs more of. The kind of father that our society needs more of.
I love you, dad. And I miss you. But I’ll never forget you, and I will always strive to live up to your example of what a man should be.
1 My parents had been intending to spend the winter down in Florida.
2 Boston Pizza is a Canadian restaurant chain, for those who have not seen it before.