Like a few of you perhaps, I grew up in a single parent household. Dad, wasn't really around, mom worked and in my case, grandma was at home with the kid. I like to say that I was raised by a wild pack of women. I would read my mom's Redbook instead of Sports Illustrated and find ways to make her curlers into rocket ships, but that was ok. Besides, all those articles I read about 'How women think' plus the illustrations in her copy of...
...which for the 1970s was pretty racy, served me well.
The city back then was not the nice shiny apple it is today so grandma was happy to let me sit in front of the TV, and I did...a lot. It only made sense that since there were not a lot of male role models around in real life, I got them from television.
There was Michael Landon from 'Little House', Mr. Keaton from 'Family Ties' and who could forget the multicolored sweaters of Mr. Huxtable, from 'The Cosby Show.' These guys were my perfect dads and when I had kids, I was going to be like them but we'll get to that later.
You see, before I could become a dad, I need to be a man and no TV show can teach you that. For that, you need a movie and the movie is 'The Big Country.'
Dads, watch this flick, better yet, make your kids watch it because it's chock full of examples of what being a man is. Grandiose Hollywood examples but examples none the less and besides, who doesn't love a good old fashioned western?
So what is being a man? It's got to be more than being the biggest and strongest. At lease I hope so or at 5'7" I'm in trouble. Nope, it's something much more than that and from what I have seen, we don't all get there and sometimes even when we do, we don't always stay.
A man first and foremost MUST know himself. Insecurities (and we all have them) are breeding grounds for inaction as well as overreaction and at worse, confrontation. When we don't really know who we are or why we do the things we do we are destined to stay stuck, rooted in our wasted potential grabbing at the morsels that life throws at us. For example, I was a scared kid, didn't like to fight. To this day I've only really been in two fights back when I was a kid, but my fear of it lasted into adulthood. It couldn't be that I was afraid of getting hurt. I've had my share of bruises and broken bones. It was my insecurity, the fear that I would be completely humiliated, that I would look stupid and forever be referred to as that guy who (insert embarrassing comment here).
Then one day, decades ago I was on the 4 train right around the Yankee stadium stop. Now here is the scene: It was crowed as trains can get and there was bumping and jostling among the passengers. Me, I'm Puerto Rican but I look white as can be so even though I'm surrounded by my fellow Hispanic and black brethren, I stick out like a speck of salt in a pepper shaker. After accidentally bumping into a rather larger black man standing next to me, a staring contest ensued.
Now guys, you know that when this occurs, all sorts of stuff can happen and usually, I would have just melted away and found a way out. Maybe it was that I had enough, growing up white in minority neighborhoods led to it's share of confrontation. Maybe it was that I was on a train and had no place to go, but I decided that then and there I would stop being scared and I gave that man a good staring at.
As expected he did not appreciate this and said something to the effect of taking me off the train when it stops and beating my ass and that is when it happened. I looked right at him thinking "this guy can pound me into the dirt" and I remembered a line from the movie 'The Big Country' and with a straight face I said this...
"You must be a gambling man, because you're betting that if you fight me, your going to win."
...and I just looked at him for what felt like forever.
I was thinking 'You hear about this kind of stuff all the time, does it really work?" and I tried my best to give the most calm 'I really don't give a crap what you do' kind of look.
And it worked! I couldn't believe it but he muttered something about me being crazy, broke the 'stare' and turned away.
I didn't believe it. He thought somewhere in the back of his mind that he might not win, that he might wind up looking foolish. I knew then I had something he didn't, confidence in myself and a little bit of confidence can make a whole lot possible. Then it clicked, this guy had no idea what I was capable of so maybe, it was time I started thinking about what I was.
I stopped being so afraid after that and I believe my own journey as a man began then. That doesn't mean I made all the right choices, far from it, I've made a lot of mistakes. Over the years though I have tried to work on the things I felt I needed to correct in my life like furthering my education, my temperament or even how I come across to others (I'm a very direct person which can put people off). It's a long process and one that never really ends because there is always something you either want, need or just should do.
And there my friends is the tricky part of being a man. Knowing what you like and don't like about yourself. You see typically we don't go around talking about what we need or want to do. We don't have that social network that women seem to have so we don't always get, or for that matter want any feedback on our lives and for a lot of us, it means missed opportunities. It's a learning process though and when you take the time to learn who you are even a missed opportunity can teach us a lot. Do we give up, or do we man up and do what needs to be done? I know the kind of man I want to be and besides, real men don't give up.
So what about being a dad, and just what did I learn from Charles, Michael and Cliff?
I'm glad you asked. The answer is this...being there. They were, all of them, always there for their family and children. I may not know a lot of things, but I know that a dad needs to be there for his kids. I'm not saying quit your jobs and all be stay-at-home dads, but if you are working so much that you never see your kids, well, nobody, when they were on their deathbeds ever wished they spent more time at the office.
Remember when I was talking about missed opportunities. Well your kids are your biggest opportunity and being a dad is all about those little moments to guide, to teach and sometimes, to learn. It's about being in tune with that which gives you your title of dad. It is knowing when to comfort and wipe away a tear or tell them to "Walk it off." It's being stern when necessary but always providing a safe haven and protecting them while allowing them their freedom, it's about playing with them instead of watching the playoffs.
Most of all the way that being a man is related to being a dad is that in the pursuit of being a man, we build up our own confidence by striving to be a better person. Being a dad is about instilling confidence in your children so that sons grow up feeling they don't need to prove anything to anyone but themselves and daughters feel as if there is nothing they can't accomplish no matter what life throws at them. We may not always get it right but as men, we strive to learn from our missteps so that the next time we can be a little better for our kids and in doing so, we are being the kind of fathers that being a 'dad' is all about.
So to sum it all up, man = wanting to be better person for yourself, trying to know who you are and what you want to achieve. Dad = realizing that you need to be a better person for your kids. It's leading by example and sometimes, bending the rules so you can get into a little mischief together. Most of all, it's about giving your kids the kind of life you think a kid should have. Hopefully then one day in the future when they are all grown up and pointing you out to one of their friends they can say with pride, "That's my dad."