In her Words
A Man Like Dad
Where are the men with integrity?
When I was 10, I had a shirt that read “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” As an only child, I was my dad’s little buddy – spending more father-daughter time with him than most girls I knew. He worked all week and my mom worked on weekends, so that’s when I saw him in hands-on dad mode: making pancakes, taking me to bowling league (shut up), cleaning the bathrooms (my mother’s most hated chore), and towing me along on errands. He’d put me to work in the yard, asking me to clean up dog poop so he could mow the lawn – which I did, not without a scowl. Every Sunday, he gave me my $1.00 allowance and helped me set up an envelope system so I could learn to manage money – 25 cents to savings, 25 cents to the church, and 50 cents to spend. On the nights Mom worked, he made dinner – sometimes even donning an apron as he worked through a recipe, which he has never followed to a T, always adding his own this or that, usually something along the lines of French dressing, Worcestershire sauce, or some type of mustard for “zip.” My mother always frowns upon his culinary creativity, but I know she appreciates the effort. He helped with homework, and although he became frustrated with my inability to grasp any concept involving numbers, he persisted. When I screamed in the middle of the night that I was going to puke (which was pretty often), he was the first to come flying into my room with a bucket. And it was he who went to the store at 2:00 a.m. after one episode left me craving Coke like you can’t even believe. “Sip it slowly,” he instructed, as I placed my lips on the straw.
Is it any wonder why, with this type of model, I have trouble finding a man of integrity – in New York City, of all places? A man who, at the age of 30, does something on a Saturday night other than get so smashed he throws up on a street corner? A man who feels strong enough in his masculinity and not threatened by a woman’s independence or strength that he can avail himself to a relationship – truly “chipping in” by doing the work, whether that’s diving elbow-deep into a child’s vomit or simply being honest about his intentions? Women today lead companies and own homes – we can take hearing that you’re “not that into us,” and we’d also like to know when you ARE. When did men become so emasculated, so afraid of rejection, that they ditched the armor in favor of an invisibility cloak? Whoops, he’s disappeared – again!
I have a dear friend who was raised with a similar type of father (we used to blame it on the solid honorable men of the Midwest – her father from Chicago and mine from Milwaukee – but then we met a guy from Nebraska who was directing a gonzo porn film and scrapped that theory). He recently told her he felt like perhaps he and her mother had set her up for disappointment by not exposing her enough to the manipulative wiles of others. I feel the same way. While I realize that both my upbringing – and hers – was a gift and that we are blessed to have been raised knowing we were fully loved and seeing two parents choose one another each and every day, and really WORK at a relationship, the resulting expectations are sky high in a sea of men who have chosen lives at the bottom of the barrel. Being raised by a man of such honor – and having been married to one, though the marriage didn’t work out….for non-honor-related reasons – makes it difficult to navigate a sea of emotionally stunted men who just don’t know how to “show up.” Or perhaps more accurately – aren’t willing to show up. To do the work it takes to truly bond with another – which means putting oneself aside, taking another being into consideration, being honest, not hiding, and telling someone else what is going on inside your head and your heart. If men of my father’s generation were able to do it, why are the men of today – who should be even more evolved – so incapable? Or is it simply that they just don’t want to?
Here’s the choice: As women, we can get sucked into the modern man’s hookup culture or we can put our collective foot down and say, “No. I deserve better. Show up and do the work or leave me alone.” Men will never have integrity if we don’t demand it. They’re very Pavlovian – if you reinforce the behavior, it will continue. If you ignore it, it will stop. Every woman that complains about being mistreated but keeps hooking up is part of the problem.
As for me, I’m on self-imposed dating hiatus (seven months running) because I believe there’s something better out there. I’ve seen my father, my friend’s father, my friend’s brother, my ex-husband, and several friends’ husbands. There are men who are willing to be a partner, to be responsible, to speak their intentions, to honor their word, to walk the walk and mean it. I don’t know where he is and I know, to some degree, finding him will take either a serious needle-in-a-haystack venture or a rare astronomical configuration. But I was raised with too much love from a man to accept anything less. Until then, my heart still belongs to Daddy.