I knelt in the front pew, watching the rest of the congregation pass by to receive Communion. I had spent a majority of the Mass quietly crying off-and-on. As my dad walked by, he smiled and warmly patted me on the cheek, tears running down his own face. I felt as if the love would explode out of me. That moment at the Mass of my first vows as a Jesuit brother, with the touch of my dad’s hand against my face, felt like my own version of The Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel.
Dad and I have always been incredibly close, and I resemble him in many ways. We have the exact same laugh, tell awful jokes, and feel great pride in our handiwork. But of all the things Dad has taught me, his best lessons have been on love and a healthy masculinity.
I have a great deal of vivid memories of Dad. When I was younger and folks asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always answered “a dad.” That’s because he did such a great job of teaching me how to be a man. He taught me how to pick out dress clothes, appreciate a good craft beer, and choose flowers for a date.
Most importantly, however, Dad taught me that masculinity is not defined by characteristics like clothing, dining, or dating. Masculinity cannot be reduced to a machismo attitude: “be a man!” Too often, masculinity is rooted in a dangerous male ego, fragility, and dominance. This type of masculinity acts as a reflection of community and social structures.
But Dad taught me a different kind of masculinity: one that must always be rooted in a selfless and generous love. This same love must be willing to break down the power and oppression so regularly found in masculinity. All of the characteristics and actions – wearing a suit, drinking a craft beer, picking out flowers – were simply venues for Dad to instruct me in respect, creativity, and thoughtfulness. He took what are often tools of oppression and transformed them into opportunities for change and goodness. He continues to do so.
As I reflect on Father’s Day and the importance of Dad in my life, I am struck by the immense amount of love he has poured into the world. Whether it was telling me a corny joke or showing me how to cut a straight line with a circular saw, Dad has taught me by example how to live a masculinity rooted in loving generosity.
And Dad has taught me that this love comes with a responsibility. My responsibility as a man, in honor of my own dad, is to promote a healthy masculinity rooted in love while challenging a false masculinity of oppression and domination. I reflect on this responsibility daily in my job as a teacher and coach at an all-male school and in my vocation as a member of an all-male religious order. My dad’s example calls me to form young men in a healthy masculinity and work against systems of domination and oppression. I want to set an example of others in the way that my dad set an example for me.
To the dad who used power tools, puns, and tears of joy to teach me about love and masculinity, Happy Father’s Day.
Picture courtesy of author.