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In Celebration of Tender Men: A Father’s Day Tribute

June 20, 2021

A girlfriend with keen insights into people shared a perspective with me several years ago. She said a woman who is close to her father develops deep trust in the world and also in herself. I’ve often thought about her words, and while I’ve not researched the psychology here, I am certain that my dad contributed beyond compare to my unshakable belief that the world is a beautiful place, full of love and tenderness. Yes, it will also bring you to your knees and make you feel powerless, hopeless even, at times. We can’t fully live without being moved, lifted and shaken by the world around us. To love is to be exposed to all the more brutal elements of humanity.

My sister Candace and I learned that lesson early from my dad. My dad is in touch with his feelings, and he is intuitive about the feelings of others. He adores my mom with an intensity of the true great love stories. He celebrates the diversity in art, people, and culture. He has great joy from friends and family, and he encourages time for play, adventure and laughter. He hurts when he sees injustice. And he is also no stranger to adversity, pain or struggle. I’ve seen him soar in so many areas of his life, and I’ve also seen him fly with a broken wing. Yet he let others in during these setbacks, he didn’t pretend that life was easy. These lessons were extremely useful as I was preparing to fly away from the nest, and to make important decisions about my life’s path. I had then, and still have today, a fantastic example of what it means to be a strong man, a man who embraces the full spectrum of emotion and lives life with incredible passion, even while dealing with declining health and limited mobility. We get these lessons from my mom too. His strength is wound up in hers, and vice versa.

As I consider the gender stereotypes forced on us since the caveman days, the most toxic of these is the idea that a boy or man must not show emotions -feelings should be pushed away, pushed down, be invisible to others. He must be macho, stoic, tough, fearless or risk being perceived as weak, emasculated. I sense this changing as awareness prevails about our deteriorating mental health. Perhaps the pandemic made our collective vulnerability more prominent than ever. American professor and researcher Brené Brown has established that vulnerability is actually required for courage – we can’t be truly brave without acknowledging our fear, our shame, our insecurity. Feeling sad or fearful or anxious are complex human emotions, and denying these feelings to boys is perhaps the greatest disservice to a world requiring empathy, compassion and love. Consider the world problems we could solve together if only boys learned a different set of rules for embracing their feelings, instead of upholding a culture of toxic masculinity. I’ve asked my boys to reject the bullshit notion that tears, stress, anxiety, insecurity are signs of weakness. I want them to grow up knowing that connecting to their feelings is strong and indeed very masculine. This is “Mama Bear” against “Society”. I’m not sure who is winning. My parenting report card isn’t due out for awhile. I hope some of it sticks when they leave home for the great classroom of life.

While we are often taught as women to be fearful of men, to carry a healthy dose of suspicion about male intentions and motives (which is necessary for personal safety), we also learn to differentiate those who pose a threat and those who will lift, encourage, support and protect us. This male-tenderness compass has lead me to so many wonderful relationships – familial, romantic and professional. These began with my first love at age 16, later a sweet and smart college love, and to my greatest love, Scott, and our two boys. I’ve also had the benefit of humble, smart, intuitive male bosses in my 25 years in business. Some of these leaders have gone out of their way to help me better advocate for myself or let me know when I undervalue my own contributions. These men will say that they have learned from me too. It’s easy to spot a man who isn’t threatened by a strong woman: he’s self-aware, open and willing to learn. It makes for deeply meaningful relationships, both personal and professional.

The first time I watched a movie with Scott, we cried in all the same moments. I think if you asked me when I knew I was in love, it was probably when he cried at the Wrigley’s gum commercial where the daughter is leaving for college and all the saved gum wrappers with notes from her dad fell out the box she packed for school. I knew I had met my match. We now watch This is Us together, and I don’t even need to look anymore, I just know he is crying when I am. It is the quality that most endears me to him, his ability to be moved by the moment.

We are only here once. I want to share life with someone who feels things as deeply. I am grateful that our boys are seeing this example.

When I bring to mind the men in my life, I am overwhelmed with gratitude: they are tender, kind and loving people who have held my trust that the world is an infinitely good place. Going back to my girlfriend’s theory, they have paved the way for strong sense of self, and an appreciation for this beyond-profound gift that is life. Thank you Dad (Mark Levy), thank you to my husband (Scott Greene) and to my grandfathers of blessed memory, (Gus Nuger and Fred Levy), for the gift of your vulnerability, tenderness and fierce love. And to my boys, Adam and Josh, may you never doubt that your ability to feel deeply is the greatest gift you can give yourselves.

I love the men in my life. Happy Father’s Day.