Toxic Masculinity. A thoroughly cleansed, 21st century label to an age-old set of issues between man and woman. As just another citizen going about the important work of existing while spinning through the universe at 1000 miles per hour, I am dumbfounded by what’s missing in the current gender wars dialogue.
I’d like to share my reflections on what it was like to learn how to be a man from a bunch of women.
My father largely left my life at the age of seven. From that time on, I was completely surrounded by women. Shuttled from home to my Memere’s while my mother worked, all of these individuals were and remain towering figures in my life. You may not know them, but their names give them meaning nonetheless. Doris Hinerth. Doris (Ledoux) Delisle. Gloria (Ledoux) Duggan. Marie Ledoux. My Memere Jeanne (Ledoux) Hinerth. My dear mother Myrtle Jeanne (Hinerth) Graves.
What was remarkable about these women? I simply knew them as the women who cared for me. Unconditionally loved my sister and I. Had our back in the neighborhood when required.
I spent summers learning the life of a gentleman farmer from Aunt Doris Hinerth. I learned the family lore from my Aunt Doris Delisle. My grandmother spent a lifetime a dedicated member of her parish and an independent voice among her peers. They had older, deeper stories.
My Aunt Gloria defied her family and married a protestant. Her and my Uncle Dick never looked back. In 1934 my Memere, looking forward to high school expected a gift of shoes from her father. To her surprise and with much consternation on his part, he handed over to her the tools of a mill worker. In an ironic twist, she went to work in the shoe mill, several years later escaping that existence through marriage to my mother’s father. After her mother’s death to cancer, it was my ‘other’ Aunt Doris who picked up the family reigns at home while my struggling great grandfather Aza worked to feed his remaining sons and daughters.
Each in their own way they were the silent, persevering heroes of the great depression. I will forever be grateful to them for filling my formative years with laughter, love and the tools necessary to be a great person. They are the heroes of my personal mythology.
Among them none compares to my own mother. She unconditionally and without pause toiled on my behalf in countless ways which can never be repaid. Without a male figure in my life, she taught me to stand without fail on my principles. My mother encouraged my interests, never limited my goals regardless of her inability to pay for it all. She taught me how to love a woman; with selfless abandon and dedication. I became a man molded by the experiences garnered in a lifetime filled with privilege. The privilege of knowing the love and wisdom of women.
My enormous privilege has grown to include my sister, my lovely wife and my two precious daughters. I dreamed for years of their coming into being. More than a name, these women will carry something into the generations only possible for them to convey. Something deeper. As deep as the Blood of Eden.
When my first born was yet to arrive a friend and I were conversing on parenthood. I told him I was hoping for a daughter. I told him of dreams I was having of Abigail’s coming into being. “ We need strong, loving women in our world now more than ever” was his response. He was correct. I am a better man with these women in my world. The world is a better place with men who embrace this.