J is a classically masculine man. He watches car races and football games and not much other television that doesn’t involve cars or motorcycles. He’s tall and broad shouldered and strong and he always stands up straight. He has a ‘look,’ that, combined with his imposing physical presence, can be moderately to severely intimidating. He doesn’t say much, but when he does, it’s short, and direct, and in a deep, authoritative voice. He fixes broken things himself. He’s the breadwinner at our house, and he mows the grass and takes care of the snow removal in the winter-time…very traditional gender roles. He’s extremely intelligent…in stereotypically masculine ways…math and physics and engineering and practical application of those things. His preferred reading is Car and Driver, American Motorcyclist, and online forums for diesel engine enthusiasts and motorcycle riders. I doubt there is a human being who’s ever been around him that would call his masculinity (or his intelligence) into question, if for no other reason than because he could totally take their car apart…but he *wouldn’t.*
Because J’s pronounced masculinity doesn’t preclude him from being incredibly kind and considerate. He’s more tolerant and forgiving and generous than I am. He’s the kind of man who helps strangers jump dead car batteries and change flat tires in the parking lot, and lift strollers and wheelchairs off of curbs (I’ve seen him do it). He’ll even help people with whom he patently disagrees out of a jam (I’ve seen him do this too). And he teaches people while he helps them. They don’t always understand the directions (ahem…totally not talking about myself here), but he always offers them, so if trouble arises in his absence, the problem can still be solved. And he would never intentionally hurt someone with his actions, or with the few words he actually says. I’m sure he’d feel like scum even if he unintentionally hurt someone. He’s not an outwardly emotional man. He’s very stoic and controlled, but he prefers those around him to be smiling or better. Whether it’s well-timed, desert-dry wit or complete silliness, he keeps me and our son smiling all the time. No one makes me laugh easier…or harder…than J. And he has never once failed to show up for me when I needed him. Not once. J’s masculinity is defined by compassion and commitment, not aimless ambition and aggression.
I love a lot of things about J. I love all those first paragraph things, and all the second paragraph things, and a bunch of other things I’m not talking about here, because this is already a long, love lettery post about him. But perhaps the thing I love the most about him is something he’s been mocked and ridiculed (I hope not seriously, but at times, I’m sure it is serious) about by his family and old friends for a big portion of his life. He’s a naturally protective man. He wants people to feel safe and to be safe. He doesn’t want you to eat pizza that’s been left out in the box too long, or under-cooked meat, or a cold mayonnaise salad that’s been out in the sun at a picnic. He wants you to wear your seat belt and keep your shoes tied in double knots and look both ways (twice!) before you cross a street, and have enough insurance. He wants you to carry a first aid kit and a tool kit and know how to use everything in it. He checks on children playing to make sure no one’s hurt and everyone’s getting along. He checks cars’ and motorcycles’ oil levels and tire tread and pressure before he drives them, or before YOU drive them if he feels responsibility for you in any way. He’s watchful of his friends, and people in general, when he’s out in public, making sure no one needs help and no one means harm. And he gets teased (again…lovingly? Right? I would hope so, but toxic masculinity IS real, and this is where it shows up often…men being teased for caring about other people and showing it…men being teased for being safe…) for being overprotective and overqualified and overly prepared and overly cautious. But I don’t make fun of J for those checks and preparations and concerns, not because I just don’t believe in mocking my husband, even in jest, or participate in perpetuating the toxic masculinity garbage (but I don’t believe in or want to participate in those things…why would I want to make J feel small for being caring?), but also because I’m grateful for his protectiveness, even in the smallest of situations. His care for safety in the small, everyday things is what builds my confidence that he cares about and will work hard for people’s (especially our family’s) safety in big, extraordinary ways if that’s needed. He’s ready. He makes me feel SAFE. And that’s the best part of all the thousands of good parts of J. I love it even more than when he makes me laugh…when he makes me feel safe. Which is ALL THE TIME. I’ve seen a lot of conversation over the past couple of years about what non-toxic masculinity is, and what men are even ‘allowed’ to do in interaction with women or even each other anymore, and well…I think this is what makes a good man. I think J is a good example of non-toxic masculinity. He’s safe. He makes me feel safe. He makes everyone around him feel safe. Not threatened or afraid. Safe.