These last couple days have been trying for me in terms of my gender identity. No, I’m not planning a trip to Sweden and changing from a man to a woman. It’s just the differences in handling life between men and women – girls and boys – that has confounded me. I grew up in the Midwest. Say what you want about it, both coasts have given the middle 1/3 of our country an identity crisis in their own minds. Where they consider it too red (or is it blue?), too backwards, too conservative, too closed-minded I usually reply, “Have you been there?”
I have no qualms, even living in the heathen heaven of California (it’s a joke, no emails, please), about letting my kids spend the summer in Nebraska. It allows me to work, gives them stability, and gives them an example of a happy marriage between my parents. Where others have a misconception of how life there is lived (I actually had someone ask once how we managed with all the “Indian attacks”. Not kidding), I have a far better picture of it. I grew up and lived there. I open the doors for women. I do the “two-fingered wave” in familiar areas when I’m driving. I pick up papers when a woman – any woman – drops them. Chivalry isn’t dead; it’s been relegated to other parts of the country.
So when my daughter, Abbi, called me in a panic yesterday because she’d had a hard day and possibly suffered from the indignity and cruelty of another girl, it sent my genetics swirling into a morass of confusion. The Midwestern boy and dad in me wants to fix it. My daughter is hurt so my first inkling is to go find the person who hurt my little girl (and when she was alive, my wife). In a blur of fury and testosterone I leave the decimated cruelty strewn about the floor as I throw back my head and roar like Bruce Banner turned into the Hulk.
Photo courtesy: HunnyBee Photography
But that’s not what she needed. It took every fiber of self-control to not call her teachers, counselor, friends and enemies and do something. I’m a guy; we fix things.. that’s what we know how to do. But I don’t have the luxury of thinking like a Dad anymore. For better or worse, I’m dad and mom. I have to get in touch with my X and Y chromosomes and keep my muscles, hormones and brain in check.
She wants me to listen.
That’s what women and moms do. They listen. They comfort. They are the ears that girls, boys, friends, kids, boyfriends and husbands speak to. Chivalry has to take a back seat while I listen and let her cry, fume and be frustrated. It’s the single hardest thing in the world to do for a guy. My little girl’s hurt. She’s been wronged. She may not get the part in her school musical and all I want to do is go make it right. Two years ago I’d have been indignant, yelling, and grousing with her. This year I sit with steam coming out of my ears while she cries and is hurt.
The thing nobody tells you – the instruction manual you wish you had when you’re raising these kids alone – is how to fill the void left by that other parent. I had great examples to pull from and it’s helped me to not be a failure. Still, I’ve been raised and grown up with that tendency to care for those I love and protect my little girl. Before you tell me it’s backwards and chauvinistic I disagree. It’s love. It’s love of your wife, your kids, your fellow man. It’s respect. Opening a door for a woman isn’t belittling her it’s showing you respect her enough to do it.
I fight my DNA and the environment that gave me my values when I put my male desire to fix things on a shelf and listen to my daughter. I tell her it’s how things are sometimes. I say it’s not fair and I understand how angry she is. I say girls are just mean sometimes . . . and she asks why they can’t just hit each other like a guy does and be done with it. That would make her happier.
I sigh, agreeing that the 2 by 4 method makes more sense to me. But then, deep down, I know if I understood women that well I’d stop fighting . . . and I’d be the richest guy on the planet.
Do you know what your spouse goes through? Do you fight with them when they do what comes naturally? Do you know when to listen and when to act?
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Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins, is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.