Being a man
I grew up with a tyrant for an older sister. Her view was that life was hard and she needed to toughen me up if I was going to make it. Her motto was, "If you can't take it from me, you won't be able to take it from others."
To her, I was not the strong man I should be and was not on the road to becoming it either. She wanted to see me get angry and stop her. She wanted to push my buttons and watch me have an explosion of power so she knew I would be "strong enough" in her mind.
Our parents where good people and encouraged us to find mature solutions for our problems. My mother had her list rules for us which began with "Be nice to each other." My father only had one rule, "Listen to and respect your mother. OR ELSE!" For me, his only son, he added a second rule, "Don't hit girls. Ever. For any reason. Real men have no reason to hit a women so as a young boy I better learn to find some other way to deal with my sister."
The years went by. My sister would kick me as I lay on the floor. Call me names and insult me. Even push me and my buttons until I couldn't take it anymore. All the while my father's voice was in the back of my head. Not mean, but with authority, "boys don't hit girls, ever."
I learned to take deep breaths, walk away, use calm but firm words to express how I felt to my sister. Still she never let up. Her constant chatter of how she was helping me to become a man and make me tough became maddening.
Then came my 16th birthday. This was the big one! My father was out of town but he called to wish me a happy birthday.
"What do you want for your birthday? If we can afford it and it's in my power, it's yours!" came my father's promise over the phone.
"I know exactly what I want." I told my dad. "And it won't cost anything really."
"Name it" he said.
"Let me hit my sister. Just once."...... my father began laughing at me.
"I'm sorry son, you know I can't do that. You know the rules." he said through his chuckles.
"It doesn't have to be today." I pleaded. "I'll wait until the next time she does something." both my father and I knew that wouldn't take long. But the answer remained the same. My father reminded me of the rule and told me that as hard as it was and as much as it didn't seem like it, he was doing something much better for me and I would just have to trust him. The call ended and I really can't tell you what, if anything I got for my birthday that year.
A few more months went by and nothing changed. Then, there was the day when my sister took things too far.
My mom was at work and dad was out of town again and my friend and I were listening to some records when my sister came by and turned off my music.
"You need to leave, I want to listen to my music now." She said and started putting my music away.
I decided I had listened to my father long enough. I was going to make sure my sister learned her lesson once and for all. We began yelling and my friend was stuck in that awkward moment of loyalty to me and fear of what was about to unfold. Even my friend knew the rule. Tempers flared and arms became animated. Fists clenched, jaws tighten and my sister said, "What are you going to do? Hit me?"
I closed my eyes, listened once more to my father and told my friend it was time to go. I got about 10 feet away when my sister shouted, "I knew you were too soft!" and threw a book squarely into the back of my head.
With one step I was bounding over the coffee table. With another step I was jumping over the couch. In two steps I had cleared all the furniture in the room and was standing nose to nose with my sister. My arm was cocked and my hand was ready. I could have felt.....her......breath on my skin if she had been breathing but at that moment, the whole universe was being held.
In my mind, I saw my father. But this time it was different. This time I saw him turn around without saying anything, and leave my mind as if he was leaving a room. I was alone in the room. Just me, my years of anger, my sister and my friend. No mother telling me to be nice. No father and his extra rule. Nothing but me and reality.
In that moment I looked at my sister and thought of the manly power she was about to finally see. Her waiting was all but over. Then, instead of looking at my sister, I "saw" my sister. I saw her pale face. I saw the genuine fear in her eyes. I saw the understanding of what she had done and I saw the acceptance of what she was about to receive. I closed my hand into a fist and brought it down to my side. I shook my head and walked outside.
My father didn't stop me. I did. I made the choice because after years of following the rule. After years of my sister trying to make me a man, I stopped obeying the rule and lived it. I understood in that moment that real men know when to be soft. I understood real men don't show their power to hurt, only to protect. I understood, in that moment that real men may not always be able to control the world around them, but they are always in control of themselves. On that day, both me and my sister learned what it really meant to be a man.
Now I have 6 daughters and 3 sons and sometimes those girls can be mean. I tell my boys there are only two rules. One, always respect and obey your mother and two, boys never hit girls, ever.