I believe I've spoken before of how fathers who are good with their children make me melt faster than butter in the South Asian summer sun. We idealise the Madonna and child, make place mothers up on a pedestal unless their children aren't what we think they should be, then we demonise them. It is always 'mother' as parent, the father is seen as disposable; fatherhood as an extra. We tend to see men as unnecessary to the raising of a child - whether as a father, uncle, or simply a close family friend, an adult male role model. We're more likely to be suspicious of them, to expect them to harm our children rather than parent them.
How very wrong we are.
I suppose I'm not deeply moved by mothers who are good with their children because we expect that, and because I'm deeply maternal - for me, that's to be expected, so I don't find it remarkable.
But men who adore kids? For whom children are as much of a vocation as they are for me? That makes it really hard to breathe and not cry in public.
It isn't simply because of cultural expectations here - it's because I am very aware that if I had had the chance, I would very much have been a daddy's girl. That has been painfully clear in the way I've worked through issues in my life: I've almost never been without a surrogate father, all of whom have been the most amazing men and instrumental in my healing.
So when I see a dad holding his daughter's giant stuffed duck and walking down the pavement at her 3-year-old pace, holding a serious conversation with her? I slow down and blink away tears, silently blessing him for being the man he is. When I see this father davening with his little girl in his arms (at 3:33)? I'm usually alone, so I do cry. And put the video on repeat a few times. When I hear dads taking their children's claims that the teacher thought they were a superhero/muppet/monster seriously? I could kiss them.
Fathers who are dads, who love their children fiercely and will allow them to unfold into themselves, not who they want their child to be, are absolutely incredible. Those of you who take lone wolflings like me under your paws and raise me through your classes and through your love and friendship, you save lives - and I don't even know how to begin to thank you.
But the men who aren't dads and love children deeply and fiercely; who would fall at the first ditch for a child; for whom there is, as of yet, no 'my children' and 'their children' - but only 'my children'? And for whom you suspect that even when they have children of their own, all children will still be 'my children', because children are their vocation, in the true sense of the word?
There just aren't words.
One of my good friends is just such a man. I remember when I first saw him with a friend's daughter - who clearly adored him - and felt myself choke up. I expected him to be good with children. What I hadn't quite expected was for him to become incandescent and truly step into himself, or that I would see a profound paternal instinct.
Even now, when it is completely expected, it is a joy to see him with children: the mutual adoration, the naturalness, the playfulness always make me smile. I've seen his mask drop as he lifted a little one above his head and watched him drop an adult conversation in a heartbeat to kneel on the pavement to speak to a little one in distress, his attention wholly on her. Every child knows they are utterly safe with him and seeing that, I know the child in me is safe with him as well.
There's the crux of it - with men who adore children, who can truly be with children, that vulnerable part of us is safe too. When we think of holding that vulnerable part in others as 'woman's work' - in the same way we think of parenting or nurturing - we rob men of this vital part of themselves, this ability to love and be loved unconditionally, and force them into hard exoskeletons that limit their growth into the narrow role that society prescribes them. Then we complain that they can't express their emotions/deal with their anger constructively/be responsible/parent children. All this after we start them off with 'boys don't cry' and telling a 5 year old to 'man up' when he's afraid or when he's fallen and hurt himself.
Is it any wonder so many of our young men are in such trouble?
So I give thanks for these men who aren't afraid to love and nurture openly - because we ALL need them to: as our fathers, brothers, friends, mentors, lovers, co-workers, leaders...fellow human beings.