We used to joke that my Mom couldn’t catch a break, even the dog was a boy. There was a lot of testosterone in my house. Today, as many are celebrating International Women’s Day by participating in Day Without a Woman, I find myself reflecting on the women in my life and the ways they have taught me to be a better man, a better human. I am eternally grateful for these women whose courage, compassion, wisdom, creativity and strength is a roadmap in times when too many are hella hella lost.
I don’t know how old I was, maybe like 6 or 7, but I’ll never forget this moment. It’s the most fundamental lesson I have been taught. I was heading up the alley to a friends a couple houses away and my Mom stopped me. She asked me “where’s your brother?” If I was 7 my brother was 4. I remember complaining and telling her that I didn’t want him to come with. My Mom looked at me, smiled and said ” your brother is your best friend.” From that moment on my brothers and me have been inseperable. My mom has always taught her deepest, most salient lessons, with a smile and a love that I imagine only a mother can have.
Before any abstract idea of manhood positioned me as a “protector” or “head” of my family, my mother taught me how to truly be a member of a family. And she continued (and continues) to teach as I grew up. Whether that was by changing work uniforms in the short time between her jobs and rushing out the door so she wasn’t late for her shift, or through the compassion she showed when I would mess up my mother showed me what it means to be fully human, to be a “real” man. The way she loves and guides our family brings me a calmness and confidence that dwarfs any challenges we face.
Strength is often associated with physicallity, with masculinity. I’ve always thought of it a bit differently. I think that’s because of my grandmothers. These two women are the epitome of strength and are who I pray to in my moments of weakness.
My maternal Grandma was the first person to show me a Bible. Truthfully, she introduced me to God. She was an Irish-Catholic and was proud of both. I thought her Bible was the most beautiful thing in the world. It was just a regular New American Edition, but the way she took care of it I would have thought it was the first one Gutenberg printed. She lived with us and so we would often go to church with her. I remember sitting in the pew with her and seeing her cry. It wasn’t until I was older that I would learn the story, the strength, behind her tears.
When my Mom, the 4th of her 5 children, was just 2 years old my Grandpa died. Eventually she remarried and when my Mom was 16 my Grandma’s second husband also passed away. My Grandma was widowed, twice before my Mom was even out of high school. Just the thought of that now, all these years later, makes my chest tighten. I can’t imagine living through it. She did though. And it wasn’t just living, my Grandma thrived and was happy. She laughed. She smiled. She loved unconditionally.
My paternal Grandma has an equally amazing story. Born in MooseJaw, Saskachewan to a sex worker she was adopted and brought to Minnesota. I don’t know a lot about her life growing up, she didn’t talk about it much. What I do know is that her and my grandpa lived in St. Cloud. They were both totally blind, but they loved each other and wanted a family. When my Dad was young the people of St. Cloud decided that two blind people should not be allowed to have children and they attempted to steralize my Grandmother. Someone told my family what was happening and we moved to Minneapolis. They ended up having 8 children and raising their family. Instead of being jaded and becoming insular my Grandma’s house was a safe haven, everyone was welcome. This was always clear on Christmas eve. My Grandma’s house on Christmas eve was the epitome of community. Every year besides family there would be any number of people who would stop by and introduce themselves to me with a similar story: “Hi I’m so and so. I grew up with your Uncle or Dad or Aunt and your Grandma let me stay here when this or that happened.”
As I try to be a better man I often call on the strength and resilencey of my Grandmothers.
I’ve never had anyone show me more completely what it means to human than my wife, Tiffany. Day in and day out she navigates the world with compassion, wisdom, tenacity and creativity that literally leaves me speechless. On any given day you could find her comforting a friend, brainstorming ideas for work, debating policy , reseaching a new concept, discussing critical theory, detailing the greatness of Viola Davis and Beyonce, planning the turn up for the weekend, loving on Zoe, laughing with the crew, doing her classwork for her Masters, offering wisdom to her brother, asking for help from a collegue, you get the idea. She does all this without missing a beat. She is confident and yet humble. She is passionate and determined yet reflective, open-minded and pragmatic. She asks for help when she needs it and offers it when others need hers. When I dig in because of my ego Tiffany reflects and empathizes. When I want to force shit to go my way Tiffany listens and finesses a solution. When I want to put things off or give up Tiffany is urgent, accountable and detemined.
This is all more than evident in how she mothers our daughter, Zoe. She knows when Zoe needs to be hugged and comforted or when she needs to be told to get off the floor and stop crying. She teaches lessons to Zoe and laughs with her too. She is totally human and is teaching our daughter to be as well. I never feel closer to God than watching Tiffany and Zoe together.
To mark Day Without a Woman 100% of the female staff at my school are taking the day off. Instead of classes we will be teaching about the impact of patriarchy and sexism. As I reflect on the role of women in my life I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I encourage the men reading this to give thanks to the women in their lives, publically. We need to make it known that we will not remain silent as patriarchy erases and reduces them. Not because we want to “protect them” or any bullshit variation of that sentiment, but because we are better for them. Our lives are better when oppression doesn’t exist. The dismantling of patriarchy and the eradication of sexism benefits us. It is time for us to say that shit plainly. To the women reading this, I give you thanks. Salute.