My father-in-law, Paul, is a blacksmith. He makes chandeliers and handrails out ofhard iron that are beautiful and intricate. His hands are small, stout and coarse. He can drive a 3” spike with one swing. To sell his work at the Swiss Days Art Festival, he constructed a portable wooden forge that dissembled with the removal of a few screws. I once asked him about the time and effort he put into the forge. He shrugged with his hands in his Levi’s and said, “I just threw it together.”
He’s probably the most masculine man I know. He makes me want to chop wood and change sparkplugs.
My dad died when I was nineteen and I didn’t cry at his funeral. I wanted to, and even convinced myself it was a necessity in grieving. I think about his death regularly and often wonder if my dwelling on it is a result of my inability to mourn properly, or perhaps it’s because Dad limited our relationship to his convenience. He never showed me how to do masculine activities like Paul can do, and I have always felt like I have some gap in my manhood. After my wedding, I wanted Paul to replace my father and teach me to shape iron.
But it took two years before I felt a connection with Paul. In 2006, we spent a week camping at Boulder Mountain with Mel’s parents. Paul and I left the group and hiked through Spring Canyon. We talked a lot as we hiked along nine miles of sharp sandstone cliffs. We chatted about our wives and I told him how Mel had changed after marriage. Little things, like how she used to enjoy hiking with me while we dating.
“You, me, and every man since the dawn of time,” he said. “They all do that.”
We finished our hike, and drove to our campsite at dusk. Shadows from the setting sun blinked between the pines. The in-laws sat in the front. Mel and I sat in the extended cab of my Chevy pickup.
Mel was pregnant with our first child.
A deer leapt from the side of the road, and Paul slammed the truck into it. The deer was shoved down, into the asphalt. Then she rose, ran frantic, and eventually fell into the trees a few feet from the road. She made a horrible sound there, in the bushes, that reminded of a baby crying.
Dark set in as we pushed the truck from the road. The buckled hood leaked black and green fluid into the weeds. Our phones were out of range so Joan flagged down cars, as Paul and I pushed the truck out of the road.
A friendly driver said he’d stop in town and find us a tow truck, and so we waited.
It was silent.
Mel and Joan sat in the cab, and Paul and I sat on the tailgate.
“I should have drove the Jeep,” Paul said. “It rides higher.” I nodded, unsure what to say. He rubbed his hands together, nervously, and I could hear the callouses on his palms.
“I should have seen it…that damn deer. I ruined the vacation.”
“Mel’s pregnant,” he said. His head slumped down and his shoulders rolled forward. Tears reflected in the flashing hazard lights, wet and trailing down his cheeks.
“What if Mel had been hurt? What if I’d hurt the baby?”
He was terrified.
He told me he was sorry. He asked if I could forgive him.
I thought about how I viewed him before that day, masculine and unmovable. I thought about his seeming inability to show emotion and how I wished for him to replace the father I never really had. The hike, the camping trip, and the long drive to Boulder Mountain from Lehi, Utah drew us closer, but as he cried next to me, I felt further away from him; I felt uncertain, like our conversation was between cups and a taut string. It’s not that my view of his masculinity changed because he cried, he could still do a lot of things that I couldn’t.
Openly crying was now one of them.
Perhaps the reason I felt like we were at a distance from each other was because I wasn't used to seeing a man cry. Or maybe it was because he was, once again, doing something that I couldn’t. I'm not sure, but what I do know is that night I learned that sometimes being a father means being tough.
And sometimes it means crying when you're scared.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley