Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pride in Men

Pride is supposed to be one of the seven deadly sins. But I am pretty sure that it is only a sin if it is related to oneself. Pride in others is a beautiful gift. “I’m proud of you,” is second only to, “I love you.”

I bring this up because I have experienced a lot of pride recently: pride in three men I know and love in entirely different ways.

The first is A___, one of my most reliable and supportive swimming partners. We have trained together for almost a year now, both in the Chelsea pool and at Brighton Beach. Our group has multiplied over the last several months, and weekday workouts can now include as many as eight or ten people. However, for a long time, it was just the two of us getting up on Saturdays at 7 a.m. to do a workout together.

A___ embodies qualities I really value in a person: reliability, ambition, perseverance, encouragement. He only began swimming a few years ago, but he is now faster than me in pretty much every stroke at basically every distance under 500 yards.—and even that is probably only a matter of time. Yet he is very humble and encouraging, while still remaining confident and competitive. (I know he is hankering to race me in another 200 free so he can redeem himself.)

Last Saturday, A___ participated in his first swim meet. Before Saturday, he had never lined up in tandem with seven other exhilarated swimmers. He had never heard the sound of the buzzer reverberate across the water or felt the sensation of exploding off of a starting block. He had never seen the swimmer beside him out of the corner of his eye and watched in amazement as his body responded to his will, propelling him ahead. He had never hit the wall and looked up at a scoreboard to search out his name. And he had never felt his heart leap with joy at the numbers that appeared there.

A___ experienced all of that on Saturday. He exploded off of the block. He out-touched his competition. He swam faster than he ever had before. And I now understand the description of someone’s heart “bursting with pride.” I was truly bursting.

The second man I am proud of is one whom I happen to be dating. My pride in him is not for an accomplishment he has already made, but for his courage in pursuing a dream he hopes to achieve.

I remember the terror I felt when my summer internship was nearing its end back in 2008, and I had to decide whether to stay in New York City, jobless, or to pack up and head home. My stomach was firmly lodged in my feet as I signed a one-year lease in Queens, and I spent every jobless night for the next month laying on my rock-hard futon, wondering how I could face my family or friends if I was forced to return to Pittsburgh.

Being unemployed is terrifying, and yet, that is exactly what R___ , my boyfriend, is about to voluntarily put himself through. He has been developing a certain creative project over the last several years, and this summer he is going to devote himself entirely to trying to make it profitable. If he succeeds, he will have achieved his dream job and the freedom to go with it anywhere he chooses. If he fails, he will not only be jobless, but directionless, too. He will have tried and discarded three different career paths, with no clear idea of what to do next. That sort of risk—of instability, of failure, of the unknown—would terrify me. Maybe it terrifies him, too. But, for better or for worse, he is doing it. And for that, I am tremendously proud of him.

The third man of whom I am proud is one I have known far longer than either of these other two. That man is my father.

I have always known that my dad is an amazing man. He held our family together when my mother was too ill to get out of bed; proudly attended every basketball game, piano recital, and awards ceremony my sister or I have been in; and to this day still offers a helping hand or an extra five dollars, whether we need it or not.

Yet, for as kind and generous and helpful to his immediate family as he is, my dad is equally kind, generous, and helpful to others, also. I remember going with him as a little girl to shovel the driveway of one of his elderly tax clients, and occasionally I would tag along to the nursing home to visit Milt, the best friend of his deceased father. He always told me that these were his “mitzvahs”—his good deeds that he, as a Jew and a human being, must do.

Over the past few days, I watched my father demonstrate kindness and generosity that surpasses anything I have ever seen. Last week, my grandmother (my mother’s mother) died. Consequently, the next few days were dedicated to travelling to Schnecksville and preparing the funeral rites and services. Amidst all of the emotional mourning and practical preparations, someone had to look after my grandfather. He has dementia and is now at the point where he cannot be left alone for any length of time. In a way, it is somewhat of a blessing, because he was only forced to realize my grandmother’s death when faced directly with her body or reminded by others. However, this also put a tremendous strain on his children, as they were forced to attend not only to their dead mother, but also to their needy, childlike father.

This is where my father stepped in. While my mother and her sister bustled around, calling relatives, ordering food, visiting the funeral home, and crying on one another’s shoulders, my father quite literally babysat my grandfather: helping him to get dressed and undressed, feeding him, accompanying him to the bathroom, and patiently taking him along to the grocery store, laundry room, funeral home, and wherever else they needed to go.

The exceptional part of all of this is that my father has never liked or respected my grandfather. My grandfather has never been a particularly kind or gentle person—during his lucid years, he ordered my grandmother around and was generally nasty to everyone in our family. Out of respect for my mother and grandmother, my father held his tongue; however, I am sure that on more than one occasion, he probably had to leave the house for fear of saying something he might later regret.

Despite these feelings, my father swallowed his resentment and cared for my grandfather while my mother and her sister grieved, and their brother, my grandfather’s son, sat by and did nothing. This is the mark of a truly good man, and while it may sound odd for a daughter to be the one to say this, I have never been so proud of him.


Anonymous said...

I sure hope these three men will read these words, and know that many more men will be inspired by their character and fortitude.

Victoria said...

I don't have the pleasure of knowing the first two men in your entry, but I can speak from personal experience how wonderful a man your father is. As a child who came from a home ridden with examples of bad parenting, you dad gave me valuable insight into what it means to be a great parent. Hell, he even did my taxes! I have to say, though, that you provided him with an incredible daughter too :-)