I am a west Texas born and bred male, raised on football, baseball, guns, church and hard work. In my mind men were tough, quiet, hard and loyal, we were not taught to be sensitive, caring or nurturing, we were the hard men meant to provide safety and comfort.
I played football, I played baseball, I hunted, I worked in cotton fields, in the oil fields and in construction. I grew up believing I was the quintessential Texas male, refusing to express fear, doubt or leave the toilet seat in the correct position. Feelings of softness, gentleness, empathy, or nurturing were not part of what I thought of as masculine, feelings in general were not part of who I wanted be, caring for the sick was not the work of a man, unless of course you were a doctor.
Okay, I admit I had some soft spots. I fell in love too easily and too often and I cried every time I heard the song, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. No one would play with him and I felt bad for him, it’s hard being an empathetic male.
In my first and only real career I worked in the business end of the electric utility business for 26 years. I was great as an independent employee working with customers, I was really very good as a supervisor of people, I was probably less than okay as a captain of industry.
My next to last job with my company was as that captain of industry, a pretty big dog on a very big ship, trying to guide the ship through the turbulent seas of change and greed. I was always pretty good at inspiring people, at painting a reasonable vision, and understanding an employee’s perspective. I was never very good at giving bad news, meting out discipline and telling truth to power, not a good recipe for success as a captain of industry.
I successfully guided my various organizations through all of the iterations of the same company and massive changes that has been a significant part of the business climate for the last two decades. During one of my last performance evaluations my boss told me was that I needed to harder and meaner and less empathetic, more of the classic business guy. He thought I needed to be freer with criticism, be more hardnosed and more cut throat.
I tried that, I really did. I tried to move past the nurturing part of my DNA, that subjective empathetic part of my personality. I was a flop. Invariably when I tried to be a hard ass I was not just an ass, I was also a jerk. Marty tried to tell me, she tried to tell me that I wasn’t being myself. I can still hear her telling me to be to be who you are, who you have been, not what they want you to be.
When I left my job in my mind’s eye I still wanted to see myself as a big bad businessman who did business in a hard but fair manner, who treated employees with the bare amount of dignity and drove them to excel. I still saw myself as a man’s man who could be stern, who had high expectations of everyone, including myself. Nurturing, taking care of my woman was not on the top of my mind.
She tried to tell me, over and over again she tried to get me to recognize myself, then she got sick. Not just a little sick but catastrophically, cataclysmically, death bed kind of sick; the kind of sick that changes the lives around you, the kind of illness that requires care, that requires nurturing, that requires all day, every day care giving by someone who cares.
For a year I pushed back, I couldn’t do this, it wasn’t my calling, it was against my very nature, it was not me. I was plagued with the anxiety of second guessing and doubt, I was captured by what I thought I should be and more importantly what I thought I wasn’t. The days of even wanting to be that business man of old, that captain of industry, became lost in the urgency of our new normal life. My life, my self, wasn’t so much changed as it was discovered by the pressure of reality.
Somewhere along our journey, with Marty’s help, I found the guy who cried about Rudolph, the guy who instinctively cared that the other reindeer excluded him. I discovered that it was okay to be afraid, that it was okay to be tender, that it was honorable to care for those who could no longer care for themselves.
Marty taught me, she showed me who I was, who I could be, what my true calling was. I chafed against it, I fought against it, but it was what I was meant to do. Through Marty’s illness, what I was meant to be, found me. Could I be nurturing, could I conquer my self-doubts for just anyone? I have no idea, I don’t have to know that, I only know that caring for Marty, watching over her is what I was supposed to do, it is what my life was supposed to be.
I always thought that the first sign of maturity was when you realized there was more stuff to know than what you already knew. I have since come to realize that understanding all that you don’t know is just part of it, somehow you have to start to know who you really are and start living that life, not the one you thought you were or who you wanted to be. Sometimes we discover somebody completely new.