In a new Disney movie, a young chimp is orphaned and faces certain peril if not adopted by one of the females of the clan. Unfortunately, the other chimp moms have their hands — not to mention feet — full dealing with youngsters of their own preventing them from mothering little Os- car. Scientists filming the chimps are totally taken aback when they witness something absolutely astonishing. The alpha male, and grand patriarch of the group, Freddy, steps up to the plate and cares for the little guy in his time of need.
I have witnessed the “stepping up to the plate” part as well as the reactions of those who see a dad doing something out of the stereotypical gender role. I feel as if I have lived the real life version of Dr. Seuss’s “on a train, in a plane, in a boat, with a goat” as I have single-handedly taken my three little monkeys across the U.S., Canada and overseas. Don’t get me wrong, I was of- fered kindness as I juggled strollers, diaper bags, the coveted “busy bag” of activities, and enough snacks to feed a small village through the jungle known as Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Yet I could see a veneer of empathy, the look that said, “Well toots, welcome to mother- hood.” In comparison, when baby Helena flew home with her father, he was assisted with his carry-on, and provided with a pillow, a blanket and a beverage while the flight attendants took turns holding our little miss.
I have witnessed numerous responses from those in our jungles who are sur- prised when the alpha “Freddies” of the world “man up”. I come from a long line of alpha males. My former football, cross-country, military, Big Ten FREAK of a dad’s first response to a young man coming into our house was to slap him on the back with a resounding “Do you play ball?” My grandpa was a surgeon, a Ma- rine medic in the jungles of Okinawa, who raised beef cattle as a hobby. My mom’s dad, who we called “Pops,” was an avid fisherman who loved the outdoors. I guess you could stereotypically call them “real men” but just like Oscar, I was scooped up by their love and experienced moments of tenderness that would baffle anyone peer- ing into our pack.
Real men watch sing-alongs
Just like Freddy’s meticulous groom- ing of Oscar, I can envision Pop’s painstak- ing attempts at trying to put a bow in my daughter’s hair, buckle her “shiny shoes” before a big outing and dropping every- thing to watch the “Sharon, Lois and Bram Sing-Along Show." I can recall my Dad donning a native headdress for our YMCA “Indian Princess” meeting. It would seem logical that, as the older alpha progressed in years, he would get to sit back and chomp on some nuts and berries. No, he once again rose to the occasion and faced a whole new generation of princesses, bead- stringing and feathers with his grand- daughters.
There is a special place in my heart re- served for my Uncle Tom. He has loved me when I was the least lovable. Even through my cancer journey he somehow managed to make a plump (thanks to steroids) bald woman with drainage tubes feel beauti- ful. He took me out for our annual birth- day outing during my beauty-challenged time, where we traditionally gab, grub and where the “manly man” helps me forage through boutiques, looking for the perfect outfit. Not accustomed to the additional apparatuses and my new size, I found my- self stuck in a frock. He swung into action and untangled me from my medically- necessitated constraints, and got me out of the wilderness of embarrassment and despair and back to the safety of his love and respect.
Papa Nick was an alpha in our jungle that many approached with apprehension, but I knew that even though he liked to “thump his chest” and protect his territory, there was a heart of a “Freddy” under that tough exterior. I was alone dealing with a frightened, sick child in the ER when, to my surprise, I looked over to see him standing next to me. Papa Nick was bat- tling the invisible foe of Alzheimer’s and he made his presence known much to the chagrin of the healthcare workers. Tucked under his arm was a little fuzzy bear for his girl. Papa has left us but that little bear still sits at the foot of Maria’s bed.
Maybe we have all been conditioned to thinking that being a real man requires su- perhuman strength and brute force. I don’t believe so. I constantly see dads “man up.” Their little ones who cling to them for guidance are blessed because it truly is a jungle out there.
Mary Helen can be reached in c/o firstname.lastname@example.org