20 August 2010


Being a tough guy is overrated.

I don't mean tough in an obnoxious hard ass way.  I mean that implicit toughness that allows us average XY types to go about our daily business sans freak outs and breakdowns.  Toughness that is a mask we wear to role play and get our jobs done.

Wait...I said jobs...I don't have a job.  What do you say to that? Hmmph.

See?  Toughness.  It's what has made it possible for me to survive the heartbreaks, tragedies and setbacks I've undergone in the past seven years.  True, there were plenty of times where I felt myself cracking.  There were plenty of times where I was on the bed or in the shower bawling my eyes out.  Those episodes were demoralizing and cathartic.  In the aftermath I always felt ashamed to be so out of control, and relieved that I could get it out of my system.

Purging myself in that fashion made it possible for me to keep up the toughness when I really needed it.  The facade could be maintained when I had business to conduct, or even while doing simple things such as shopping for groceries.  Lately, being tough has kept me going at least at minimum speed.  The engine ticks over with just enough impetus for me to keep up the job search, think through new pathways my life may take, and to be in the present with my Wee Lass.

Being tough has a price.  It takes energy.  It takes dedication.  It takes resolve.  Three things in short supply in this, my third month of being 'between employments'.  I can't always keep the mask on, and if there is a saving grace to being out of work, it is that I have plenty of alone time to let the mask slip.

This does not equate with feeling good about it.  It is a stupefying blend of that low morale and catharsis I alluded to earlier.  An unpleasant but necessary thing, I guess.

Another facet to this toughness, is that it isn't always a bad thing that tears off the mask.  I find that beauty will often have the same effect, especially beauty as manifested by Love.  I was reminded of this tonight as I tucked in my daughter at her bed time, a simple act which nearly brought me to my knees.

I indulged her tonight, letting her play computer games for a bit longer than usual.  I noticed her starting to slump a little, apple cheek on delicate hand, with a few yawns.  She shut down the games unprompted, looked at me and said "I'm pooped."  We shared a chuckle, and because she had earlier done her bedtime ablutions, we picked two books to read before turning in.

She was sleepy, so the usual bedtime shenanigans ("IwantwaterWhere'smystuffedanimalsTurnethpillowoverDaddy!") were limited in scope.  She snuggled into her pillows with her face toward me.  The bedside light had a soft glow on her face as I brushed the hair back from her eyes.

Sitting there at the edge of her bed, I brushed back the last strand of her hair and in the light I could see a faint spray of small freckles on her cheeks and dusting the bridge of her nose.  She didn't look angelic or otherworldly; that would have been cliche. What she looked, though, was simply beautiful.  Beautiful in an honest, open way that made my heart catch in my chest.  Beautiful in the way a sunset can look, or morning light refracting through the crest of a wave.

Beauty to bring a tough guy to his knees.

Faint and dizzy, I rested my hand on her cheek, sitting quietly until I could catch my breath.  The mask cracked a little, tectonic plates slipping past one another in my heart.  I leaned in to say goodnight and "I love you, sweetpea" to which she murmured sleepily "I love you, too, daddy."

In that instant, as it always happens, I felt weak and invincible simultaneously.  Hearing words like that enables me to take off the mask, set aside the armor, and rest.  It enables me to feel human, and blessed that I had anything at all to do with creating such beauty.  Blessed, indeed, that such beauty loves me in return.


  1. thank you for sharing that honest, touching moment. you're a good dad. I promise to email that story to you. No good excuses, just being lazy.

  2. Hi Irish Gumbo, I am new to your blog. You made a comment on my post about pain and stileto heels, and I followed you here (literally). :-)
    This is such a wonderful post...I think the fact that you can pull the armor and mask off is what makes you a man of such strength! Our children are the ones that teach us so much about what matters, and love. Look forward to reading more of your fresh and wonderful writing! :-)

  3. ::hurridly shoves mask back into place::
    What? XXs have masks too. That was beautiful. I now have to mop my face... if you'll excuse me...

  4. Gulp. I feel like I watched this happen. I feel like I was there and saw the beauty for myself. Thank you for that.

  5. "apple cheek on delicate hands"

    it's a bit much sometimes, isn't it?

  6. ack.

    glad you are finding your writing legs again.

  7. you are killing me here.
    This is what you do best.
    tender hearted tough guy.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...