It has been windy here in Bedford Falls — sure, it’s always a bit breezy, but I’m talking severely windy, dust-an-inch-thick windy, curse-the-grit-in-your-teeth windy, walk-leaning-forward-to-avoid-being-blown-over windy. Sitting here, working on a different blog post and hearing the howling wind, I am suddenly reminded of a line of poetry my father used to say all the time.

Do you fear the force of the wind?

Sometimes my father would say this at obvious times, like during a tornado warning or extremely high, gusty winds; but sometimes he would say it at completely random times, like while making peppered bacon in the morning in his robe and house shoes or passing me in the hallway on his way out of the house. He was not poetic, academic, or artsy — but my father was romantic, and liked things exotic or dangerous or thrilling. As a child, I always found it odd that he would know a poem, much less recite one, or at least the first line of one. I assumed it was a poem he had read in high school English class, maybe an assigned reading or just something he ran across in Reader’s Digest. However he found it, this line of poetry, and presumably the poem, meant something to him.

So, fearing the force of the wind myself this morning, I googled the line and found the poem, “Do You Fear the Wind,” by Hamlin Garland (and not Anton Chekhov, as my father always claimed):

Do you fear the force of the wind,
The slash of the rain?
Go face them and fight them,
Be savage again.
Go hungry and cold like the wolf,
spacerGo wade like the crane:
The palms of your hands will thicken,
The skin of your cheek will tan,
You’ll grow ragged and weary and swarthy,
spacerBut you’ll walk like a man!

Not an especially good poem, in my opinion, but it is the kind of inspirational poem you’d find in a 1940’s book of poem for young people. The worldview it espouses, however! This philosophy sounds exactly like my father, and it makes perfect sense that this little poem would have spoken to him. Not one to shrink from difficulty or conflict, he did face and fight the elements, and insisted that I do the same. Its message is not “carpe diem,” or even “bear your burdens,” but rather “face your adversities.” Part Iron John and part Walt Whitman, the poem’s tone encourages us to live life and not to shrink from our travails, even if our bodies suffer the consequences of hunger, callouses, fatigue, and swarthiness. The last line says it all — even though you may be weathered and tired, you’ll walk like a man — with pride at having lived up to masculine ideals.

I wrote a blog post six months ago about something similar: what it means to “be a man,” and this poem captures a lot of that masculine code of stoicism and fearlessness. However, in this case, as in my musings in the other post, a lot of what it means to “be a man” is not gendered at all, but is applicable to all of us, men and women, straights and gays, cisgendered and transsexuals.

Men have no monopoly on dealing with life, facing their fears, and taking pride in having done a good job. The opposite of this code of “being a man” is “being frou-frou or hyper-feminine” — fearing the wind, avoiding getting dirty, being generally prissy in the face of life’s chores, whether routine or extraordinary. Who would seek those values of avoidance?

I know that some of you, my dear readers, are worried that my fundamental values are changing along with my body and my presentation to this prissy femininity, but I need to assure you that I myself do not fear the force of the wind and have always sought to confront my demons and my chores, and I simply do not feel those values changing.

I may have had all sorts of issues with my family — silence, perfection, high expectations, and general dysfunction — but I thank my father and mother for imparting to me and my sister their practicality at facing all other adversities. I can only imagine how healthy we all would have been if we had applied this “walk like a man” philosophy to our family dynamics so that we were not only unafraid of the force of the wind, but also unafraid to talk honestly, to fail safely, and to trust each other. It’s never too late to break these chains, and Mary Jo and I are trying to build all of these values into our family dynamics, not as a simple life lesson about facing your fears, but as a gift of completeness in mind and body for our children and their future families.

We owe them as much.