I am a girl with brothers. I am a girl with older brothers, and that fact manifests itself in me every day. There is a reason I thrive in environments in which everyone around me is older; in which I am the only female; in which you have to dish out as much as you take. I credit my older brothers for making me sarcastic and able, and I fault them for being so effortlessly cool that I have spent my entire life trying to be as cool and failing.
It is immediate and easy to credit the other ladies in our lives with teaching us to be strong women. And it is true. I am physically overwhelmed by gratitude every day when I think about my mom and my grandmothers and my aunts and all the women I have known for teaching me the power that I have over my own existence. But, today, I lost an uncle, and my heart is gigantic and sore, and I am speechless with thankfulness for the men.
I think maybe we might have heard some talk recently about men, and women, and their relationships, and how the state of those relationships is evolving. And I ache so often thinking about men who are doing wrong by the women in their lives. And god, I am lucky. I am so lucky to have been raised by a father who has never doubted me for a moment. My father dresses in drag for Mardi Gras while simultaneously admonishing me for not caring about Virginia Tech basketball; he is the reason I forget that other people even care about traditional gender roles and what they mean and what anybody is “supposed” to be doing. If my dad saw a glass ceiling, he would think it was just there to increase the natural light and would gladly hold the ladder to assist in its’ removal, if anyone asked.
This is all compounded by my uncles; by the fact that my mom and dad have brothers, and sisters who have married great men. I actually just tried to count them and then I got confused and had to stop (somewhere in there, guys, I could’ve used some more instruction on basic addition). And for all our varied differences I have felt buoyed by my uncles always.
Tomorrow I am going to Portland to say goodbye to my Uncle Stuart. As he always lived in the Northwest while I lived in Virginia, my memories of him are sporadic but they are funny. He is the first person who ever showed me an iPod, after which he promptly instructed me to listen to Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love”, because “it has such an impressive horn section”. After I moved to Seattle, he took me to dinner and we talked with fervor about loving the PNW, and he told me more times that I could count how proud he was of me for moving out here. As we spent more time together, Stuart was sweet and sensitive and burly and assured and told me, in the most casual of airs, that he once rode his bicycle across the entire country “but nobody in the family believes me”. He, like all my uncles, loved music and actually used to mail me CDs (like in the year 2013, people- he might as well have been sending rotary phones).
My uncles are strange birds. But they are mine. And in their strangeness they have taught me to love my own peculiarity and to seek it out in other people. It has been a gift to grow up with these men. They are strong as steel but easily undone by a drum solo; they drove their respective mothers to near-insanity with their hijinks, but somehow managed to find time to empower us, their sisters and daughters and nieces.
I am a girl with brothers, and the influence of the men around me on my identity as a woman is astounding. I am so lucky. I have been so lucky to have them. Thanks, guys.
Sometimes I try to articulate what my dad has done for me. But then I get all teary. So, I make elaborate birthday cards instead.