As I wrote last week, I love men. Don’t get me wrong – I get along great with women, too – but there’s something about a man’s character that I find fascinating.

The foundation for my admiration was laid with my own father, a worthy and honorable man who worked hard his entire life to support his wife and us four children. Since I have three brothers (no sisters), I grew up surrounded by masculinity and not a lot of estrogen.

It my case, it wasn’t the brawny he-man let’s-go-kill-some-dinner masculinity. Rather, it was the brainpower type. I come from a family of nerds … er, engineers. But it was a fascinating contrast between my mother and myself (she a nurse, me a budding biologist) compared to the analytical, problem-solving males around us. It was a delightful balance, and it made our home life terrific while growing up. My father laid the groundwork for my own happy marriage by providing a supreme example of what a Real Man is like: uncomplaining, logical, affectionate, hardworking, dedicated and principled.

The influence on a woman from the men in her life – first her father, later her husband – is staggering. Half of a girl’s early security comes from her father. If there is no security, the girl often grows into an insecure woman and just as often makes a poor choice in a husband.

As you may recall, my mother grew up with a terrible childhood. She had the extraordinary good sense to recognize how easy it would be to repeat the pattern by marrying a bad man. She didn’t. She married a good man, and in August of this year my parents will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. They still hold hands, too.

So I was blessed with a stable, loving home life while growing up, something I now know is of incalculable value. My father taught me to tie a square knot. He got me through high school math (Algebra II, Geometry, Trigonometry, pre-Calculus) without panicking too much. And I clearly remember the day when I was 16 years old that he gave me the gift of my own set of household keys (I felt so grown up).

Dad played The Great Tickler with us. He played blackjack with us. He taught us to ride bikes and drive a stick shift. It’s the little things my father did that added up to the big picture for how I learned to view men.

When we misbehaved especially badly, my dad would raise a fist and shout, “I’m gonna SMASH you!” Most of the time he was so even-tempered that if that fist came up, we knew we were in deep doo-doo. But my father never – not once, not one single time – laid a finger on us. It was all threat and show … but boy did those threats work!

When my brothers and I hit our teens, my mother used to admonish us by saying: “Anything you do is a reflection upon your father. Think carefully.” I’ve never forgotten those words, because even in the midst of teenage rebellion and adolescent snottiness, some part of me knew that my father didn’t deserve to have bad kids reflecting on his character. My brothers and I got through our teen years without any major trouble as a result.

Naturally, I took it all for granted when I was young – children always do – but I never, even to this day, had any doubts that my father loved us unconditionally.

So now here I am, married for 18 years to the most terrific man I know. Thanks to my father’s example and my mother’s advice, I knew what to look for and what to avoid in men. Sure, I made mistakes while dating – that’s the purpose of dating, after all – but when I met Don I knew that this was the man who mirrored all the excellent qualities exemplified by my father. Yep, girls really do marry their dads, as they say.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why Don and I are so happy together. Our tastes, our interests and our skills are not necessarily the same, but they complement. We strengthen each others’ strengths and mitigate each others’ weaknesses. We parent our children with separate but interlocking styles, giving the kids the balance they need.

But the secret to my successful marriage is very simple. I treat my husband as a man. He’s not my puppet or my servant. He’s not here to do my bidding, and he knows I’m not here to do his. I respect him. I speak well of him to our children, family and friends. I don’t nag.

His gentle or stern handling of our daughters (as the occasion requires) means they get to see a Real Man at his best. My dearest wish is that my girls marry someone like their dad when they get older.

He makes me laugh. There are times when his deadly-accurate observations about the lunacy of the world, coupled with droll comments, bends me double in mirth.

We’ve grown together as writers. My writing ambition has always been stronger than his, and it may have sparked his own interest in humor writing. But his support through my years of editorial rejection – the fate of every aspiring writer – kept me going when my spirits were low. He has helped me improve my craft as together we’ve edited columns and articles and books.

From my husband I receive love, staunch support, admiration, friendship, hard work and partnership. We are in business together. We raise our kids together. We run a farm together. We go to church together. Yes, I’ve imagined what life would be like without him, and while I know I could do it, I sure as heck don’t want to.

So this is an ode to the men in my life – my father and my husband. I thank God that I have both, because they’ve helped shape me into the woman I am today.

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