Editorial Notebook

Remembering the men in my life on International Men’s Day

Today is a day that I’m fairly certain none of you are aware of. International Men’s Day—celebrated each year on November 19—isn’t an incredibly well-known event, but it is recognized in over 80 countries and several U.S. states, including New York. The event’s purpose is to promote humanitarian values, highlight male role models, and celebrate men’s contributions to family and society.

So I spent some time thinking about the men in my life.

My paternal grandfather was a man born into poverty. He was born into the Silent Generation, a generation that had to endure hard times, hoping that their children could have a better life. I remember my dad telling me stories about how insanely hard he’d work just to make sure there was food on the table; if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t enjoy the privileges I have today. He broke our cycle of poverty. Although he passed away in 2016, I still keep the memories we made together close to my heart.

My maternal grandfather is a legend. He didn’t have an easy life—far from it. But through it all, he persevered. If I had only one word to describe him, it would be “eclectic.” When he was 65, he went back to college and got a law degree. To this day, he still works as a lawyer. He also ran a shoe store for several years—only retiring it recently—as he was well into his mid-seventies. Technology and politics continue to fascinate him and I always find him keeping tabs on current events. This man hasn’t let his age slow him down at all.

My first friend, who I’ve known since 2010, is someone who’s had an incredible influence on my personality. I can’t remember having too many friends before that year, but he came along and everything changed. I remember the sparks of unhinged creativity and joy that he brought to every room he entered. We don’t talk as much as we used to, but I promise we’ll never drift away. I promise that the day I forget about him will be the day I die.

My best friend in college is someone who reminds me of my first friend. You have the same unbridled ingenuity, and a sense of humor like a live wire. I remember that you were there for me when I felt completely broken, and every moment I spend with you is a memory I wish to preserve. Just like my first friend, I hope we never ever drift apart.

My late uncle is a man that I’ve heard countless stories about. I know that he was always the smartest person in the room, even when the room expanded to fit a nation of over a billion people. When he was little, he’d spend his time fiddling around with electronics, creating working projects in the process—including an electric generator one time. He was smart, quiet, introverted, and funny, but most importantly, he was always extraordinarily kind.

He took his own life a few days before I was born. I never got to say goodbye to my grandfather, but to my uncle—a man that has had a far-reaching impact on my family and on my life—I never even got to say hello, not even the sloppy, malformed “helwo” of a baby. Yesterday would’ve been his 50th birthday, and I spent every moment wishing he was still with us. My mom and grandparents have told me that he and I have a lot in common; I just hope I can live up to the impossibly high bar he set.

And finally, my dad. There’s a lot to say about my dad. He and I are different; we have different personalities, and we grew up differently, but my dad is a hero to me. He’s one of the kindest and most hardworking people I’ve ever seen, and the memories I made with him are worth more than diamonds. I remember the winter of 2009, when we went SUV shopping, bought a Playstation 3, and listened to Rod Stewart and Phil Collins in the car. This semester I’ve played those same songs to remind me of the memories we made ten years ago.

I remember the day we got into the big white SUV we picked. I was so proud of my dad that day; I’m still very proud of him. Sitting in the passenger seat, being driven along by my dad on a bright sparkling winter morning in 2010, I remember him telling me that someday soon I’d be driving him around. I guess that it was a reminder that I’d grow up and leave home one day. Regrettably, we sold the SUV before I could drive, but I did end up driving him around in his next car. Looking back, it’s astonishing how much things have changed.

Things weren’t always perfect. I remember what happened the day we drove our new BMW for the first time in September 2015. It’s very hard to describe what happened, but things at home went horrifically wrong, and I ended up crying—something that I rarely do, especially in front of other people. But I remember that my dad was there for me. He was there for me then, and he was there for me as I left for college, apprehensive about the future. It was hard to put my feelings into words, but his reassuring arms put me at ease.

One of his favorite songs is “Forever Young” by Rod Stewart. It’s a song sung from father to son and one of its most impactful lines is: “And when you finally fly away / I’ll be hoping that I served you well.” I know that he wonders about whether he’s done so, like most great dads. But I want my dad to know this: you did.

The six people you’ve just read about are men of the highest caliber. They’re from three different generations—the Silent Generation, Generation X, and Generation Z—but they share many of the same qualities. These are the great men in the story of my life. None of them are perfect, but they’re all brilliant.

Today I also thought of myself, briefly. Despite everything I wrote myself in my last notebook, I wonder if I measure up to any of the men I just wrote about. I wonder if anyone’s thinking about me today the way I’m thinking of them. Regardless, I’ll keep doing my best, hoping that one day someone will view me the way I view the men I just wrote about.

If I ever have a son, I’d make sure he knows it’s okay to cry, to be vulnerable, to seek treatment for mental health issues, to take a break, to take care of himself, to open up to people about the issues he’s facing, and to realize that there’s more than one way to be a man.

I think everyone deserves a day to be remembered. I know on International Women’s Day I’ll do the same for the incredible women in my life—there’s quite a list. But today I’m sitting here alone, trudging through landfills of homework, remembering the great men in my life.