It is rare to read about Latino men in the way I have known them. Even stories by Latino men seem to exclude the experiences and relationships I have come to experience and nurture with the Latino men in my life. For this Father’s/Papi’s Day I want to share some of the ways I have come to know “machismo,” the idea of what it means to be a man, the idea of masculinity. I’ll warn you now, this is not going to be similar to what you have read in other places because my machismo comes from a space of love, respect, trust, and acceptance.
My machsimo is a pretty big deal. It looks like a six foot tall and three inch man who is in one word: huge. It is the kind of huge that we have been socialized to be scared of when we encounter, especially if we are alone, or it is dark. What my machismo knows is that my father speaks multiple languages, English being his third. He learned to speak English by listening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. He is an artist in every sense of the word and values paint, instruments, architecture, and the like. I grew up hearing music from all over the world and having every instrument available to me so that I could interact with and play it whenever I chose. There was art and music all around me growing up. Almost all of the art and music around me was created or produced by my father, his covers of songs, his attempts to learn the English language while still raising my sister and I with a sense of cultural pride for our community, language, and heritage.
The man that taught me about health and how to care for my body did it in ways that met me where I was at, my father the harm reductionist! As a child I had swallowed a peanut and had to be rushed to the hospital as I choked on the peanut. This resulted in a fear of swallowing pills and when I began to menstruate and needed to take ibuprofen for my menstrual cramps it was my father who would consistently every eight hours take a piece of foil, two pills, crush them with a spoon, pour them in the spoon, and feed them to me so I could experience some relief. It is the same man who taught me the breathing techniques he learned when my mother was pregnant with me so when I had the most painful of cramping he breathed with me. To this day I use those breathing techniques with the patients I work with as their abortion doula.
He also taught me the many pressure points I can focus on for relief when in pain. The day I passed my first and only kidney stone (that he profusely apologized for as he thought I inherited from him) he rubbed my bare feet as my mother rubbed my scalp. I knew then that there was something healing about having someone touch your feet.
He also is one of the most affectionate people I know. He’s taught me how important it is to give good hugs, ones that make people know you appreciated and enjoyed their company. The kind of hug that will make you feel good for giving and receiving such affection. He likes to tell the story that he learned this from his grandmother, and he is sharing what he learned from her with my sister and I. My Papi taught me how to laugh at everything and anything, but most especially myself.
My Papi has shared with me how to comfort someone when they are sad and crying. He cries with me on the telephone when he feels there is nothing more he can do to help me but I still remain in pain and/or in need. He allows me to hold and comfort him when my grandfather died suddenly. Followed by his concern for my extended stay in Puerto Rico after the funeral when the FBI shot and murdered Filiberto Ojeda Rios and he called to tell me not to leave the hotel.
He is the man who taught me how to value popular culture because he believes that you must “watch a movie in the theater because that is how it was created to be seen.” His ideas of media and how to consume it has impacted and influenced how I interact with and critique the media for the work I do today. He is also the person who taught me how to properly present and hang a piece of art on the wall: it should be at eye level of the viewer, but since he and I are both over 6 feet tall, we have to bring eye level down to a few inches lower. I learned how art is a form of activism from him.
It is because of my Papi that I don’t know how to cook and I’m okay with this. He was what some would call a stay-at-home-Papi in the 70s and 80s caring for my sister and I as my mother had the full-time job. He made sure my sister and I got to school on time, that we were showered and fed. When he took a job we were latchkey kids but he always came home before my mother. He cooked almost all our meals. It is like an art form and piece of art to each his cooking. When I go home to visit I ask him to cook me my favorite Caribbean porridge dish and he obliges. It’s also because of him that I adore men who do know how to cook and who will share their cooking with me. I think it is one of the most masculine things a person identifying as a man can do: know how to feed himself and others.
My machismo calls me and leaves me voicemail messages that are serenades on my cell phone accompanied by his guitar, or singing to me whatever message he has in whatever accent he is trying to use to cover up his own accent. He taught me that vanity is all right as we age when he asked me to buy him waterproof black mascara to cover up the stray grey hairs that were emerging in his beard. He taught me that taking care of my make-up brushes was important so they last longer and this was important. He supports my expression of being femme in ways that challenge him as well.
What I learned the most from my Papi’s machismo is the difference and importance between calling him “Papi” and a lover “Papi.” He never told me that was a title just for him, instead he taught me how to know who has earned such a title in my life and how they vary. I learned this from him calling me “Mamí” as a term of endearment and giving my lovers consent to call me “Mamí.”
My machismo taught me about consent. My machismo loves me, gives me life, and continuously amazes me. That’s the machismo you won’t hear about but that many of us experience. My machismo is centered in love and I love my machismo.