Last fall, on a flight from New York City to Toronto, I met a great father. It was a short flight—50 minutes—but in under an hour, this man nearly stole my heart.
Everything leading up to the flight was a bit ominous. Ayla’s dad was running late enough that we were in danger of missing the flight, the taxi was parked on a blind corner and required 10 minutes of searching to detect, and traffic out of the city was murderous. I was sure that we were going to miss the last flight of the evening and would have to try again tomorrow. But on that day, the sky gods were merciful—the flight was delayed and we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. The only bad news was that the plane was full so we wouldn’t have an empty seat beside us.
In the waiting lounge, I scanned the faces of the other passengers wondering who would be our seat-mate. Was it the fellow barking orders into the Bluetooth device? The teenage girl flipping through a magazine and snapping her chewing gum? We boarded the flight cautiously, hoping for a genteel companion.
When a man dressed in black with a Blackberry in his hand sat down beside us, I shuddered. Was he an uptight, workaholic who’d be irritated by Ayla’s cacophony of coos, laughs and whines? But as soon as he sat down, he introduced himself to both of us and then proceeded to amuse Ayla with his funny faces and game of peek-a-boo. Ten minutes into the flight, Ayla was madly giggling with him and showed no signs of napping. Fifteen minutes later, she was bouncing up and down on my lap and snorting every time he boinked her with her teddy rattle. A few minutes later, Ayla wanted milk so our seat-mate put on his iPod and turned away to give us some privacy. When she was satiated, he opened my water bottle and unwrapped my snack. Later in the flight, when Ayla grew restless, he voluntarily occupied the flight attendant’s seat at the front of the plane to give her more play space (he vowed to stay away until the plane landed or he was ordered back to his seat).
When we chatted briefly about parenthood, he shared profound reflections on what it meant to be a father, what he might do better in the future, and how much he loves children.
It’s hard to strike a good balance between masculinity and femininity; tender men are so often dismissed as “effeminate” and steadfast women are deemed too “rigid.” For the first time, I met a man whose strength was perfectly balanced with softness—a man who was credible as a business consultant and yet equally comfortable playing silly games with children. I could picture him keeping a cool head in the workplace and still radiating warmth to his colleagues and clients. His handshake was brisk and firm, but I could also imagine him lovingly caressing his wife and child.
After we landed, he collected all of Ayla’s toys from the floor of the aircraft, re-packed our backpack, helped Ayla into her baby carrier and fetched our coats from the overhead compartment. As we waved goodbye, I realized that he and Brad Pitt had something in common. They might have been born good-looking, but fatherhood turned both men into the Sexiest Men Alive. Because there is no greater turn-on than a man who knows how to freely love, and be loved, by a child.