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You Can Look Tough And Still Be Gentle: A Modern Love Story

I’ll be the first to admit. I’m about as tough as a marshmallow peep. I’ve always been a big softie, inside and out. Trust me, I can be stubborn too so I’m not a complete push over, but everyone knows this about me.   My kids, my family and friends; they know I’m where to go for chocolate, hugs, and a good laugh. Know something else? I’m not the outlier. There’s a lot more people out there like me than you might realize.

Our brains like to compartmentalize people into neat little, organized boxes. This friend’s the jock, that one’s the nerd, the other one’s kind of a jerk but we like him for some strange reason. When you first meet someone they get categorized into one of these boxes and when they show facets of their different sides, it can be surprising.

You have the acquaintance who is very physically affectionate but mess with her and you’ll be figuratively bleeding and wondering where the one-two mental punch came from. You can also look tough and still be gentle despite the aura you’re trying to convey. I know this type of person first hand because I married him 22 years ago.

It’s a long saga, but I’ll try to recap the interesting parts. Rob and I dated on and off in high school. I was doing a play in 1987 with an old friend of his and we met when Rob came to see the show. We dated and broke up more times than I remember. He joined the army. We dated and broke up. I went to college. We dated and broke up. When he finished his service and I finished my schooling a crazy twist of fate involving a phone call and some chicken wings led to another round of dating…but this time something was different.

He’s a stoic guy, my Rob; initially quiet until he chooses not to be. He’s an investment; when you make the effort to really listen the stakes will definitely pay off. He always tried to look tough and most people didn’t mess with him. It was a glimpse into his secret inner softness that finally did me in and led from our change in status from “dating” to “back off bitches, this one’s mine.“

When he moved back from Germany and I moved back from the Poconos we were both working a few part time jobs. One of mine was in the mall at Spencer Gifts. Yes – that Spencers. (It was a fun place to work!) One day he brought his little niece Meghan to come visit me at work. Seeing him with that tiny little girl changed everything. The way he spoke to her, cared for her, held her hand, and made her giggle was like nothing I had seen from him before. He was sweet and gentle and kind and right then I thought to myself, damn he’ll make a good father…and I was done. He was it for me. No more keeping any options open – I got my Amazon Prime right here.

Not too long after that we made plans to move in together and the rest is history. From 1987 to 1994 to now – he’s stuck with me. He can be tough and he can be gentle. He can be stubborn and he can be soft. He can be brilliant and hilarious and infuriating. He’ll start jokes and I’ll finish them. I’ll quote him old Far Sides and Simpsons that can get him grinning. We play Jeopardy with Alexa every night and he knows that if he doesn’t have an answer, I probably do. I’m lucky that 25 years ago I got to see past his tough guy outer skin and saw how much more there was to him than I was giving him credit for. He still surprises me to this day. I think I’ll keep him.

Karen Padden

Karen, Queen of the Paddens and first of her name. Teacher, Baker, Petter of Cats, Multiple Sneezer and Crocheter of Wubbies. Believes in kindness, always.

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