Man doing laundry(Photo: Courtesy of Marie Claire)

WHEN I WAS 12 years old, I watched as my father fell to the ground one night in the middle of coaching soccer practice, having just torn his Achilles tendon.

I then watched him hobble to our car, get behind the steering wheel, and drive himself to the hospital.

Yep, you read that right: The man's calf was no longer attached to his heel, but he drove himself to the hospital.

Tough guy, my dad, although he would find that description redundant. You see, my father was born in Ecuador, and as a Latin man raised in a machista culture (what we here in the U.S. know as "machismo"), he doesn't believe in showing vulnerability. Ever. I mean, the only time I've seen him come remotely close to breaking down was when he danced with my baby sister at her wedding —and even then he managed to hold back his tears, boasting afterward about how he had kept it together.

"Crying shows weakness," he would tell my sister and me when we were growing up. And then, just to make sure his message was clear, he'd add, "Real men don't cry."

That was one of many "real man" beliefs that my father ingrained in his daughters. For although machista culture —defined by extreme chauvinism, in which men are expected to be socially (and in some cases, physically) dominant over women —is on its way out across Latin America, many of its hallmarks linger. Even among American Hispanics, men are often expected to be braver, stronger, and more powerful than women, which explains how, on the one hand, my father could raise me and my sister to be independent, educated, and ambitious, but on the other hand remain stubbornly fixated on the idea that the guys we dated should be, well, macho men.

In my dad's fantasy world, we would each bring home a son-in-law who could wrestle an alligator with his bare hands and then stitch up any wounds the beast had inflicted.

In the actual world, he hoped for men who would make more money then we did and who would be offended if we tried to pick up the dinner check. His real man was always the unquestioned leader, be it on the dance floor or at home. And while it was all well and good for my sister and me to be what he quaintly called "career women," it was also understood that he would frown upon our husbands if they changed baby diapers or did any household chore other than taking out the trash.