‘My grandfather remarried after the war, and my dad was born. My parents moved from Europe to Israel, where my siblings and I were born.

As a kid I was rather short, which bothered me because I wanted to be just as big and strong as my grandfather and my dad. So, I made sure I excelled in all kinds of physical activities: basketball, running, tennis, football, Muay Thai boxing – I did it all. Everything to make my dad proud.

Image: Elvin Boer

He’s a loving parent, my dad, but there were times when he was busier capturing our family life through the lens of his camera than he was with being present, you know, ‘observing instead of connecting.’ I remember he took us on a ski holiday in Italy, and I participated in a competition only to end up fourth. Instead of comforting and hugging his crying son, my dad filmed my disappointment, which felt incredibly humiliating. I didn’t want to be shown as a loser, especially not by him.

I have never seen my dad cry, and I hate to cry in public. I definitely don’t think it is weak, but when I imagine myself in tears, I cannot help but see myself through the eyes of those who would look at me and realise I am not as tough as they thought I was. Vulnerability can be dangerous.

‘My beard gave me the authority I needed’

I don’t like to be an open book, especially not about my feelings. I hear this a lot from my male friends; as men we are raised to be strong and competitive, and we never learned to open ourselves up and reveal our emotions. It is unmanly. In my relationship with my girlfriend, this is a certainly an issue.

Image: Elvin Boer

When I was eighteen, I was happy to join the Israeli military. I became a staff sergeant and had to command other soldiers, and so I needed a way to look a bit older, wiser, and stronger than the recruits. Inspired by my dad, I began to grow a beard, which gave me the authority I needed. I like what it does for me, and I’ll never shave it off.

In the army, in the special forces, I lived together with a small team of fifteen men for three years. You share everything and get to know the habits and even the smells of every single guy. We often stayed in a ditch together in an open field in the rain for days on end. We have been in life threatening situations together, and you had to rely on the shoulder next to you. It is a complete, blind trust.

My army mates and I constantly made fun of each other, we were each other’s tormentor and best friend in one. I think this is a typical male way to bond. It also has to do with trust: to let somebody make fun of you and joke about your weaknesses, you have to feel safe with them. You have to know they will never go too far, like a puppy that never bites too hard. This vibe between men feels very intimate to me: it’s like being naked in the shower together after combat.

‘These guys are more than friends, they are family. I would give my life for them’

Although we don’t see each other very much now, my army buddies and I are still in touch. When I am with them I can be myself, it is safe no matter what you do. One of us lost a loved one and we all cried with him. When another one of us got diagnosed with ALS, we went through the process together. These guys are more than friends, they are family. I don’t need words to know that if I need them, they will be there for me; if they need me, they will have me. I would give my life for them.

I have realised that being a man means being strong enough to be able to protect and help your loved ones. I hope I can live up to this ideal, which is something my dad taught me. No one is perfect, but without so many words, my dad has always put the needs of his family above his own. He would do anything for us.’