A few years ago, my 72-year-old mother, Micheline, died of cancer. Her love, nurturing, sense of humour, loyalty, duty and compassion were legend. She was the cement that held our family together. Through tough times -- and there were many -- I never once heard my mother protest. Even as she was dying, Micheline's anxiety wasn't her own physical pain, but the anguish and worry we obviously felt about her condition. That was emblematic of my mother and most women I have ever known.
Beyond my own mother, a deep respect for women took root when I was 23 years old. It was during my first trip to Central America. On that journey through dozens of small towns and villages, I vividly recall observing one scene -- again and again: girls and women doing back breaking work, toiling in fields, carrying heavy loads, looking after children -- and serving men.
In my travels in China in the 1980s, and later throughout Southeast Asia, I witnessed the same things. The anchor and heart of families were women. That was always the case. The same is true of the First Nations communities I have had the privilege of visiting throughout Canada, and Indigenous communities in Mexico.
Yet, as former President Jimmy Carter writes in his gripping new book, "A Call to Action", women remain subjected to "unconscionable human suffering" in both developing and developed societies.
Carter observes that the historic interpretation of sacred texts of the major religions by men is a large part of the problem: "You can pick out individual verses throughout the Bible, that well, if God thinks that women are inferior, I'll treat them as inferiors. If she's my wife, I can abuse her with impunity, or if I'm an employer, I can pay my female employees less salary. This claim that women are inferior before God spreads to the secular world to justify gross and sustained acts of discrimination and violence against them," writes Carter.
Despite the great strides women have made in most developed societies, there remains much work to do. Yet against that backdrop, I marvel at the perseverance of many women.
I am blessed to have truly breathtaking women in my life. Most, but not all, are mothers. As girls, some suffered mental and physical violence and abuse, sometimes at the hands of family members. They have gone through trauma of various sorts and struggled with illness. Without exception, they fought and conquered -- without complaint. They educated and reinvented themselves. And although their stories are different, through it all their focus was on the well-being, security and happiness of their families.
The women I know are and have been the rocks of the families.
My sister, herself a cancer survivor, is the mother of two beautiful grown children and now a new grandmother. Her ordeal has been wrenching. Despite her physical trauma, Linda remains the epitome of optimism. That attitude and mindset, which doesn't come easy at times, has been passed on to her own kids, who are now passing it on to theirs. That's leadership in its most pure sense and it is far from unusual.
Another such woman is my dear friend Tina. She never gave birth to her own children. In her late 30s she learned that she had a half-brother from an affair her father had kept secret for years. Her father passed away not long after and Tina took responsibility and raised her half-brother -- a veritable stranger to her -- as her own son. They provided him with guidance, support, and nourishment -- including financial -- that he never had, even when his father was alive.
The cost to Tina was great. By choosing to take care of others and fulfilling what she believed was her solemn duty, Tina sacrificed prospects for starting her own family, something she very much wanted. Now, Tina is a highly successful and respected international businesswoman and a mentor to young women in her field. And her brother is studying abroad financed by -- you guessed it -- Tina.
These remarkable women share many of the same characteristics. They are smart, tough, giving, selfless, and possess steadfast resolve. They hold an inner strength, a sense of hope and possibility, and an uncommon grace.
Extraordinary women are far from unique. There are literally billions out there. If teaching by doing is the most potent way to learn, more of us men should pay close attention to the magnificent example of the women in our lives. We don't have to look very far from them. Take the time to look around, gents. They are right next to us.
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