I’m about 5’8″, 205 pounds and admittedly a bit chubby. There is very little muscle on me, a result of my largely sedentary lifestyle. I don’t own a gun or a bow, but I do own a few swords and a spear. I absolutely love my cat. In fact, I sometimes get emotional just thinking about her passing away. I spend a lot of time reading and playing video games, and look forward to the times when I can get everyone over for another session of Dungeons & Dragons. I prefer movies that depict people as they are, broken, realistic. Scenes where a father and son reconcile hit me right in the feels (I’m looking at you, A Walk to Remember). I can’t grow a beard. I am not handy. I can’t fix anything mechanical and have to hire someone if anything breaks around the house. I’m a decent cook. I drive a two-door Honda Civic.
I’m also very emotional. I relish my close relationships. Sharing with someone in an intimate manner, letting someone know they are valued and loved – these are things that I live for.
I don’t fit the societal mold, yet I am a man.
The impact of a father
I’ve talked to other men, listened as they’ve shared what their fathers were like when they were young. Cold, distant, angry, emotionally or physically abusive. I’ve seen how that impacts their view of themselves and their masculinity. Our views on what it means to be a man – how to act, respond, show up – are shaped largely by our dads. We carry that inside of us, most of the time unknowingly, and despite our best efforts, work through that model that we were provided. We carry that into our marriages, our relationships with our children, our workplaces, with other men. More than that, we allow the messages that we receive at a young age to shape what we think it means to be a man.
I’m not saying that all the bad that happens and any issues we have can be traced back to our fathers (my name’s not Freud), but I am saying that that relationship is the one that shapes our views of ourselves, of other men, and how we should be more than any other – bar none.
I grew up not knowing my biological father. I’m perfectly ok with that, considering the circumstances. My mom remarried when I was still very young and that man adopted me as his own. He gave me his name and cared for me. Things didn’t remain quite so storybook. He changed, as we all do. My parents divorced, and he made certain choices with which I didn’t agree. I saw everything, heard everything. I learned more and more as I grew older and my view of what it meant to be a man became very, very confused.
This isn’t a post to drag my father’s name through the mud, far from it – he always did the best that he could. He did what he thought was right, even when it caused more problems. His intentions were good. He simply modeled to me what had been modeled to him. Unfortunately, that model was broken beyond repair.
A different example
Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. Looking back, I see other men that stepped up and showed me what masculinity was. A tattooed youth pastor who adored his wife and kids and was always approachable and incredibly grounded. A young adult leader who, despite his own personal turmoil, saw me and my pain and poured so much love into me that my life was radically changed. A friend who responded to a desperate cry for help and invited me into his own painful journey, teaching me that I am not alone and that I’m not designed to walk my path alone. A group of men that love me enough to tell me they do, and are invested in me – not for anything I do for them, but because they consider me a brother.
What did each of those men have in common besides their love of me and of Christ? Absolutely nothing. Nothing except their ability to walk their own path, exactly as they are.
See, none of them are bodybuilders, powerful business executives, desirable bachelors, wealthy business owners, or any of the other things we normally attribute to masculinity. They are… who they are.
We let our fathers, and society, define for us what it means to be a man. For many, being a ‘man’ is their identity. The problem? We all have different ideas of what that even means.
I can’t define for you what being a man means. I can barely define for myself what being a man means. These are the lessons I’ve learned on my continuing journey to understanding my own masculinity, all of which fly in the face of societal tradition:
Being a man means looking inside myself and facing the good, the bad, the terrible.
Being a man means loving my wife and being open with her, learning to share that which I hid from even myself for so long.
Being a man means crying when I need to cry – and releasing the shame I was taught to feel at the act.
Being a man means sharing intimately with other men.
Being a man means saying ‘I love you,’ and not just to my mom, brothers, wife, but to other men.
For you? It might be completely different. One thing I do know – do not let anyone else define for you what it means to be a man. Not your father, or your grandfather. Not your boss, or your neighbor.
It is our responsibility – your responsibility – to redefine masculinity for our children and future generations.