Be A Man!
What thoughts come to mind when seeing that…?
For me and most of you that grew up in the Western world, this phrase probably brings up some fictional character like James Bond or Gaston (depending on your taste. Ha!). A “man” that knows how to control their emotions, a man that never cries, a man that’s physically strong, a man able to beat up anyone that looks at them the wrong way, etc.
The most obvious feature of these fictional “men” is that they show no, and I mean NO vulnerability… EVER! Any emotions related to this word are seen as a weakness in most media… If there ever is a man seen showing vulnerable emotions, they’re usually the butt of another person’s joke.
This idea of what a “man” should be has been a huge burden on me and almost every single man I know… It prevents us from being who we want to be… OURSELVES!
… I’m not able to speak on behalf of all men since we’ve all had different situations growing up, but I can tell my story… Hoping to help at least one person. 😊
My “manly” past
As a child, I fully embodied the idea of a “crybaby” … I was a very emotional kid, a kid that would cry often and throw temper tantrums. I distinctly remember being told by my family and friends “not to cry so much” or “to stop being a baby”, which could have been great advice… But, I sadly took it the wrong way and ended up swinging to the opposite side of this “emotional pendulum”, avoiding any emotions that could start the waterworks. As time went on, I began to idealize all these fictional “men” from films, sports, books, & T.V. shows. These false pictures were engrained into my brain and projected out onto the world of men around me (e.g. father, friends, teachers, coaches, etc.) … This sadly distorted everything around me, so even if there were men in my life that attempted to show me an actual characteristic of a “man”, I perceived it as a weakness in their character.
My false manly perception of the world slowly got worse over time because I embedded myself into some seriously violent sports (e.g. American football) … And hanging out with a group of testosterone-filled men didn’t help my perception. Luckily, while in college I started to spend less and less time with the other football players and more time with regular students. And yes, I know this sounds like an obvious thing that would happen when going to college, but it’s a lot less common than you would think. When being an “athlete” (whatever that means) in an American college, most of the athletes eat, study, practice, compete, and socialize together… ALL THE TIME… After my first six months in college, I realized that there was no way I would survive four years only spending time with people solely focused on sports and how manly they were… This was a subtle turning point in my life.
I began to discover friends with no interest in athletics and with completely different views on what a “man” looks like, which opened me up to a whole new world. Between the ages of 19 & 20, I realized the “rule of 5”, which is that “you’re the average of the 5 people you surround yourself by” … I figured out later that this analogy can be extended out to more than just people, but to basically any input you allow into your head (e.g. books, movies, podcasts, etc.). Surrounding myself with people completely opposite from what I’ve known really began to change my perception of not only men but life in general.
Knowing vs. Understanding
After leaving college and living alone for a while, I spent a lot of time in voluntary solitude self-reflecting and learning as much as possible about different ways to improve oneself… And honestly, I loved every single second of those 3ish years. During that period, I was able to read, listen, and watch many different men that inspired and altered my own perspective on what makes a “man”.
I now know that it’s not about being a good “man”, but being a good human… I’ve come to realize that it’s not only ok to show all the emotions I was avoiding (e.g. vulnerability, sadness, concern, worry, frustration, anxiety, etc.), but that it’s healthy to do so. It’s amazing to reflect and think about how ingrained certain behaviors and thoughts can be in a person’s life… You should give it a shot sometime! 😊
But… As mentioned earlier, this story is still being written. I’ve reached a point in my personal journey where I intellectually “know” that a “man” is not some fantasy character with no emotions… But it’s someone that embraces their emotions, as well as other emotions, but that doesn’t mean I’ve truly “understood” this. As I love saying…. Action always overtakes intention and too many of us like to talk about how much we’ve changed without proving it through action.
With that said, there are still certain situations I consciously or subconsciously avoid every now and then… But! The good thing here is that I’m becoming more aware of that avoidance. This awareness has helped me tons with noting my feelings in real-time and has shown me that I’m either avoiding or incapable of externalizing an emotion due to so many years of suppressing it.
It’s important for you (the reader) to know that this has not been easy for me. Not at all. It’s psychologically hard work to throw out everything you’ve ever known and adopted a new way of thinking and acting… And yes, there will be growing pains. Ha! But these growing pains will be worth it…
The beauty of adopting a new holistic perceptive on masculinity is that you see yourself and those around you in a different light… A light that provides you the opportunity to evolve your relationships into something WAY more meaningful (Super Saiyan Style!). One example is my father and I have improved the quality of our relationship by 10X… This is because I no longer see him as this stoic manly man, standing on a pedestal, but more as a regular person with emotions. This change in dynamics has really helped us open up to each other in a completely different way.
A starter kit to understanding manliness
I’ve done a lot of talking about my personal story, but I want to make sure you have some practical stuff to take away that’s been useful in changing my own perspective on masculinity.
- “Hitch” (trailer here) – This is one of my favorite films and there are many reasons for that, but one of them is the way Will Smith and Kevin James showed perfectly (in my opinion) what a good partner is and isn’t in a relationship… This was one of many small steps toward helping me internalize that it’s ok to be vulnerable
- Team of Rivals (link here) – This book isn’t directly related to masculinity, but it was reassuring to read about Abraham Lincoln and the tough times he went through, but more importantly how he dealt with his emotions.
- I Don’t Want to Talk about It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression (link here) – I’ve read this one recently and it’s an eye-opening… The author makes some solid connections on how mass media and childhood surroundings impact a man’s perspective on how they think they’re supposed to behave & think…
- Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (link here) – The end of this book really hit me in the gut because a lot of the examples reminded me of my own behavior and how I could possibly be distancing myself from those I love the most without even realizing it. I highly recommend this book for those that struggle to externalize their feelings…