We hear a lot about manhood and masculinity these days, much of it in negative terms. The term “toxic masculinity” has gained popularity, especially in countries where men’s aggression is seen in negative terms.
Like many older men, I was taught to “be a man” by a father who had very traditional views on manhood and masculinity. You worked hard, fought hard and played hard. You did not display emotion or vulnerability as this was seen to be weak, to be “less of a man”.
As a kid, I had very little self-esteem and no self-confidence. I sought to overcome these conditions by hiding behind a mask of hyper-masculinity. I joined the Royal Australian Navy when I was 15 years old, a male-dominated organisation that extolled the traditional virtues of manhood that my father taught me. I built myself up physically and constructed emotional barriers around me to protect myself from the outside world. I was determined to be the man that other men admired and that women wanted to be with.
Whatever level of manhood I attained I had to do more to prove myself to others. I played contact sports, I worked as a bouncer, I notched my sexual conquests on my bedpost in the way a fighter ace would mark battle wins on his aircraft. I displayed my muscles like a peacock, perfected the ‘stare-down’, and went to war. I thought I was ‘The Man”. And then I broke.
I broke because all the insecurities; the fears; the anxieties; the guilt of broken relationships with wonderful women who wanted nothing more from me than my affection, all that built-up angst that I had held inside for decades because of my desire to meet my obligations to cultural and societal constructs of manhood led me to a point where I considered taking my life. That’s when I learned the true meaning of “toxic masculinity” and began to understand what real manhood is.
Being a man is about living your life the way you want to, not as others expect you to or as the mass media says you need to in order to be happy. It’s about being open to all the emotions of the human condition – anger; joy; sadness – and feeling free to express them. It’s about not having to “suck it up”, “harden up”, “get over it”, but being allowed to be soft, vulnerable and compassionate.
Manhood is not determined by age, strength, status or wealth. Manhood is achieved when you are confident enough in yourself to live life on your terms. To not be swayed by other’s opinions of you in choosing what you do or how you do it.
Manhood is achieved when you stop thinking about yourself and turn your strengths, talents, money and other resources in lifting others up. As I have aged I have found there is no greater reward in life than to see others succeed through the input you have had in their lives.
Whether as a father, coach, teacher or mentor, true manhood has the greatest potential to drive positive change in your life, your family, your community and beyond.