A few weeks ago a man who was getting on in years said to me that when he had to call a repair man to do things at his home, he couldn’t bear to stay in the same room with the repairman as he did his work because it reminded him of the fact that he could no longer do this work for himself. He had to leave the room in embarrassment.
How sad the story is!
This man has defined himself as being the caretaker, provider, fixer of things in his relationship. And since he is no longer able to perform those functions, he is somehow less of a man.
My question is this: why do we define ourselves as men so narrowly?
If I ask you (as I did the breakfast attendees) to jot down on a piece of paper 3 words that were used to define manhood when you were growing up, chances are you would write things like: strong, independent, great provider, never cries, individualistic, unemotional.
If I ask you to write down some words to describe how you would like your son or grandson to see themselves, chances are you’d write words like empathic, sensitive, considerate, spiritual, tender-hearted.
Isn’t it interesting that the way society and our peers define manhood fails us as we get older? Being the tough guy and always invulnerable simply does not work in the real world of work and relationships.
Many times our independence and toughness cause us to be competitive, aggressive, inappropriately defensive in a relationships with colleagues–and especially our partners.
When I talk to women about what they want in a man, it is the qualities listed in the second list above. Being open, empathic, sensitive, responsive, tender-hearted, collaborative–these are the things that make for good relationships. Unfortunately these are the things we weed out of young boys as they become men in favor of being individualistic, independent and assertive.
The model Jesus presented to us of manhood is one of gentleness, but also one of being radical and even angry and violent (as in overturning the tables of the money changers in the temple). So it doesn’t follow that to be a follower of Jesus you can only be meek and mild and ever compassionate.
I would challenge you to do this: sit-down with your partner and ask what characteristics of masculinity interfere with your relationship? Likely your partner will give you some feedback which may be tough to accept. Men are simply not conditioned to be collaborative problem solvers, empathic listeners, tender-hearted feelers or anything of the sort. All those are seen as signs of weakness and most men would never allow themselves to express these feelings. Yet this is what relationships need to survive and thrive. It is not enough to claim that you’re a product of your environment or that you are the way you are because that’s the way your father was. We are autonomous individuals, capable of changing the way we behave and the way we relate to other people.
Many men when they face adversity such as job loss or illness, come to realize that the “tough guy” stance no longer serves. In fact it gets in the way of genuineness and true relationship.
Are you a real man?
Are you man enough to initiate a discussion with your partner about being more collaborative, open and sensitive to her needs in the relationship? Are you willing to give up some of your macho behaviors and be real with other men? Are you willing to initiate discussions on things other than sports or sex or automobiles with other men? I hope so because I believe this is where the true rewards of being a man come to fruition.
To many times the only emotion we are allowed to express as men is anger. It is almost universally accepted for men to express anger–sometimes even when it leads to violence. But this truly makes us one dimensional human beings missing most of the great flood of richness that relationships with our partners and others can provide.
Here are some practical things you can do:
- Initiate discussions with other men about real topics and feelings.
- Talk to your son or daughter about the importance of being open emotionally to other people
- Ask your partner how you can be a better listener in the relationship
- Look on the Resource page of this website for interesting reading material about men’s issues and how they affect our lives.
- Forward this to another man