I don’t pretend that what I’m about to say isn’t an explicit jab at the cage of expectations that many of us feel as men, but can’t really talk about. But this suffocating shroud of manliness is so strong, and I feel it so intensely - even still, after my life has been made with the blessings of family and starting to see God resting in my own soul - I cannot help but try untangling it from my neck with this barbaric yawp.
I feel like I’m not a man because I’m not tough to cruel words. I can’t feign it and I can’t fake it. I can’t dish them and I can’t take them. I don’t like competitions. I’m not very strong (I’ve never been able enough bench press my own weight, for example). When I played football, I was always afraid of the impact of a tackle, whether I was giving or receiving it.
I like hugs and high fives. And I struggle to take charge of a group full of big personalities. Most movies and books find a way to make me weep. I’m not particularly funny, and the last of my charisma probably faded away after I graduated college. I’m not aggressive or an “alpha”, whatever that means.
I miss my wife about 3 minutes after I say goodbye to her, for any reason, even if I’m just going outside to mow the lawn. I know nothing about fixing anything with a motor. I am scared that I’ll never measure up to the men I look up to. I was never good at drinking lots of alcohol, and I don’t have anything intelligent to say about sports, even though I enjoy them.
I could go on and on, but it comes down to this. The reason that I in particular don’t often feel like a man is because I’m not “macho”.
And I’m honestly not looking for encouragement or pity. I just have to say this stuff out loud to start untangling it.
I’m also not looking for affirmation of the brand of 21st century “manliness” I happen to fit more with, even if I don’t live up to the ideal anyway. I’m talking about the super dads with impressive jobs that make unexpected romantic gestures to their wives (and those acts are validated on instagram) and never miss a birthday party. Or the “sensitive” men who are “in touch with their emotions.” Or the sophisticated gentleman who espouses a cogent view of domestic politics while sipping a beer he brewed in his basement. Or the Ivy Leaguer who writes a best selling novel while starting a technology company in the valley.
The last thing we all want, I think, is to replace the suffocating grip of machismo with a new, imprisoning dogma of enlightened manliness.
Why I write all this is because I just want to be myself and not feel like I have to justify it against some irrational conception of manliness. Which is a critique on my own character, not on “society” by the way (because why do I so badly need external validation?) .
But even moreso, I have to let go of my own judgements. I hope that by writing this it gets me a little bit closer to not propagating these preposterous notions of manliness onto other men, and judging them for it. I want to be able to live and let other men live as they are, regardless of whether they are “macho”, “sensitive”, “bro-y”, or however else them just being them is described in words.
I hope that someday soon, I’ll be so comfortable with being myself that I won’t have to push back on norms that make me feel insufficient and trapped. But for now, I hope sharing this makes that day of freedom a little bit closer.