My role is to take this sense of being a man and project it out into the world to help others to see that they too can qualify to achieve manhood.
Allan Mitiya asked ’Am I Just a Peripheral Man?’ in his Good Men Project essay this week. In it he said,
That’s where the problem—a perception that masculinity is for a certain group of people—is with men’s platforms, there is a profound lack of identifying what makes a man and who can qualify to achieve manhood beyond mystic/ethereal concepts that don’t translate well into the lived experiences of the people that ask these questions.
My lived experience is profoundly different from his so my immediate reaction was to think that I was unable to answer his question in a way that would give him any comfort. I started however to think about his core question,
…what makes a man and who can qualify to achieve manhood…
I feel that I should be able to answer Allan’s question if I regard myself as a man, especially as I write about being a man on the Good Man Project.
In ’I Am Proud Of My Masculinity’ I looked at how I saw myself as a man. I said,
I find that I am happy in my personal definition of masculinity. I enjoy my strength, whether it is physical, mental or emotional. I enjoy leading and see that it is role I am meant to embody. This involves me creating a vision for myself and other people. I do that with enthusiasm.
Creating a vision is great, enjoying my strength and leading is important, but these do not describe where a man can get that sense of being a man from.
In ’What On Earth Is A Good Man?’ I looked more at the idea of being a ‘Good Man’. I said,
The essence of a man being good is when he looks outside himself, beyond his world view, and challenges himself so that he can challenge others. It can be seen in a man who asks what he can do to contribute to improving the world or changing it.
Looking outside of himself and asking how he can change the world is something that all men can aspire to.
In ’Do Men Cling To Their Mask of Masculinity?’ I acknowledged that I questioned my masculinity as I grew up but I still suggested that men can frame their own masculinity, their own view of being a man. I said,
In my case I lacked the guidance from anyone to make this shift and, as I retreated from both my parents, I found it difficult to know who I was or how I should behave. Much of the blame I put on the view of men I had from the media. All men face these issues and the resolution is to help boys and men face the shifts they go through and understand that they can make their own decisions and frame their own masculinity.
I continued with the theme of being a man being about developing the potential I have inside. In ’I Am Male, and I Am a Man’ I said,
Being a man is not about being better than anyone else, whether it’s another man or a woman, it’s about being a fully developed example of the potential you have inside and the potential you have gathered in your life. To me, masculinity is about my ability to be fully present with my abilities, talents and skills, my ability to focus and direct them, and my ability to do this with love and compassion for others.
Then I found my first column from back in 2011, ’My Father Was an Angry Man’ . In it I put my finger not on what being a man is so much as where being a man comes from. I said,
Manhood is passed down from generation to generation but often not as we would want. As a father, I was a role model and my sons learned from me, but they learned from what I did, not what I said.
Whether we know our fathers, or not, the essence of our masculinity, our sense of being a man comes from our father, comes from who he is. In my case I did know him and found that the good and bad elements of my masculinity all came from him.
I spent many years as an angry man and blamed my father for that. His dominance pressured me into my own dominance, or so I thought. My father passed away over thirty years ago and yet he is still in my thoughts.
His death was sudden and on my birthday—he ensured that I would not forget that day. I do not regret not having the time to talk to him in a more intimate way. I did not experience closure on our relationship, and I accepted that. I see now that how I live my life, how I am as a man, comes from him. My projection of my masculinity into the world is a testament to what he was as a man.
That projection was not all good. For many years I was a dominant man, a common trait of masculinity, but through talking and writing about it I found the courage to let it go and seek out the deeper essence of the masculinity that I learned from my father. That involves certainty, inner strength, love, compassion, responsibility, presence and focus. These elements do not exclude others but they do contain the nugget of what I see as essential to MY masculinity. I emphasise MY masculinity because there is no one set of characteristics which define being a man. We all make our own definition and there lies the difficulty of trying to become a man.
Going back to Allan’s question,
…what makes a man and who can qualify to achieve manhood…
I would urge him to look inside for an answer not outside at what men like me write in GMP. To look for others to provide the answers is to continue to conform to society’s norms. The danger there is that all that does is continue the stereotypes that so distort our view of being a man. Allan feels he is outside the norm, and I understand why, but that view is only valid if he accepts that a norm exists. In my view it does not. We create our own sense of being a man from our own life and experience. If we then project that sense out into the world then we can be accepted as a man, no matter what our particular life experience is.
I would urge Allan to be proud of who he is and stand by that. Allan, this space is for people like you, it is for you. Do not think you overstay your welcome, you belong here.
I would urge all men to stand by who they are and be proud of themselves, of being a man. Stand by your own experience and affirm that that is alright. None of us have to confirm to society’s norms of masculinity, we can all make our own.
Image Credit: Flickr/Frank Boston (Creative Commons)