I grew up with a father who strongly expressed his story teller archetype and I loved every minute of it. For my generation, I saw that this relationship was not shared by most of my friends and I felt it altered their perception of themselves as women. A father’s role in raising daughters is just as important as his role in guiding a son, albeit different.
I created a list of questions I wanted answered that I believed would help make sense of men. I then set out to interview men of all ages about being a man. What ensued was life changing and enormous fun. Over the following weeks I want to share with you the words of men describing their experiences of the archetypes through which they live.
On Being a Man
To be a man, for the most part, is defined for us at birth. We are born with an XY chromosome to determine our gender and the physical presence of genitalia. These two factors make us different from women. While our physical appearance will vary men tend to be physically stronger and have bodies designed to perform different functions to women. Outside of the unchangeable realities of our genetics we are raised in cultural, religious and ethnic expectations that give shape and order to what we think makes us a man. We receive a different perspective of life and our role in making it happen. We have a different driving force that is promoted through the mythologies we are bought up on. There is a freedom available in manhood that impacts on our persona and presence in the world. We have the freedom of experience, of movement, of adventure and to aspire. There is a personal power inherent in this freedom.
While our society refers to boys as men within the ranks of the male populace there is no such automatic achievement. A man is someone who reaches a level of maturity to be responsible for his life. Many of us do not reach such a level of maturity until we are past our 20’s if in fact we ever grow up. Surviving our childhood’s and adolescence is the first hurdle. Young men are still raised knowing what is expected of them. We are aware that we are still the dominant side of the species. We have to grow up a lot before we become men but we lack positive role models of how to be men. We look to how our fathers behave and other significant men as our guides. Many are still displaying the old traditional ways of acting and we don’t want to be like that. We just don’t know how to act out our new ideas. We are learning how to be men as we grow. But we enjoy knowing that we have an automatic authority that women are not given at birth. We don’t want to give that up.
Older men see manhood as an attitude. We might be seen as old fashioned but we think the role of the man being the provider worked for us. Being a man is about the win, the hunt, and providing the resources for a home. It is the woman’s role to use what we bring to make the home meaningful. We are to lead. There is a pack mentality in being a man. The winners use their physical dominance, their strength, their prowess and their mental cleverness to outsmart, out run, out play and out manoeuvre their opposition, especially if that is another male. Thousands of years ago men actually went hunting to provide for their family or tribe. Today the business world is the place to express these qualities.
Yet, for many men, hunting is an important aspect of their life. It is now a hobby rather than essential for our existence. There is no other feeling like the adrenaline rush of hunting. Man against animal; the thrill of the chase. We know the odds are against us. When we go out deer hunting our senses are fully alert and so are the deer’s. It’s a battle who will win. We hunt in packs and everyone has a position and a job to do. We allocate this based on who is the best person to do the job. There is a great mateship based on trust and reliability developed. We have a bond that is special but stems from the depth of trust developed in the hunting experience. In the rush of adrenaline we feel no pain and have no fear. Running with the pack gives us confidence in ourselves as other men believe and trust in us. The unpredictability of the deer means that anyone of us could be in luck to get the shot. We all win when the deer loses. The deer wins more than we do but that adds to the challenge.
Mateship, striving against the odds and winning are important components of manhood. Whether we hunt deer, go fly fishing, play football or other team sports, ride motorbikes or tackle the corporate world we rely on networks of men to support and encourage our battles against our opponents. Good sportsmanship is an essential element of the games we play. We don’t expect the looser to fight, sulk or retaliate against us.
For some men, attitudes and values of respect, consideration, chivalry, gentleness, and nurturing are defining points of masculinity. Striving to be a good person is essential in our lives. We want to be good husbands, good fathers, and good members of our communities. We blend the strength and authority given to men with the gentleness, compassion and love of human nature and try to live out our beliefs from these qualities. We consciously act to protect those in our care including animals and the environment. We don’t seek to conquer and dominate but rather work together congenially. We take our responsibilities seriously. We think through the decisions and choices we make and consider the full impact they have on all around us and within our care. We see it as our role to guide others. To be solid, calm but potent role models we must form our own sense of integrity. Our ability to develop our spirit of discernment; to work out right from wrong and then act upon what we know is the most appropriate action is an essential quality in a man.
As men we are no longer simple. The complexity of what makes us a man is expressed in the fullness of our human experience. Masculine gentleness, masculine nurturing, masculine compassion are now valuable qualities as are masculine action, masculine strength and masculine protection. The lack of strong positive role models provides challenges to those of us who are young boys growing up into men as it does for those of us who are aging men who are seeking a wiser more balanced expression of our manhood. The men’s movement is one venue for us to find connection to our true selves. We look at how women empowered themselves and see that it is now our turn. But there is no doubt that what makes us a man has changed over the past 30 years. Yet our need to have exclusive connections to each other remains an important component of our continuing experiences.
What insights about being a man did this provide you?