As Fathers’ Day came and went, I found myself pondering what it really means to be a man. The truth is this question has been a definitive one for my entire life. What exactly is masculinity? What truly makes a man a good man?
For most of my life, I have been inundated with poor answers to this question. Through societal interpretations, the insecurity and uncertainty of other men in my life, and a growing dismissal for the fact that there is something unique to masculinity, I’ve become more and more confused. It seems like we either want to neuter masculinity or turbo-charge it.
The question that has never left me resurfaced as I contemplated Fathers Day, thinking of the men in my life who I admire and what made them men and what made them admirable.
Like most things that have become deluded beyond recognition, I was forced to start with the stereotypes and try to work myself backward to find the source.
So, typically the idea of masculinity is focused on strength. Ability to fight. Taking control, being in charge. Sexual conquests are celebrated because it exudes prowess. Wealth, stature. And, on the flip side, not being weak. Showing emotions, getting beat up, etc. are all viewed as decidedly emasculating.
All of it comes down to one thing. Men are wired to protect. We’ve perverted a calling to protect to the most dumbed-down version possible. We worship the physical strength (for example) as a means to an end rather than understanding that the end is protection. Guardianship. All men are posturing to prove that they are capable of protecting who (or what) they love.
I’m not suggesting women need men to protect them (stick with me to the end here). All I am suggesting is that there is something inherent in the male gender that longs to protect, to guard, to preserve safety. The deepest threat to our identity is not being able to provide, not being worthy of the noble calling of guardianship.
Having said that, here is where we go wrong. We put guardianship into a pretty tiny box. Men are asked to squeeze themselves into these shackles. Protect by strength and control. But there are a million ways people need protection. We all need to be heard, cared for, served. Men need to be vulnerable, ‘weak’, and uncertain because this invites us to better love and serve. Protection is not just about physically surviving. It is about the courage to live out an identity, the challenge to be authentic in a judgmental world, and the deep call to pursue truth.
There may be times when a man needs to get beat up, act in humility, or apologize in order to truly protect those around him.
Different, but not that different
Let’s say, just for argument’s sake that the defining characteristic about femininity is care. Care is different from protection. This does not mean that men solely need to be cared for and women need to be protected. It also does not get men off the hook for care or women off the hook for guardianship.
What it means is that all humans are called to love. We are called to the most powerful and significant of The Affections. Men love through protection, which includes care. And women love through care, which includes protection. We are more alike than many think. But we are not identical. The source and the destination is love, but the angle of approach is different.
Women need to care through tough-love as well as empathy. Men need to provide through affection as well as strength. As is usually the case, we are prey to improper definitions.
Be A Man
The reason this is helpful is because it invites a level of self-awareness. It helps set me free of the unholy parameters society places on me and gives me the opportunity to take ownership of the life I’ve been charged with. Naming my motivators and drivers helps me understand the vision for my life.
The trouble with trying to determine what makes a man is that every man is different. And women possess all the same attributes and capabilities as men. But there is something different. There is some small, yet cosmic reason the sexes exist. Perhaps together we are doing much more than complementing one another’s strengths. Perhaps we are pulling one another into a kind of unity where we both participate collectively as fuller versions of ourselves and truer manifestations of love.
As a man (hoping to one day be a father), I hope that I can protect through sacrifice, honesty, boldness, vulnerability, empathy, and courage. I hope to not be confined by the narrow versions of what a man is called to be.