Being a real man is hard.
First off, can anyone even define what that means? So many forces tug at us to place labels, then once we think we have settled on something reasonable, another force makes us question that. Someone wiser than I once said, “To define is to confine,” meaning that if we put a definition on something, we have essentially confined that thing to whatever the definition is. Doing so makes it really hard for that thing to be anything else.
Instead of defining masculinity in traditional terms of hunting, gathering, protecting, and providing, I would like to try something new. I would like to define masculinity with a different concept altogether: vulnerability.
Growth typically happens in two ways, involuntarily (change is forced upon you) or voluntarily (you seek out the change). Examples of involuntary growth might include falling down and learning you can get back up, getting let go from a job and finding a new one, or making a mistake and learning from it. Examples of voluntary growth can be enrolling in a Spanish class, changing jobs on your own, or moving homes.
Interesting to note is that all growth requires an emotional experience but that is not what this article is about. Well, that’s not entirely what it is about.
All emotion requires a loss of control, even if it is brief. As men, we are told by society that losing control is not allowed and that we should stay in control at all times. That contradicts the concept of being vulnerable, which is required for growth. So instead, to appease society, we choose anger over fear, or pretend not to be sad. In so doing, however, we fail to grow because we fail to allow ourselves to go through the discomfort and come out better on the other side. We stagnate. Yet we also want very badly for our children to grow while not quite knowing how to do so ourselves.
In order to teach our children how to grow, we must be comfortable with being uncomfortable, otherwise we will simply not have the authority to assure them that they will be okay on the other side of the anguish.
Modeling for our kids that discomfort, distress, and disappointment are not only tolerable but necessary for growth is absolutely imperative to conquering their own struggles and, in turn, growing.
Men like to conquer things. Historically we do not conquer things that we already know and understand because there’s simply no challenge in that. So, sometime today, I invite you to make yourself uncomfortable on purpose at least once just so you can conquer it. Notice your vulnerability. Notice how you accept new information. Notice how you grow.
Then, when you turn to your kids and ask them to do the same, you will be able to say, “If I can conquer my discomfort, so can you.” That is real growth. That is real leadership.
That is real masculinity.