On Being a Man – Step 1
I have been fascinated by the concepts of masculinity and manhood, probably because I’ve felt lacking in those traits. I’ve struggled with being a man for a long time, because nobody ever taught me how to be one. That’s unsurprising, since American society has stopped valuing manhood and masculinity, and in some cases actually denigrate men for being men. Yet, I aspire to achieve the role of an integrated man before I die. That’s OK, because with a little ingenuity I can find enough information to learn what I need to do. I believe I’ve found the first step, and I’ll share these steps with the blogosphere as I learn them. Hell, maybe I’ll even write a book about it someday if I can make what I’ve learned work for me. With that introduction, I present what I consider the first step in being a man:
During childhood, boys are fixated on the “I”, on themselves. I need… I want… I possess… I’m hungry so I must be fed. I want that special toy, so I must have it. Now that I have it, it’s MINE! Don’t you dare take it away from me. The attention must be on me, because I am the center of the universe. Mom, mom, mom, MOM! LOOK AT ME!
This is actually a natural part of human development. Once an infant individuates himself from his mother, that is, develops a sense of identity, he becomes very self-absorbed. He only knows what he directly perceives through his senses, so he quite naturally assumes he is the center of the universe. It takes several years of experience as a toddler to develop the abstract thinking necesary to recognize that there are other “people” outside of his control who also have needs, wants and desires.
As boys grow older, the fixations change. I’m the best at sports. I’m the best at school. I’m the one the girls want. I’m the leader of this gang. This orientation is to be expected from boys. They are narcissists, seeing their own reflection everywhere. They never see anyone else.
The trouble arises when the boy grows to be an adult, but he still has the childish orientation. As adult children, the wants, needs and attention change, but they are still childish. I need the BMW i8 or the Audi R8. I’m the boss, do what I say. I make the most money. I sleep with the most beautiful women. I’m the best football player. These are still childish orientations, because they are all about the “I”, Narcissus’s reflection in the pool that he can never possess.
At some point, a man must leave the childhood “I” behind and recognize this harsh truth: the world only cares about what you can do for it. Nobody else cares about your BMW or Audi. Ultimately, nobody else cares about the pain in the ass boss. In fact, nobody really cares about the person throwing the football; they care that the person is on their team, they care about being entertained by great football. Your company doesn’t care about your Type A managerial skills, but whether or not you bring your project in on time and on budget. They care about what they get, and if you are not providing some form of value, you are ultimately ignored or ridiculed.
The adult man provides some form of value to the rest of the world. In order to do this, he must leave the childish “I” behind and recognize that the world revolves around relationships, and he is just part of a giant web of interconnected people. The adult man learns to recognize “I matter”, but as part of a greater and more significant purpose than his self indulgent desires. He needs to go from the “I” to the “we” and leave his own reflection behind before he drowns.
The teenage football player steps forward to manhood when he learns that he is part of a team working towards a goal, and representing a bigger entity, like a school or town. The gang leader steps towards manhood when he realizes he takes on the safety and security of his gang, and perhaps his whole neighborhood (whether you despise his actions or not.) The boss takes a step towards manhood when he realizes his company’s profits, and his employees’ jobs are part of his responsibility. The politician grows into manhood when he realizes he is in his position to support the welfare of his constituents, and not to line his own pockets with money and wield the power of his position like a drunken frat boy conquering co-eds. (Of course, we don’t see very many politicians who are able to step into manhood, do we?)
A guy can be highly educated, financially rich, a government official, a member of the top 2% and outwardly successful with all the trappings of boyhood, but that does not necessarily make him a man. It is only when he recognizes his roles relating to other people and higher causes that he is able to start to live as a man.