My son is a beast. He came claws first from my wife, digging his nails on the mattress of the delivery bed, and snarling a roar at the nurses. He was born 9lb 1oz, trailed by an amazing six pound placenta that had a mind of its own, and I think got shipped to the circus. After swelling for eight months, he’s now in the clothes of a preteen, and has more rolls than a Cinnabon franchise.
My wife’s family ogled (as they’d never seen a descendent of the BFG before) while my family was concerned he might be unhealthily small. The Mainses are no strangers to giant babies. My mother delivered me at 9lb 11oz as I clawed and roared through a plan B delivery. I was so stocky they thought I’d be a football player, but when I turned two, I started slimming like Stretch Armstrong between a couple of kids. Now as an adult, I stand at six feet tall, skinny, and weigh a whopping 145lbs. No one would guess now that my parents fed me entire chickens on my high chair.
Not only did my body fail to develop into the beefy build of a linebacker, but my personality is about the furthest thing from a football player that you could imagine. Sure, I can read social cues to determine when to scream at the football game, and I can huff and puff about all the home runs, but more often than not I’m cleaning out the crock pot of buffalo chicken dip in the kitchen. My sport is, instead, in my words that I toss with artistic spin, and my muscle is more in my mind than it is on my boney arms. As a tall, lanky, sarcastic, artistic wordsmith, being born was just the beginning of me failing to meet expectations.
Failing Expectations As A Man
I heard it theorized once that men are chiefly driven by the core question, “Am I man enough?” Indeed, how much anxiety, insecurity, and negative thought patterns are born out of a man’s fear of not measuring up? And because, culturally, men are expected to be strong, independent, and proud, most guys suppress the pressure until we either implode or explode. We fall into depression and anxiety or lash out in anger, overcompensating, resetting the generational clock, and continuing the same unhealthy patterns of gender expectations for our sons. We need to redefine what a man is in our culture for the sake of ourselves, each other, and our children.
What is a man? I am well
endowed aware of the anatomical answer, but how should a man act and live foundationally? This is a question running deeper than whether he likes football or not. What makes a man, a man? If traditionally, a man is strong, independent, and proud perhaps we should experiment in weakness, dependency, and humility.
Instead Of Seeming Strong, Showing Weakness
There certainly is a cultural surge claiming that men as a whole are weaker than we used to be. In this case, I am not advocating that boys on the playground don’t stand up for themselves or that men live with their mothers until their fifties. Taking responsibility for self and family is noble. Instead of being weak, no matter personality type, position, or physical stature, men should develop the ability to show and share their weaknesses.
Too often, we think we need to be Superman or Jesus in order to survive as a man. And since we are neither of them, we fall into employing a fake-it-until-you-make-it tactic. We can be dishonest, saying everything is fine and playing an Andy Griffith episode, when in reality, life is a mess, work is stressful, so is home, and maybe, if we are honest, we are actually falling apart in the oppressive glow of our own personal Kryptonite.
Men, we are balloons. The pressure of life fills us, stretching us to our capacity. Are we going to wait until we pop? Or are we going to slowly let the pressure out, preserving ourselves and avoiding unneeded stress and anxiety? Acknowledge shortcomings, and work out the muscle that allows you to show and share your weakness.
Instead Of Independent, Dependent
To save you from the awkwardness of having to share your imperfections with the wall or a can a beer, you’ll need an available listening ear or two. Culturally, men are expected to be independent. Like a rooster among chickens, the male wanders alone among many social females. We think that we are okay by ourselves, and that it’s just easier to keep drinking buddies as drinking buddies. Why invest in deeper relationships when that entails getting dirty, opening up, being honest and vulnerable? Because that’s how we keep from popping. Men should be far from independent; we need others to rely on.
A man should pursue wealth in relationships on at least three different levels: family, friends, and advisors.
In our families, we should be getting rug burns with our kids, dating our wives, and engaging our siblings, setting the example in vulnerability and honesty. With our friends, we should be making drinking buddies into friends, and then friends into brothers, investing in men in whom we can confide and support; men who will be anchors for us among the brutal waves of life. And with advisors, we should pursue the older and wiser to teach us, guide us, challenge and encourage us. It’s important to have this on both a professional and personal level. Seeing a counselor or doctor if needed is vital to a man’s mental health but so is rubbing elbows with the geezer living down the street. We need the perspective he offers to keep us focused on our investments in friends and family. Though my circle is small, I try to have community on these three levels.
Instead Of Proud, Humble
A man is proud for being proud. And yet humility is lost when men are self-satisfied, independent, and arrogant. Too often it is our pride that keeps us from taking the healthy steps we know are good for us. It is our pride that leads us further down the pathway of depression, anxiety, anger, and isolation. It took me years to seek the help I needed because I couldn’t swallow the notion that “I wasn’t man enough.” I thought I needed to be strong and independent. I thought I needed to be self-sufficient.
Author C.S. Lewis famously said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Upon the coattails of Lewis’ definition, we can assume that humility’s antonym, pride, could be defined as “thinking of yourself more.” We owe it to our families, friends, and future generations to step outside of ourselves, putting our pride away, and getting the help we need.
These are values I hope to teach to my son, whether he grows up to be a thick jock screaming at a football game or a bean stalk like me, eating buffalo chicken dip in the kitchen and pondering the next poem to write. A man should show his weaknesses, depend on community, and humble himself by thinking of others first. I want my son to know that a man is defined not by his preferences but by his character. And I hope he can learn that by my example.
Read my post, The M-E-N In Mental Illness, for some stats and more thoughts.