A daughter wonders how much more fulfilled and successful her father would have been if he’d broken out of the man box.
You could say that I was the reason my father never got to live his passion. But really, my unexpected appearance in the world was only a part of it.
The bigger reason is that he never even considered that living his passion was an option he was supposed to have available to him. The “man box” didn’t tell him he was supposed to pursue his passion. But it did tell him all the other things he was “supposed“ to do, to want, and to be.
I’m a woman. But I’ve been stuck on the fringes of the man-box for much of my life.
When my parents found out that 16 years after the birth of their youngest they had another baby on the way, my father hoped for a boy. When I turned out to be decidedly not a boy it didn’t stop him from teaching me the rules of the man box and expecting me to live up to those expectations.
I earned my riding privileges at the ranch down the road by proving I could hang out in the man box with the other ranch hands.
When I entered the world of medical consulting in my late 20’s I soon learned that my career survival depended on knowing, and following, the rules of the man box.
I’m a passionate person. But it wasn’t until my late 30’s that it occurred to me that I was allowed to do work that fed my passion. And when I asked myself why I hadn’t given myself permission to pursue my passion sooner, all the answers could be traced right back to the rules of the man box.
There are 5 expectations that the man box puts on men that make it unlikely that a man will find or explore his passion.
#1 He’s “supposed” to be a provider.
The man box says a man’s first priority is to provide for his family. Not to contribute, not to be a good partner to his mate and a good father to his off spring, but to be a good provider of all the material needs and wants his family might have.
A man whose self-esteem depends on his ability to care for others isn’t likely to even think about what he needs for himself. He expects his passion to be fed by doing whatever it takes to keep them satisfied.
More than that, it’s hard to discover your passion when your primary filter is “how will I feed my family doing that?” That was certainly my father’s filter, for himself and for me. Any conversation we had about anything I wanted to study or try my hand at was met with, “How are you going to make living at that?” Ironically, I’ve only become truly successful since I’ve given myself permission to NOT ask that question.
#2 He’s “supposed” to be success-driven.
The man box says that for a man to be a success (or for a woman to be a success in a man’s field) it is a requirement that he be ambitious, aggressive, competitive, and passionate about the dog-eat-dog world of the stereotypical corporate office.
As a consultant I was often sneered at because I wasn’t willing to claw my way to the top over the backs of my so-called competition. They said it was only because I was a “girl” and didn’t have that competitive drive. Oddly enough, my missing competitive drive has driven me to nurture some of the most fulfilling, and profitable, relationships imaginable – with people who offer many of the same services as I do.
#3 He’s “supposed” to be successful at anything he tries.
The man box says that a man’s worth is determined by his successes. And his worth is depleted by his failures. Yet, discovering and pursing your passion requires taking huge risks. How is a man supposed to get comfortable taking risks when his very identity as a man depends on never failing?
I used to have a lot of shame over my disappointments and failures. Not getting that part I wanted in the school play, I couldn’t talk about that. Fired from a job, or worse yet, by a client, I’d go to great lengths to avoid even thinking about that.
Yet, now that I can (usually) shrug off a failed attempt as a “learning opportunity” and acknowledge that I’m one step closer to getting right for having gotten it wrong that time, I’m not only having more fun, I’m enjoying more wins.
#4 He’s “supposed” to be self-sufficient.
The man box has a code about asking for help. You don’t. Not even if you’re lost in the woods and you meet a friendly bear with a compass. You smile, you nod, and if that bear asks how you’re doing you say, “Fine,” and keep moving.
I have to admit this one still has me beat most days. From the burnt out light bulb that’s just out of reach to visual branding that demands talents I don’t have, I really, really, dislike asking for help. But I can say this – when I ask for help I get it. And when I get it I’m better for it. I have so much more to contribute to the karmic pool now that I’ve learned how to make withdrawals.
#5 He’s “supposed” to be stoic.
The man box is pretty anti-emotion. Unless it’s anger. Or you’re emotional about something that happened to someone else. But if you need to sit down and have a good cleansing cry over something or nothing that’s pretty much frowned on. Yet how can you even recognize passion if your self-respect depends on never experiencing, much less showing, emotion?
I never did master this man box rule. My father’s signature line to me was, “Stop that crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” But years after I left home it came time to let Twinkletoes, who was more commonly known as “Momma Kitty,” cross the rainbow bridge, and I couldn’t come home from school. My mother told me that my father took care of it. And that he cried. For a very long time.
I don’t know what those tears cost him. Or what it cost him not to have shed them over the many other losses his life had sustained. But I do know what it meant to me to know that he shed them. And how I knew I had a “Daddy” because my father cried over my cat’s last day.
Perhaps we’ll never get rid of the man box. I suppose it serves some purpose. But I know I’m more fulfilled in life and more successful now that I’m breaking all its rules.
And I wonder how much more fulfilled and successful my father might have been if he’d learned to break those rules before he died.