Masculine is defined as “having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness.”
Every holiday was the same, the only difference being who hosted. We would rotate between the three families.
Christmas would mean street hockey. Easter would mean stickball. Thanksgiving was all about football. There were six cousins and we naturally broke out into two teams of three. We’d play all day until the call came from the parents and then we’d play fifteen minutes more. My mother had a brother and a sister and between the three of them, the first six cousins were all boys. We were all born within 5 years of each other.
The next three cousins were girls, two of whom are my sisters. We tended to ignore them.
As a sports-loving kid, it was the best. We strategized over lunch, we drew up plays on napkins and we talked shit to each other. We kept the girls out of it all.
“You can be cheerleaders if you want. Just don’t disrupt our game in any way.” That kind of family.
Bobby is three weeks older than me. We grew up in the same town and went to the same school until 6th grade. He could make me laugh like no other. But what I remember most about Bobby was from one family incident.
It was April of 1985, the perfect spring day and the perfect day for an intense game of outdoor basketball. This time the dads joined the fray. This was going to be fun and physical and a wee bit intense.
As we drew up teams we were missing one. The teams were uneven. This never happens. This was unacceptable.
Bobby was missing, as were the “girls.”
There was a lot of sighing and the frustration and anger built. Where is Bobby? He knew the big game was about to start. I ran inside the house to hunt him down. I hoped he was either in the bathroom or watching TV.
When I found him, I paused in disbelief. He was hanging with the girls, which was okay I guess, but it was their choice of activity that freaked me out. I asked if he planned on playing and he gave me a definitive “no.”
I ran back outside and informed the dudes about my discovery. The immediate response was something along the lines of, “What could he possibly be doing that was more important than this game?” I didn’t want to give up the reason for his pre-occupation but eventually had to relent. Oh, their collective faces.
He was playing with paper dolls.
My memory of what happened next is fuzzy, but the long and short of it was that he was dragged outside (not physically, we weren’t that big of heathens) and forced to play. It was awkward and uncomfortable. Playing with “dolls” wasn’t going to fly in this family. If you had asked me 30 years ago what it meant to be a man, I would have included words like “athlete” and “tough” and “emotionless”. That was my definition of masculine. Playing with paper dolls was the opposite of masculine.
I have contemplated the question, “How have I evolved as a man?” That day of basketball and dolls immediately comes to mind. It had me thinking about my own story growing up.
As I recalled that story and my early years, a few things jumped out immediately:
- Diversity was non-existent in my life until I was 18 years old.
- I knew not one non-heteronormative boy or girl.
- Males didn’t dabble outside of male things, like paper dolls.
- Girls were required to stay out of the way during sports activities.
Now to be fair, I have no recollection of this ever being pushed on me by my parents. I wasn’t an overly masculine boy in the stereotypical sense and I had no conscious biases toward any group of individuals. I just didn’t have the exposure and therefore, no formulated opinion.
That exposure didn’t arrive until I set out for college. While I can safely say that my college career didn’t lead to any great job opportunities, it not only allowed me to find the love of my life, it opened my eyes to the world and started me down a path of becoming the man I am today.
With that background in mind, here are 5 ways I’ve evolved as a man since first stepping on campus back in 1990.
I still remember every person that lived on my floor in the dorm that first year. It was as if the college concocted the perfect diverse cast of characters. We had the white bro, the openly gay man, the openly gay woman, the super athlete, the drug addicted sweetheart, the introvert, the Muslim and all others shades of you name it. We all melded together beautifully. Alcohol helped I’m sure, but I was enamored with them all.
Within a week’s time we all knew each other’s story and maybe I’m naïve, but no one judged. We ate together, we goofed off together, and we did a lot of listening. It wasn’t the case of changing any of my prior views, I just hadn’t defined them yet. You can complain about the costs of college all you want, and it is beyond absurd, but the experience of being on your own and forming opinions on your own among a diverse group of individuals is priceless.
They are all a part of my so-called masculinity to this day.
This is everything to me. It drives me in everything I do. I’ll be me and you be you. If it takes us some time to find ourselves, so be it, as long as we are willing to put in the work and embrace all that life throws our way.
I love flowers. I write about flowers. I don’t hedge and I don’t apologize for it. If you want to critique, go right ahead, I’ve already moved on from you.
Over the years I’ve witnessed so many men putting on the act, the act that sells them as a “true man.” But I see right through the masculine stereotypes that have persisted with men from grammar school to present day. I still see it on their Facebook posts. I see it at my daughter’s basketball games. And it now seems to be peaking again with the recent election.
So many recite it in cliché terms, yet don’t practice it. Yes, there is the innate desire to be the problem solver for your spouse. The idea is to find the right solution and all the problems go away. But life doesn’t work like that. Sometimes we just need to be heard and acknowledged. We don’t seek a solution, at least not at
that particular moment.
I often hear this in terms of “Me-male-caveman want solve pretty lady problem.” And while I find myself thinking along those lines at times, it doesn’t have to be a measure of your masculinity. Talk to each other, listen, and be free in communicating what you desire devoid of gender stereotypes.
This one took me the longest to overcome. I went 15 years without shedding a tear. I didn’t cry at the birth of my two children. I didn’t cry at the funeral of both of my grandparents. Why? Because men don’t show their emotions. We are the stabilizing force and that is how we get our family through the difficult times.
And then the family dog died. I couldn’t fight it off any longer. I cried like a baby. The family had a tough time looking at me.
Since that fateful day two years ago, I’ve probably cried 50 times, no exaggeration. I gave myself permission to publicly display emotion and stop buying into that masculine ideal. I want my kids to see me cry. I want my wife to know that I have emotions and have unnecessarily suppressed them with vigor for two decades.
I don’t feel any less of a man.
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