“Can I go with you to the Dojo? I think I want to learn Karate.”
“Oh? Did something happen?”
He pauses. That’s a clue to me that something did happen.
“No, I just want to learn how to defend myself.”
I’m a proud father. I have two wonderful children, a daughter, and a son, and I often think about the world they’re growing up in a world. A world that on the surface appears different from the one I grew up in but suffers from the same problems of my time. A world that is suffering from a threat so severe that our world is dying from it. I’m talking about toxic masculinity.
I fully believe that toxic masculinity and the patriarchy are what is holding humanity back. It’s destroying our children’s ability to “awaken” into true emotionally mature and competent humans, regardless of their gender.
“We were in the lunch line, waiting to get our food.”
I nod my head, listening.
“And this senior cut in front of us, he was on the football team.”
“Oh? That’s pretty rude of him,” I say.
“Yeah, and I said he should wait his turn and get on the line like the rest of us.”
“That’s fair,” I say, “What happened then?”
“He told me he was going to ‘wreck me’ if I didn’t shut up.”
One of the best things that happened to me in my life was the day I became a father and not just a sperm donor. There are huge differences between a male sperm donor and a father.
A woman becomes a mother the moment she conceives, the moment her body accepts the fertilized ovum and it attaches itself to her body. Once that clump of cells attaches to her uterine wall and her body nourishes it, she is a mother. Always from that day forward.
For a man, it’s a bit different. The moment he becomes a father is the moment he chooses to invest time, resources, and emotions into the child. Whether it’s unborn, born, his genetic seed or not, a man can be a father to his child, the mother’s child, be an uncle, or in general a fatherly role model to boys and girls.
What happened to my son that day showed me that the father of the boy, the one that pushed his way to the front of the lunch line and threatened to ‘wreck’ my boy for speaking up, has failed him.
That father has failed his son. He knowingly or unknowingly raised his son to be a part of the vicious cycle of toxic masculinity. One where boys will be boys.
Boys will be boys. How I hate the phrase ever since I heard it from the parents of a boy that bullied me in grade school.
“Oh, isn’t that what all boys do? Boys will be boys.”
No, boys will not be boys if you raise them right.
This is why the infamous Gillette commercial so resonated with me. I was that boy, the one that was chased and harassed by other boys because of a lame excuse of boys will be boys.
I keep coming back to this video over the years. Why? Because it exposed the root of the problem. We men have been ignoring a screaming monster right in front of our faces. We got so scared that we speak the sacred words of a spell to chase it away, we say over and over again “boys will be boys.”
Except the monster doesn’t go away, it grows quiet with every chanted spell we say, it feeds on those words and grows bigger and more dangerous.
“How did you feel when he said that?” I ask.
“I was angry,” he pauses, “it was so wrong.”
I nod my head, “Go on.”
“Well, what if he decided to ‘wreck me?’ I don’t know how to defend myself.”
“Defending yourself is a good thing to learn,” I say, “Is that why you want to go to the Dojo?”
He nods yes.
I was on Twitter the other day saw a tweet from Aubrey Andrews. I follow her for her sarcastic biting wit and in this tweet, she posted a screenshot from an alleged Tinder profile.
— Aubry Andrews 🦝 (@AubryAndrews) January 5, 2022
What a sad profile. Sad in so many ways, but above all, I feel bad for this young man. I feel bad because the father figures in his life have failed him.
He’s probably in his 30s, horny, very emotionally immature, probably has problems talking to women, and most possibly on a negative path toward violence.
He feels like this is what life is like, women are there for a man’s pleasure, she needs to conform to some outdated religious requirement of chastity, and the root of all problems are immigrants.
This is a man who has fallen prey to toxic masculinity and the crushing patriarchy, a system that affects both men and women in different ways.
I never knew that it was that system that affected me so negatively growing up and how I was conditioned to excuse it as “boys will be boys.”
I’m here to say, not my boy.
I will shout this from the rooftops, NOT MY BOY!
Then I heard another voice. More men were screaming it from their rooftops.
I’m not alone.
There are other fathers out there that feel the same way. They actively take their time to make a difference, to invest in children through organizations, through Dojos, through the boys and girls in their families, and make a difference.
Being a father, whether it’s your biological seed or not, is a SUPERPOWER. Yes, we can never grow a life inside us but we can guide a life. We can shape the world, be the builders of a new world.
Men can actively father so many children that in the short span of a single generation can usher in a new world.
A world where there is no one is ‘wrecked’ because they asked for fairness. A world where women can feel safe to walk down the streets. A world where boys and girls can be who they are and not be bullied. A world that is built on kindness, respect, and emotional maturity.
We can do this in One. Fucking. Generation.
But we men need to own this. We need to take concrete steps to slay the monster.
Three months later I sat in the audience to watch my son test for his yellow stripe belt. Testing at our Dojo is always a boot camp style with the instructors yelling at the students, putting them under physical and mental pressure. He completed the test and ‘ranked up.’
Covered in teenage sweat and smelling like one, he smiled at me when the instructor put the tape on his belt.
A handful of men can’t slay this monster by themselves. We need is the majority of men across the world to look in the mirror and say, “It stops with me, no more.”
It will take the majority of men to stop and actively listen, with an open mind, to what women have been begging for us to hear for decades. It will require us men NOT to feel like it’s a criticism directed at them, but to understand the problems and help solve them.
Yes, we will need help from the women in our lives but it’s up to us men to start this.
I’m not here to stop you from still doing your “man stuff.” I’m not here to take away your fishing, your hunting, your boxing, your guns, your race cars, or sports. You know, all the stuff that I enjoy too, but I want to take away the lies we’ve been fed.
I want us men to undo the conditioning that has kept us in the ‘man box’ for generations. I want us to do the hard work of becoming emotionally mature, to see the system that not only holds women down, but us men as well.
I want us to tear it all down because we were the ones that built this in the first place. I want us men to partner with women to architect a new world, a better world, one where boys and girls can become whole human beings.
“I’m tired and I think I’ll go to bed,” he says.
“Goodnight son, I love you.”
“Goodnight dad, I love you too.”
Freshly showered and with a belly full of food, I watch my boy climb the stairs to his bedroom. I notice that he keeps getting taller every day, his body is becoming more like a man with every passing week. I think about how he’s growing into a fine young man, a very compassionate and emotionally mature one. He’s light years ahead of where I was at his age.
I think about my nephews and how I came down on the oldest one recently, how I called out his shit one day. I remember how he grew quiet at what I said rattled around inside his head. I think about my youngest nephew, how he’s growing up with a non-engaged father, and how my sister once told me, “you are more of a father to him than his bio dad.”
Part of me is proud that my sister sees me as an important influence on her children but another part of me is sad. Another man is failing to guide, failing to lead where it’s most important, the raising of a new generation of men and women.
I pause for a moment. The words, “It stops with me. No more” echo in my brain as I climb the stairs and go to bed.
This post was previously published on medium.com and under a Creative Commons license CC BY-ND 4.0.
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I’m recalling this previous article… https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-only-thing-thats-toxic-is-calling-things-toxic/ As stated by the author Niklas Göke in the linked article: ”In truth, the only thing that’s toxic is calling things toxic left, right, and center — especially when the “things” you talk about are actually human beings. “Toxic” is a terrible word, and, plainly, not an adjective you should ever use to describe anyone… In reality, all human behavior is contextual, and the context usually makes up most of the reason behind why we do anything… There’s an apocryphal story floating around the internet, and it goes like this: If you put 100… Read more »
The other big problem with “toxic” is that it implies there’s a non-toxic equivalent, and when it comes to masculinity, I defy you to tell me what that is. Masculinity is something each man cultivates and defines for himself and only himself. What works for your masculinity may be utterly destructive for mine. It’s weird how we don’t perform these tortured lexical gymnastics with most anything else. Toxic chemicals are called carcinogens, not medicine. Toxic comestibles are called poison, not food. Rabid animals are dangerous, not pets. If something is toxic, by definition it’s not masculinity. It’s shitty behavior that… Read more »
I think you made some very good points Mark. I often feel that even if there was just a relatively simple semantic change to the term (say, if it was called “aberrant masculinity” or “deviant masculinity” or “atypical masculinity”) then it wouldn’t be quite so loaded, odious, or divisive. But that’s the bigger point- I think most people who use the term “toxic” with masculinity use that term because they do believe it is representative (not unrepresentative) of the bulk of what it means to have a “masculine” identity, and to be part of that identity group: I think they… Read more »