“Laugh, deeply, from your gut, at the absurdity of the world and at your own imperfections.”
There have been times in my life when the question of manhood has been a great muddle. It’s true that my father missed the mark of a healthy male role model by a canyon-wide distance. He was a gun-toting alcoholic, who philandered, verbally and physically abused his sons and dishonored his wife.
As a boy striving desperately to become a man, I looked outside our house for examples of manhood. Given my own limitations, most of my searching was in the wrong places; locker rooms, barrooms and hockey rinks.
It wasn’t that these places never contained worthy men: it was more that my narrow definition of what it meant to be a man was wrong-headed: a man is physically strong, athletic, a fighter—tough who can also hold his liquor/drugs and of course can conquer women sexually. I held these false ideals from my adolescence into my twenties and did not consider other qualities as “manly”.
As I approached my thirties, my boyish notions of manhood started to collapse.
Divorce, addiction and my own fledgling ineptitude as a father necessitated the authorship of a new multi-dimensional idea of being a man.
Alcohol and drugs had depleted my financial, emotional and spiritual resources. I was no longer an athlete, had a gut even. I was ashamed of how I treated women and felt like failure in most aspects of my life. One dimensional, purely sexual relationships left me guilty, sad and empty. I was unloved and was afraid to love others.
On the heels of my divorce and as I began to get clean from my addictions, I entered therapy. It was in that place, with a strong woman, that I began to rid myself of the old paradigm of manhood. There, I learned about emotional/mental toughness and integrity. There, I learned about love in the broadest sense of the word.
I learned the lessons I wished my father has taught me:
- Don’t be emotionally stilted. Talk about your fears, your scars and your sadness. Don’t denigrate others for doing so.
- Value your inner strength, not your muscularity. The muscle between your ears will determine much more than the bulge in your arms. How you deal with adversity, failure and defeat defines you much more than how many pounds you can heft or how fast you can throw a baseball. These things are fine, but should not be idolized.
- Know that respect and fear are two very different things. A man lives to be respected and loved.
- Care about your family, your community and the larger world around you. Leave things better than you found them. Know that there is more to life than personal gain.
- It’s ok to defend yourself and those you love. Don’t look for conflict but defend yourself, your family and those unable to fend for themselves.
- If you’re lucky enough to become a father, involve yourself in all aspects of raising your children. Change a diaper, make a meal and clean up. Provide financially yes, but also nourish your children with love, discipline and structure.
- Strive to learn no matter your age. Know that you will never come close to knowing it all.
- Take care of your body, no matter your age. If you don’t use it, you can lose it.
- Don’t need hit your children. Your authority comes from how you carry yourself. When you need to discipline your children, step up and devise a thoughtful and intelligent way to do it. Your children will respect you, trust you and follow your lead because they know it is in their best interest to do so.
- Laugh, deeply, from your gut, at the absurdity of the world and at your own imperfections.
- Don’t be afraid to be different. Don’t go along just to get along. Have your own vision of things even if it doesn’t fit the conventional wisdom in the room.
- Admit when you’re wrong and apologize when being wrong has hurt others. Have a a moral center that guides you. When you stray from it, take responsibility.
- Be loyal . Don’t abandon your friends during adversity. Know that adversity visits us all sooner or later and that friends sustain us through it.
- Mentor others with patience, respect and good will. The success of those you’ll mentor is deeply rewarding. Remember and give credit to those who have taught you. This is how the world progresses. We do not exist in a vacuum and nobody succeeds without the help of others.
- Your word is your bond. Do what you say you’ll do. If there is an obstacle to that, take full ownership for not getting it done. Be accountable.
- Love your partners, in the fullest sense of the word. This entails respecting them, being honest with them, appreciating them and existing with them as full partners, themselves. Don’t be afraid of love, don’t denigrate, hit, or abuse those you love. Remember that real love is about more than sex.
- Above all, love yourself. Self-love helps you to love and take care of others. The value of your life is in loving others and being loved in return.
Also by Tim: A Long-Cast Shadow: The Son Laments, A Father Learns,
Photo: Gerry Thomasen