The more I coach men and women, the deeper I dive into the modern history that informs how we got to this point. “This point” may be quite different for each of us. However, across the board there seems to be quite a lot that is not working. In the “big scheme of things,” everything is most likely working out perfectly, although the human experience of struggle shows up as otherwise. The course of the modern man has involved many twists and turns.
As a child in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I saw the “real men” as the ones who got the girls because they were tough and could fight. The “Rambo” and “Braddock” movies stood out for me, in particular, and I wanted to be like them. I was not much like them. Neither was my dad. After having been a dancer for the previous seven years, an uncle of mine pointed out that “it was about time I started doing boy stuff” when I started playing football in high school.
In addition to the action movie stars, I also looked up to professional athletes like Steve Garvey and Magic Johnson. All of these men were heroes as far as I was concerned.
Moving into my teens and twenties, I became obsessed with playing music and my idols became musicians who also got all the girls. While I did not spend much time considering gender roles, I still saw “real men” as the ones who could fight…and I still could not.
It wasn’t until I was 27 or so that the idea of “what a man was supposed to do” came up for me. My parents were both school teachers; they both worked, basically made the same amount of money, and seemed like legitimate equal partners. While my grandparents on my mom’s side were more of the “he goes to work and she cleans the house” type, my dad’s mom was a single parent who raised three children on her own through the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. My experience with people in relationships was that they just made it all work.
When I was 27, I moved in with my first real girlfriend. She made more money than I did, but we were able to split the basics. It was at this time that I started training in the martial arts because I was tired of feeling less-than as a man. We were followed home one night and I made the commitment to myself to learn how to protect myself and the woman I loved. After all, this was “being a man.” This relationship eventually ended and then I met the woman who became my wife.
During my marriage was when gender roles really became an issue. She earned considerably more money than I did, but chose love over money and believed it would be workable. It was, until career changes happened, babies came and the housing bubble burst.
We were very proactive in our relationship and spent a lot of time working with therapists and healers, and were trying very hard to understand each other. I read all of the John Gray books, such as: “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.” While his books made sense, the techniques did not really work for me and it was frustrating. My wife would say, “you’re not doing it right,” and I would think there was something wrong with her because this stuff was supposed to work. Then I discovered David Deida’s “The Way of the Superior Man.” This book really struck a chord because I believed she was always testing me and, unfortunately, it gave me a place to make her wrong instead of diving deeper into my own personal responsibility; something I did not really understand until after our marriage ended.
Gender roles aside, it was clear that there were things I needed to develop within myself to become an empowered man, things like integrity and self-sufficiency.
After my marriage ended, I was in several relationships where sometimes money was an issue, and sometimes it was not. Some tough lessons were followed by a new way of being that had me give up the notion of a partner as a safety net and look at who I wanted to be as a man. Now, being the sole provider when my kids are with me means that I am the “breadwinner,” the nurturer, the confidant, the laundry doer, the dinner-maker, the lunch-packer, the bruise-fixer and the guide on my kids’ journey into adulthood. I don’t have time for gender roles and, frankly, they now seem outdated.
As a coach, I see more and more women who avoid intimacy while more and more men want it. This would be considered a swap of gender roles, traditionally. I have noticed many leaders in sexuality have chosen to move away from “male and female” descriptors and into “divine masculine and divine feminine.” For me, even this can be problematic as it can still be associated with gender. One of the things I think is really beautiful about the LGBTQ community is that it bridges much of the gaps and lends itself to more nuance than the “traditional nuclear family” model. I don’t coach couples, or people, from their genders, but from who they are as beings, what they want and what they need.
The opposition built into the idea of “masculine and feminine” gets to be integrated, and not from a place of balance, but from a place of choice. For me, it is not about having equal parts present at all times, it is about being able to choose what energies and tools I want to utilize in any given moment; being softer and more receptive, or being focused and aggressive. From here, we truly get to be whole and complete beings with nothing missing and no holes to be filled.
As a sci-fi geek, I look to the Star Wars Extended Universe and the idea of the Gray Jedi. They are not Sith (the dark side,) but have access to those powers. Nor are they Jedi who fall in step with the Jedi Order. They are somewhere in the middle, with the ability to choose their course of action, with no shame either way.
Integration, for me, is the next step in our evolution. I mean, what could possibly be manlier than Jason Bourne running Community Circle in his kid’s first-grade class?
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