I recently taught a university undergraduate cohort class on the subject of generalist social work practice with individuals and families, touching on the challenges of adolescence. The topic met with cringes and—dare I say—a bit of agitation, as most of the students were working moms with children who were currently struggling with that developmental stage.
Throughout the evening’s discussions, it became clear that their kids’ hunger for independence, as well as the conflicts they facilitated, weighed heavily upon their minds. Worry began to crinkle around eyes. Anxiety brought voices to various states of tremulousness. Anger drove jaws to clench as if to prevent words from spilling out into the light of day they would subsequently regret. This got me thinking.
Reflecting on my life of 35 years ago wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, a side-effect of being almost 50 years old. Blasts from the past came out of nowhere all the time, though usually about things I had purposely forgotten: I had a lot of material at my fingertips. I remembered how difficult I was to raise. I knew everything and could do it all, despite all evidence to the contrary. My parents knew I was an idiot, but—per usual—I was the last to know.
To try and pinpoint when this changed was difficult. I didn’t resolve my socially-endorsed moratorium like most of my peers: I was too busy drowning in my own angst. Adulthood, however, had no explicit starting point: it happened when it happened and even then, it didn’t occur like I was taught it would. Becoming a man was more than moving out of my parents’ house and roughing it in a crappy efficiency apartment somewhere. That was just part of it. My journey was an arduous process that took time, decades of making mistakes, having patience, and learning from them, ultimately, providing me with wisdom.
Seven Steps to Becoming a Man
1. Admit you don’t know everything. Being afraid to ask for help and bulldozing through life, hoping for the best keeps you trapped in little boy mode. Options are limited when one is in this headspace and excuses begin to become second-nature. We continue to externalize our problems and blame everyone and everything outside of ourselves for the chaos in our lives. Asking for help requires reaching out to our families, peers, and—most importantly—our communities for solutions, which takes courage.
2. Start taking responsibility for the things that go wrong with your life. Living life without a safety net is hard but doing it without a clean-up crew is even harder. There is no growth in pawning off blame for things on others or circumstances: we don’t learn that way. Regardless of the problem, we have a hand in it. We contribute. If we can own up to that and see where our paths diverged, we can not only get ourselves back on course, but learn to independently navigate similar challenges in our lives, going forward. This also makes our victories our own, as well.
3. Realize that it is not all about you. The egocentrism of youth comes with a purpose—getting basic needs met: a very necessary evil. To expect an immediate shift gears that results in engaging others with empathy and intuitiveness is a tall order, but it is a necessary one. If we are able—for just a moment—to come to the realization that those around us have needs and are just as passionate about the things in their lives, as we are, we open ourselves to the concept that tending to other is important, not only for the maintenance of our own support systems, but to ensure own emotional nourishment, as well. We can’t do this—life—on our own. No one can, regardless of how much money or resources one might have access to.
4. See the big picture. Youth is the time to be selfish, to explore. This is fine, as that it the time to figure out our who we are and start laying down foundations for the future, but much like a dairy product, there is an expiration date.
Eventually, we must adopt we—not me—thinking, admitting that our behaviors reverberate across multiple levels, impacting and affecting those who are close to us. This doesn’t require the adoption of ongoing humility and self-denial; it does mean that we have to think, critically, when making, asking, “How will this impact me? How will this impact you? How will this impact our relationship?” Such an approach propels one into communal thinking. Then—and only then—can we begin to take on and understand the micro, mezzo, and macro roles that we, as men, are meant fulfill.
5. Admit to your parents that they knew what they were talking about all along (and beg your mother for her forgiveness). The moment we decide to strike out and make a go of it on our own is one of the most exciting times we will experience in our lives. Jobs, committed relationships, marriage, and children are all natural, developmental milestones we all—more or less—share. Living as an adult male can be very fulfilling. However, life inevitably will want its pound of flesh. Enter panic. We will be faced with problems that are likely not equipped to handle and that is usually when we realize that maybe all the seemingly inane things our parents tried to make us do when we were kids (e.g., chores, homework, etc.) may have had a purpose.
Maybe there was a point to all that unsolicited advice. I like to think of this as the breakthrough that forces us to see our parents for what they really are, guides, and not the nuisances we had thought them to be. In reaching this point, our relationships with them are finally able to evolve within the adult/adult context we had always wanted; thus, truly forging the path to relational independence. Sharing your insights, regarding your past foolishness, with them is important, as it brings closure to the hurts and disappointments of the past and shows them the appreciation and gratitude they deserve, plus it will mean a lot more to hear it come from your own mouth for a change.
6. Live life authentically. We are more than the sums of our experiences: we are also the narratives we have created for ourselves and others. The messages contained, therein, are dubious at best; however, if we can separate the constructive from the destructive, we can draw a pretty good blueprint by which to direct our lives. Keeping connected to the things you feel are important, such as love or career, will be crucial in establishing and maintaining a life that sustains your holistically. Breaking old paradigms is harrowing work and requires courage, but the outcome is worth the effort.
7. Pass it on. Share the wisdom gained from traveling your path to awareness with the younger generations around you—in your family, your community. Help them learn what they need to know now and prepare them for their uncertain futures. No need for them to remake the wheel.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
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