“When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
For a good deal of my adult life, I have come back to this scripture verse. Unfortunately, I realize now that it was often from a place of pride while looking at other men my age who are trapped in addictions or childish pursuits. After practicing therapy for seven years, I now share it from a place of love and righteous anger.
Our culture has a crisis of manhood. I don’t have a thorough explanation for how we got here, causes, etc., but I do know what I see as a therapist and experience in the present day. Today, I want to share with you some of the things I see as misconceptions of what manhood and masculinity are, and what I believe true manhood really requires.
There is an all-or-nothing mentality regarding manhood. Either you cross that threshold or you don’t. In our society there is a dearth of manhood rituals, so sadly, each man is forced to gauge for himself individually if he has arrived. This often leads to insecurity and feelings of inadequacy and defeat. As I remind my children and clients, there will always be someone out there who is better than you at any given task or talent. There are men who are stronger, wealthier, smarter, better at conversation, and more athletic, so why should I even bother? Most men do not admit this simple fact and when they are confronted with someone who is better than them in any particular area, this provides proof that they are insufficient and not enough. This state of defeat is then adopted as a default, but no one wants to live here. Because no one can take this for long, we look for ways to escape.
To escape that feeling of inadequacy, men play video games and view porn, not just for the dopamine rush, but to feel desired, powerful, accomplished, or famous. Our desire to impact our world in a positive manner goes unmet in the real world, so we turn to other means we have developed that are just plain easier. Some can even seem like forms of legitimate connection, such as our identity being wrapped into a musician, sports team, or social media account, but these never satisfy and are poor substitutes for legitimate purpose and connection.
What I hate is not merely the ways in which we flee emotionally from our families, duties, and responsibilities but how more men I work with are leaving their families through divorce or abandoning their families physically. They fall victim to the fantasy they have created that it will be better somewhere else. As men, we are called to step out of the life we imagine and do the work on the life we live and the world we encounter, and that begins with the world between our ears.
Last year, Katie and I rebuilt our deck. We received a ton of help from her family, and I have been greatly humbled by my inability to contribute, as I am not gifted in building or construction. But this shouldn’t take away my sense of manhood. Too often as men, we see failure or insufficiency in one aspect of manhood as an indictment of our entire manhood. But we are not one-dimensional, whether that be as athletes, businessmen, or even as fathers. We have one source of manhood from God, but that brings forth a unique mixture of personality, gifts, and strengths, with which we impact areas of our families and cultures. Do not forget that.
Let me get something straight. The problem is not that men desire to do great things and be great. We are sons of a Creator Father, and we want to emulate that. We want to create, build and improve, but our expectations and understanding of ourselves are unrealistic. Being a man and being enough doesn’t mean I know how to do everything and am the best at what I do, but that I bring something positive into the world. In his autobiography, Jeff Tweedy, lead singer and guitarist of the band Wilco, spoke about trying to create something that wasn’t in existence at the beginning of the day no matter how big or small. I believe this is the heart of our desire to create, in the image of our Father.
In my opinion, more than anything else, manhood is about not giving up. The fallacy that we need to be the best at everything or that we are not enough is a lie that tries to motivate us to give up. Like holiness, manhood is a process of growth. As long as we are growing and able to meet the challenges presented to us in a flexible manner, we are successful. What is the alternative? It is acting like a child and melting down every time we are faced with something that we do not like or feel as though we cannot handle. Don’t be that guy. In the scripture above, St. Paul is not speaking of being a jack-of- all-trades, he is speaking of embracing trials, sufferings, and dare I say, joys, with openness and maturity.
So let’s adopt a more patient view of our masculinity. Can we look at it as a journey, where I am aware of my weaknesses and remedying them by asking for help? How do we try to improve upon areas that need to be addressed, instead of giving up? Can we show mercy to ourselves and those around us? This posture and mindset, where we are creators, brothers on a journey, where our mettle is tested in an ongoing journey, is the mentality that will lay the groundwork for transforming our manhood and our humanity into something strong and beautiful.
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