It’s Man Week and I thought I’d share some of my experiences and thoughts on masculinity. I’m mostly going to speak from personal experience because I’m not sure if my understanding of masculinity is universal. I suspect that it might be but I’m not going to be that presumptuous. Maybe Man Week can help me sort that out!
Growing up without a dad
My Dad left when I was pretty young. My mum, my sister and I were living in Darwin and he called up one day and said that he was in Sydney. Won’t be coming back. At the time I didn’t think this meant he was gone from my life completely, he just wouldn’t be living with us but “he can still come over can’t he, Mum?”. From then on it was pretty much just me, Mum and my sister.
It’s true that growing up without a father figure denies you direct, everyday contact with a role model, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not surrounded by the proposition of masculinity in just about every part of your life. If you can’t look within your own family you can turn to chaps like Jason Bourne or Tom Hanks from Sleepless in Seattle. Dr. Karl. Culturally we’re almost drowned in artefacts that define masculinity for us and it’s not hard to get some cookie-cutter idea of what a man is, or should be.
In some ways growing up without a Dad can make life even less confusing. Instead of learning from someone else, trying to follow your Dad’s massive footprints on the beach, you become more independent and you have to take everything that is being thrown at you and make some kind of sense of it by yourself. You’re forced to decide what to take stock of, what to discard and in the process you get some kind of idea of what a man is meant to be and what kind of man you would like to become.
When you grow up with women your idea of masculinity comes from the female perspective, which I think is a good thing given that the female is the counterpoint to the male and as a young man I can say that just about everything I’ve done in my life, stupid or otherwise, has been the result of female influence. And I don’t mean this in some macho “I lead with my dick” way, but in more of a holistic Yin and Yang kind of way.
Wrestling with your ego
A big part of my journey in to manhood was defined by the struggle I had with my ego. Ego is central to masculinity and in my opinion is one of the big barriers men have to overcome when trying to live up to this ideal of a decent man. It’s a personal journey and you have to learn what ego is, how to control it and when to let to run a muck. My journey began in my teenage years and lasted all the way through until I was about 24 and in my third year of University. I’m not willing to say I’ve overcome all the negativism of ego, but I’m much further along than I used to be and I don’t think it rules me in the way it used to.The story is partly chronicled in an online journal I kept, one that I hope never sees the light of day. When I look back on some of the things I wrote about about uni, life away from home, girls, love, mateship etc. I cringe, but in a weird way, writing down and sharing my experience with strangers really helped me. I’m in the place I am because of that journal.
Having one bad role model is important
This sounds a bit nuts, but my Dad was shit and he wasn’t around and he didn’t live up to this idea of what a man should be and having that kind of bad role model in your life really helps to you to understand what it is to actually be a man. I don’t want this to sound like a Dad bashing paragraph and I’m not after sympathy, but I knew that he didn’t feel any sense of responsibility to his family, he wasn’t brave and his values were all out of shape. If you have a problem to solve, sometimes the best place to start is with the solution. Conversely I knew that if I wanted to be a decent man all I had to do was start with a bad man and work backwards.
Having such a strong desire to be a good man was always kind of a ‘fuck you’ to my Dad. I can be a good person, a man and successful and I can do it without you. Some of this anger is still there but I’ve mostly let it go.
Gen. Y Man
Sounds like some sleek clothing label (which, oddly, is appropriate) but I’m talking about my male contemporaries and their place in the world. Boomers, Xers and everyone else seem so eager to define Generation Y and to be honest, it can get a little annoying. According to their definition of an entire generation we actually posses some qualities that are out of sync with the standard idea of masculinity. Gen Y can’t commit to anything, are flakey, move around a lot and stereotypically the men are more effeminate than previous generations. Instead of saving for a home we buy iPods, eat out heaps and get drink a shit load of cocktails. Gen Y also have a different set of values compared to previous generations and I think this is resulting in a rejection of some of the ideas traditionally associated with masculinity. I can’t wait to see what future-man looks like. Maybe Matt Corby will be our next PM.
I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it means to be a man and I hope it’s something I have to strive for the rest of my life. It’s true that men need to lose some of the shit they carry about with them and learn to talk to each other. About life, football, ladies, whatever. I think Man Week rules and I’ve loved reading what my fellow men have to say about being men. Man!
Oh and just to prove I do have a sense of humor, I’ve included a video that might teach you all a little more about Gen Y.