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I grew up with a subconscious understanding of what being a man should be—and what he should represent.
We live in a culture that I think has drastically changed men’s perception, and I believe there is a lack of real role models for young men today.
The definition of what a man should be differs significantly from person to person.
Our house has a strong head figure (my father), so growing up, I’ve felt there is a male-dominant dynamic. My father was my first idol, as with most kids. His serious demeanor and the way he never complained about his responsibilities stuck with me.
I would witness every morning how my older brothers and other young men from the area would all clamber into my father’s van and head to work for him. This stood out for me, and when it came to my friends and me, I always felt the necessity to emulate my father and take the lead.
Over the years, I realized through jokes and other feedback how controlling I became. As I grew older, I started to work for my father. So, from being my first role model, he then became my first manager. In reflection, he impacted me quite deeply.
My father didn’t discuss too much openly or give advice; my mom was always there for that stuff, and she did her best to keep us on the right path. We all suffered from different issues in our individual ways—relationships, grieving from loss, and bullying being some.
I’ve witnessed my brothers and also my close friends grow into the men they are today. This (and observing other male acquaintances and colleagues) has me now questioning the stark contrast I see between my generation and the younger males I encounter.
As mentioned, in my household, masculinity and “being a man” represented the strong, quiet type.
Aggression was normal and was a cover for other emotions. It was expected that you’d stand firm and that the threat of a physical confrontation was part of the argument process. I started to aspire to be more like each of my older brothers in different phases. I’d even created a little reputation for myself based on my level of aggression and seriousness. I joined boxing and the gym to further complement this alter ego.
Strangely, as I continued down this pathway, my mother would say disparagingly I wasn’t her baby son anymore. She said it often enough for me to begin to resent her in a way. Unbeknown to me, she was right. I lost some good friends and broke down positive relationships.
My masculinity found a whole new level when I found my newest role model, Tony Soprano, the protagonist of the HBO show “The Sopranos.” I thought he was the ideal alpha male. He was physically strong and the leader of his pack. He controlled everything with an iron fist, and this epitomized masculinity to me.
While my friends studied for degrees in college, I was studying Tony Soprano.
His mannerisms, the way he confronted obstacles, and how he dealt with objections. Respect became an important word in my vocabulary. I used to think that I warranted this respect without ever earning it from anyone. If somebody looked at me too long, it was a sign of disrespect. This character flaw stayed part of me longer than I care to mention. However, all it took was an encounter with someone who reacted similarly to how I did to see its perverse nature and absurdity.
My role models in life were all similar in portraying masculinity—it was a show of strength and power.
Someone told me he enjoyed being in prison as the routine and surrounded by like-minded people suited him. I told him it was a ridiculous conclusion. To my surprise, he said I didn’t understand because I was never there long enough.
Usually, when someone casts doubt on our opinion for experiential reasons, we agree, but this was just plain insanity. These types of extremes of macho thinking brought me to reflect on my own thought process. I had been suffering from anxiety, and during the worst bouts, my patience would run rather thinly, so I reacted I had been suffering from anxiety, and during the worst bouts, my patience would run rather thinly, so I reacted negatively or with an aggressive outrage. Also, I was a man now, no longer the small, younger brother, and would threaten my older brothers if I deemed it necessary. It caused more anxiety and a sense of sadness internally. I slowly realized that even my family began to see me as an aggressive entity that was better off not to be disturbed.
I then discovered reading.
I started reading about the great achievements of men like Hannibal and how he marched from Carthage to Italy through the Alps and Alexander the Great and his conquest to claim the Middle East. I could read all day about the exploits of generations gone. I used to imagine paying witness to all of this in my mind. I would converse with my heroes—Machiavelli and George Orwell—in my minds eye and ask their opinions on my own personal dilemmas.
From there I began dabbling in philosophy and books about the mind. I remember reading Nietzsche’s book, and I thought his thought process was iconic. He spoke of death and evil and how we must all overcome the bad within us. Then Freud who believed that we are mere products of our upbringing, especially our relationship to our parents.
Carl Jung spoke the loudest to me as he saw all problems as a mathematical equation to be solved, “In all chaos, there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”
I went deeper down the rabbit hole to find philosophy, my favorite being Henry David Thoreau. He left all society to find nothing but himself in the isolation of living alone in a cabin on Walden Lake, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
This road of discovery brought me happiness that I had not realized could live between the pages of books. I began to delve deeper into the mechanics behind it all and read book after book on the brain. I read about how the subconscious and conscious brains function and the purpose of the different parts of our brain like the amygdala and hippocampus. I learned about the sensory messaging system and how it incorporates our gut-brain, to what we eat and how food can ultimately dictate how we feel.
Of course, where can you go after this but upwards to spirituality? So, I read Alan Watts and about religions like Buddhism. This transcended me deeper into the chasms of my mind. Watts talks of the shortness of life and how that is a gift and not a curse.
I now had a sense of understanding that I no longer was the person I had been. Not because I floated above myself, but because I sourced the knowledge to defeat its purpose in my life. I no longer needed aggression like the Machiavellian Lion to fight off the Wolves. I had become Fox and now had tools to evade the traps.
This all being said, the mask does slip when tired or anxious, revealing my default mode as the hypermasculine version of myself. However, I do consciously endeavor to avoid these occurrences. I much rather delve into the motives behind my actions and the other in any debate. I try always to end things amicably as I now realize the mental tole that hate creates. I can honestly say I now look to role models with a heightened consciousness, such as George Orwell, Marcus Aurelius, Leonardo Da Vinci, and even modern-day people such as Robert Greene and Daniel Goleman.
We are all products of our environment, friends, family, and partners—all have their parts in our thinking.
So for the next generation of young men, I genuinely fear the worst, not to be catastrophic or patronizing–but they have a tough ride. With the social media culture of “Insta-famous influencers” living their best life, kids have a lot to live up to.
The holidays, cars, women, and lifestyles of all these guys on social media and reality television may be hard to disengage as I did. I found books, but in a world of distraction, I can see how it would be hard for people to find time to read about Stoicism or Karl Marx.
Worryingly they have those “lads” from Love Island to emulate. Not to be harsh, but I cannot understand the fascination with this drama-infused “lads culture.” Obviously, the lifestyle I experienced didn’t induce enlightenment. However, there was still the construct of the male figurehead that prided working and family bonds.
I speak of masculinity and of being a man because I know nothing of the opposite. I have only ever been a man and would never assume to speak of being a woman. I have walked in my shoes for 30 years and have witnessed a shift in mankind.
I am part of the last generation before the mobile phone, and coronavirus aside, we have already lived through one of the significant transformations of human nature. Never will we see a reversal of this pattern. Man is presently in tune with his global counterparts on a daily basis. We live connected to not only friends and family but to men everywhere.
Our mental well-being could be at risk. There is a lack of real role models for young men because of everything masculine being based on the facade of fake social media lives. We are the advertisers of a life that we do not have, the composers of false lifestyles, the heroes of fake stories.
Furthermore, to be a man is somewhat downplayed sometimes as the easier gender. I would argue that any gender has its own complex challenges to overcome. I feel something needs to be said about the male of today and what being a man is. There is no one description to fit all, even if broken down to extroverted and introverted men, for example or men who lead with masculinity and femininity or contrarily.
I would like to see someone in the world take center stage and have this difficult conversation about the perverse consequences on us as individuals from the new worldwide online connection. I consider myself strong-willed, but I can’t deny the fact that it’s sometimes too easy to become absorbed by our phones, losing hours of this short life we have.
“You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.” ~ Seneca
How we ingest masculinity from the world around us is no small consequence—it is your daily fulfillment, the basis of your life, and in some cases, a matter of life or death.