Am I a Man?

“Am I a Man?”

I’ve been pondering that question a lot lately.  Genetically speaking and in regards to reproductive organs, there is no question.  I’m XY and equipped appropriately.  I’m more wondering if I’m tough?  Have the chains which tie me to a desk day in and day out left my manliness softened  like bread left in the rain?

I’ve done manly things.  I’ve shot many guns.  I’ve created small fires (and a few medium sized ones).  I’ve fought.  I’ve camped out.  I’ve had my jaw dislocated in a mosh pit.  I’ve written rock songs.  I’ve watched all the Die Hard movies.  I don’t flush and I leave the lid up.  But, am I really tough?  Can I handle being “a man?”

I’m really glad I never joined the military.  Some of the politics behind recent military actions are not my favorite, and yet, I ask myself, “Am I tough enough to be a soldier?”  I’m reasonably sure that I am, or with some effort could be physically tough enough, but mentally/emotionally, could I do it?  Could I stand in the face of death?  Could I hear bullets zip by my head and still complete the task at hand?  I recently read ONE BULLET AWAY, in which Nathaniel Fick asks himself if he is tough enough and eventually finds himself as a Recon Marine blasting through Iraqi towns in a Humvee.

I don’t get many bullets at my desk, despite its location in Baltimore.  I’m too old to join the military.

Am I tough enough to run into a burning building to fight the blaze?  Am I tough enough to intervene in an abusive situation?  Am I tough enough to do chest compressions rather than watch slack-jawed?  Could I stand up or would I fall to pieces?  Do I have what it takes to be a man?

I’m not the only one asking these questions.  I’m not the only one who wonders if the nature of the modern workplace is not what was intended for men (or possibly even humans…I can only speak for men).  My friend John Daubert and I discussed this when we both applied for Federal law enforcement jobs.  My cousin-in-law, Adrian, and I were talking about this on Saturday while nursing sore shoulders (from shooting clays) in a hot tub (that’s manly right? Two dudes nursing sore shoulders in a hot tub?).  Nathaniel Fick asked it.  If they are honest, I bet a lot of dudes who may read this have or are asking this.  Am I tough?  Am I a man?  Is this what a man is supposed to be?  Am I what a man is supposed to be?  Could I do it?  Do I have what it takes?  (“It” being any number of things)

And yet, though I often, openly, sometimes painfully struggle with this question, I also agree with B. Hathaway in his sense of I Am a Manly Man.

My thoughts: “I stand for my family.  I fight for my wife and my daughter.  Intellectually, spiritually, sacrificially through putting my own needs and desires second to theirs.  I know I am a man, but am I what a man should be?  Am I tough?” It is very strange not to be able to easily say, “Yes, obviously.”

And let me end with one thought about what is NOT manly, what is not tough: promiscuity and infidelity.  This has come up in movies and in conversation a few times recently.  There is this idea that dudes are supposed to sew their seed liberally, jumping from “lover” to “lover” to prove their manhood.  But this isn’t tough.  This is weakness.  This is an inability to control yourself.  This is being too darn weak to keep your promises.  It’s easy to have an affair.  It’s TOUGH to stay in love, foster love and maintain love with the one you’ve committed to loving.  It’s easy to skip from girlfriend to girlfriend or get freaky physical.  It’s TOUGH to keep yourself pure and keep yourself wholly, completely, utterly devoted to one person, even if you don’t know who that person is yet.   How amazing would that be?  To share everything with just one person.  To pursue perfect union with that person with no comparatives, no expectations, no “but with thems;” just wonder, practice, pursuit, perseverence, persistance…how amazing? 

Oh my God, that is tough.  But it is good.

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8 thoughts on “Am I a Man?

  1. I’m a little confused by this post. You make clear that your definition of manliness is distinct from the cultural one that includes promiscuity and infidelity, yet you don’t differentiate it from the one that equates violence with masculinity? That strikes me as seriously inconsistent, even if you were only “joking” about the fact that you got into fights and that makes you manly. Violence is just as much of a weakness–giving into the primal urge to retaliate. Turning the other cheek, now that’s some fucking guts right there.

  2. For the record, I don’t really understand “manly” as a virtue. It’s not a negative thing, but it’s just like, I wouldn’t be concerned about “Am I white enough?” or “Am I blue-eyed enough?” That’s a whole ‘nother deal though…

    1. Intruiging questions, Ryan. Of course, culturally, we place a lot of value in “manliness” and “femininity” and yet the various characteristics we use to define those labels have been (& should continue to be) challenged. And as we challenge/redefine what it means to be a man or a woman, we may discover that some of those qualities are important for both women and men. Are girls being raised to be courageous, emotionally tough, physically strong, loyal to friends, considerate of their partners? Are boys being raised to be polite, virtuous and chaste, deferrential, beautiful and charming? Should they be? I think there’s value in staking out our right to label ourselves manly men and feminine women, while at the same time refusing to conform to societal expectations of what that is supposed to mean. Your comments and this post have given me a lot to chew on.

  3. I mean, the qualities you are rightfully extolling–fidelity, courage, sacrifice, toughness–are they not admirable in a woman also?

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