The Man I Was: Five Things I Taught Myself About Masculinity

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A Call for Submissions — Men, we want to know: Tell us five things you have learned about yourself in the course of being a man.

As you mature, you begin to take stock of your life. Hopefully, you have no regrets and you start to figure out that with the time you have left, what really matters? Each day above ground is precious, My Uncle used to say, “I woke up this morning, looked down and didn’t see a toe tag, it’s going to be a great day.” and that is my philosophy.

Growing up as a child in New York City, specifically the Bronx during the time that NYC went bankrupt, politicians and police were constantly caught up in sting operations exposing corruption, gang activity was rampant, 42nd Street was the capital of sin and pornography you get an interesting take on what masculinity was, and how it’s evolved. A lot of hyper masculine men are well…dead. Too much partying, too many risks, abandoned families, you name it. I chose the balance, the yin and yang of masculinity that is flexible and ever changing with the time that we live in and the future we desire for the next generation.

In Chinese philosophy and religion two principles, one negative, dark, and feminine (yin) and one positive, bright, and masculine (yang) whose interaction influences the destinies of creatures and things are the basis of what I believe masculinity has evolved into.

Amongst men, some of us are very simple: feed us, bed us and we can handle the rest, that was the past. Men don’t have Oprah, women do and while peeking over the shoulders of the women we care for, or picking up that “O  Magazine” that was strategically placed in the bathroom, we have been forced to start asking ourselves the existential questions of life: purpose, existence, was my journey pleasure or pain for those I have come into contact with?

In this self-examination of my own journey, I have realized many things that I taught myself or internalized during my walk on this side of the existential plane. And while masculinity is defined as virility, manliness, maleness, machismo, vigor, ruggedness…there is a blend that I believe works for myself and many other men:

  • It’s OK to desire Love and Family
  • It’s OK to want sex and lots of it
  • It’s OK to protect your interest by any means necessary
  • It’s OK to not look back, you’re not perfect
  • It’s OK to question and change midstream

Let me break it down for you:

It’s OK to desire love and family.

Back in the day, it was not something “manly” to desire a family, love and a home. It was something you were expected to do at some point and the woman “caught” you.  But, it’s proven by scientists to add to the longevity and quality to your life. Besides having an innate desire to be a breadwinner and support your family financially, every decent man desires to watch his family grow and prosper. We want to watch our daughters become incredible young women, and our sons be better men than we ever could be. We want to provide physical and emotional support to the people that we “protect” and watch them grow and guide them. It’s just normal human nature not usually attributed to us as men. While we grow into manhood, we are usually discovering our male prowess. In that journey, you sometimes, carelessly, recklessly do damage to the women in your life that love you. I have learned the “value” of love and why each experience should be nurtured. Being an unselfish lover in all things (not just in the bed, while that’s a great start) but in what you are willing to do for your mate, sometimes it’s things that you may not necessarily like to do, but you do it anyway, without complaining because you love the person that you have decided to be in a relationship with. So, to want to have a family, to be in love, and to nurture your family? I believe it makes you a better man. It guides your decision making in work because you ask yourself “what would my family think of this action”, or “what would my wife think if she knew I did this?”. It’s good to have a moral center and being in love, and having a family you call your own that you also grow with? It only makes you a far better man than you would be alone. Just ask Barack Obama.

It’s OK to want sex, and lots of it.

If you have read anything I ever wrote, you will know that I believe Dr. Jed Diamond walks on water. He essentially freed my mind with one statement that I wish every man can read and understand from their first conscious thought. I literally felt the burden lift when I read this: “So, what do men want more than sex? We’ve all heard that women need to feel loved to have sex, but men need to have sex to feel loved. Let’s look more deeply at what it is exactly that men are getting when they get sex. Sure, there is the physical pleasure, but there is a deeper need that is being satisfied. I call it the need for a safe harbor. The world of men is a world of competition. On the most basic level, males compete with other males for access to the most desirable females. Males make the advances and females decide which males they will accept. Getting taken into her body gives us a sense of peace and homecoming that goes way beyond simple sexual pleasure.

Sometimes due to religion, upbringing, depression, or other things that cause challenges in life you may encounter a spouse or mate who doesn’t like, want or desire to have sex with you (yes Alpha Males it WILL happen at some point). Know within yourself while you attempt to work through the issue that it’s OK to feel as you do. It’s OK to desire to touch and hold and have lots of sex with the person you love. Work it out if you can, try your best to understand what she may be feeling and try to work it out together, and If you can’t? Seriously? Don’t stay in it….you’re sacrificing your quality of life and you deserve better. Embrace your inner caveman, it’s OK to be the horny little devil you are.

It’s OK to protect your interest by any means necessary.

If it matters to you, if it drives you, go get it…whatever it is. People may think you’re crazy if you have a singular focus or dream and people may doubt you, criticize you.  If you have rationalized this action in your mind? Then go do it and screw the chorus because they aren’t doing your thing, they don’t want you to do it because they fear your success. When people have said to me, “no, you can’t do this thing…” it’s like waving a red flag at a bull. If you tell me “no” because of a weakness that you perceive in me? It’s the “yes” I have been searching for and nothing can stop me. Failure then becomes the detour, because when I am done and I have success in doing it, then I get to prove you wrong about me. Steve Jobs said it best:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. 

If you live your life and don’t grab a hold of your dreams and limit yourself based on other people’s opinion of your life? You’re wasting your own valuable time and what could potentially be your great contribution to the human condition. As for me? I did what I thought was best for me, what was fun, what got me up happily at 4 am to be in my office by 6:30 or 7 am and attack the world. I spent time as an artist, a photographer, in a law practice, advisor to entrepreneurs, as an entrepreneur, in fashion and mass merchandising, as a management consultant to new and emerging businesses for the Federal and State governments. I have had a blast, I am good at what I do, and my knowledge and brain power are unmatched in what I know. And I know just enough about a lot of things to be dangerous. Grab the brass ring of your dreams, because no one will do it for you. Demand what you believe to be yours. Remember the words of Frederick Douglas: “Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did, and it never will.”

It’s OK to not look back, you’re not perfect

We are not perfect beings. We will make major mistakes and sometimes screw it up royally. We will FUBAR some things on a massive scale (FUBAR = F****d up beyond all recognition). We are men, when we screw up we do so on a professional level so don’t try this at home. And guess what, it’s OK If you screw up (don’t lie, you breathe, you have screwed up). It’s part of life and it’s part of what makes us better men especially if we can admit it and learn from it. Screw ups can be anything from infidelity (the little head telling the big head what to do) or something minor. Just don’t make a habit of doing the same screw-up too many times. We are imperfect creatures and each mistake, while intentional or not can be a learning experience and a chance for growth. Use your screw-ups wisely. Do not be hard on yourself either, its life…you will survive. Acceptance means that you know, regardless of what happened, that there is something bigger than you at work. It also means you know that you are okay and that you will continue to be okay.

If you screw up, own it. There is a reason why the windshield on your car is the biggest and widest piece of glass on your car, and why the drivers rear-view mirror is the smallest glass on the car. Because what you deem is behind you, is what is of least importance. What is important is where you are going, not where you have been. It doesn’t make you any less of a man to apologize or to screw something up. It makes you more of a man because you’re exercising integrity in admitting the error by owning it without fear.

It’s OK to question and change midstream.

Part of life is asking questions, and sometimes you don’t get the answer that you want. In some instances, you may not get the answer at all, or the answer is in your past. Never stop asking the questions. Never regret digging deeper into something that matters to you whether it’s a profession, a person, a cause, a need. Ask the hard questions and if people refuse to answer, evade or lie to you, then consider that you have also arrived at an answer. Change in any iteration is good. Change provides clarity, its open, honest and new. Embrace change and instead of bitching and moaning about the world, change it…one person at a time starting with the man in the mirror. Every day is a new opportunity to get it “right” no matter what the “it” is. Change is a wave, you can either ride with it or against it. In life I have learned (even when it’s painful) the universe is in charge and you go where it takes you because it removes the weight of decision-making and it will take you to your calling, or in some instances the person you were truly meant to be with. Take the course correction no matter what it is and if it knocks you down? Catch your breath and keep going even if you don’t know the final destination, after all, isn’t that what men do? What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.

Masculinity in its clinical definition isn’t just brute strength, it’s just a small part of what it means to be a man. Masculinity redefined is how you place yourself in the world. It’s how you decide who, and where you want to be. It’s how you rise, it’s how you lead others, it’s your presence, how you direct yourself, how you live in your truth and stand with integrity. It’s how you protect the weak, how strong you love and understand that any vulnerability that you may possess is actually your super power. Masculinity understands that there is a time to be forceful and domineering, but that there is also a time to pull back, to wait, be quiet and thoughtful. Masculinity is the self-defined truth of what gives you comfort in your journey as a man and how you choose to define yourself, not what others define for you. Masculinity begets responsibility to yourself and to others. My favorite quote from Iyanla Vanzant speaks my truth, “A man who is not accountable to anyone…is a danger to himself”. I hold myself accountable to the people I love and that I matter to. I seek to improve upon that everyday, and I do so in honesty and compassion. The journey has been good, and there is more to come.

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