Dr. William Reese, Jr., explains how exploring five principles can help men discover and maximize their masculinity.
A man may conquer a million men in battle but one who conquers himself is, indeed, the greatest of conquerors. – Buddha
You become a man not when you reach a certain age, but when you reach a certain state of mind. – Habeeb Akande
In my seven years of clinical psychological work with men, those men defy the idea that they are less emotional than women. Context is king. In the proper environment, men are willing to bear their soul with intention. What is the intention? In the clinical setting, often is the aim of repairing a broken marriage, coming to terms with DUI or some other legal problem, and even the more and overall sense of meaning or downright … nothingness.
Both my thesis and dissertation articulated male spirituality and sexuality. One of the reasons that we perpetuate the stereotype that men are not emotional or unable to expose their true feelings is perhaps no one has honestly inquired. The dimensions from which men usually might be employed to talk or discuss their deepest thoughts are quite possibly the domains from which seem to be most competitive (e.g. sex, sports, money, etc.) While you might find this stereotypical, take a trip to your local barbershop and list the topics discussed.
Yet take a deeper look in that barbershop, you will find a few men that are not talking, not speaking up. There is a reason for that also. It might be that some men defy traditional masculine social norms and stereotypes. Find your own sense of manhood can be grueling and brutal. From a child, many men have heard the term “man-up.” This was not a term that was used while I was growing up. We often heard “boys don’t cry” or other terms that were quite disconcerting. If you were raise by a southern man you had an even double blow. Yet with every generation, we find a greater sense of discovery of what manhood is. There are seven principles that I have extrapolated from my dissertation that are helpful to a man articulating his sense of masculinity.
1. How were you reared? Was your father involved in your life (emotionally, physically?) In my work with young men, on many occasions I have heard stories of how they would cry themselves to sleep because of the absence of their father. Society has expectations from men that can be quite daunting for a young man that has not been exposed to masculine examples. I always gloried in the example my father set before me. When he worked midnights at general motors, he would wake up before leaving out the house and make a pot of black coffee. That smell would permeate the whole house. He would give me the leftover coffee that would spill over into the saucer. That was a special time every evening that I spent with my father. It might sound simple, but it was profound for me. The sense of strength and responsibility he exuded. I knew what it meant to be a son. To be groomed molded, mentored, and yes loved. And we all know that the word love can be a dangerous word when it comes to speaking of father’s relationship with son. However, it is not so much the hearing of the word; it is the outgrowth of it. A man has to feel loved from his father and each father/son dyad has to decide what that means.
2. Find your path and move in it. Move in that path fearlessly. Have you ever notice the absence of men in certain careers? What is the ration of men to women in the Day-care field? What is the ratio of men to women teaching at the elementary level? These positions are not “positions of power.” Males are not present in the day care field because society will find them “suspicious” or “weird.” Sad to say, that this is where the male presence is most needed. Socialization is what is expected of you as a man on several domains (relationship, financially, emotionally). How we handle these expectations can make or break us.
I often use the example of the “play time” that most kids had while growing up perhaps in the seventies or early eighties. In the boy’s section you had the trucks, race tracks, G.I. Joes, army men etc. Of course the girls had the opposite. They had the dolls; the princess outfits and easy bake ovens. In my psychology class, I present the question to my class, that how would a father react if he showed up at the daycare and found his son dressed up as a princess? They respond with the politically correct answers. Yet expectations of the masculine run deep. When a man feels that he does “not fit” or “not good enough” he wrestles with that and oftentimes does not receive the spiritual or psychological care to resolve those issues. There will always be expectations regarding social norms. Yet the challenge is to decide to which do you subscribe to. You have live inside your own skin as a man, therefore it is your decision alone.
3. What motivates you? What guides you? What impulses are you driven by? Most men are looking for something bigger than themselves. Regardless of what spirituality you subscribe to, if any, there is something both beyond you and within you that guides you in your journey of manhood. “Spirituality has an innate tendency to want to escape from the bounds of the real, but if spirituality is to be authentic and socially transformative, this innate tendency has to be arrested and spirituality must be politicised and linked with the social and historical process. From an intellectual perspective, any human experience is the product of its culture, so that a universalising spiritual discourse lacks credibility if it fails to engage the field of social reality. If the popular, Jung-influenced spiritual discourses are not firmly grounded in the real, they can readily, and perhaps rightly, be dismissed by hostile critics as so much froth and bubble, having little or no political consequence” This quote is striking as some have been led to believe that spirituality is private and personal. Authentic spirituality is perpetuated throughout your entire way of being in the world. It causes you to daily evolve.
4. Okay everyone fasten your seatbelt. “Every man knows that his highest purpose in life cannot be reduced to any particular relationship. If a man prioritizes his relationship over his highest purpose, he weakens himself, disserves the universe, and cheats his woman of an authentic man who can offer his full, undivided presence.” –David Deida. The masculine sense of identity also comprises, fortunately and unfortunately, a sense of identity. From early adolescence a young male seeks to discover who he is sexually. In some cases, young ladies have a point of contact for conversations with their mother regarding their sexuality which is the first menstrual cycle. In the case of the young man, perhaps he is given “the talk” by his father, but is that talk reverberated throughout his adolescent. He is left to the folly of his peers to introduce him to the realm of sexuality and often to his detriment.
For most men this will be a life-long journey. It is imperative to know yourself before inviting others into your sexual world. When we discuss Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, my students want to often interject sex as a need. Sexuality is a drive, not a need necessarily. People survive life without sexual companionship. However, a man must successfully master it. If he does not master his sexuality someone else will, and thereby control him. Sexuality is always secondary to spirituality. The greatest thing you can ever offer your lover is not sex, it is yourself.
5. Self-Respect. Always underscore that you are the man for all times and all seasons. Your worth comes not from your athletic ability, sexual prowess, and degree of intelligence. Your significance lies beyond these domains. When you decide to own your own sense of masculinity, you might hear every now and again “Man-up” yet realize that there is nothing to actually man-up on. Freedom comes through actualizing your potential. Not through the scope or lens as to how others see you. It is through how you see and perceive yourself. I am well aware that for some men, to actualize on this level means for them to activate their “feminine side.” However nothing is further from the truth. The war within can never be won until a man comes to terms with himself. The process cannot be labeled masculine or feminine. This leads to genuine respect for who you are as a man. If they do not cheer you in the basketball game, you’re still a man, If they do not cheer you in the bedroom, you’re still. a man. If your boss passes you over for the promotion, you’re still a man. Real men, if allowed to use such a term, do not beg for respect from without. It springs from within. Others are able to note this sense of confidence. It will be denoted at times as arrogance or cockiness, However, the world awaits men who know themselves and do not idly stand by and exist as yes-men.
What is magical about this? Every man wants to have his presence known and felt. It is natural. In his love relationships, his familial ties, his peers, and his co-workers. The magic comes when you realize that there is something different about you. You have your own sense of masculinity and make no apologies for. It. “To create loving men, we must love males. Loving maleness is different from praising and rewarding males for living up to sexist-defined notions of male identity. Caring about men because of what they do for us is not the same as loving males for simply being. When we love maleness, we extend our love whether males are performing or not. Performance is different from simply being. In patriarchal culture males are not allowed simply to be who they are and to glory in their unique identity. Their value is always determined by what they do. In an anti-patriarchal culture males do not have to prove their value and worth. They know from birth that simply being gives them value, the right to be cherished and loved.”
Dr. William Reese, Jr. is a limited license psychologist, professor and pastor in the Detroit Metropolis. He is the founder of the nonprofit group Manhood of Michigan which focuses on issues pertaining to men and masculinity. He is currently a student at Princeton University.
[Originally printed at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with the author’s permission]