I’ll never forget being in early-twenties and sending my mom a text - Put today in the history books….I officially became a man today… My mom, being the worrier that she is, replied - Jason…I’m a little nervous as to what this means….
That was the day I received my first toolbox. It was a rite of passage in many ways of what it meant to be a man. Maybe it’s because it’s taken thirty-some-odd-years to grow a “beard” Or that I grew up in a house full of women (three sisters!). Or even that I’m not someone that does well with working with tools. But the words “man” and “Jason” typically haven’t been used in the same sentence…unless it started with Aw man….Jason….why’d you do that?
Actually, tools are probably a good metaphor for men. Tools fix things, they are tough, and they have a specific purpose or function. The same could be said about men.
Men have a specific purpose or function. Historically, this main purpose was to put food on the table by going to a job that took them away from the house for 8 to 10 hours a day. Unfortunately, men are also trying to keep that purpose. Take a look at the difference in wages between men and women and tell me I’m wrong. I’ve often joked with friends that the only reason I got married when I did was that I was graduating university with a fair amount of debt, and my wife already had a job making good money. Even as ideal as this was, it sure didn’t do anything for my alleged “man-card.” For the first couple of years I was constantly second-guessing my role in our relationship…after all…I’ve always been told that’s the “man’s” job. Ironically, the more I began to see the injustice of wage equality and the more of a feminist that I became, the more man-ly I felt within my “role" as a provider. So when (recently) I took a huge pay cut to start a new company after years of roughly making the same amount as my wife, I didn’t think twice about my role as a provider. I have many roles within my marriage now - feeding and caring for kids (including diapers), vacuuming, meal preparation, and much more. Roles that too often have been called or affiliated with “women’s work”. Newsflash guys…it’s your role too.
Men are tough. Most of the guys I know are really tough. They look tough, they have got into fights if anyone has crossed them…they’re tough. Our culture today says that men must be tough, especially when it comes to anything remotely emotional. The strength of a man in sorrow, for example, is shown in his tearless face. Tears are the sign of weakness for men. If you get hurt…you don’t cry - no, you just swear a lot. Men are so tough they won’t even ask for help. When I broke my collarbone a few years ago I was mortified that people had to come over to my house when my wife was at work just to help me with the kids. Men don’t need help…we’re tough. But why do we celebrate this stoic tearlessness? Why do we insist on maintaining our outward toughness when we’re bleeding inwardly? Why must we, as men, mask our suffering and troubles to maintain our external shell of toughness? In the last two months I’ve had the honour and privilege so see men that were so tough that they embraced their own vulnerability. They embraced their pain. They embraced their tears. A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a coffee shop reading a book about grief with tears streaming down my face. That’s tough. As men, we too often go this journey of internal bleeding alone, we seemingly pride ourselves in not need anybody. We’re tough, we got this…we don’t need anybody to get us through this. That’s not tough, that’s being a coward. Tough is knowing you can’t do this (whatever this is for you) alone, and reaching out and calling a friend. Tough is leaning on your community when you can barely stand up by yourself. Tough is entering into vulnerability and baring your inner bleeding so that pressure can be applied to the wound.
Men fix things. My best friends are ridiculously handy. They can (literally) fix anything with their hands. Recently, I was telling a friend that my son (who is 6) was going to have to go live with him this summer because I have already taught him everything I know about fixing things (which says a lot about my handiness!). For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been told that men are supposed to be fixers. You bring them a problem, they fix it. This works great, until it doesn’t. Not everything can be fixed and too often men are the ones that are trying to fix a problem that is beyond repair.
Just walk it off - men say - Leave it in the past and move forward with your life.
But not all problems are meant to be solved. I once had a friend say to me - Is this a problem to solve or a tension to navigate? And that’s exactly it. Not all problems are meant to be solved, some go deeper than that, right to our core…and those are the ones that we have to journey alongside. Those are the ones that never go away. Those are the ones that are unsolvable. When Ezra was delivered into God’s hands, I desperately wanted to fix the situation..but I can’t. My friends (both men and women) want to fix the situation or even alleviate the pain a little. But they can’t. And that’s where you can tell who is a real man and who isn’t. The real men are the ones that will step into uncertainty and not try and fix the situation. The real men will simply sit there, ask you some questions, and listen without judgement. The real men are there to help when it’s asked for because they know that it’s difficult to ask for help. It’s hard to pick up the phone, call a friend and say - I need your help, we need to talk. Because for too long, talking has been the kryptonite for men. Men get so caught up in the physical act of helping, it’s too often forgotten that there’s a real live human being beneath that exterior that also needs to be attended to.
All my life I’ve wanted to grow up to be a man and all my life I’ve felt like I never measured up. I was too emotional, I couldn’t use my hands to fix things, I watched kids while their mother worked (and no…it’s not called babysitting…it’s called parenting!), and the list goes on. They seemed to have it all - They can fix things, they are tough…nothing phases them, and they fulfil an important role. When I hear my women friends say - it’s just so difficult to find good guys out there, I get a little upset. They are out there…they just have to start redefining what being a man actually is. We, as men, need to start modifying our behaviours because those other men are giving the rest of us a bad name.
For the last thirty-some-odd years, I wanted to be like those men because that’s what I was told was to be a man. But that’s not a man. Yes, men can fix things, they can be tough, and they have a specific purpose. But they are also emotional, supportive, and loyal. I think wedding proposals are when men are truly being a man. This is one of the times in a man’s life that he truly becomes vulnerable for his partner. He gets down on one knee, takes his partner’s hand in his, and softly whispers those words - will you marry me? He doesn’t get upset that his partner starts to cry, heck maybe he even has one or two tears rolling down his cheeks. But in those moments, he’s truly a man. He makes himself vulnerable, he’s there for his partner without distraction, he’s expressing his love. We need to propose more often.