My mom and I fled from Georgia, and my abusive dad, when I was five. We packed a large trunk and got on a train to New York City. I remember how scared I was pulling into Grand Central Station knowing somewhere deep inside there was no real male figure to protect me, nor was there ever going to be.
Growing up in New York without a dad was difficult, to say the least. I was constantly searching for male role models on the street as a young child and teenager. Mostly what I found were men with a lot of archaic and dysfunctional points of view about manhood and masculinity. These ran the gamut and included, “it’s every man for himself,” “real men don’t cry,” and “win at all costs.” Eventually, out of survival, and more insidiously, seeking acceptance, I adopted what many would call an “only the strong survive” mentality. A kind of conglomerate of all the above mentioned points of mentality. I was a big kid and later became a very large man. I stand at six feet, two inches tall, and I weigh two hundred thirty pounds.
So, I succeeded in bullying and forcing my way through life.
A failed marriage, no real friendships, and drug and alcohol abuse didn’t even wake me to the possibility of change. It really wasn’t until I started to age out of the ability to dominate physically that I ran into the proverbial wall.
I was lost, despondent, and even suicidal. Basically, the mentality of dominance had left me shattered and irrelevant. I realized that the fear from the day my mom and I pulled into Grand Central Station all those years ago had never been overcome. It was very subtly running my life and it was quite pervasive. Looking at the next half of my life seemed impossible from that perspective. There was no way to keep up the facade of dominance as I grew weaker physically, and I was terrified.
I had to realize a new way of being if I was going to survive and keep moving forward. I had to learn to be a more Loving, compassionate, and kinder man.
Manhood can be a tricky thing for some of us. We get inundated with messages that say the only way to do it right is to be emotionless and walled off, as not to get taken advantage of, and to use very subtle forms of violence and manipulation to get our way (or make our way through). I think deep down inside I always knew this wasn’t enough for me. I was infinity more dynamic and craved more freedom. Frankly, I realized the narrowness of it all was nothing short of insanity.
My first great mentor taught me, “As men, we will eventually fail in every endeavor if we are not expressing Love and all its qualities as best as we can in every moment.” Those words stirred something up in me. I immediately went to work looking for ways to ensure that I could certify forward progress into a new, improved man. One who could deal with my deep insecurities more effectively.
I discovered three important things that I’d like to share:
1- I believe it’s imperative for us to have a deep spiritual practice. One that gives us some insight into the true nature of the Divine so we can pattern ourselves after it rather than the flawed perspectives of masculinity passed down through the generations and reinforced by trauma. Love is full of qualities that can reside in our consciousness harmoniously. Those of strength, courage, compassion, and gentleness.
2- I found that it’s important for us to have some sort of daily physical practice that gives a connection to our bodies in a way that helps us realize and cultivate innate qualities such as balance, strength, flexibility, upright posture, agility, and focus. I recommend activities such as yoga, martial arts, weight training, and running – individual or group activities that are non-competitive, and if they take place at a training facility, that its mission is grounded in such foundational principles as cooperation, honesty, integrity, and self-discipline (as opposed to reinforcing the ‘only the strong survive’ competitive mindset). When we feel confident in our bodies, it tends to have a profound impact on our ability to remain centered and be less reactionary. That has definitely been the case for me.
3- I believe it’s equally as important for us to be involved in some kind of artistic endeavor. It can include, but is not limited to, painting, music, gardening, poetry, and photography. It can be something you keep private, or something that is shared with others. I’ve found that one of the best ways to be present and effectively deal with some of the more difficult challenges we face as men is to have some sort of creative outlet that allows us to safely explore some our more gentler qualities as well as effectively dealing with the overriding fear of mortality that always seems to make me very angry.
Over time, I’ve learned that manhood is not just suffering in silent disparity but a very fluid and flexible expression of Love and intelligence. One that is constantly working towards internal progress and progression. Not to be better, bigger, and stronger than others for the sake of dominance. In a recent Washington Post article, Marlene Cimons stated, “People think of it as strong alpha males who deserve to win. That’s not what Charles Darwin suggested, or what has been demonstrated. The most successful strategy in life is friendliness and cooperation, and we see it again and again.”
If there’s one thing that I’ve discovered during the long arc of the experience we call masculinity (covered in its protective shell called manhood), is that we are infinitely greater than any label or false ideal. As men, we are capable of infinite amounts of Love and we have a great capacity to do good in the world no matter how we present. That’s what I strive to do by putting one foot in front of the other each day.