Firstly, I am an imperfect man with anxieties, insecurities, fears, and regrets. Secondly, so what? The way of unto which I express my manhood has never been a place where I have struggled or faltered. That is not to stay, if all men held my sentiment the world would be a better place. Nor am I suggesting, “I am the next evolution of mankind — so follow my lead.” In fact, as I reflect back on how I got to “this place”, it was through serendipity and the blessings of my environment. It was a signed permission slip.
Let me explain. My primary male role model was (is) my step-father (my father). I have always called him by his nickname, Rock. I don’t know the origins of the nickname, but I have come to realize over the years he has embodied his nickname more than his real name. As a minister, he deftly illustrates the use of hard and soft power. He exudes compassion, transparency, and a fighting spirit. He has never backed down from a fight, nor has he ever hidden the resultant scars of battle from others or me. He has not always been liked, but he has always been revered by me, men and women in the community where he resides. This is all while he has wrestled with a widely self-disclosed bipolar disorder for the past several decades. My father expresses this more as a matter of fact than as a martyr or as a toy from the island of misfits.
My mother is quiet, but a substantial force of nature. Her tenacity and drive are only matched her compassion and generosity. She was a master at her craft in the corporate world. I saw her unapologetically at her best and worst. If there are wrongs to be righted, she is forceful in changing those tides of injustice yet retains her own distinct version of femininity. She continues to be my gold standard for professionalism and execution — albeit with the tendency to be workaholic even in retirement.
I have been unconsciously bestowed their gender memes and incorporated into my own being. As my first templates for manhood and womanhood, my norm was to see an unapologetic blend of “masculine” traits in a woman and “feminine” in a man without societal or relational repercussions.
Fast forward several years through several relationships and societal life lessons, I have come to know that my experiences are atypical. I consciously became aware of how they clashed with the status quo of societal norms. Despite such, my inheritance continues to serve me well.
It has allowed me to navigate this world as a man without being chained by its expectations. Yet it has also brought me into greater awareness of the broader range of manifestations of womanhood. It is like I was born the thunder cat Lion-O and I have been bequeathed the sword of omens giving me sight beyond sight. I can see beyond the roles me, my friends, family, and my patients choose to play. My parents gave me permission to be more than a man, but hu-man. I suspect that the reason I never struggled in this area is that I signed a permission slip they gave me to experience life as a full-spectrum hu-man. This slip has allowed me to truly come to know myself and recognize that I have options in the roles I play.
I have 99 problems, but the challenges of manhood ain’t one. I would be lying if I said that I was free of societal expectations and its vices. I still covet others’ successes, occasionally self-sabotage, and have relapses of living an incongruent life. However, in the area of manhood, I come to know my brand of manhood as a choice. To become a better man means I have to self-assess what is or is not working in my life. I have seldom run across any man of a firm resolve to be their authentic male self that has been shunned; they have been admired and revered for being who they truly are. My father took the first step that allowed me in turn to take mine. My mother broadened the perspective. Manhood to me is not a monolith, but a spectrum. We don’t all buy the same clothes from one place, so why should manhood follow suit (pun intended). I am handing you a permission slip to take yours. Will you “man up” and sign on behalf of yourself?