When I was young, I thought that the most masculine guys were rough and rugged; they were unapologetically assertive and not afraid to take what they want. I thought that everyone liked this kind of confident and direct guy. Think Ron Swanson meets James Bond. To be feared — or at least physically dominant — was to be respected. However, over time, my definition of manliness has become less barbaric thanks to the strong men in my life.
Being a man involves cultivating character and being there for friends and family; he is someone who sacrifices for others, and someone who does what’s right.
This is the kind of man I want to become, and it only took me a couple of decades to get here. Growing up, I was fortunate to have great male role models in my life. I’ve learned so much from my dad, who’s always done his best to demonstrate what it means to be a man. But my mom usually took care of most household responsibilities, especially parenting, when I was younger. I’m not saying this was wrong; it’s just how things worked in our home.
My dad was more involved than most fathers, in my opinion, and he’s always been an incredible father to me. But men encounter different expectations these days. Even 20 years ago, it was uncommon to see stay-at-home dads or dads fulfilling primary parenting duties, let alone cooking meals. “Real men” did not do this stuff. Real men earned a paycheck and managed bills. Society didn’t really encourage them to get into the nitty-gritty of the daily needs of a household and the emotional well-being of a partner.
Rewind to high school. I thought that earning respect was important and it required some work. As a naturally athletic (if not a little awkward) guy, I played basketball and football in Indiana. And I felt like the “man” (at least sometimes) thanks to the social status of athletes. However, in the back of mind, I felt like I was cheating. I always felt a little insecure about how authentically and intentionally I lived my life, trying to be the best man I could be.
But athletics and my social life worked well for me, and I became pretty complacent about pursuing manhood. I tried my hardest to be the tough guy and “man up” in front of friends and peers by refusing to express vulnerability and difficulties. You know that guy who never stressed about that big test and cared a lot about what girls thought? Well, that was me for the most part.
I wasn’t a bad person during that time, but I was not 100% authentic. As a driving force, that season of my life still motivates me to be a better person and challenge conventional masculinity. Granted, “being a man” in high school and college looks different than adulthood (think marriage, kids, and work/life balance).
But the patterns we form during these years will inevitably impact who we become in terms of character.
It’s incredibly helpful to have great friends who know me well and love me unconditionally. And I encourage you to try to find friends like that. (You can meet some of these guys on our contributors page.) These guys keep me in check, help me process life experiences, and influence my world views in positive ways. I’ve watched many of them add “husband” and “father” to their identities. And I’m trying to learn from their experiences and become a better man — and hopefully a better husband and father some day.
My conversations with friends occasionally shift toward topics like laundry and cooking, which many of our dads weren’t really involved with. But now many of my friends try to share the load and take some of the burden off their wives and significant others. And these men believe that helping whenever possible and splitting duties allows for more quality time with their partners. Their wives can focus on their own well-being more, too. And I can tell you from our conversations that taking one thing off your partner’s plate will impact her happiness. You’ll feel like life partners, rather than roommates.
Thanks to authentic conversations with friends, as well as my own relationships, I’ve been able to more clearly define what it means to be a man.
Of course, every guy has a different idea of masculinity. But this is mine: I want to be a team player. I want to work side-by-side with my future partner, finding the right balance of work, family, and everything in between.
I want to help my wife be the best version of herself by supporting her passions and involving myself whenever possible. Whether she wants to stay home with children or go back to work, I want to sacrifice so that what she chooses is logistically and financially possible. I want to be a united front with our future children and be as involved in parenting as possible. I want to lead my family, teaching them that there is a God who loves them dearly.
These qualities are what make a real man, and I’m working on them all the time. I’ll take this over the overconfident “macho man” any day.
By Ben Higgins with Mitch Reinholt
What does the word “manly” mean to you? How are you manning up in your relationships?
* Main image courtesy of ABC/Eniac Martinez