I did not have heroes growing up. Many little boys look up to their father or older brothers; that wasn’t me. Other boys in my class looked up to athletes or celebrities or even superheroes. I might have liked some of those guys, but they weren’t heroes to me.
I didn’t have a clear definition of what a hero should be — I just knew I didn’t have one.
It went deeper than that, though. I believe every boy needs a male hero. He needs a guy he can look up to, a guy he sees as the epitome of a man. It helps him understand what he should be as he grows older. It gives definition to what his own role in life.
Without any such guidance, I had to define masculinity on my own. I had to learn masculinity from what I heard others say about it — and what I heard wasn’t great.
Real men were athletic. They were super strong physically and emotionally. They did not cry or show weakness. Real men picked on other men who were weaker to help them be better. And if you couldn’t take it, then you were never going to cut it as a real man.
I learned that I was not and never would be a real man.
I began working through this mindset as an adult. Finding healing from old thought-processes and buried hurts took time but proved profitable. Then, about a year and a half ago, something odd happened.
I found some heroes.
With the rise of social media and celebrities staying in touch with their fans, actors like Stephen Amell (Arrow), Jared Padalecki (Supernatural), and Jensen Ackles (Supernatural) popped up on my radar and my newsfeed. Out of sheer love for their shows, I began following them on every social media site I could.
I initially expected the same typical “masculine” posts. These guys were real men after all: athletic, good looking, successful men in their 30s. I figured their posts would be consumed with hunting, playing sports, working out, showing off their money, and otherwise self-glorifying their lives.
I was shocked to find the opposite.
Each man posted constantly about his family. Stephen Amell posted anniversary pics from his vow renewal with his wife and did live video chats while hanging out with his daughter.
Jared Padalecki shared photos of roughhousing with his two boys and gave honest confessionals about missing his wife and kids while filming.
Jensen Ackles disappeared completely from the Internet while at home with his wife and daughter, not wanting to sacrifice any of his time with them for the sake of social media.
As I watched this incredible procession of loving husbands and fathers, something occurred to me.
These men, these very manly men, found their masculinity not in their own physicality but in their character. The better husbands and fathers they were, the more masculine they felt.
As a husband and father myself, I’ve found joy in this! My whole life has been spent apologizing for not being manly. My whole life has been spent looking for ways to identify as a real man without having any of culture’s definition for it.
My search for masculinity has finally found an answer. By being a loving husband and caring father, I can truly call myself a real man. I can be a real man simply by being a man of character.
I didn’t need to know everything about football. I didn’t need to be able to lift 300 pounds. I didn’t need to never cry.
I simply needed to be a man of upstanding character.
Now I have heroes. And you know what? I want to be just like them when I grow up.
Growing up, did you have any masculine heroes to model your life after? Do you have any such heroes today?
* Photo courtesy yogendra174, Creative Commons.