Walking into manhood has felt less like an epic saga and more like stumbling drunkenly and blindly through the valley of death and dying.

I tried to find my strength, fortitude, and the path to manhood on my own; years later, I still come up short. My feelings of inadequacy pointed to where I was wounded and by whom.

My dad made it clear that my mannerisms made me different, and there my obsession began. Years of self-correction amounted to nothing and my effeminate mannerisms gave away my secret shame.

I was not masculine and had no idea how I’d get to the promised land.

I didn’t know there was a way and that it can be revealed to us in other godly men. That there are parts of me, however wild and foolish, that can be safely explored in the company of peers.

After two decades, I finally found myself back to a place where I was free enough to explore the tenets of manhood and masculinity without having to embrace them. If I were to list what I thought those attributes are, I’m sure my list would differ from yours.

I began to understand what I was groomed into believing wasn’t the full truth.

I was a man first, and what I did and did not choose to do flowed from that — not the other way around.

I began to feel a shift. Slowly, the presence of older men and men my age grew more frequent.

Something began to awaken inside of me — and I think it was me.

I had victoriously carved a niche for myself in a culture that demanded I be a Neanderthal (hyperbole intended). Then, as quickly as it began, it was over.

I decided to move several states away, and months later what I lost became clearer — a bit of myself.

In more ways than I know, I was longing for the man I was becoming.

I found myself in a strange new world where once again I felt insufficient.  A world where I wasn’t emotional enough.

Where men were once praised for their strength (none of which I received), men were now being praised for their emotional output. And I found myself in the middle.

I asked myself whether I traded one performance-based culture for another? One where physical performance comes second to emotional performance?

I find myself divulging information that I normally wouldn’t. Not because I feel led but pressured to do so.

Unwritten codes that whisper: this is what we do, and if you’re one of us you’d be wise to do it.

Sound familiar?

It is understandable to want to create a new system outside the one that has rejected you. One where every part of you belongs — as a friend of mine put it, the invention of a new machismo.

But I am not interested in a new machismo, finding a new way to be a man, a new way of determining what a real man is and isn’t, a way to separate myself from the worthy and unworthy.

I just want to be me and given the space to explore who he is.

I find myself longing for the Neanderthal.

Have you felt pressured to be more or less of a “physical man” or an “emotional man”? Where do you feel more comfortable or uncomfortable? What does “machismo” mean to you?

About the Author

  • Men are defined by a broad spectrum of behaviours. There isn’t one “true” masculinity, else you may as well define manhood with a checklist–which is nonsense.
    In my case, I enjoy primitive skills and the outdoors, yet also enjoy painting, writing, and wood-carving.
    I work with chest-beaters, and I work with poets… All of us get along fine, because we accept one-another as we are; trying to wedge ourselves into an acceptable definition of manhood is narrow-minded and not reflected in the ways in which men expressed manliness over time.

    • Yes. Most of me agrees with the nonsensical idea of a checklist for manhood (though, there are moments when that does sound slightly appealing……)
      But yeah, I think that while there is a certain brand of masculinity that is shown more in media there seems to be more and more acceptance for a wider definition of what it means to be a man. Glad that you have found space to be with a mix men!

  • Unfortunately the only ideals on manhood that I was exposed to were that of my father, when I went and visited him in the summers; a man has to be John Wayne; a man has to be rugged; a man has to like and play football; a man has to serve in the military; a man has to have a military haircut; a man can NEVER show his feelings. Sadly when it came to me, my father got Betty Crocker. He was never unkind or belittling; but I could see the look of disappointment on his face when I wanted to sit and read instead of playing a sport like my brother.
    He seemed to be all my father wanted, so he ignored me and my accomplishments; I mean really, is one proud of the kid who is captain of the football team or is one proud of the kid who one first prize at the county fair for graphic arts?
    My father got what he wanted in my brother. Today, he has been married four times with five kids, none of whom he can support; it’s not his fault really. It is hard to support kids on a salary of assistant manager at McDonald’s. I am still married to my wife after nineteen years and our three kids have always lived in the same house. I have worked in television that whole time, doing master control work as well as video editing and graphic design.
    A couple of years ago, after the news my brother married his fourth wife, my father sighed heavily on the phone, and said he had been more like me. I felt vindicated, but angry at all the energy I had wasted trying to appear more manly.

    • Thanks for sharing this experience brother – puts things into perspective. How easy it is to focus on unimportant things – may God give us a view of the big picture of manhood.

  • I love this post. My favorite line was “I was a man first, and what I did and did not choose to do flowed from that — not the other way around.”
    Wild at Heart by John Elderedge has probably been the best book I’ve found on masculinity. It’s encouraging to know that by nature, by the design of God, we are men. However we have acted, have been treated, or perceive ourselves, does not change the fact that we bear the image of God in our masculinity. For myself, I’ve found much of my dysfunction has issued from my identity as a man. The less I feel as a man, the less I’m affirmed as a man, the less I’m loved by other men, the more I feel the need to act out homosexually. The uncharted waters of heterosexuality are so daunting because it necessitates being grounded in my masculinity, in what I have to offer to a woman. At least for now, I don’t feel like I have much to offer. I’m not stable. I have not been self-controlled, and have been unfaithful.
    Bradley I also loved this:
    Something began to awaken inside of me — and I think it was me.
    Wow. So true. I think becoming a man, the path of self discovery, is less about molding into the standards of modern masculinity, but more of being transformed by the renewing of our minds and finding where we fit personally in the will of God. I’m quoting here from Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”(ESV)
    To be honest, much of the lust I’ve had for the same gender comes from a jealousy of what they have, and what I wish I could posses: their strength, agility, courage, confidence, and power.
    By the way, hello everyone! I’m new to YOB, a fellow SSA struggler who is navigating this life in light of God’s work in my life. I’m currently in a Teen Challenge program. Would love to get in touch with people here.

  • Oh man, this is so right-on. I know what you’re referring to here as you dance around with your words, but I think the principle can apply to a lot of people and circumstances. I’ve heard the same thing coming from homosexual men who come out of the closet and enter the LGBTQ community. They said that they had left the closeted world, the world where men were macho and judgmental and demanding, and they entered the gay world where everyone was out, but the judgment and high standards and expectations and demands on their behavior and ways of thinking and identity all remained, just in the opposite direction. Christians are often no different, whether mainstream heterosexual or SSA or Side-A or Side-B or anything else.
    The thing is, you need to be yourself. So do I. We all do. Don’t let YOB or straight people or gay people or Christians or anyone pressure you into writing or speaking or doing anything that you really don’t want to do. Follow God. Be the man He made you to be. Do what He tells you to do. You will be loved regardless, and you will become stronger through it.

  • Bradly, I absolutely love this post! I actually just commented yesterday on the recent podcast on Manliness with some similar thoughts, but Disqus marked it as spam for some reason… so I’m still waiting for that post to come through.
    But I totally agree – we are manly not because of what we do and say or how we act, but because we were made as men. We also get to own the biblical and biological traits of manhood, even if we don’t feel we posses or express them individually. Manhood is not about proving the salt of the individual, but about recognizing our place in the community of men. We as a community of men together own manliness, and we as individual men get to live out of that place. The individual man doesn’t have to earn it or prove it, but freely owns it just by being a part of the community – by being biologically a man.
    As an example: God has used testosterone to make men generally more muscular, hairy, and competitive than women. There is a strength, confidence, and a potential for wooliness that comes with being a man, and I get to own and live out of that trait (even if, for example, my wife happens to be more muscular, woolly, competitive, and confident than I am). I am a man therefore I’m associated with strength, confidence, and hairiness. Everything I do then gets viewed through this masculinity – viewed through the strength, confidence, and scratchy-face potential imbued on me by my gender. I don’t have to bring it, it’s mine just by virtue of being a man. And so when a man is tender or gentle it has a totally different flavor from when a woman is gentle. The first is masculine gentleness; the second is feminine gentleness (both awesome!). I think a part of masculinity is recognizing that this “manly flavor” seasons everything we do – not because of how we act, how our body looks, or if we have a beard, but just because we’re men.
    Side note: Just because a trait is considered more masculine or feminine, doesn’t mean that gender has a monopoly on it. Obviously it’s also important for women to have strength and confidence, and for men to be caring and nurturing. Likewise, femininity doesn’t have the monopoly on beauty; the masculine is also beautiful – but I guess we probably all agree about that one! 😉

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