Real Men

“Being a good actor isn’t easy. Being a man is even harder. I want to be both before I’m done”

James Dean

I’m listening to my Pandora app as I write this and I swear it has been hijacked. Every one of my favorite songs has been playing all day. I’m not talking about the ones that I just like. I mean the ones I absolutely love and that make me feel great have been playing. And I’m talking about songs that I never hear very often and that I rarely hear on Pandora. I don’t know what mischievous god or sprite or imp has taken Pandora over but they can keep this up. It’s awesome! Makes me want to go out and dance, though. Too bad it’s a school night and I’m a mom. Which leads me to tonight’s topic.

At one point today I was reading this book called Treasury of Love and Romance by Honor Books. My brain strayed from my reading for a bit, my attention captured by my two year old playing in the living room. For some reason, while watching him play, I remembered an article I had read about an actor whose parents had divorced when he was young. (I’m thinking that my brain had made a correlation between something I read in my book and this actor in particular.) I started thinking, then, about the incredible pressure actors and actresses go through, and that led me to something that I’ve thought about often over the years, that being the pressure men go through every day. Ladies, I’m not saying we don’t deal with pressure. I want to focus primarily on the pressure men deal with themselves that they rarely talk about.

Until I had my boys I didn’t have much experience with the male gender of our species. I grew up in a family that had no boys until I was in high school. I lived with my mom, my step-father, and my two sisters. We had two cousins, also girls. The only boys I knew were some step-cousins and a real cousin all on my dad’s side of the family. I also have a brother but he’s 11 years younger than I am and we’ve never really been close since, again, it’s on my dad’s side. I only ever saw those boys one month out of every summer and not for the whole month. Obviously, there were boys in school but I was one of those shy girls you barely notice. I had a few male friends, one in fact who liked to aggravate me but I considered him one of my best friends. Yes, Cheyenne, I’m talking about you. He teased me and talked to me and he liked dirt bikes. I knew boys liked gross things, throwing snakes at girls who were afraid of snakes, trying to scare them with firecrackers, and some of them could be very mean. And that was the extent of my knowledge about boys. Anything else I knew came from books, tv, or stories my friends would tell. Then I grew up and had four boys of my own.

As a mother to four future men, I’m very conscious of how I’m raising them. There is so much pressure that they have to deal with. I often hear phrases about what a “real man” is. Real men don’t do this or that. They treat women a certain way, they don’t treat women a certain way. They like this, they like that. They must be this or have this job. They are the supporters of the family, they must be able to take care of their family, they must be strong, they should not cry because that’s being weak. (I hate that last one. I absolutely hate that one.) Is it any wonder, with all that society says a man must be, that men often feel they fall short of the mark?

And women put even more pressure on them. We expect them to know what we’re thinking or feeling without saying a word to them. And if they don’t know, we pout and get angry and punish them for it. How are they supposed to know what we’re thinking? Why do we expect them to look at our face and just know that we want to go out for dinner because we had a hard day and don’t feel like cooking? He possibly had a hard day as well and might need just some time to relax before we hit him with dinner possibilities. And what about when they forget to pick something up at the store? We give them all sorts of grief about that. But stop a moment and think about how tired he is. Could it be he just ended up on auto-pilot and drove straight home because he just wanted to come home to you? And what about those long hours he works to make sure you have everything you need?

Then added on top of that is pressure from his parents maybe, his boss, his co-workers. Men have it hard. They are supposed to be strong and forget their pain and just suck things up. They aren’t supposed to be emotional or express their feelings. A sensitive man is considered weak. One who treats women with respect and isn’t afraid to show his feelings for his wife or girlfriend is made fun of by other men. I’ve even seen girls/women laugh at a boy/man who cries when he’s embarrassed. It never fails to amaze me how mean people can be at times.

I’ve often told my older boys that it’s okay to cry. They shouldn’t be afraid to show they have feelings for someone or something. It isn’t weak. It actually takes more courage and strength to show you care than it does to hide your feelings behind a mask. I’m trying to teach them not to be a man, but rather to be a gentleman. They should have integrity and honor. They should respect themselves and the women around them. They should stand up for those weaker than themselves and protect them if they can. They should use their brains instead of their fists, but they should know when to fight if they must. I want them to understand that they don’t have to judge themselves by society’s standards, but by their own. And they shouldn’t have to live up to someone’s perspective about what “a real man” is when the only thing they have to live up to are their own morals and beliefs. Currently, I’m beginning to notice a shift in society’s thinking as well as more and more male celebrities are beginning to step up and raise the standards back to what they once were. I hope that women will begin to step up as well. Our girls are in need of having the bar raised also.

My older sons are beginning to navigate the waters of knowing what becoming a man is. I only hope the lessons I’ve tried to teach them have been heard and taken to heart. I want to leave the world with four gentlemen in it rather than four “real men”. If I can succeed at that, I’ll have left a wonderful legacy behind.

P. S. My music is still hijacked. My favorite Sigur Rós song, Untitled 4, is now on. I love whatever gremlin has taken over Pandora.