"Be a man." Three words that I've heard time and time again. "Be a man," they say. But what exactly constitutes being a man? Sitting down and watching football on Sunday? Being able to drink the most alcohol at a party? Getting laid by the hottest girl at that same party? Not showing emotion? Sure, the first three lines are all stereotyped examples we commonly see portrayed in different forms of media. The last line? You know, the one that made things get dark really quick? The one about not showing emotions? That's what they really mean when they say "be a man." It's time we change that.
My dad passed away almost three years ago. It was the hardest thing I have ever gone through. Growing up he always told me, "be a man." Of course, growing up all boys want to emulate their dads. Don't get me wrong - I did and I still do. When he died, the one thing that constantly ran through my head was something he told me when I was younger: "When it's my time, it's my time. Don't cry over it, we all gotta go at some point." As people greeted me at the funeral parlor, the thing that I was consistently told was, "Hold it together, kid. You gotta be strong for your mom and sister." I listened to them. I gave a stoic eulogy and, though I absolutely wanted to bawl my eyes out as one would, I didn't. I held it in. I was a "man." I listened to them and heeded their "advice". Shame on me for doing so.
I don't blame my dad for trying to force this idea of "being a man" onto me. I'm sure he had it forced onto him as a child and he was only trying to teach me as he was taught. However, these types of teachings and our attempt to hold children, young boys/men for the sake of this article, to these expectations is wholly unrealistic and irresponsible of us as a society. We have emotions for a reason. Holding in these feelings that are meant to be expressed does not do us any good. This is especially true in the case of adolescent boys who are still going through times of social, emotional, and psychological development. It is detrimental to our society and it needs to be stopped.
I have the good fortune of working at a theatre camp during the summer where I have the opportunity to mentor some of the greatest kids in the entire world. These kids fall within the 8-14 year old age range. Now, I don't know about you, but 11-14 was an especially hard time for me emotionally. It is such a satisfying feeling to be able to be someone for them to talk to and express emotion to; especially the boys. I try my hardest to teach them that "being a man" doesn't mean being able to hit the hardest, belch the loudest, or act like a sleezeball towards the girl that you like. We have to stop restraining young boys emotionally. God forbid a boy kiss his mom when she drops him off at school without getting laughed at or a boy give another boy a hug without being called gay. I will never, ever tell my kid to be a man - at least in the context that it was given to me. I hope you will join me.