Tim, one of the nurses here at HCDS, who is a regular blog contributor, approached me a while back with an idea. Inspired by a men’s health campaign he had read about in a journal article, he wanted to author a series of blog posts on men’s health. The idea was to publish one article per week on Mondays during the month of March – hence the name ‘Man Up Mondays in March’.
The first of these articles was published on the 4th March and encouraged men to consider getting regular health checkups. The second article was posted on the 11th March and looked at body dysmorphia. The third article was posted on the 18th and looked at sexual health.
In this final article, Tim reflects on what it means to be a man, and a book that helped him answer that question for himself. Keep in mind that this post reflects Tim’s personal journey and therefore you’ll need to determine whether what has helped him, will help you. This is especially the case given increasingly (and pleasingly) diverse definitions of what it means to be a ‘man’. If you’d like to offer an alternative perspective, feel free to contact us.
Manhood – what it means to be a man
By Tim Adler
The concept behind this series of blogs (Man Up Mondays) was always to look at men’s health issues. In my previous articles I explored health-checks, body image, body dysmorphia and sexual health. At the time of writing these posts I did not fully know where they were going to lead up until now.
As I reflect back over my past I see some of myself reflected in these posts. As I started taking responsibility for my own health, I realised I wanted to encourage other men to do the same. As a result, there is a theme across all my posts which is that men should take responsibility for their health. In the process, I am hoping to break down some of the stigma surrounding men’s health.
As men it is often hard to find an identity outside the male stereotype. For many this can be hard, and for many different reasons as well. I found myself asking ‘what it is to be a man?’
As I started the search for inspiration for this final post I remembered a wonderful book that I read called ‘Manhood: A Guidebook for Men‘. Whilst normally I have been writing these men’s health articles by finding an area of interest and then finding research articles on that topic of interest, I thought for this blog I might do something a little different and draw my inspiration from this book. The hard part in all this is where to begin. I feel that the blurb is as good a place as any.
“For centuries, men have hidden behind masks. What else could they do after generations of not being taught or shown anything about the inner male world? An open-hearted, fully alive man is what women want in a partner and children long for in a dad. Finally, this is what men want to become too.”
I guess the thing I enjoyed about this book is that it gave good information, in an entertaining manner through short stories. The author explains the story and at the end of each chapter is a key points list. The chapters explore many concepts in this manner as such I thought I might give you some excerpts from the chapters that held meaning to me.
The road to manhood
“It would be easy to feel overwhelmed by the problems men carry though their lives, but what gives me hope is something new – that they are stepping up. That there is a new and impressing willingness in twenty-first-century men to come together, and share and learn”
I personally find this a reason for me to continue writing these health blogs, in order to help facilitate this change. It’s a nice thought that as men we are in the midst of this.
Putting on the mask
“Here is a proposition to consider. The proposition is that as a man you spend 94% of the time acting – pretending – putting on a mask to deal with the demands of the many roles you have to play, as worker, friend, husband and father. That you are not really yourself in any of these roles”.
I certainly have felt like this with my different roles as a son, father, partner and in the different roles I have had in the workforce. All this takes energy if you are having to be different people in different situations. I have found over time that as I have dropped each of these masks it takes less effort to keep up appearances.
“Around-the-clock pretending takes an enormous amount of energy; it’s exhausting. By the mid-thirties, you will already be feeling this. Sometimes it’s a dim sense of disappointment that your life just isn’t what you dreamed it would be like.”
I certainly have found this to be true for my career trajectory, however over the years I have been working to redefine my goals, simplifying them down to trying to be the healthiest version of myself I can.
Healing the father wound
“For better or worse, our father is the first conduit of learning about being male. (for a daughter, he she sets the bar on what to expect from men, which may have huge consequences in her life.)”
Becoming a parent myself I continue to explore the role parents have in their children’s life. I believe that it is important to share lived experiences and be a positive role model.
Getting sex right
“What a consumer culture often tries to do is isolate us – to make us think sex is just a commodity, like ice cream or beer. Luckily, we are not easily split: human beings are whole and powerfully made.
In this area I simply believe that we should not base our choices of activities based on what the consumer culture tells us but rather seek meaningful connections.
From boy to man
“He also noted another trend in the boys’ lives: that much of their waking time was spent looking at screens. They were being educated about life by sources that had no interest in their welfare.”
I think back to my childhood, having grown up in the country. I was taught directly by my father about different aspects of life. Since then I have seen a change in parenting strategies where we are using digital media as a means of babysitting, largely due to our own belief that our lives are simply too busy for the direct teaching.
The five truths of manhood
“Throughout history, it was acknowledged that it took intervention to change boys to men. They needed a ‘rite of passage’’ “The concept of ‘initiation’ has persisted into modern times although it is a very ancient thing. It’s possible that, with our biology and development as humans, it’s actually an innate need.”
You can still see some of these rights of passage in tribal communities. This often is a defining moment in a young man’s life. Unfortunately these rituals are not as strong in other areas, leaving boys stuck in men’s bodies, often leaving men without a sense of accountability.
Being a true dad
‘There is a natural difficulty with being father in the twenty-first century. Many elements you wish to bring to parenting your children – kindness, consistency, involvement you may have never received from a male figure yourself. You are trying to invent fatherhood from scratch, a difficult task.
As a father it has been one of the greatest challenges that I have faced, I have had to learn skills that would in a perfect society would have been showen and ingrained in to me from a young age. In this modern world I have chosen to take on responcabiltiy and have sought advice from health and counselling services in order to be the best person I can be for my kids. I do not feel any shame for this but see it as an opportunity to do better as a parent.
“We were hunter-gatherers for 300,000 year. Then, just 8,000 years ago, we discovered agriculture, a way to support far more people. Storable grain meant that now rich people could live off the works of poor people.”
From my perspective this seems to be a shallow form of meaning, to have to work for wealth. I have begun to explore the meaning of generosity in the act of giving without seeking reward. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests this is another means to finding meaning.
Real male friends
“Men have often been mystified by them, but feelings themselves are actually a very logical business. They reflect simple biological states in the body, and are our mind’s way of telling us what we need.
In this regard, as men, whilst we are emotional creatures we have a tendency to hide our emotions from other people, making friendships a rather clinical business. Often we are looking for what can they do for me, rather than enjoying an emotional bond with someone.
Finding a job with Heart
“When we are young, we are given ‘storm warnings’ from time to time by the adults in our lives. It is their unconscious sending signals to ours. These warnings are phrases delicately, but kids are perceptive, and can feel the chill winds blow. ‘What do you want to do when you leave school? – being asked this for the first time can be a nasty shock, ‘leave school? You mean, this doesn’t last forever?’ the future comes like a threat, because adulthood, in the twentieth-first, doesn’t look like fun.
One of the key elements I have found on a personal level for finding a job with heart is the ability to play. As children we are so very good at playing and engaging in fun activities, however as life goes on we lose this innate ability and start to take life far too seriously. Being able to play in a job keeps stress levels down and allows expression of one’s self often leading to a career in a position that one can enjoy.
These are just but a few quotes that are from the book and I think I might add you one more. In ‘Manhood: A Guidebook for Men‘ Steve Biddulph writes ‘these secrets had to be earned by passing through ordeals, vigils or deeds of courage, and there were taught directly by elders who knew your individual weaknesses and strengths, and could customise the message’
In today’s society it often seems that sporting heroes have taken the mantle as elders and are being held up examples as what it is to be a man. However, in a lot of cases these ‘heroes’ are young themselves and may not exhibit the kinds of health and mental health behaviours we would actually like to see in men. In any case something seems to be missing in the formula to becoming a man in this modern society.
What I know is that the road to becoming a man is a journey and like so many journeys we need to start somewhere. For some people at least I hope that these blogs are able to help in some areas of your life. I would also encourage men to read this book and use this as a platform to help as part of their journey or maybe even kick start their journey.
I am excited to continue writing these blogs as a way of inspiring people to be the best they can be whilst learning new things myself.