One of the moments when I loved my now-husband the most is when I witnessed him slide a BB gun into a man’s hands, propping the barrel on the porch railing where it was aimed for some cans.
Although no words were spoken, I understood his motivation.
He wanted his friend, weak and shaky from a degenerative neurological condition, to again feel like a man. And that was an importance I was only just beginning to understand.
My now-husband is a man’s man. He wears his masculinity on his sleeve and is both astute at identifying the characteristics of manhood and at communicating them.
And from him, I’m starting to understand the importance of feeling like a man. And how damaging it can be when that feeling is taken away.
Feeling like a man means that you feel powerful in your own domain. It means that you have control over many aspects of your life and that you receive respect and recognition for your strengths.
Feeling like a man means that you are able to take care of your family. Most often this is financially motivated, but it can also manifest in creating and maintaining a home.
Feeling like a man means that you take seriously the charge of protecting your family. It means that if harm befalls one of your own, you interpret it as a personal failing.
Feeling like a man means trying to find a balance between the very real and powerful emotions that arise within and the cultural message that “big boys don’t cry.”
We ask a lot of our men.
And they ask a lot of themselves.
And sometimes life doesn’t cooperate, stealing away the very things that allow a man to feel like a man.
Health crises rob the body of its strength. Turning a once-strong man into a weak and dependent form. The one whose broad shoulders used to carry others is now reduced to the one being carried.
Jobs are lost and with them, the confidence that comes from respect for position and knowledge. Lost as well is the knowledge that the family is being provided for.
Appreciation and recognition is withheld, perhaps replaced with nagging for what is not done instead of seeing what is done.
Someone in the family is harmed or is unhappy and the situation is internalized, a personal short-coming even when the cause is outside of anyone’s control.
Vulnerability is encouraged, yet that very trait can be turned against him when he is seen as weak or incapable.
I’m learning that all men, not just the alpha, masculinity-on-the-sleeve types, have these basic needs. These primal motivations.
And when a man doesn’t feel like a man, it is all too easy for him to feel like a failure. Depression seeps in, displacing any remaining confidence. He is prone to withdrawal as he questions his value. Addiction can become a welcoming refuge from the shame. It’s a vicious cycle – the less he feels like a man, the less he engages in the actions that make him feel like a man. And that’s the very cycle that consumed my first husband. Only I didn’t see it at the time.
As I watch my husband with his ever-weakening friend, I am grateful for the insight into what it mean to feel like a man.
And I’m careful to not take that feeling away.