Manhood (An Intro)
What does it mean to be a man?
I can discard a bunch of answers right away: it doesn’t mean being physically strong or attractive, it doesn’t mean being obnoxiously loud, and it CERTAINLY doesn’t mean getting with the most women. Sorry, majority of society, but you don’t have a clue what manhood is.
Most prolific writers on what it means to truly be a man are men who came from this point of view to a deeper understanding of masculinity based in faith. They speak mainly to people who are either in this mindset or are attempting to move out of this mindset. Truly, a noble thing, since it speak to a great part of society, and is certainly very necessary in this day and age.
Yet it leaves a particular demographic unaccounted for: those young men who come from a more gentle point of view, those who would never consider being loud or obnoxious if they didn’t have to, those who befriend women rather than trying to get with them, and those who, in general, are just more sensitive. They’re the young men who have trouble listening to talks on manhood, because little of what is said is relatable, the young men who are truly striving to find their manhood but are put off by The Art of Manliness. They’re the young men who have so many questions about what manhood is, and can’t quite hear the answer over the disgruntling war-cries and frustrating half-crudity used to excite another audience.
Does this demographic even exist? Speaking from my own life and the lives of several of my friends, YES, YES IT DOES.
So why is so little being said to us? Because we are, unfortunately, either a minority or greatly overshadowed by our more “macho” counterpart. Plus, we’re the ones still doing a lot of questioning, so there’s not a lot of resources for answers out there.
And no, we can’t just adapt to the messages being yelled from the podiums of men’s conferences across the country. I’m sorry, but I can only take being told that my mind works like a waffle so many more times before I stand up and scream, “LIES. MINE WORKS LIKE SPAGHETTI. WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT?” (If you don’t get the reference, look in any popular Catholic teens book that discusses the difference between men and women.) I can only take being shown clips of The Princess Bride so many more times before I raise my hand and ask, “Excuse me, Westley’s devotion and courage are great and all, but what about Fezzik’s gentleness and honor?” I’m all for trying to imitate the fatherly protection and fatherly love of Mufasa, but how about the wisdom and persistent devotion of Zazu?
Here’s the thing: not all of us are built to be strapping heroes. Some of us just can’t relate to that. I was asked in my senior year to help lead a short retreat for sophomores that focused on manhood with a focus on Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassatti. Most of my hipster Catholic friends just cheered. It might surprise them to know I almost backed out. I just couldn’t get excited about it. I wasn’t a huge fan of Frassatti–it was super cool that he gave to the poor so freely and prayed a ton, but his athleticism, his rascally nature, his love of smoking and mountain-climbing…none of that resonated with me. The other guys leading the retreat were super psyched, talking about how seeing his example and still being “a normal guy, a man’s man” was so cool. I just thought it was ridiculous. I’m not saying I don’t think he should be a blessed, he absolutely gave a Christ’like example in many ways. I just couldn’t relate to him. I couldn’t identify with him. Nothing that the other guys saw was intriguing to me, it was just off-putting.
But when I went to talk to the head of the team, he encouraged me to stay. He said he recognized this in me, and that there would probably be other guys on the retreat who would feel the same way, and I could be a help to them. Manhood didn’t just lie in that. So I stayed on. I didn’t enjoy the retreat much. At all. But there were some fellow young men I was able to be there for, so it was worth it.
I still didn’t have my answers though. So I want to start writing posts on this topic with the help of a couple friends, exploring from the other side what it means to be a man. This should be a wild ride.
All glory to God.