Dad, what does being a man mean?

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

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Right now, I’m in the early stages of my return to university.

At the age of 36, I’ve applied (and luckily, given some of my grades in my previous life as a university student, been accepted) to a Women’s and Gender Studies program. So, slowly but surely I hope to spend the next few years learning more about how the world runs, the systems we have in place and what part I can play in changing them to be more fair for everyone.

My first course, which I’m taking with my partner, is on masculinities. At first glance, this seems like something I should be okay in. Once class in though, I’m not so sure. The academic world is a tricky one for me. I’ll confess that I don’t read and understand big words very well. My mind wanders the further down a page of readings I get. Like my kids, I thrive on stories, on pictures, on real-world examples of the words that elude my understanding.

I hope that through the semester I’ll understand it better, but at first glance, I struggle to understand the things that make up masculinity. I’m also not so naive as to think my understanding of masculine is what any textbook would say. Or what any other singular person would say. I guess that’s my first thing I understand the definition of masculinity to mean.

But my mind isn’t great at academic thinking and I know that. Understanding the complexities of masculinity will take time, and I’m fortunate enough to have that.

But what would happen if my daughters wanted to know what makes someone a man? What if tomorrow night they asked me “Dad, what does being a man mean?”

  • it means so much more than having a penis.
  • it means something different to everyone.
  • it means being able to change the definition over time.
  • it means being happy watching My Little Pony instead of Sunday afternoon football when your daughter falls asleep on your arms and the remote control is too far away to reach without waking her.
  • it means learning from your kids, or your friends.
  • it means admitting you don’t know everything and not giving an answer when you don’t have one.
  • it means being vulnerable and being okay with others knowing that.
  • it means sometimes being afraid to talk out against others who have a more power-focused definition of masculinity.
  • it means trying to talk out against that idea anyway.
  • it means being given privilege and acknowledging that.
  • it means wearing a dress out in public because your son asked if you could do it together.
  • it means growing a beard because they’re great but shaving it off when it becomes too scratchy for bedtime kisses.
  • it means being okay that for a while your kids think you’re a superhero even though you can’t fix the kitchen sink.
  • it means being happy that your partner can fix the kitchen sink for you.
  • it means getting out of bed a few times a night to help quell nightmares because hearing “Daddy, I need you,” is your heart’s kryptonite.
  • it means knowing being a man doesn’t make you better than a woman but that there are those who think that is the case and that those people are assholes.
  • it means listening when people are angry at men in general and believing what they say instead of defending men in general.
  • it means sweeping the carpet in your house because your vacuum is terrible but you can’t afford a new one.
  • it means impressing your kids with your ability to juggle three balls until they realize it isn’t that impressive.
  • it means knowing all your superheroes, men and women.
  • it means knowing you aren’t perfect and that other people aren’t either.
  • it means wearing your Netflix recommended titles of Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol and My Little Pony as a badge of honour.
  • it means saying I love you to the ones you love when you’re thinking it.
  • it means knowing that crying isn’t a sign of weakness.
  • it means asking for help.

It means a lot of things to me and it’ll mean a lot of things to you. The truth, I guess, is that a lot of the things I think makes one a man are the opposite of what our movies show us a man is. Things are changing though, and I think that’s for the best. Ask me again next year and we’ll see where things stand.

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