I was with a group of men earlier this week when the question was asked, “when did you first realise that you had become a man? Was it when you smoked your first cigarette, your first kiss, your first car, leaving school or leaving home? Was it when you started your first job, the first time you had sex? Maybe your first fight or when you got married or when you became a father for the first time?”
I listened as the other men shared their experiences and I thought, “actually, I don’t remember ever feeling that I had become a man. I’m not sure if I have ever truly become a ‘man”.
It was then, for the first time ever, that I realised that although I don’t remember becoming a man, I knew when I began to become a man, and it hurt.
As a very young kid my best friend was a girl from 2 doors down. We were about the same age and although I have few memories of life before I was 5, I still today sense a special bond to her.
But all that was to change when we started school together. At home we played with whomever we wanted to play but at school there was a new code: boys played with boys and the girls payed with girls.
I had always felt more comfortable and safer hanging out with girls, I still do. I was the only boy in our family that had both an older and a younger sister.
Now, all of a sudden, I couldn’t even play with my friend anymore. It just wasn’t the way things were done.
I remember times at school when I would be playing with boys but watching to see what the girls were doing. Once or twice I would venture over to hang out with the girls and although to me it felt right, it would also feel awkward and there was always that compulsion to go back and hangout with the boys.
At home, the times when me and my friend would hangout together become less and less frequent. We had drifted apart but every now and then we would hangout and I would feel that familiar bind of comfort and security.
It wasn’t until I was to meet my wife that I was to feel that feeling again.
I was just 5 years old when I had to start becoming a man.
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The other day our General Manager (I am not sure if she would want me to name her) carried a bouquet of flowers through the office. As I do, I said, “I have never seen any man in the company ever given flowers”.
That was kind of silly because I am actually, possibly the only man that the company has given flowers to, 7 years ago when I was in hospital. I had forgotten about that at the time.
A few hours later, the GM re-appeared, this time carrying a bunch of red Gerberas, one for each male member of the team. Attached to each flower a personal note of gratitude for the unique gift that the member of staff brought to the company.
This was stunning, perhaps the most courageous piece of management that I have ever witnessed. An example, a story that I will hold to for a very long time.
As I write this bog, on the wall in front of me here at home, I have posters of Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly Checklist For Giving Engaged Feedback and her Daring Leadership Manifesto (find them here: https://brenebrown.com/downloads/)
From these posters, I paraphrase some of the most pertinent and my favourite statements:
We want to take risks, embrace our vulnerabilities and be courageous
We ask that you engage with us, show up beside us
We ask that you show up, let yourself be seen and be courageous. Dare greatly with us.
Model the vulnerability and openness that you expect to see from us.
This was an example of truely daring leadership.
But maybe even more fascinating to me was the re-action of the men recieving the flowers. The awkwardness, in some cases the suspicion. Men struggling to know, to understand what this act of apparent love, of caring and of kindness meant. How to re-act and how to even say thank you.
We have so much to learn. Not only could many men learn from their female leaders and peers how to be vulnerable, we could also learn a great deal about true courage.
I have been deliberately quiet here for a long time. I needed to stop and to listen.
I heard a whisper, the faint sound of change. The faint sound of resolution. And when I was silent, then I heard it. It was there, it is there: acceptance and forgiveness.
And that is when I began to recognise a familiar pattern to what was happening in this whole feminism / masculinity debate. This awakening.
It is the stages of grief, 5 or 7 it doesnt really matter:
It turns out that this is how some many of these things happen. They follow the sequence. We need to go through each stage before we can move onto another and that is why I am so hopeful about this whole gender role discussion that the world is having.
Sure, it got ugly at times and it will get ugly again, but eventually we will find forgiveness and acceptance.
We will have done the bargaining and the jostling and the testing and we will redefine how the genders work. We will know so much more than we knew when we began and we will learn to love again.
I have faith in humanity. We will reconcile our differences. We always have done, always do, eventually.
In the meantime lets just keep on talking. No more denial, no more anger and no more blame.
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