Man: To be or not to be?

Rediscovering the Lost Art of Mature Masculinity in the 21st Century

In my office I meet men of all different ages, from all different backgrounds who come to see me for all different reasons. Regardless of why a man comes to see me, it is rare that I come across a man who actually feels he understands masculinity and what it means to “be a man”. At the mere asking of the question most men give me that “1000 yard stare” – ironically, a phrase originally coined to describe the unfocused gaze of a battle wearied warrior. How apropos in one sense, and completely unfitting in another?

When I ask men, “How do you view men and masculinity”, I receive all kinds of answers: men are stoic, strong, loners, angry, spineless, emasculated, physically fit, needing very little of others, selfish, giving – and the list goes on. Sometimes men have healthy views of men and masculinity, but most of the time the world of men, as they understand it, comes up lacking. Why is that?

I go on to ask men, “What does your healthy male community look like?” Crickets chirping.

Who are you completely authentic with? What men in your life really know you, and you really know them? Who knows your deepest wounds and hurts and sits with you in the reality of that pain?

Blank stares and silence are most often what I get in return to my questions regarding healthy, intimate, masculine community. Finally I am asked, “Where does one find healthy, safe, masculine community?” with an unexplained yet familiar longing in their voice and a faint glimmer of hope in their eyes that it might actually be out there.

Tim Timmerman echoes this need for healthy male intimacy in his book A Bigger World Yet: Faith, Brotherhood, and Same-sex Needs; “Within that crucible of brotherhood, I’ve found the man God has called me to be, and am doing the same for others. I fill my brothers’ tanks when they get low and walk with them in the mess of it all. I know their weaknesses, as different as they may be from my own, and I know how to protect them. And as much in my life I need men that have never struggled with my same issues, I’ve also seen how much these men need me.”

Also *Sam Keen in his book Fire in the Belly; “Within the community of men, I have learned that men’s loneliness is a measurement of the degree to which we have ignored the fundamental truth of interdependence…there is no way we can recover a secure sense of manhood without rediscovering the bonds that unite us to others and reaffirming our fidelity to the ‘We’ that is an essential part of ‘I’.”

Finally to quote *Victor J. Seidler from his essay Rejection, Vulnerability, and Friendship; “Our denial of our own needs is reinforced within a vision of masculinity that says that men do not have needs. This helps us to suppress aspects of our identity and to keep them concealed within relationships.”

Maturing masculinity is a much bigger topic than can be covered in one blog, and I would suggest that there are others who have waxed more eloquently than I on the subject, some men whom I have mentioned here – their writings are a golden compass.

My goal here is to simply help awaken men again, both inside and outside the counselor’s office. Where does one find healthy, safe masculine community? There are some organizations with this very goal in mind; Samson Society, New Adam, People Can Change, Father’s Heart, etc. – most of which a link can be found to these organizations on my website. www.thaddeusheffner.com. These places are a good start.

But what of the man who has no organized meetings in his local area? What then? The answer lies within. Ask yourself, who is on your shortlist of men that you feel is safe? Who can you trust? It may be two or three men. It may one. There may be nobody. How will you begin to connect more, go deeper, get your needs met, meet their needs in healthy ways? A man may feel fear come up inside him at the mere thought of letting others into his private world. But thank God for fear for without it we could never know our courage as men.

Healthy masculinity and authentic friendship between men is a rare find these days. Some would claim it is on the endangered species list. However, healthy masculinity, brotherhood, and friendship are how God made us. It is built into our DNA. So the next time you feel that deeper tug within to move toward masculinity and brotherhood, stop a moment and sit a while and become familiar with an age-old ache and need. Trust the need within. It is there for a reason. Take a step toward men and mature masculinity.

* As quoted in A Bigger World Yet: Faith, Brotherhood, and Same-sex Needs by Tim Timmerman

Posted by Thaddeus Heffner, MMFT – April 26, 2011

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