On Being A Man

By Nicholas Maurice Young, Ph. D.

I am a 45-year old African American man.  I have accomplished many things in my life.  I am a father.  I am well-educated.  I have traveled extensively—domestically and abroad.    However, despite my many accomplishments, I believe that I am a failure as a man.

One of the reasons I consider myself to be failure as a man is that I never fulfilled the requirements and expectations on being a man.

For instance, when I think of the meaning(s) and requirements, of manhood I think of the lessons I learned as a child; that is, what a man is supposed to be, and supposed to do, with his life.

My first interpretation on what a man is came from my father.  He died when I was 11-years old. He was 34.  He was also an alcoholic. He began drinking when he was 14-years old.  He began to drink at that young age as a result of his father, my grandfather, telling him that he would become a man if he learned how to drink alcohol.  He drank everyday from that fateful moment until the day he died of multiple organ failure. When my Dad died, I lost my best friend.  Although my Dad did not spend a lot of time around my sister and I, he was my counselor.  He was my confidant.  He was the only person that showed me unconditional love. I was a kid that missed, and needed his Dad to show me how to live.  I needed him to show me how to survive.  I needed him to show me how to love.  I needed him to discuss with me how to love a woman.  When he died, I was forced to learn how to do these things on the fly on my own.

Learning these lessons meant that I would be taught about manhood from my mother, my uncles, and the streets.  I learned from my Mom that a man is supposed to take care of his family.  I learned from my uncles that a man is supposed to show toughness—in any situation, regardless of how tough the problem or foe is.  I also learned also from my uncles that a man is supposed to provide for a woman and his family. Interestingly, in retrospect, I learned from some of my uncles that a man should never follow his heart because doing so is a sign of weakness.  This weakness, as I was told, was a sign that you were a sorry Muthafucka.  And then there were other uncles who told me that a man should never follow his emotions.  According to them a man should never expose his emotions to a woman.  I also learned that I should never shy away from the advances of other women.

Similarly, the streets taught me that a man is supposed to be a whore.

My thinking about these issues changed in March 1998 when I realized that I was in love with Susan.  Seven years earlier, I pushed her away because I was too ashamed to admit to her that I did not know how to love her.  I pushed her away because I could not handle the fact that I was unfaithful to her.

Since seeing her in 1998, I have lived with great shame in my life.   Part of my  shame is based on the fact that I followed the advice of my uncles.  Looking back,  it’s no wonder my relationship didn’t work.

Since that fateful day in 1991, I have been told by several women that my infidelity and the failure of my relationship with Susan came as a result of me “being a man.”

I recently listened to an interview with musician Lenny Kravitz talk about his father telling him that, like him, Lenny would be unfaithful to a woman.

As I listened to Mr. Kravitz speak, I thought to myself: Hmmm.  This sounds familiar.  I asked myself, “Is this the behavior that falls under the rubric of a man doing what he is expected and SUPPOSED to do?”

Every day, I also battle the feelings of depression that have haunted me since I pushed away Susan in 1991.  The primary reason why I pushed her away is because I could not handle being unfaithful to her; which was, in retrospect, part of my mis-education about being a man, and treating and loving a woman. While I was in graduate school, my infidelity was a function of my inability to defeat the urge to resist the many advances I received from the women that I was around.  Unfortunately, being unfaithful was a way for me to fit into the community of men that I was a part of. I allowed the pressure of being like most of the men that I was around, who were unfaithful to their women, to shape my behavior.  When it came to loving her, I did not have the courage to be different.  To think differently.  To be faithful—to my woman, and to myself.

But what does that phrase mean?  Is that what Lenny Kravitz’s father meant when he told Lenny that he would be like him–that he would also cheat on his wife?

I have learned that being a man is about expectations.  My failure as a man was the result of my ability to recognize that a man is expected to behave a certain way.  I’ve learned that this expectation of behavior happens without explanation of how to behave, how to think and how to know.

In short, I believe that a man is a person that recognizes that he is an intelligent, loving, tough, strong and compassionate human being.  A man is someone who recognizes that he is not the most important person on the planet.  A man is someone who recognizes that the most important person on the planet is a woman.

What do you think?

Nicholas Maurice Young is a sociologist, writer, and independent researcher.  He is a former Fellow with the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University.  He holds a Ph. D. in Sociology from the University of Chicago and is currently writing a book about the network connections of the Underground Railroad.  Nick has written a memoir about his life, and the consequences of not following his heart.  Stay tuned for more.


8 Responses to “On Being A Man”

  1. Mr. Young: I hope you have shared this information with Susan. You certainly have given evidence that you are a thoughtful individual; yet, to follow individuals who gave you information which only made you unhappy is hard for me to accept. You are an adult.

    I am sure it can be exciting to receive attention from women; however, it is the responsibility of one’s self to control you. The willingness to give in when you love another individual is a weakness on your part to accept what you want instead of what you need. The instant gratification can only be repeated when accepting what you need will fulfill you forever. It has nothing to do with manhood; cheating is cheating regardless of who does it. It has to do with acceptance of what is wrong, regardless, how hard the resistance.

    I hope Susan is in your life. Just think of the years of shame you have allowed yourself to endure for instant gratification instead of true love and happiness with Susan. If you were any male figure in my life, I could only appreciate you for loving Susan as the man you are, less the cheating. I could not be happy for you when you cheat yourself. Give Susan the chance of your true love or a Susan. You can then appreciate yourself for the man you are.

    • Greetings Thelma! 🙂 I am a woman, but I have brothers and male friends. I thank God that my father was an upstanding role model to my brothers. But from my youth, I experienced the actions of boys and young men with the mentality that men should have multiple women, many sex partners and that giving their heart to a woman was lame! Where did this mentality come from? Many men have been taught to think his way. Yes, I agree that as adults we are responsible for our own decisions, actions and should make up our own minds. But what I understand is that children are impressionable. When a child is taught early on that certain behaviors are acceptable and are given certain expectaions by people they look up to, they are more likely to accept the advice and SOMETIMES even if it is terrible advice. Do you agree Thelma?

      • I Kendra: I agree that people will accept advice that is not agreeable to one self, which is detrimental. I do not accept that accepting unacceptable advise is reasonable regardless who gives the advise. I believe that doing the same thing and getting the same result is unreasonable. Justifying poor behavior for continued poor results simply does not make sense to me, because we have choices. The choice to do the not so right thing and to do the best thing.

        I too grew up with four brothers and my father was clearly the head of the household. My mother was a stay-at-home Mom. She made it a point to express upon me and all my siblings to make better choices as a result of comparing right and wrong. If you decided that you wanted to tolerate feeling bad when you could choose to make a decision to feel better; it was a choice to be made because one could make the choice.

        I try to make the best choices even when I know they are difficult choices to alleviate the discomfort or wrong. God Blessed me with three sons and I tell you I would not want any one of my grown sons 36, 34, and 27 to have multiple female friends in an intimate way, especially if they loved a lady. I would not want my heart torn out on behalf of the young lady suffering because of my sons. I did not teach my sons to conduct themselves with such behavior. I could not tell them that this is about being a man. I am not a man. I would not conduct myself in this manner either because, I would not want to have several men controlling my body in this distasteful way. Women are capable of doing the same for similar reasons. It is wrong.

        Reasonably, young people under 18 should not be sexually active. Taking such a responsibility only creates behavior that is not justified or acceptable at this age. I realize we all have feelings at an early age that are difficult to understand; however, I have explained to my sons the consequences when engaging into this irresponsible behavior for the purpose of just having sex. This is the same advice I was given as a young lady and I have passed it on to my only daughter; she is 28.

        Each of my children are responsible for all of their behavior as I and my husband were and remain responsible for our behavior as the adults we all are.


  2. A very thoughtful man, I agree. I can appreciate Mr. Young’s article because it is an article that talks about his lessons learned concerning what he thought it takes to be a man. I think that there are men who can relate to being taught these very same values. Unfortunately in the USA, many men are taught that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. I know men who have been taught that crying is weakness and that men should never cry; not even when mourning someone’s death. But never showing emotion is not even natural. As a result, we have men who have repressed their emotions to the point of causing other behavioral problems. My point is that I can relate to what Mr. Young has said about his expectation to not convey certain emotions.

  3. nick young Says:

    Hello Ms. Smith (May I call you Thelma?),

    Thank you for writing your very thoughtful response. I very much enjoyed reading it. Please know that I agree with your comments. I pushed away Susan when I was young (21) and dumb..I wrote a memoir about what I learned from that experience. I wrote her a heart-felt letter explaining my behavior. She has yet to respond. She is married now. Take care, Nick

    • Hello Nick: Thank you for your response. At least you did what I believe was necessary to right things on your part. If she were to respond, I guess you would expect for her to say what you would like to hear. Perhaps, it is better that she does not respond.

      Being married, would not be good on her part if she did respond. The marriage part is her way of moving on. If chance permitted and you were to see each other in passing, I am sure the meeting would be amicable. Take care as well; you may call me Thelma.

  4. Thank you for sharing your experience ” on being a man”. unfortunately, way too many young boys experience the same teaching you were taught. However, you decided to take a deeper look at yourself and figured out all the things you were told, disrupted your blessing. However, it’s not too late to change. Hopefully, your article will resonate throughout all communities … especially the men who always wanted to express their feeling on “being a man” but, were too apprehensive. Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. Epiphany Says:

    A black man who has come into his own is like the rising of the phoenix out of the ashes!! Thank you for having the courage to be honest and to share your story.

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