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.