Man Up, Buttercup

It's the tights that make the man, truly
It’s all in the tights, bro.

I have always had a tenuous relationship with the idea of manhood.  Or, at least the theory of manhood, and all that entails in being a man. I think it’s difficult for some of us dudes to understand what is expected of us at the best of times, but it is doubly difficult when you’re a confused and drunk man, like I was.  Hell, I had a hard time being a human being let alone fitting into a defined gender role defined by no one and yet by everyone.  Or maybe gender had nothing to do with it.  Maybe it was just me.

Growing up, I didn’t have a large family. My father worked a lot of shift work and we didn’t see him a lot.  And later on, when he was home, I was out.  But he was, and still is, a loving man who provided and did the best he could with two boys in a new country.  So growing up, I wasn’t surrounded by many adult males.  All my teachers were females.  The men in the neighbourhood worked, and the women stayed at home.  That suited me fine – I enjoyed the gentle, yet forceful female energy and being a shy kid, I was able to cocoon in many ways.

I went to an all-boys Catholic school and found harsh and immediate rejection as the smart, weirdly-dressed kid.  My pleas for help fell on deaf ears, as bullying wasn’t seen the way it is today, and it was just about getting over it.  The teachers that were looked up to were jocks – and I wasn’t a jock.  So I didn’t feel at home there either.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was starting to feel that lack of something in my life.  I had just started drinking in high school, but it was a take it or leave it prospect.  I drank heavily when I did, but could go for a while without wanting.  That would change soon after graduation.

My luck with the girls was abysmal at best.  I didn’t know what to say or what to do.  I didn’t even bother, to be honest.  I knew I was licked in that department.  Alcohol at least I didn’t have to whisper sweet nothings to to get it in my hands.   It was just there.  I hadn’t learned the ropes in being a man.  I didn’t ask.  I didn’t care to know, and yet I craved to be part of the brotherhood.

Now, did I start to drink because of all this?  Of course not – this lost sense of manhood didn’t get me drunk as much as the colour of my car did.  It was just a part of a greater whole for me.  The feeling of a void was part of me not feeling part of me.  Being a man was something I didn’t know anything about.  I felt sexless…a eunuch – self-imposed.  There were no instruction manual for this kind of thing.

I’ll get right on this as soon as my quiche is out of the oven 

 This idea of manhood plagued me in my adulthood.  Being a husband, employee, father…all these things didn’t magically imbue me with the mysterious formula of manhood. I didn’t see myself as fully capable of anything, kowtowed to women in all areas, and became the shell of a man I thought I deserved to be.  And I drank more.  I couldn’t be with women, and I couldn’t relate to men.  I saw men on TV shows and movies being mocked – dumb, needy, man-children who needed to have the firm, solid, level-headed touch of a women to make them whole.  Isolating and creating fantasies is a powerful thing, and I thought I was unique.  I would eventually start to resent women for the power that I put on them.  I started to resent men for the power that I put on them. And I hated myself.  Weak, pathetic excuse for a man.  Worthless.

So you can imagine my disdain when someone would tell me to “man up”.  I would if I could.  I just didn’t know how.

I don’t know when things started to turn in my recovery, but they just did.  That worthlessness, that sense of shame, of being less than all started to go away.  I was working hard on my steps, on working with others, reading, sitting and just being, praying, meditating and repairing relationships.  The biggest relationship to repair was, and continues to be, the one with myself.

I started to see that being a man wasn’t what externals dictated, or how it was perceived on the big screen or in popular culture.  It wasn’t in the collective portrait and resume of what a man should or should not be.  It was just in being me.  In being a solid, present and loving person who happens to be male.  It is in treating myself, my fellow brothers and more importantly, my sisters with respect, understanding and compassion.  I don’t feel that separation of us and them any more.  I don’t feel the separation of myth and reality any more. I was starting to feel a part of, and not apart from.

I have learned how to be a loving male in the fellowship of AA.  The men there with long time  sobriety have shown me through actions how to treat themselves and others.  They showed me that saying “I love you” to one another, hugging one another, shouldering another man’s head while they cried is what we can do.  It’s not how much we bench press, but how much empathy and love we can carry on our backs.  It’s not the hairs on our face that measure our manliness, but how we face our fears.

These are the things my boys will learn.  These are the things I hope they will see.  I pray that they will see the wholeness of life not through the filters of gender, but in through the power of trust in one’s self.

(I want to acknowledge the irony of posting this testosterone-laden topic on International Women’s Day.  A big hug to all my sober sisters out there and my wife, family, friends and all the wonderful women in my life.  Thank you for being in my life.)

17 Comments Add yours

  1. risingwoman says:

    Beautiful writing! Being a man takes great strength 😉

    1. Thank you…that’s very kind. 🙂
      I wish you a wonderful day…get writing!

  2. You are a good man. Congratulations on learning to accept yourself.

    1. Thanks 🙂

      This is all new to me, so I hope that it’s an ongoing thing. It took me a while just to like myself. Crazy, eh? But that’s the first step in accepting and loving and forgiving. I wish you a wonderful weekend (or what’s left of it!)


  3. Lisa Neumann says:

    Paul, You’ve touched on many ideas that have me thinking. It’s starts with “the greater whole” and goes straight through to “International Women’s Day.”

    We’re born in a culture of blamers. It’s what we do, because it is what has been taught. (Not consciously, but nonetheless, taught) You manage to pull the curtain clear open here. The void is there (because it’s there) and we filled it with booze. Period. Now what are we going to do? Knowing the fact of our inability to drink without ending in the grave (The Drunkard’s Progress), now what do we propose? I guess what we fight with is this “fact.” Why do we fight with facts (Step 1). Again, my position is that we have been taught. We struggle going with the flow. We balk, presumably faking out our own psyche.

    The “filters” of life serve their purpose, but to what end? My initial thought is “segregation.” I like that you are rearing the boys with a sense of wholeness in life. In my opinion life is more balanced than we allow it to be. We have sacrificed material possession and wants over the real possessions. The gifts of living in connection with spirit (Spirit). It is not that I will ever meet your boys, inasmuch as they will rear a new breed of humanity. And all of this because you took to time to teach them.

    My oldest is 13. I know how to parent a thirteen year old, but not a fourteen year old. I guess I’ll learn that lesson next year. The good news is that I am ok with that …. I won’t be drinking over THAT. We only know what we know until we seek something new.

    I feel at times that my former self was simply a shadow. Had I any idea of the depth, dimension, magnitude, and beauty of my being …. well, a drink would have been the last thing to put in my precious body.

    And if this beauty is within me, it is within others. We come from the same mold.

    For what it’s worth, I saw no testosterone-laden topic. I see a beautiful tribute to the women in your life. They are indeed fortunate.

    I’m with Michelle (risingwoman) beautiful writing and a favorite post for me.

    1. Lisa – thank you so much for your wonderful, brilliant comments. You have brought my original thoughts to a deeper level, for sure. What you say about blaming, and faking out our own psyche really speaks to me. And *certainly* about your former self being a shadow…well, I think that most, if not all, recovered alcoholics can state that as well.

      And the idea of coming from the same mold…that was beautiful…and true. You are me and I am you and that is where we find the common ground to talk about a common solution to a common problem.

      Thank you for giving me more to chew on.


  4. good2begone says:

    I will be the man who posts on your manliness post. Very insightful on facing fear of showing emotion to your fellow man. Thanks for the openness on a tricky subject…man.

    1. Yes! Imbue the board with some manliness!! Ha ha…

      Thanks for commenting – nice to see another guy here sharing in their opinion. It’s a pleasure having ya here 🙂

  5. Your boys are so, so, lucky!

    1. That just made me smile…thank you for being here 🙂

  6. Mrs D says:

    This is a really interesting post to me, a woman. You articulate so well what must be tricky for many men, espeically as there have been such changes in traditional gender roles in our society over the past generation. Fantastically articulated and I love the fact you have such insight into yourself. Your sons are indeed very lucky. Xxxxx

    1. Hi Mrs D – you are absolutely right about the changes in traditional gender roles. I sought through books and other material to find my way through it, but was never successful. There is a lot of sociological aspects to the changing gender roles, but didn’t find anything that really spoke to me. It wasn’t until I started on a spiritual journey did I start finding more about masculinity and it’s role in society. But more importantly, what it meant to me…and that is an individual path.

      Thank you for coming by, as always.


  7. Number 9 says:

    I agree with Mrs D. I love how much insight you have and how you flow in expressing it. I think that’s something many men wish they could do. Being raised by strong women has that affect on boys…they learn to empathize, intuit, compromise, love! This is a really beautiful post.

    Husband and I had a situation yesterday where my son (7th grader) was going to a camp out birthday party at his best friends house last night. He was really psyched about it but the first baseball game was at 7pm so he had to leave the party for three hours for the game and then go back. He got teary with me, wanted to skip the game and I felt for him and wanted to let him!

    So I texted Husband whose immediate one sentence non-sensitive and empathetic response was, “No. He made a commitment and he’s going to stick to it.”

    I wrote back. I’m glad one of us has balls!

    I know Husband was right but I was so caught up in the intuition and empathy and feelings of my son and thinking of how fun the party would be (that’s the alcohollic in me! a party woo hoo!) but thank goodness we didn’t let him skip. I imagine he’s out in the cold right now just waking up and covered with a dew soaked sleeping bag. 🙂

    The differences between the genders cracks me up. I married a strong, silent type. But I would LOVE for him to be able to listen, empathize and have a conversation with me that was more intuitive. So. I guess if we were both this way then there would be trouble!

    Is your wife the opposite of you? We tend to gravitate to our opposites. There is a perfect man for strong women and a perfect man for mushy women like me :).

    I love love love exactly how you are and hope you never stop blogging because out of all the sober bloggers I enjoy your blog the most. Plus your sponsor-type advice is always so helpful and thoughtful.

    Oh one more thing. About the bullying. My sister was really smart like you and in high school she used to try to act dumb in order to fit in. I think these days in some high schools administrators see this dynamic and have started to create awards and rally around the smart kids. I hope so, at least.

    Happy belated Womens Day to you too! Sorry this was so long-winded. 2nd cup of coffee and all.

    1. Hey R – I love your comments – wow! I am so honored to have you here.

      I am like you in the one regard you mentioned…I am the softie in the family most often. Yes, my wife is quite the opposite of me in so many ways, but we’re a great fit (that’s my opinion of course…you’ll have to ask her for hers! ha ha). I couldn’t imagine being with someone like me – it would drive me nuts (and her!). I have my moments though, and it catches everyone by surprise. 🙂

      I have to thank you so much for your words about my blog. I am very flattered. There are some wonderful blogs out there (such as yours, of course – I think it was one of the first I started to follow) and what I like about them is that they cover such different ground – some people are just starting their journey, others come from more experience, some come from AA, many others aren’t AA, some people have books out on recovery and/or spirituality, some come at it in a very practical way, others come at recovery from a very spiritual place, some have great humor and candor in their writing. It’s all great stuff. And I am so glad to have gotten to be a part of it.

      Thanks again for your lovely remarks – makes me very happy to hear feedback. 🙂


  8. Oh my God, dude. It’s uncanny. The similarities in our stories. Wait. Is there such a thing as plagiarizing someone else’s life? In that case, my friend, expect to hear from my attorney.
    Wow. As trite as it may sound, you told my story. Except yours seems to have a little less being-a-total idiot. But otherwise, very similar.
    That’s such a strange feeling. But good strange. It definitely facilitates feeling connected. And that is always good. I think I read somewhere that unity is something worth striving for. Somewhere.
    Besides all that, this is an insightful treatise, Paul. Big subject to tackle,and you nailed it. Succinctly.
    I sweep my foppish feathered cap across the floor before you in salute, fine sir. Kudos. Good stuff, brother.
    Bear-hug. Head-butt. Manly kiss on the cheek.

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