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On the road of life, we tend to feel we’re flying down the freeway on a fast track to nowhere in particular but that the possibilities are endless. There’s any number of exits and off-ramps, pitstops and points of scenery we could choose for ourselves along the way so the path (sometimes, the destination) we choose can vary quite easily.
But the last thing we’re likely to do is stop to ask for directions. Why is that?
For many young men, the road of life has historically been a narrow dirt path, rigid and worn down by generations of travelers and paved long with the treads of tradition, so deep the wheels have no choice but to follow the same grooves for fear of getting a flat or bottoming out. The path offers few guard rails and even fewer signposts to point the direction, but we continue further down the road, hoping it’ll lead us to the right place. Oftentimes, there aren’t any turnoffs to help us go back or change course, our direction becomes the one and only laid out before us, and the likelihood of winding up somewhere new and different dwindling with each bend in that proverbial road.
Although many men have followed the road as far as it goes without question, others are beginning to pull off and set up road signs to warn of sharp turns, potential mudslides and the distance to destinations ahead, knowing they’ve perhaps gone so far down this path that it’s a lifetime back to the main drag and that their time might best be used to help oncoming travelers avoid the same forks in the road.
That’s about where we are right now as men.
We are finding that the road we’ve been on isn’t exactly the smartest route to where we’re trying to get, and now many of us have pulled over with road flares and neon vests to redirect some of the young men coming up behind us. We’ve seen some of what lies ahead, and we know, for many, it’s a dead end.
Nadim Shamma-Sourgen was recently awarded a book deal for poetry he has spent the vast majority of his life writing. The poems are astonishing in their ability to convey his emotions, even more astonishing because Nadim is only 4 years old.
Peggy Orenstein’s Boys & Sex illustrates a common thread for young boys who have struggled with the weight of masculinity because of an overly-simplified definition of it that is robbing them of their full and true potential. This strange period of quarantine, however, has sequestered boys from both bullies and expectations, giving them the space to express emotions and frustrations they’re wrestling with.
Similarly, Kimmi Berlin, 7, is learning it doesn’t have to be all Rick Flair and Ninja Turtles, that is to say, he’s learning that playing doesn’t have to be brute force and physical. Emotions like happiness or sadness don’t have to be buried deep inside for nobody to see, and that Barbie’s dreamhouse has an all-inclusive open-door policy.
More Man Enough: Creativity Can Be the Catapult From Depression to Self-Discovery
These headlines are slipping in between the cracks of all the madness in the news, but these stories aren’t astonishing; they’re long overdue. And the toxic forms of masculinity they’re subverting is not always toxic in the sense of the word we assume, like child abuse. It’s the general acceptance of subtle suppression for sweet boys who want to feel safe to have that honest outlet. It’s in making men feel ashamed for their sensitivity long before they’ve become men, but by then, it’s hard to turn the car around and double back.
Navigating this new masculinity is going to take time, but the pace at which things are changing can be a positive conductor for young men if we’re attuned to it.
For instance, this boy and his blog, Joseph and His Mistakes, shows a young man on the cusp of many major life decisions who notices red flags and warning signs already in his life, from locker room talk at the poker table to the lifted skirt of toxic masculinity, showing an impressionable kid more than his eyes should see at that (or any) age. But that’s only because we’ve kept young men in the dark for too long, only to quickly lift the veil and shove them into the world without so much as a roadmap.
Photo: rawpixel (Envato Elements)
More and more, boys are finding ways of expressing themselves in new ways to avoid the pressure of sincerity required by words. From painting and piano to the way they’re interacting at home while schools have been closed, boys are accessing the full range of emotions that many generations before have had to be exclusively selective with in the past.
If we want these victories to continue amongst young men so that they might continue to grow with a positive outlook on opening up to their truest self, then it’s the responsibility of the driver to take the right course. It might be bumpy at times, and the urge to turn back to the road everyone else is on might be tempting, but with the right person behind the wheel and enough snacks, there’s a lot of potential for a grand adventure.
You may not be a father yet, but you may be a brother, a buddy or an Uber driver. Whatever the capacity, you have the ability to help young men get from one point to the next, however small, and find their own way to where they’re going. And it’s not necessarily one even you’ve seen before. After generations of men talking down to boys instead of with them, make space for these young men to communicate ideas and promote positive creative experiences, whatever they may be.
There are no wrong routes if you wind up at the right destination. Some may take a bit longer than others, and some might involve a few highly questionable and fairly unsanitary stops, but if you follow your compass and avoid the swamps, you’ll get there.
Because on the road of life, we may miss a few exits or get spun around, but we eventually find our way. Though it never hurt to stop and ask for directions.
Think about what you can do for the young men in your life. What kind of guidance can you offer them from your own experience? Maybe some of those missed opportunities and misspent youth will serve a purpose after all.
For more ‘Man Enough’ episodes, go here.
Cover: altanaka (Envato Elements)
Everywhere you turn, people are struggling in the world. Out of work, low on food, terrified to get groceries, unable to squeeze a loved one, stuck inside with nothing but a binge box for four straight months, and perhaps it’s only just begun. So what are you going to do? How long are you going to complain about it before you do something about it?
Maybe that’s all not well and true, but perhaps we’ve spent enough time focusing on the bad news, which is nothing new at this point. The world is grieving — this is not to belittle that — but we have our marching orders. Put on the mask, practice safe distance and care for one another in the ways you can, but there has to be a turning point amidst all this chaos where our perspectives change for the better.
Yes, we’re low on income and food, but maybe we’ve been consuming too much and can learn to do more with less. Yes, it’s terrifying to go to a crowded grocery store, but maybe it’s time you supported the local market and small farmers who need help, too. Yes, we’ve run out of TV to binge on until sunrise, but maybe it’s time we got up at that hour and went for a walk while the summer sun is upon our faces. Things are tough — no doubt about it — but every passing moment is an opportunity to turn this rickety old boat around.
On a deeper level, as bad as things are, you have to believe there’s a more profound meaning for all this than just suffering. If we can’t see the forest for the trees, that is, if we’re too consumed by what’s wrong, we might miss how to get it right. Whatever or whomever you put your faith in, there’s a good chance a higher power — God, Allah, the universe — has in some strange way conceived a lesson buried deep within this travesty that can be mined with enough people getting their hands dirty and putting in the work.
Believe what you will, but there’s no denying the world has set you up for a slam dunk, if and when you’re ready for it. A reset button, if you will. Your friends and peer pressure has been removed, there are no sports to gamble with what little money you can spare, a window of opportunity, however smudged or cracked the glass may be, has presented itself, and the only certainty is uncertainty in every conceivable meaning of the word, as well as every facet of life. So wouldn’t now be the perfect time to roll the dice on yourself. If not now, then when?
Maybe you’re fresh out of college and there’s not a job for miles to pay your student loans. Maybe you were perfectly happy with your life but became complacent and quit working as hard as you once did, never finding new ways of doing things when the old ways work just fine. Maybe you fell out of love with your work, or maybe you got busy while you were making grand plans and ended up in deep doing something you never wanted. Maybe you always wished for a do-over, a chance to go back and get it right. Maybe this is it.
Wake Up Time
Again, maybe this doesn’t apply at all to you, and for that we empathize. Perhaps you’re one of the millions who can’t take a breath to think about transforming your life because you’re in up to your neck and desperate for a break. That’s a new kind of suffering in which we hope people who have the ability to help will learn in this time how to better be of service.
But (and we know it’s a big ‘but’), if you find yourself in the space with some time to waste, this is your chance to roll the dice and gamble on yourself for once. Before, it might’ve never felt safe to, but there’s some strange comfort in knowing nothing is guaranteed to be safe no matter who you are, where you are or what you do. The future is uncertain, but if you’re going to fail, you might as well do it spectacularly attempting to genuinely be yourself, or at the very least, being happy.
It’s wake-up time to make the changes that can transform a safe existence into an exciting experience. So grieve all you need to, then wake up with the sun, dust yourself off and clean yourself up then start to move in a direction you know to be true. And in the end, this terrible curse in human history might’ve strangely become a blessing in a very clever disguise.
It’s a brand new day. Let’s make the most of it.
Cover image: A24
For more ‘Man Enough’ episodes, go here.
Cover image: prostock-studio (Envato Elements)