Being a real man

Retirement gives me more time to listen to interesting radio discussions.

Recently I heard somebody of my vintage outline the confusing rollercoaster ride of the love part of his life. As a baby and infant, we receive and are encouraged to give love.  During our school years, girls are generally allowed to seek love and taught to be kind, gentle and loving while for boys the emphasis is usually on “not crying” and “being a man”.

And then we come to marriage age… I read one man’s discovery somewhere:  I can sleep with her, marry her, take care of her, but love – that’s something else.  Guys don’t like to talk about love.  They don’t know what to say.  Of course guys feel love.  But they express it differently.

As a boy I soon discovered that I was not wired up to “be a man” in the usual sense, although I have never doubted my being male and (later) heterosexual.  For reasons that I’m discovering more fully in my later years, from childhood I have felt insecure and was uncoordinated.  I soon found I hated sleepovers and camps, ball games and aggressive sports.  Partly because I was not socially confident I occasionally got into fisticuffs with boys who upset me.  I found games, sports and interests that agreed with my need of tranquillity and did not involve attacking and beating the opponents.

Whilst I certainly recognise now the value of a compulsory all-round education, I was not helped by always being the last person chosen to join a team in school gym classes and being regarded as lead in the saddle of the school football teams that were an unavoidable part of my secondary education!  I know very personally how difficult and confusing it is to be forced to do things in school for which we are not suited.

You can only imagine the lengths to which I went to avoid conscription into the Australian Army and military service in Vietnam in the 1960s.  More recently, one of my relatives trained to join the Army Reserves in later years: instead of it “making a man out of him” he experienced something like an abortion: one day he came to his senses in hospital and neither the medical people nor the Army would ever tell what actually happened.  Some more unanswered questions for our Defence people there?

It’s a fact of our broken and fractured humanity that both men and women have trouble reconciling who we are, what we are expected to be, and what we’d want to be.  So many men who succeed in becoming “real men” have trouble being “nice men”; so many women who are “feminine women” feel taken for granted or even downtrodden.  Even though I am a committed and evangelical Christian, I feel sad at the Church’s tendency to be unhelpful to both men and women in this regard.

Our human complexity is both endlessly fascinating and frustrating.  Men and women need, express and show love in different ways.  Men are not all the same, nor are all women, and we all need and show love in different ways at different life stages.  Just think of what love means to a baby, a family, and the very elderly.  And of how each baby has slightly different ways, even with the same parents and right from its birth.  As adults we find that we have different “love languages”: I like to do things for people, Helen likes to make things, some like most to bring a gift.

I have read a suggestion that we keep a notebook of what we receive from our partner or best friend each day.  List everything: a kind or encouraging word, a surprise visit or phone call, an act of generosity or service.

Wow!  Doesn’t each of us shows our ability to love in many ways?

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