Guest Post, written by Michael Shipper, husband of His Girl Friday creator and writer.
“Manliness” is an ambiguous topic, but I’ve formed my own working definition. I say working because my definition has evolved over time. Allow me to analyze the evolution of my definition of a man over my lifetime so far:
High School – A man is a guy who is tough, probably plays football and can beat anybody up. He drives a loud, jacked-up truck, shoots anything that lives in the woods just because he can. He can also get a hot girlfriend with the snap his fingers (maybe even two girlfriends with an additional snap). The man does not show pain, weakness, tears, or any emotion that might reveal he is human.
College – See the high school definition, but increase the willingness to show emotion. Also, adjust the desire to get multiple girlfriends with the snap of a finger. A man takes dating more seriously with the pursuit of a lasting relationship. The man is in control of the relationship and his destiny. The man dons attire that makes him appear prepared for any situation and attempts to blend into any social setting regardless of his personal style (if said personal style even exists).
Mid-20s – A man is a fighter, but not in a literal sense. He must take what he wants, because he knows good things do not simply show up. A man treats his wife with dignity, but remains at the center of the relationship. A man displays his testosterone by his willingness to deal with difficult situations. He is also allowed and should experiment with personal style (professional businessman, hipster, surfer guy, professional bum, athlete-jock-type-wannabe, etc.) in order to continue to blend into any situation he may encounter.
Early 30s – A man is the leader of his family, but understands his role from a position of humility and investment. He understands his wife is a trophy to be marveled, and is somehow uniquely paradoxical in how she can seem so fragile requiring constant effort and yet so strong in how she conducts her own life apart from the man. She is an equal partner that is to be treated with the utmost respect as she is tasked with jobs that only she can successfully accomplish. He also has a personal style that is recognized by all he meets and carries himself with a high degree of confidence. He continues to work hard for what he wants/needs, but his needs have morphed into the needs of his loved ones. The man’s confidence allows him to be vulnerable for the benefit of others as a real man sees potential in all people he meets.
As you can see, the evolution of men can be a trying and annoying process. As I reflect on those earlier years, I am amazed I had any friends or people who even allowed me into the room. In a twisted way, I’m thankful everyone else was as insecure as me and were too busy worrying about themselves to recognize my glaring flaws. I know my definition of manliness will continue to adjust, but I hope I’m on the backside of some of those major misconceptions I once held.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the definition of a man is far from my original high school definition. In fact, that type of individual tends to be the most insecure guy you’ll ever meet. They are simply masking their insecurities in toughness. I am not saying that any of those hobbies I mentioned are inherently wrong, but they cannot be used to define the man. They are only manifestations of the man’s personal interests. I’ve met plenty of guys who drive big trucks and shoot stuff because they want to, but not because it makes them feel manly. If you have to do something to feel manly, then you’re probably making up for some insecurity.
For example, I grew up in the country and around guys who just knew how to do anything. I mean they fixed cars, built houses, played with guns, negotiated sales of used cars like a boss, grew a full beard just by flexing, and were high school athletic kings (I’m sure my perspective was skewed at the time, but it sure seemed real). These guys were men! They were all doing things that I could not, but I couldn’t accept that. I had to be like that. So, I played football, got a construction job, would occasionally go shooting with my buddies, and drove…well I drove a 1990 Geo Prism, but I drove it hard gosh darn it! I was on my way to manliness.
However, I knew all of that stuff wasn’t truly me. I like football, and even coached it for awhile at our high school, but I learned I like the sport for completely different reasons. I love the pageantry and social side of the game. Guns are fun to shoot and I see their place in our American society, but honestly, their loud and kinda scary. Growing a beard and shaving is just overrated. Seriously, be thankful if you can go days without shaving and no one notices. That’s awesome! Lastly, guys whose crowning achievement was their athletic prowess in high school are pretty lame.
I now recognize who I am, what I like, and who I want to be. I’ve learned that it’s okay that certain people can’t come along on my journey. I’ve learned that it’s okay that there are certain activities I just don’t enjoy, even though my friends or family enjoy the activity. I’ve learned that it’s okay to fundamentally disagree with someone and still be friends with that person. I’ve learned that individuality doesn’t mean you rock green hair and a face tattoo, but rather having the confidence to simply enjoy what you enjoy, regardless of outside pressures. I’ve also learned that I can do certain things, maybe even embarrassing things, without fear of persecution. Yeah, I air guitar in class and make a fool of myself on a daily basis. I screamed like a little girl when a mouse jumped off the garage door at me and hit me in the hand last year. I cried publicly at both of my son’s baby dedications. I may not be perfect at being a man, but I know I have two little guys who watch me and are building their definition of a man. I just hope their evolution of manliness begins with more truth than mine did.