What I Wish I’d Known About Being a Man
“If I only knew then what I know now…”
Yeah. And if only I’d been that perfect combination of neurosurgeon, rockstar, astronaut, gazillionaire, Poet Laureate, and World Cup Ski Champion…
Oh. And Adonis. Let’s not forget Adonis!
Yes, of course I’m being ridiculous.
As my great grandmother Clara is reputed to have said when presented with an “if only…” proposition, “If my mother had wheels, she’d be a wagon.”
I never met Clara, though I’ve heard stories. She was wise, spoke seven languages, and could have passed for my younger sister’s twin. Having left the rising tide of Eastern European saber-rattling in the early days of the last century, it appears Clara wasn’t much the “if only…” type. I’ve only seen one image of her, and in it, she’s looking forward.
And yet, how very human it is to look back and wish one had the sagacity of ages – only without having to go through the ages part.
It just so happens I was challenged to write a piece about what I wish I’d known about being a man. I wasn’t given any specifics apart from the title, so I think I have some broad expressive freedom on this one.
Let’s see what happens.
What hits me first is that as a young kid, it might have been slightly useful to know that grown men did not, in fact, have their shit neatly together. I say slightly because, for a little kid, the notion (however illusory) that the grown-ups have it all neatly buttoned-up feels safe and comforting.
Having become a man – and a man who’s specialized in men’s work for two decades – I can say with great confidence that having it all together is way overrated, a delusional ideal.
As a tween, perhaps I would have liked to know that being unable to tell the difference between a football bat and a basketball goalie club was, in fact, not the condemning mark of “real men know sports” shame I imagined.
But then I wouldn’t have been able to write that last sentence with such a wide, prideful grin.
As a teen… Geez. I don’t know what wisdom would have stuck during that hormone-addled acid-test span of a developmental period. Maybe it would have just been good to know adolescence was survivable?
Then again, maybe not. Those words may have inspired me to do even more stupid things than I actually did. Messy… very messy.
Later, from adolescence into early adulthood, it could have been advantageous to have a reliable crystal ball. Short of showing me the fine details of my future, it would have shown just enough to let my angsty noggin rest in what the young kid couldn’t handle – the reliable fact that grown-ups are far from perfect. With that as a backdrop, I may have anticipated being in very good company.
I can dig around for other examples, but I gotta say, as I think about what I wish I’d known, I’m finding a deeper level of appreciation for the circuitous path that got me where I am.
Don’t get me wrong, there are things from my past I’m not terribly proud of. There were hurts of my doing, and those others bestowed on me.
I have the honor of sitting upon an ass that’s been kicked, often by my very own foot! I’m far from the only member of that club. Of course, I also enjoy blessings that far outweigh the half-life of any boot impact.
If I had a wish for earlier knowledge – with an emphasis on the “if” – it would live in the broader arena of conscious, responsible adulthood. That may have been useful, only because that’s the stuff that captures my imagination and informs (and differentiates) the work I do.
Circling back to the original question about what I wish I’d known about being a man…
That almost everything I’d been told about being a man was a nonsensical old trope, unconscious dogma, projections of untended fears and wounds, or a combination of all these things and more? Maybe?
I’m 99% sure, though, that a more honest answer is that I have no regrets about when the knowledge I’ve collected landed or, for that matter, about when the teachers I’ve had (intentionally or otherwise) showed up.
That feels true, right, real, and something to be extraordinarily grateful for.
Final note: If, like me, you’re a man for whom old definitions of manhood fall flat and questions about what it means to be a man lead you in tired circles, take a good look at IAM. If you’re ready for some rigorous up-leveling of your internal operating system – and prepared to do the necessary deep work – stop waiting and jump in. If you’re unsure, then reach out to learn more and have your questions answered.