What Separates the Men from the Boys?

What separates the men from the boys: The 3 things keeping the modern man in diapers

In keeping with the spirit of this article’s title, I’m going to try and keep this as ‘manly’ as possible. Let me start by asking you a question. Have you ever been in love? (That didn’t last long). I’m talking straight up head-over-heels in love. I’m talking about when your stomach is in knots, you’re talking and you don’t know what you usually do with your hands and breathing becomes an unimportant afterthought, in love? When you say “Hi-llo” instead of “Hi” or “Hello”. and you make  an idiot of yourself but you don’t care because she’s still here and there may be a chance she just might feel the same way. Suffice it to say that I’ve experienced this first hand, and made a fool of myself more than most. I had front row seats to the cringe worthy attempt at a relationship that 90’s rom-coms would envy, and let me tell you, it was glorious. Like a train-wreck, horrible to witness but you just can’t look away.

But I’m a big believer in learning from my mistakes and if the past few months have taught me anything it’s this. I am a bloody child. I mean, I kind of sensed this instinctively already, especially when just this morning I got kind of depressed when I realised the weather was warming up and I wouldn’t be able to wear socks anymore and slide on the hallway tiles in my house. I kid you not I spent a good five minutes genuinely depressed, like someone stole my puppy and then ate it. But my point here isn’t to prove that I’m a big-old man-child… that goes without saying. What I’m going to address is the three things that I feel are actively working against my attempts, and maybe those of other guys as well, at being a ‘man’.
Things like:

1. My Mum

Well, not ‘my’ mum specifically, at least not exclusively. Let me explain. I love my mum. I mean, like, a lot. It’s not only because she sacrificed so much to come to this country, leaving her family behind when she was barely sixteen so her children could have a shot at a better life than her. When I was sixteen my biggest concern was convincing my brother that The Hulk would absolutely wipe the floor with Superman (Ahh the ignorance of youth, Superman would annihilate that green tantrum-throwing baby). And do you know who made that innocence possible? My mum. Not just by abandoning her family and her home, but by the sacrifices she made every single day. Every conversation she had to stumble through in a foreign language, every piece of homework she helped us with when she didn’t even finish primary school. And every gift she bought us with money she didn’t have to let us have joy in things she’d never understand. We were happy and healthy, and that was enough. She always came second, and now that I’m older I see that she still has that mindset,  and it’s not only that her altruism took its toll on her in the past; what I’m scared of most is that it’s piling up, still eating away at her, and in the face of that I feel helpless. What’s worse is that while I’m trying to grow up (whatever that means…is it like…an exam I need to take?) I feel ungrateful for all that my mum’s done for me. It’s the ultimate catch-22. Children are, effectively, an investment made by parents, and in trying to yield dividends, in attempting to be my own person, I feel like I’m abandoning all it was that allowed me to be who I am today.

I opened this article talking about love because I think it’s the perfect example for what I’m trying to explain. In trying to start my own life, my own family, all my mum sees is me leaving her. What I want her to understand is that it’s my responsibility to take that step away from the family. Not to leave it, but to extend it in the ways I feel is right, to make the best of the opportunities she gave me. If this seems a little confusing for some of you, let me put this into perspective.

Remember how I said I love my mum…well, she loves me and my siblings more. It’s odd to try and quantify love like that, but I know, without a shadow-of-a-doubt, that her love is greater. If my love is a bouquet, hers is an assault rifle or a bayonet. Sure both can be used for protection but if you are a threat they will mess you up. I’m trying to make light of it but honestly, she worries me sometimes.

For example, I tried getting Vodafone to start debiting money out of my account for bills and she broke down as if I was leaving the country for good. If I can’t even get my own phone plan how do I tell her I’ve met a girl. But do you know what’s odd? I did tell her, because say what you want about my mother (actually don’t, I will find you) but she’s also my friend. And I can joke and say its lame that I tell her everything, but she gives me all she has. And I don’t know much about being a ‘man’, but what kind of person would I be if I didn’t do the same.

This brings me to the next thing I think is stopping a ‘man’ from being a ‘man’:

2. The Man

By ‘The Man’ I mean the social strictures that have to do with masculinity and adulthood in general. Being largely cultural, these things act as roadblocks on the way to manhood. Let me broaden the discussion a bit by saying that what I’m trying to do is not only be my ‘own man’, but also a good one. I won’t bore you with some dime-store, Socratic philosophy of what it means to be ‘good’ (hey, I needed a sub-major and ‘Philosophy’ sounded pretty laid-back). What I will say though is that what I think it means to be ‘good’ is the ways we interact with, and treat, other people.

To be a ‘good man’ is to be a loving son, a caring brother, a supportive husband. Being a ‘good man’ means not walking around with a chip-on-your-shoulder, bashing people over the head with your force of personality; who it is you are and what it is  you think. But more than anything (and I’ve only recently come to consider this) the mark of a ‘man’, or hell, the mark of an adult, is when you can be ‘right’, without needing to prove others ‘wrong’. It’s a subtle distinction that took me too long to grasp, and I’m still struggling with it. It’s knowing something, or feeling something, and not having to share it with others to give it meaning. It’s not caring what other people think, not in an arrogant or self-involved way, but because you can value your own thoughts and emotions for how they’re important to you, not to others.

At the same time its being able to share those feelings and experiences not because you want to seem wise or sagacious, or because you want to impress a girl with your depth and sensitivity (You know who’s guilty? This guy right here) but because that’s what you truly think, and you feel the world and those close to you would be better served if you could share those emotions.

See, that’s were so many guys I know trip up. My friends are some of the most thoughtful and caring people I know but if I were to call them out on it they’d smack me upside the head. No ‘man’ ever got respect for being sensitive, at least, that’s what so many young guys think, hell, I was one of them. But I’m here to say that way of thinking is wrong…I was wrong.

Now for the last thing that’s stopping me, and others, from being a big, strong, hairy, barrel-chested, poem-writing man:

3. You

Oh god, so lame. What is this, a late night info-mercial?  “Even you can have self-confidence and rugged good-looks for 3 easy payments of $49.95!”. But you’ve stayed with me so far so hold on just a little longer.

Your self, your hang-ups, your fears and your neurosis are holding you back. Every time you keep your mouth shut for fear of ridicule you are stunting your growth. In the same light, every time you speak out, full of bluster and posturing , scared you’ll be seen as weak and submissive, you aren’t asserting who you are as person; actually the complete opposite. You’re confirming to others, and most of all yourself, that you aren’t a man at all, but a pretender. A younger me would say something like “hand in your man-card” or “time to shave that beard” but honestly, I’d hide behind those catechisms because I was fearful. Fearful that everyone else grew wiser as they grew taller, and that I was just pretending. That when all the other guys got handed their swords and armour, and where taught how to slay dragons and win princesses, I was sick at home, watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

What I’ve come to realise now is manliness isn’t a ‘right’, or a ‘privilege’, it’s a choice, wedded to action. It’s the decision to do as my mum says not because I’m scared of challenging her and becoming an adult, but because I want to respect all that it is she’s done for me. It’s treating others with respect, not because I want to be seen as respectful, but because I truly believe that others deserve to be treated that way. And it’s not trying to change and shape who I am to win the heart of a girl, it’s choosing to be the kind of man I’d want my daughter to marry.

To be that man, through my thoughts and actions; voice and breath, body and soul. It’s not shaping what I think and feel to better suit  the kind of ‘man’ I’m pretending to be, but to take off that mask, realise it was just a mask, and express who I am and what I believe  truthfully and without hesitancy, not in arrogance, but with sincerity.

So enough with being a ‘boy’, I want to be a ‘man’, I choose to be a ‘man’. And on that note, here’s something I wrote about seeing the girl I fell in love with for the first time:

“Love at first sight. I wouldn’t exactly say it’s a spark between two people, and I’ve heard it described as the air getting thicker, heavier around the both of you. But no, it’s nothing like that. What it was, for me at least, was when the both of us were sitting in a crowded room, hundreds of people between us, and for no discernible reason I came to stare at her, only her, and she looked at me. It wasn’t physical attraction, at least not wholly. It was the tangible sense that, despite the distance, despite the noise, and despite that girl being a complete stranger, I felt like I was sitting right next to her, and her smile was right in front of me. As if I could just reach out, and lightly brush her cheek, and it’s all I wanted to do, all I could think about. I didn’t know why, but my eyes kept drifting back to that smile, and I couldn’t look away, and haven’t been able to look away since.”

Now I think I’ll go grow a beard, chop some wood and lift something heavy.

Peace.

Article by Bilal Hafda.

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