As a boy, I always thought growing up was a predestined, mapped out journey where every phase came with its own how-to manual of tackling life’s challenges. After all, the men I looked up to seemed to just get on with it, as if the answers to life’s questions dropped on your laps whenever you needed them. It seemed like an effortless existence: they loved, provided, and cared, never asking for directions while driving and making judgement calls every day (all before brunch). For all I knew, being a man was going to be a cinch and I was going to grow up to be a grizzly-bearded one.
I was wrong.
It’s been said that men have always been in the driver’s seat of civilization, driven by primal instincts and testosterone. We thrived on instincts, grit, strength and innovation to ascertain our place on top of the food chain. The strong preyed on the weak and the fittest prevailed, a straightforward existence which shaped the world we now know. However, for centuries now, the roles of men in society and in their homes has consistently evolved, we’ve transited from the traditional roles our ancestors played, while still retaining the core of their primordial responsibilities.
The onus still lies on most men to provide, protect and care for their offspring and partners. Our role in today’s world has become a precarious one, which seems to be updated daily, reevaluated on a case by case basis against the archetypes we grew up knowing, the very ones we aspired to be. So, what happens now that the rites and customs that identified us as a species for the last thousands of years are now classified as crude, obsolete and misogynistic? Are we to deny our inherent nature and live by the rules society has laid down before us? What happens when, as he has done for thousands of years, man has to ‘evolve’ again?
The 21st-century man struggles to have a ubiquitous identity, with so many versions between who we are and who we’re meant to be. There’s been a generational paradigm shift, so much that most of us don’t even want to be the kind of men our grandfathers were. Some of the ideologies that made men a few decades ago are now deemed outdated. Traditional male roles have been merged, substituted, perverted (or reversed) so much, that some men struggle with their masculine identity as the provider, carer and protector, while others are just comfortable to be relieved of it. While this change is in line with man’s continual evolution and the drive towards a fair, free and ‘modern’ society, where individual freedoms are encouraged, where we may unapologetically be ourselves within the permissible confines of law and religion, it’s important, that we don’t forget who and what we are. For all we know, we may have an endangered species on our hands.
In the last century, women have stepped out from the shadows of men and entered the fray, a social development that is perhaps centuries overdue. When given the opportunity, they have proven they can match the achievements of men in almost every walks of life. Needless to say, the psychological and physiological makeup of the male species is ‘different’ from that of our female counterparts and is why we assumed the roles we did by default: Hunter, Warrior, Leader.
These traditionally dominated male roles didn’t come by chance; they came because evolution saw it fit. If you were about to ask if that doesn’t make men superior, think again. Studies show that women tend to have higher IQs, are better at multitasking, more organized, better investors, better at managing stress, more immune to illness, etc. than men. So, basically, they kick our asses at some things. However, should a step forward for women feel like one backward for men? Of course not.
While we have to, in the wake of modernization, shed some of the objectionable doctrine and tradition we’ve held on to for thousands of years, we mustn’t necessarily lose the essence of what defines us as a species, our inherent sense of responsibility, aggression, competitiveness and stoicism.
I would assume that like I did, most boys dream(t) of becoming the ’Alpha’ male: the main man, dominant, capable and secure, a leader for whom no task is too big or difficult, the one who the ladies swoon after with little to no effort (who wouldn’t want to be one right?).
Sadly, as nature would have it, Alphas aren’t many. There’s only room for one in a pack (just ask the other mammals). So while they lounge at the top of the food chain, asserted and poised, what happens to you and the other archetypes? (Yes you! I’m an Alpha, can’t you tell?).
Well, like in any other animal hierarchy, they settle for what’s left. But truth is, it doesn’t really matter. Alpha, Beta, or Omega, these archetypes don’t define you. Not unless you want it to. Real life doesn’t always play by those rules, so you’re better off making your own.
Not being the financial breadwinner of your home doesn’t determine that you kick back, relax and leave others with the bulk of the responsibilities. Wear your big boy pants and assert yourself in other ways – as a hard worker, a devoted partner, a reliable confidant, a great father and a decent human being. That’s what men are supposed to do, we balance it out, making up for our shortcomings so well that no one bothers about what you lacked. We can’t be perfect, but we can be near perfect at some things.
We are living in arguably the best period in the history of the world right now. We live in a time when you have a say in determining the kind of man you want to be, not the kind of man you’re expected to be. And, as exciting as the liberty to be anything you want is, it is also a frightening one.
As a young adult, I’ve occasionally been terrified of the life-journey ahead of me. There were times I thought that if I was born in a different time, when choices were limited, I wouldn’t have to worry about all the possibilities ahead of me. I could easily have accepted my fate as a farmhand or soldier, married early, had children, and would have been faced with the reality of an early death. Perhaps in such a reality, I would have been self-activated, been braver, certain and purposeful. But that is not my reality. It can be scary becoming a man in today’s fast paced world, where you’re unsure of what that word means, where the playing field is only as big as you want it to be, and the only thing truly stopping you from becoming the man you want to be is you.
It might take some time and it will require some soul searching and sacrifice, but you can shape your life as you deem fit. You don’t want to get caught in the wrong trope because you are chasing an identity that’s not yours. Part of being a man and being human is about being imperfect and fallible, the recognition of these flaws, and the choice to either succumb to or overcome them. This is how we grow. In doing this every day and in every little way, you become more than you were yesterday. Nobody ever said it would be easy, you can’t possibly prepare yourself for every curve ball life will throw at you. But you can, however, like our ancestors had always done, learn from your experiences and that of others. God knows it’s easier said than done, and like everybody else, man or woman, I’m still fighting my own (‘Alpha’) battles on this journey called life. But it’s only in the face of adversity that real men are counted, isn’t it?
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