The Modern Man, Why We’re All Confused + What to Do About It
I am a Korean American Male. My dad is an alcoholic. He became sober in his later years. While growing up, he was rarely around. He worked a lot. And when he was around, he spent time AT me rather than WITH me. Most conversations were lectures. He told me what I needed to do, or should do, in order to succeed instead of developing an authentic relationship with me that would allow me to create my own definitions of success and what a man looks like. But you have to remember, he grew up during a war, making his own shoes, and physically abused by his father. His upbringing was all about survival. Emotional intelligence wasn’t even a thing. So, I guess you could say, he didn’t acquire the tools available today. Although he gave me everything I needed to be “American”, like designer jeans and BMX bikes, he didn’t instill any beliefs in me that would later help me define who I was as a man.
So I learned how to be a man from the boys on the block, the breakdancing crew, the kids I skated with, and the frat guys in college. And of course they had their own stories with their dads. Some of them, I’m sure had the kind of fathers who coached them in T-ball, talked to them about girls, and instilled the belief that they could do anything they put their mind to. But I believe, most had absent fathers like mine. I know because their dialogue and actions were telling.
It hit me when I was working as a counselor at a non-profit for teenagers struggling with addiction. Everyone was fatherless. Either dad was physically not around, or emotionally absent. The boys mimicked everything I did. They wanted from me what they never got from their own dads. I believe this is a snapshot of America today. We live in a fatherless nation. The effects of this is ambivalence and blurry definitions of man. Add to that our current culture of instant gratification, entitlement, and communication gaps — these are all escalated thanks to the invention of the smart phone. This sets us up for unhealthy experiences in work and relationships that can be internalized. Without the core fundamental beliefs about our worth our fathers should have instill in us, we can grow up confused about our value and who we are as men. This translates into dead-fish handshakes, avoidant eyes, and frustration and anger from short lived relationships and not meeting our expectations.
We are confused.
At the end of the day, our confusion stems from fear. We are afraid to be our unique selves.
So what do we do about it?
First, we must not focus on what was and focus only in what is. Stop with the whys. That’s behind you now. Time to shift into the hows. But before that, you must fuck your identity. It has been formed by other constructs that have been filtered, like Instagram. Take everything you believe that makes you a man and toss it out the window.
Start with your truth.
Because nothing can be built without it.
With that, we have something to build on. So what is your truth? What do you believe about yourself? What are the fundamental things you stand for? How do you want to love? How do you want to be loved? What are you passionate about? Who do you want to be? Okay, these are big questions that you may not have answers to just yet. In a way, they’re trick questions lined with neon that society keeps flashing. Your inability to not have answers may make you feel lost and confused. The truth is the answers to these questions are not stationary. They change as we change. And that’s okay.
Start with this one question.
What’s important to you?
Not yesterday or tomorrow. Today, right now as you are reading this.
Here’s what’s important to me.
Being heard. Allowing myself to create. The people I surround myself with. Being honest with others, but more importantly myself. Kindness. Allowing myself to feel. Practicing transparency. Being authentic. My dreams. My state (not where I live). Loving as hard as I can. Not assassinating anyone’s character. Expanding.
As you list what is important to you, will you start to create your definition of man. Your own definition based on your truth. Because the confusion started from lacking a safe space to define, then absorbing other people’s definitions. So the key is to listen to your truth and create your own. And that courage to do so is what will make you a man, we will all have different definitions. But your process to build something that is honest and uniquely you is what’s important.That is the framework of character and how to pull yourself out of confusion.