Be a Man
A portrait project redefining masculinity for today and tomorrow.
I’m not quite sure what to do with “masculinity.”
Traditional masculine values have less and less utility in modern society every single day. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I could get in a fight at my age. I don’t need to be physically strong to excel at my job. I think we have collectively agreed that burying emotions to be the stoic father figure is a failed experiment. Men who can’t communicate their feelings and share affection with others feel are increasingly becoming obsolete.
My logical brain knows this. I am sensitive. I am caring. I am affectionate with my friends and family. I look to de-escalate conflict, not jump into the mire. I tell my daughter I love her, and dance like a fool in public to make her smile. I love to sing. I love the cathartic release of a good cry during a movie that finds a way to pull my heartstrings.
My logical brain knows this. What is masculinity but a social construct that we can mold to mean whatever the hell we want it to mean? Why shouldn’t “masculinity” mean being a stable backbone of your family? Somebody who is a safe haven for people who need them. Somebody who helps keep the peace, not by force, but by empathetic engagement.
My logical brain can handle that kind of reframing. It makes sense. I have a wealth of self-esteem. I think I’m a good husband and father. My career is in good shape, and I have a great support system of family, friends, and hobbies that make me feel like a valuable and contributing member of society.
I didn’t stumble upon this. I grew up in a family that valued these things. They didn’t just say it, but they practiced it.
My logical brain may know this, but damn if my animal brain can’t quite sever those ties. Our conventional ideas about masculinity may be a construct, but they’re hardwired.
When I fail at a physical task, I feel the pangs of insecurity. Whether it’s rolling a gutterball at the bowling alley, or screwing up a home improvement project, I immediately am set on edge. All the self assuredness and confidence in the world can’t get past this single thought:
“This makes you less of a man.”
This is an emotional quandary for me. I know that it’s hardly a rational thought, but it doesn’t invalidate the feelings. I primarily cast aside the trappings of masculinity, but they haven’t quite let me go just yet. The reality is that it’s more complicated, and I don’t have the answers.
All I can do is my best. I can value what I think I should value, and not run from my deepest insecurities but engage with them thoroughly without succumbing to them.
If that’s not being a good modern man, I’m not sure if there’s a better path.
One of the best parts of this project is seeing participants as dads. What we've been fed by television, movies, and music over the years gives such a narrow vision of what a dad should be. Carter is anything but that narrow vision. He exudes love and pride for his family. The sweetness with which he holds his daughter, the tenderness and respect with which he talks with his wife, that's what a dad is.
When I called Carter to do our final chat before this post, he had his daughter on his lap. It was 8am on a Thursday, the only time we both had to make things happen in an otherwise dedicated home and professional life. About a minute in, Carter interrupted our conversation. His daughter had hopped off of his lap, and he said, "Hold on. You just have to see this." He flipped the camera around to show me his daughter laying on their dog. Here was an image of a toddler and a dog in total comfort, and it was too cute. That Carter made sure to pause and take in that moment, that's what this project is about. That's one thing I want to highlight: men giving full attention to their families and loving every minute of it.
Attention is something Carter gives unconditionally. At our session together, he was such a joy to talk with and get to know. He cares about the people with whom he is sharing a room. He talked with my kids and my wife beforehand, connecting with everyone instantly. He is so genuine and kind. We spent the session talking about career, family, masculinity, fatherhood, and so much more.
Carter is just beginning his journey as a father, and I loved to watch his eyes light up and wheels turn as I talked about our home's afternoon quiet time. Two of my three kids are beyond naps, but we still do a quiet time every day. We know the value in that time and space to recharge for yourself. "I am taking that one with me. Quiet time. I love it," Carter said. Carter is always looking for ways to make life better at home, and quiet time seemed like another piece to a happy home puzzle.
I do want to mention one more thing about Carter. While he may be crushing his career as a Broadcast Operations Manager with Esports Engine, he has also found great success as a co-host on The Chase Down: A Cleveland Cavaliers Pod, the purchase of which by the Cleveland Cavaliers was recently featured in The Washington Post. His story is such a great example of perseverance and talent combined with just the right amount of luck.
Thank you, Carter, for joining me for the project. You are genuine and kind, and your love of family and pride in your work is a model for everyone. I wish you nothing but success as a young father and husband.
If you know someone like Carter who deserves to be part of this project, then I invite you to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and share with me the story of the man, young or old, who comes to mind.
To read more about the project and its mission, click here.
It's time that we shine a light on the men in your life--young and old--who are redefining masculinity for today and tomorrow, for it should be these men we think of when we say, "Be a man."
If you're looking for photographs like these for yourself, then you'll want to check out my Headshots and Personal Branding page. Join me for your portrait session soon. Email me at email@example.com for details and scheduling.