Updated: Feb 17
Be a Man
A portrait project redefining masculinity for today and tomorrow.
Recently we’ve seen lots of images of mostly-bearded men wearing tactical gear, carrying guns and waving flags. In manifesting their inner Rambo, they are figuratively and literally screaming, “This is what it is to be a man!” To a lesser degree, it reminds me of my former football coaches who, when wanting us to dominate an opponent, chided us to “be a man.”
Those notions didn’t make sense to me back then, nor do the hyper-masculine connotations connect with me now. For me, being a man is not about intimidation or winning, but rather the little things that make up character and integrity.
One event that still resonates with me today happened decades ago when I was a Cardiology Fellow at the Duke University Medical Center. Back then, we prided ourselves in being “Duke Marines,” those physicians who took care of the sickest patients, typically working over 100-hours-per-week while neglecting their families and friends. For our sacrifice we were idolized in the hospital – what we said was the law. It was paternalistic, but that was how things were done back then.
One night while I was on call in the Cardiac Care Unit, I had the rare opportunity to lie down after things quieted down in the early hours of the morning. I crawled onto the cot in the small call room and it seemed like I had just closed my eyes for a second when my pager went off, summoning me to morning rounds. As the group of doctors, nurses, social workers and students gathered, Sarah, the nurse for the first patient, started to give her report.
“Mrs. Smith went into ventricular tachycardia last night and became hypotensive. As per Dr. Lam’s orders, I gave 150 of amiodarone and she eventually converted back to normal sinus rhythm.”
I looked up from my papers with a surprised look. “I didn’t give that order,” I said.
Sarah looked at me in shock. “Yes, yes you did! I woke you up when you were sleeping and you gave me the order.” The group started to stir. It was unusual for a nurse to question a Cardiology Fellow. Surely, Sarah made a mistake.
“No . . . I don’t remember that. But she’s doing fine now,” I said. “It's not a big deal. Let’s move on.”
For the rest of rounds I didn’t think much of that incident, but as I left the floor after rounds something was nagging at me. Was I aggravated at Sarah for challenging what I said, or was I bothered by the fact that I could have been wrong? In the recesses of my memory, I vaguely remembered the door to the call room creaking open with a sliver of light piercing the darkness. A hazy head poked through and said something to me, to which I mumbled something incoherent in return.
And I realized what had happened. But what should I do? The easiest thing would be to simply not say anything and let the issue die. After all, to me it wasn’t a big deal and everything turned out okay with the patient. But when I considered the situation from Sarah’s point of view. . .
I immediately turned around and headed back to CCU where I found Sarah huddled with her charge nurse.
“Hey Sarah, you were right. I did give that order for amiodarone for Mrs. Smith. I just didn’t remember since I was dead asleep when you woke me up. Sorry for contradicting you in front of everyone. I was wrong.” I saw a wave relief wash over Sarah, and her eyes started to well with tears. I left the unit, assuming that was the end of the issue.
The next day as I returned to the CCU for morning rounds, a couple of the nurses approached me. “We heard what you did yesterday. Thank you so much for owning up to that. Right when you apologized to Sarah, she was being reprimanded for giving a medicine that you said you didn’t order. She could’ve lost her job. It was her word against yours, and the charge nurse wouldn’t have bothered to question you. It's not often that a Duke Marine admits a mistake, but this time it made all the difference.”
I often think back to that incident with Sarah because it showed me the importance of honesty and admitting your mistakes. It reminds me to have integrity in everything you do. And it prompts me to consider a situation from the other person’s point of view and not just my own.
Honesty. Integrity. Empathy. To me, that’s what it means to “be a man.” More than outward shows of strength, being a man is having the inner strength of character to always do what’s right.
When Greg joined the project, he knew immediately which story he wanted to tell. The story above is one that he tells his boys all the time. He wants them to know exactly what the last line says, that being a man is "having the inner strength of character to always do what's right."
I met Greg a few years ago thanks to a connection with Let Me Run, a running group for elementary and middle school boys. The program has a similar mission to this project, so it was no surprise to me when Greg joined to tell his story and create these portraits.
For the last two years, I have created family portraits for Greg, Kristen, and their boys. And while this might sound like an exaggeration, Greg is perhaps the nicest guy I know. He is thoughtful, caring, and empathetic. He's a great listener, always interested to learn and talk about anything and everything. Greg just has a tremendous sense of warmth and sensitivity.
Greg also has outstanding professional accomplishments. He is currently the Medical Director of Cardiovascular Services at OhioHealth Berger Hospital in Circleville. Greg is most active in health disparities for minority populations. He was the former Commissioner for Ohio's Commission on Minority Health (appointed by Gov. Kasich) and currently serves on the boards of the Physicians Action Network, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, and the Ohio Asian American Health Coalition. He also serves with the newly formed Ohio Institute of Communities of Color, and has been participating in State and local responses to the COVID19 pandemic.
Greg sets an example for his young boys with both his medical work and his service work. Greg has traveled abroad for five medical mission trips, one to the Dominican Republic, one to Haiti, and three to Belize. His oldest son has accompanied him to Belize for the last two years, and his youngest will join, too, when he is a little older.
Greg spends many of his weekends as Assistant Scoutmaster with Troop 299 where he sets an example for his sons as they participate in their Boy Scouts service activities.
Without a doubt, Greg is redefining masculinity for today and tomorrow. I am proud to have Greg join this project so that I can highlight the amazing example he is setting for his sons, his friends, and everyone that his life touches.
If you know someone like Greg who deserves to be part of this project, then I invite you to send me an email at email@example.com and share with me the story of the man, young or old, who comes to mind.
All participants will have a complimentary studio session with me and will receive one portrait as a thank you for joining me. 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."
Finally, I'll leave you with these words from Kristen, Greg's wife: "Greg is a man of infinite warmth and patience. Even after a long day at work dealing with literal life and death issues, he walks through the door with a big smile, eager to embrace us all. He is playful and loving with our sons, letting them know he is there for them, always. As a husband, he is my partner in all things. Greg is my soft place to fall into when I am struggling. In these ways, he truly defines being a 'real' man."
Thank you, Greg. You are an example for us all.