Updated: Apr 26
Be a Man
A portrait project redefining masculinity for today and tomorrow.
I grew up in a super athletic family. Well, on my mom’s side, at least. All of my cousins were great athletes, and my mom’s three brothers were all Division 1 athletes. All of them were towering men as tall as 6’ 5”. I grew up with admiration for all of them.
My dad, on the other hand, wouldn’t necessarily be described as athletic. He is much more artistic. That’s where his side of the family excels. I inherited his artistic ability as well as my mom’s athleticism. It’s a pretty great blend of talents. Don’t want to brag, so I will say that while music is my huge love, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket or keep time to save my life. And I have two left feet.
Growing up, both of my parents taught me the value of helping each other out. That meant that Dad would cook and help clean. It also meant my mom wasn’t afraid to mow the lawn. She also taught me a lot of what I know about shooting hoops and throwing a baseball.
Both of my parents are great cheerleaders. They beam with pride when they talk about their children. (I grew up with a brother and a sister.)
One of the things my nuclear family always excelled at was talking about our feelings. Really. A lot. It’s super special. If you’re angry, you’re allowed to cry. If you’re sad, crying is okay. Laughing and crying together is especially great. There isn’t a situation when crying isn’t okay at home.
I learned in 6th grade that’s not always the case in the real world. In 5th grade, I made the travel basketball team. That year I played a ton of basketball and got to be pretty good, but that summer I broke my hand and didn’t play at all. So in 6th grade, I didn’t make the team. I was broken hearted, but still signed up for the rec league. When I showed up to my first practice, to say I was disappointed would be an understatement. The kids couldn’t dribble at all, could barely handle my passes, and had no idea how to play defense.
Our first game was just awful. I scored 20-plus points, but we got absolutely blown out by the other team. I was better than every other kid on the other team, and as the game went on, their laughter and our losing just infuriated me to the point of tears. I broke down crying as the 4th quarter wound down, so angry and so defeated.
I got made fun of the next week at school for crying. It really surprised me, as I had just scored so many points and played so well I couldn’t help but feel less than a man, which is even more confusing and impactful when you aren’t quite one yet. As a kid, I learned from that experience that you don’t cry in front of people unless you want to experience shame.
But as a man, I have embraced the values that my parents taught me early on. I am never ashamed to show my emotions now. It is so important in relationships to properly convey your feelings and emotions. So many men aren’t taught how to do that, so they act angry when they are feeling sad or violent when they are frustrated. I am not saying I haven’t fallen into these traps we all have been taught by society. But, most important to me, I try to be as vulnerable as I can with my friends and family. I allow myself to cry if I am frustrated or sad.
To me, being a man is being BRAVE enough to do so. And being STRONG enough to be comfortable when those feelings are shown to me. That’s the kind of friend I want to be. That’s the kind of husband I want to be. And that’s the kind of father I want to be. A man who holds space for and honors the feelings of others.
I met Nathan early on a Sunday morning. We immediately bonded over the fact that we needed to meet so early so that we could head back home to be with our families. That's one thing about Nathan that I admire and feel a kindred connection to: dedication to family. We take pride and find joy in being with our families.
In fact, Nathan recently stepped away from his position at a major salon and began his own business in order to be able to stay home with his baby daughter. I stayed home for two years, so I know exactly where he is and what he's feeling on those days that he's the primary caretaker. And I know that he and I both take pride in showing our kids that Dad can stay home, cook, and clean, too.
Nathan is an open book. For the first twenty minutes, we just sat and talked. He said, "Aaron, before we even begin this project together, I feel like there are some things I just need to tell you." And he did. I look at the first few test photos and then all of the photos after he shared, and there's such a difference in body language and expression. Nathan's comfort with his life and openness is commendable. More people should be that open and honest with their feelings and thoughts. I know that I could work on doing the same at times.
The best part of spending time with Nathan is hearing him laugh and seeing his smile. I mean this guy just has a great smile. I can imagine that everyone who spends time with him enjoys it. No wonder he is so successful as a hair stylist. He's open, attentive, and kind. And if he's working with you and you see him smile in the mirror, there's no way you aren't smiling, too.
Thank you, Nathan, for joining me, sharing your story, and helping us learn what it means to be a brother, father, and friend.
To schedule with Nathan, click here. A good friend of mine just loves him—she’s found her permanent hair stylist! I’m sure you will, too.
If you know someone like Nathan 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for details and scheduling.