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Be a Man Project - Nathan Rodriguez

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

Be a Man

A portrait project redefining masculinity for today and tomorrow.

Nathan Rodriguez

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.