Be a Man
A portrait project redefining masculinity for today and tomorrow.
When I first heard about this project from my daughter I was humbled when she suggested that I could be a participant and offer my perspective on what I believe it means to Be a Man. I was intrigued and somewhat challenged when I first attempted to verbalize my thoughts and beliefs on this very important subject. I do have the good fortune of having lived on this earth and experienced over 72 years of a wonderful life for which I am eternally thankful. That realization led me to recall my own upbringing and the various stages of my still unfolding life.
To begin with I was raised in the 1950's when the country held an idealistic impression of life and marriage as depicted in the popular TV show, Father Knows Best. My mother was a stay-at-home mom and my father wore a coat and tie to work at his eight hour, Monday through Friday job. Our family consisted of 4 members; my mother, father, younger sister and me. My father was the alpha male of the house. He was strict, dominant, quiet and could get my sister and I to behave just by giving us "the look". He rarely if ever showed emotion and I never remember him telling me that he loved me until I was in my twenties. My father did not physically harm us but we did not hug each other in my childhood and teens. I say all of this because it is important to the impact my mother and father had on laying the foundation of the man I would become. Our family attended St Paul's Lutheran Church for as long as I can remember. My parents both sang in the church choir and they attended numerous affiliated social events and gatherings. This perspective is important because while my father taught me life lessons about work (plan your work and work your plan) and sports my mother taught me empathy and sensitivity. We are all the products of our upbringing and although I would never say I lived in the ideal household those lessons I learned in my youth would create the foundation of my idea of masculinity.
I vividly remember during my summer vacations for several years between the ages of 6 and 9 my mother would teach my sister and me a daily bible lesson. These would only last for 30 minutes but they would be the building blocks on which my idea of what it means to be a man took root. She would frequently remind my sister and me to "treat others the way you would like to be treated" and we studied the various Ten Commandments. My mother taught me to be empathetic, humble and compassionate by both her words and through her examples. I remember coming home one day at seven years old and I recited a limerick I had heard from one of my friends. It went "eeny, meany, miney, mo, catch an "n-word" by the toe. Well, after hearing me recite this limerick, my mother proceeded to march me into the bathroom where she washed my mouth out with soap. She told me how terrible that word was and I should never use it again. My mother was also an artist and I can remember looking at her portfolios as a child. She had a warm and loving approach and she taught me chivalry and how to be respectful of women and to never consider hurting another human being out of anger. I wore eye glasses at the age of five because of astigmatism and I was very self-conscious. I began to notice girls around seven and I would at times ask my mother whether she thought I was handsome. I was looking for her to give me self-confidence because of the stigma of having to wear my glasses at my young age. My mother also wore glasses and looked beautiful in them so she would always pump me up by telling me she loved me and that I was going to meet many girls in my lifetime. My attitude toward others, men and women alike, were being forged and a bi-product of those early experiences.
My parents divorced when I was 13 and my proverbial world would be altered forever. My mother went to work and she worked various part time jobs and would often work nights and weekends. I became the man of the house and had to make meals, help my sister with her homework and iron my own clothes at an early age. My mother taught me how to properly set a table, how to speak respectfully to others and how to open doors for women and my elders. She taught me that my feelings and my emotions were not to be frightened of but instead to be embraced.
My wife and I were married in our late twenties and we were blessed with the birth of our two daughters within the first 3 years of marriage. We always taught our daughters that they could achieve anything they put their minds to. We participated in both their education and extra-curricular activities. We applied some of the same lessons we learned from our upbringing to our girls. To me life can be compared to a wheel on a bicycle with 4 spokes. Those four spokes are emotion, intellect, spiritual and physical aspects of life. In order to be a well-balanced human being, it is important to keep those four spokes balanced and never allow one of the spokes to become more dominant than the others. That causes our life to wobble out of control.
Defining masculinity begins with the right foundation and then dedicating our lives to "treating thy neighbor as thyself". When we allow ourselves to put others feelings before our own then and only then can we experience the true meaning of empathy, compassion and selflessness.
When I first posted about this project, one of Scott's daughters, Stephanie, immediately messaged me about the impact her father had on her life. As we discussed the project, here is what Stephanie said:
BE A MAN. What does that statement even mean? For me it gets lumped into the same pile of similar phrases like MAN UP or YOU THROW LIKE A GIRL. These types of phrases somehow carry more power than other words do. They feel degrading and shameful. And as a man you feel embarrassed when they are said to you. Like you aren’t masculine enough to be a real man.
Thankfully I grew up with a father who didn’t fit the traditional macho stereotype of being a man. Yes, my dad was an exceptional athlete and looked the stereotypical way a man is supposed to look, but he did not fit that mold at all.
Growing up we didn’t live in a big house or have a ton of money. My mom was a stay-at-home-mom and my dad worked in sales, often times having to travel for his job. My parents made this work even though it meant money was often tight. It was important to both of them that my mom was home during the day with us. I can remember as a little girl hearing my dad talk about how hard my mom worked. He truly honored her and wanted my sister and me to know how much he appreciated her. There are multiple instances that I can remember when he would sing my mom’s praises to our family friends. He never made her feel like being a stay-at-home mom was less work than him going to work. That was probably my earliest memory of realizing that my dad was a sensitive and empathetic person. And as a result of how I was raised, I believed that it was important for me to also be a stay-at-home mom for my son.
I vividly remember my dad’s involvement in my schooling and athletics. From a very young age I was completely sports obsessed. My mom was a talented ballet dancer and had hopes that my sister or I would follow her same path, but neither of us were interested. My dad took it upon himself to coach us in every sport. He worked countless hours with us on fundamentals. And he always believed in us. One of my favorite stories is hearing him talk about how he would often get to the field for our softball games or to the gym for basketball or volleyball games just before game time, and he would have to change in his car--out of his suit--so he could coach us. He was always there. It was his top priority.
My dad is a girl dad. And he loves every second of it. It is just in his soul to be sensitive with my sister and me. He set an example of what an empathetic man should look like so many times growing up. That did not change as I became an adult either. One incident that really portrays the character of my dad is when my husband and I suffered an unthinkable pregnancy loss at 20 weeks. My dad was one of the few people who was there for me morning, noon, and night as I battled depression and anxiety in the months that followed. He was really there for me. He listened. He was sympathetic and so loving. He answered my calls and physically held me when I was too sad to do anything else. He literally helped me climb my way out of such a sad time for our family.
He is an amazing husband, father, and grandfather. He is a talented writer and artist. He has a love for landscaping and nature. He has a really great taste in music and loves listening to live music. He was the liturgist at our church growing up and helped instill a strong faith in my sister and me. He is a great cook and has some famous recipes within our family. He is a well-balanced man with too many talents to count.
I am so thankful that my dad is the kind, sensitive, empathetic family man that he is. His actions throughout his life have helped to break the stereotypical chain of what a man should be. He has helped pave the way to redefine what it means to be a man and I could not be more proud to call him Dad.
As this project of mine takes shape, most people have been surprised when I tell them that a 72-year-old joined. Friends and followers have commented that they expect someone young and progressive to join, not someone in their 70's.
But when Scott sat down with me to create his portraits, we shared more in common than you'd expect. We talked about how important it is to say "I love you" to your kids, to show up for them and support them no matter what. We talked about hugging our own fathers and what that meant to us as children and adults. We talked about how parents play such an important role in making children feel safe, loved, and important.
We talked about how life requires balance (see his description of the wheel above) and how a life out of balance, a fanatical life of single-minded obsession, is what has so much of the country in turmoil, frustration, and anger.
Scott was gentle, kind, and thoughtful from the moment he stepped out of his car and greeted me. We spent more time talking than creating portraits, which is part of the beauty of this project. Creating portraits can feel vulnerable, but I think that vulnerability, that openness and honesty, are what make these stories so powerful and these images so compelling.
Scott has a beautiful family who support one another and find comfort and strength in Scott's example.
Thank you, Scott, for joining me, sharing your story, and helping everyone understand that the modern man has been here for years, we just haven't been giving him the attention he deserves.
If you know someone like Scott 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."