Be a Man Project - Tim Steele

Updated: Sep 11

Be a Man

A portrait project redefining masculinity for today and tomorrow.

Tim Steele

“Be a man.” It is a simple, loaded phrase. Almost every boy hears it growing up, but I don’t remember ever having it explained. At some stage of development, I acquired the image of a man’s man, with his masculine hobbies, male conquests, and macho behavior. I struggled to relate. Now, as Dad, what does it look like to “be a man” to my six-year-old daughter? I find the traditional image is cliche and toxic, and I want a healthier definition of what it is to “be a man”.

Contrasting traditionally male and female activities, I can see how I learned about the “man’s man” persona. Landscaping is traditionally masculine. Home Depot runs ads showing men covered in dirt and mulch, armed with gas-powered lawn tools atop his John Deere, bending nature to his will to create the perfectly manicured lawn. After her husband conquers the dandelions infecting their small, suburban kingdom, his wife is ready to garden. Using a small, delicate hand shovel, she plants her pretty flowers.

Gardening is traditionally feminine and requires gentle, careful hands and a nurturing touch. I have never heard “be a man” used in the context of “be nurturing, caring, and gentle.” However, if my wife described me as “cold, indifferent, and forceful,” I would be offended. Those aren’t the words that are used to describe a man’s man. They are too harsh. Instead, we use euphemisms: reserved, stoic, tough. The message is the same: to “be a man” is to hide your emotions, don’t be vulnerable, and never show weakness. If men show strong emotion, they are passionate, not emotional. For me, to be a good father, husband, and brother is to be a man who recognizes being tough and tender are not mutually exclusive.

Gardening is a passion of mine. I can talk for hours about my David Austin rose bushes, and which ones bloom the largest and smell the sweetest. I like pretty flowers. I share this passion with my daughter and hope that “be a man” means a father who spends time with her teaching and forming a shared passion. We reap what we sow, and our garden is full of honey bees, monarch butterflies, and fresh strawberries for breakfast.

For me, “be a man” means being patient and understanding, not reserved. It means being sympathetic and empathetic, not stoic. It means being strong enough to offer a shoulder to cry on, yet even stronger to know when you yourself need that shoulder. These are the values I want to instill in my daughter. Her mind is a garden, and we reap what we sow. If I plant these seeds inside her six-year-old mind, she will grow into a beautiful person.