Be a Man
A portrait project redefining masculinity for today and tomorrow.
“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.
Tim and I spent a couple of hours together for his session a few weeks ago. He had originally gotten in touch for updated headshots. I said to him, "You know, I have a project that you might be interested in. We could do headshots and a little more," to which he responded, "Go on..." I sent him a link to the project, and he instantly said, "Oh man, anti-toxic masculinity, I'm in!"
He immediately shared with me the story you just read above. At our session, we talked about fashion, parenting, talking with other dads, music, and more. (We riffed on late-90's and early-00's punk and emo music for a while. That brought back some great memories for me.)
Tim is a thoughtful, caring dad and husband. He thinks about his family before anything else. In fact, we were chatting about what it's like to plan time away with friends, and he mentioned that he'd usually rather just stay home with his family. I'm the same way. We both like being with our families. They're the people we want to be with in our downtime.
Thank you, Tim, for being a role model for your daughter and for sharing with everyone that being a man and being nurturing, gentle, and caring are one and the same.
If you know someone like Tim 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."