What to Do if You Don't Feel Like a Man—Part 1: My Story.
Updated: Oct 7, 2019
Beneath all shame, there lies a noble heart.
Behind a twisted face, there hides a treasure, and an art.
The coward wasn’t born one, and the whore in secret weeps.
Beneath the mire runs pure red blood; the yoke of shame the soul in torment keeps.
Roots must not be forgotten; pain must not be left unwept.
The cave of the ages must at last be opened, and the brave must enter its depth.
Only then will blood become true blood; only then will the storm stop its raging.
If we are cut off from our roots, in sorrow we will be aging.
I believe most men have, at some point of their lives at least, known a feeling of inadequacy, a sense of weakness—a feeling of not being a 'real' man, not really belonging among men, not being as 'manly' as other men, or not being as confident, motivated, and capable to handle the realities of life.
Looking into my own story, I remember, as far back as my early childhood, feeling as though I was somehow hindered from being my true happy self, especially when strangers were around. I can recall, with traumatising clarity, a feeling of being 'slow' in both thought and action, mostly in front of others. It was as if I was plagued by some unseen weakness, a dis-ease that inhibited me severely and put upon me a burden of shame and self-consciousness, which led to a sense of inability to be free to behave in the ways I wanted; it stopped me from being fully able to learn and do the things that most other boys seemed to be so naturally good at.
Those realities changed and shifted as I grew up, but if I have to name some of them, I must start from the beginning, from those first years of internal agony and torment – and work my way toward the present...
Not being good at playing sports brought a great sadness for me. I could not be myself and be free, in mind and body, whenever it came to sports—especially team-sports—or whenever I
had to do anything, for that matter, in front of other children.
I felt slow, clumsy and stupid for being totally unable to get my body to obey my anxious, erratic mind.
Not being able to 'think fast' and have quick physical reactions and reflexes—to have good eye-hand co-ordination and not flinch or 'freeze' when the moment came, so that I could be quick and reliable, in the most primal way. As a boy, it was incredibly important to me to be good at catching fast-moving objects, like a basketball, which others threw in my direction...not only because the boys who had that ability were more free and more fun to be around, but also because...who knows, having that mastery and freedom might've meant that I would also be good at rescuing somebody from danger, if the need ever arose. And for a boy, that is very, very, important.
Not being able to feel at ease around other boys, and later, men—to have true camaraderie with my friends; to be spontaneous and physical with them, as boys tend to be, and to even be rough at times... instead, I was cautious, nervous, and always shied away from those who were more open and free in that immediate, physical, masculine way.
Not being able to quickly orient myself in a new situation—to know what to do when something went wrong or my intervention was called upon; instead, I looked to others to take the lead: I looked to others to tell me what to do—even when I was already in my early twenties and worked as a bouncer in many different nightclubs. Any crisis, any need to take action, call the police or an ambulance, was my worst nightmare. I did not want my presence to be called for because deep down, I did not believe that I had what it took to be that—the man who was quick to think and always acted on time, the man who stepped into a situation and exposed himself to danger—physical, yes, but also the danger of being seen, criticised, or worse: being laughed and ridiculed.
The so-called 'banter' – that too was a no-go area for me; I was too fearful and suspicious of others, especially those who appeared more mature or confident than me – I was too insecure around them, and felt too inferior to them to be able to fully participate in what might've been a harmless, joyful activity.
Because of these things, for most of my life I was driven by insecurity, fear, and a constant sense of being an impostor—of being a boy in a man’s body. I never felt like I was a man – a true, genuine, authentic man, who belonged with other men and neither feared them nor tried to prove himself to them…
I knew I was not that, and for some reason, I knew I could never become that…
'If a boy is not lovingly welcomed into the world of older men, and then taught, trained, disciplined and thus enabled to master that world by gaining skills and abilities, he will grow up missing something deep and essential to who he is.'
What I did not know, however, was that manhood is a product of training, growth, and deep connection to other men...
Not knowing that, I hid deeper into the body of the man I was doomed to live with, for the rest of my life.
What I also didn't know was that, if a boy is not lovingly welcomed into the world of older men, and then taught, trained, disciplined and thus enabled to master that world—from kicking a ball to wrestling, using power-tools or driving a car—he will grow up missing something deep and essential to who he is.
A boy who had not been given that opportunity will grow up with a deep void in his life, and a lack of feeling like he belongs among other men—that he is as strong as they are, as capable as they are; he will not only feel uncomfortable in his body, but he will also feel very uncomfortable in close physical proximity to other men and their bodies...
Because that would call upon that very thing in him which has not yet been released into being, but lays dormant, and so feels as though it is lacking.
* * *
For most of us who have grown up thus deprived of male intimacy, things like a pat on the back, a solid handshake, or a spontaneous 'high-five' with another man might happen very rarely (for we are rarely spontaneous); while things like an arm around the shoulders, an embrace, or a playful punch to the shoulder—almost impossible.
I remember well how I looked at the other boys once and felt sorrow at my inadequacy and my inability to be like them.
I also remember how, later, while working at the door of a nightclub with the group of other young men, another doorman—a friend of mine who was with me every day—happened to lean on me so that he could see better the thing I was showing them all... I will never forget what happened then, because this is what always happened in those rare times when I finally found myself in a situation I couldn't avoid: I froze. I simply froze. My mind was no longer on the things we looked at and discussed; my breath became shallow; I did not know how to behave—whether to move or stand still until he removes his arm from my shoulder. Torment, this is how I can describe most of those first decades of my life...torment. And all because of that single, yet all-encompassing issue: my identity and place among other men. Apart from the paralysing fear from physical closeness to other men, I was also afraid of their anger; I feared fighting and violence, not primarily because of the possibility of being harmed, but because I was terrified of being confronted by a raging male being; by being faced with an unleashed force of masculine wildness (a force which I did not think I myself possessed) and being exposed as fearful, inadequate, childish and weak, for not being able to resist it. In my boyhood, youth, and early manhood, this lack of feeling like a man manifested practically all the time, when I was around people who were outside my small circle of friends—even people whose eyes met mine only for a second, or whom I passed on the street.
In fact, the worst of those daily moments always came when I was forced to pass by a group of boys or young men on the street...
I would walk by them, rigid and tense, my heart beating fast, wishing I had my sunglasses with me or that I had someone else with me to talk to, or at least something I could do with my hands. Later, in my late teens, when I started using a mobile phone, I would always pull it out of my pocket, long before they could see me approaching, of course, and, holding it to my ear, I would pass them by as quickly as I could, pretending to listen to someone talking on the other end of the line—all the while straining to hear if they would say anything about me...
People I knew told me that the rigid walk of my stocky, muscular body was often mistaken for swagger, but I could only wish the truth was that simple and easy to live with...
I knew that all of that tension and anxiety told a deeper, darker story... I was simply not a man—I knew this without a doubt—and I hated myself for it. But, as you know, defeat was not the end of my story, and it doesn't have to be the end of anyone's story... I know you might find this hard to believe but here is the hard-won truth: it is not too late to take the deep journey to becoming the man you were born to be. It is never too late.
With much respect,