Men couldn’t talk this way
Only ever hold back a storm
Only ever lock it away
Back when I was a boy
Boys were a certain way
Boys had to conquer the world
Boys bled in the heat of the day
Lord now that I’m a man
A man’s an uncertain thing
A man isn’t alone on the edge
A man offers whatever he brings
Maybe I haven’t used this space enough to discuss my experience of manhood and masculinity. It’s a loaded subject that I’m not fully comfortable writing about, so I wanted to use this song in part to find the edges of my language on the topic.
I remember a time when the definition of a man was a lot narrower. This definition was not only narrower in the dimension of what a man could be like or act like, could think, feel, or express — but narrower, also, in the scope of people who could ever be accepted when describing themselves as men.
Our current definition of a man is mercifully a little wider, but still far too narrow. It causes deep injury to the souls of men and boys of all description, and to the people in their orbit. It alienates us from ourselves, from other men, from women, from our partners, and from humanity at large. It is in part why we men do damage to other people in ways both great and small, whether we mean to or not.
We are bound by the narrowness of our definition, and we strain and rage against it. We long to be free of it, to decide it for ourselves even as we are frozen in fear of that freedom. I’m not speaking for all men, of course. But I’m speaking on behalf of a great many who I’ve encountered. So many of us feel this way.
I’m glad to live through a time in history when we can ask questions of our manhood, when we can think again about what it means. This song is a small piece of that larger questioning. How can we be better men? I’m not sure, but we can try.