Last month, I joined a gym. I go five days a week, and I’m already seeing some results in that my muscle tone is better and my stamina is increasing from the cardio work. I’m very proud of this accomplishment because, only a few years ago, I would not have done it.
One reason is that I held to a stereotypical view of what a gym is. I figured it was a bunch of lunkheads walking around shooting steroids or women in leotards sweatin’ to the oldies…or something. Despite the fact that I continually talk about how wrong stereotypes are, I actually relied on them to excuse myself from taking care of myself.
The other reason is that I held onto a false image of what a man is and what a man does – in other words, I was clinging to a stereotype of what masculinity means. That is what I want to talk about today.
The image comes from my childhood. I grew up in New Mexico where most of the men were involved in the oil field industry. Not all of them climbed derricks, but they were all big – heavily muscled and tough as nails. For example: an uncle cut his finger off when he was working – which means he was welding something at the top of a derrick. He tied a rag around the stub of his finger, put the tip in his cigarette pack, finished his job, carried his eighty or ninety pounds of tools down a fifty foot ladder, then drove himself to the hospital (ninety miles away).
The overarching lesson about manhood from my childhood was that a man endured. Not only did he get up every morning and go to a job that took a heavy toll on his health, and his life, but he didn’t even bother to complain about it. Whatever needed to be done; a man did it.
Part of buying into this worldview was believing that a man really didn’t need to do anything to take care of himself. He didn’t need exercise or dietary counseling or advice from anyone about how to live his life.
Do I need to say that these same men – the ones I looked up to as a child and based my idea of manhood on – died young? My father was barely past forty. His father made it to retirement by a few months. My maternal grandfather was forced to retire early because of a war injury and died a few years later. My eldest brother died in his early forties – less than a week before his twin nephews were born.
The first evolution in my thinking took place when my kids were born. I decided I wanted to be around for them in a way my old man wasn’t. I needed to be alive, and that meant I needed to get healthy. I started eating healthier foods and began exercising. I dropped forty pounds. My cardiologist told me I could make it to ninety if I kept doing what I was doing.
As great as a motivator as it was to see my kids grow up, I found an even greater one. One day I watched Mistress Delila as she watched me doing push-ups. I saw the joy She felt in watching my body moving. Not only did I see it, but I decided that I wanted to see a lot more of it.
I wrote earlier that I never actually saw myself as an object of beauty. Not only that, but I never saw that I deserved to be taken care of – not by anyone else, and not even by myself. I saw myself as being just tough enough to endure whatever health issues arose to make sure I was around for my kids.
I saw that as being a man. I saw that as being masculine.
The part of the story that is missing from my childish view of manhood is that the things that were endured by the men around me were necessary. If my uncle hadn’t had pushed himself through the shock and pain of his injury; then he might have died before anyone found him. They endured because, when it came down to it, endurance was all they had. They didn’t know about prevention and there simply was no other way of life. They didn’t have a choice.
A man must still endure much. Life is far from perfect for us all. But a man must also do everything that he can to overcome the problems he encounters. He must stand strong and resolute in his effort to provide for and protect the ones he loves. Even if that means tearing down the stereotypes that have held him back, and redefining what it means to be a man.
I do this because I love Her, and Her love has redefined me.