Permission to be a “Real” Man

My dad died when I was 7 years old. Since the instructor was missing, I didn’t get the opportunity to learn Man 101. I grew up thinking it was “ok” to verbalize my feelings, to be vulnerable, and even poetic. I was raised by a single mom until I was 13. So, my model of what it meant to be “a man” was taught by a woman. Thank God.

I am in touch with my heart. I can listen to Classical music. I can feel deep tenderness and as a result, know the full measure of love – as love without vulnerability is like being half pregnant.

My whole life I struggled with “being a man.” It was so strange for me. I felt so masculine. I was wowed by women. I liked fast cars and adrenaline producing leaps. I loved sports and rough competition. I was very much in touch with my inner testosterone. At the same time, I liked to dance. I liked to sing. I hugged my fellow men like brothers. I confessed my love openly.

And, I confused people. No one knew what to do with me. They couldn’t pigeon-hole me into their distinct categories. Was I gay or straight? He seems to like girls, but he talks with his hands a lot. He wants to watch Superhero movies, but also cries in the “Notebook.”

What it means to be a man today is so confused. On one hand, there is the hairless wonder with more abs than teeth and freshly conditioned hair, Salon-quality hair. On the other hand, there is the hairy, NFL-watching Neanderthal who crushes beer cans on his head and high-fives his low IQ buddies.

I’m neither. But, most of us feel like we’ve got to pick one of them - you know… in order to be a “real man.” Early on, I chose the hairless wonder, because at least it was closer to me. I shaved my chest and wore preppy clothing.

As I have stepped into my power as a man, as a father, and as a partner to my Beloved – I no longer shave my chest. That was really stupid. I give myself full permission to be a “dude.” I know how to frame a wall. I can re-tile a bathroom. I also teach yoga. I am all of it – dynamic, powerful, passionate, tender, emotional… and my reward is that I get to taste the fullness of life.

Our model has to change – not just for society and the state of our world, not just for our kids, but for our own experience here. This is our life. This is our experience on Earth. Why would we only taste half of it so that we can fit in with a very narrow and shallow model?

I have feelings. I feel love. I get sad sometimes. And anxious. I feel deeply moved by poetry, music, communion with friends, and my soul mate’s heart-opening gaze. Watching my baby sleep can make me cry.

Lately, I’ve been put back into an uncomfortable position where I am struggling to find my way. Recently, I was hired by a large company here in the Midwest to lead customer communication training with several groups of their frontline, hard-hat-wearing, sweaty, construction-booted men. These were REAL mean. Paul Bunyan men. And, my job is to teach them soft, fluffy, Charmin-quality communication skills.

These sessions are typically 15-20 men. No women. And me. Shirt-tucked-in, pointy and shiny shoes, no hat version of me. I want to teach these men. I’ve learned so much in the last few years about life, about love … I feel like I am so close to God now – to love, to inner peace, and joy. I want to share with them openly. I want to break down these artificial walls of masculinity and have real heart-opening conversations. Because, as guys, we can remember those… deep in our memory is a time we sat with another brother and cried and shared our heart… and at some point in adulthood, we walled up the heart-city. We closed.

The last thing in the world these men want is to be in this training. They want to be outside. They hate the corporate structure. Their loathing of me and all they think I stand for is apparent from the minute they walk in the door. Worse, they are there for COMMUNICATION training.

So, I start the session…

Me: “Hey, before I begin, I’d like to get to know you guys. Tell me a little about yourself – name, how long you’ve worked here, wife? … kids? … I’ll start over here (I point to Man #1 on my right hand side).

Man #1: “Sorry, dude. I don’t do therapy.”

Me: “Good thing I’m not a therapist. How about your name?”

Man #1: “Dookey Brown”

Me: “Ok, Dookey, how long with the company?”

Man #1: “Longer than you’ve been alive, I guess.”

Me: “Nice. So, about 36 years? Wow. OK, anything else?”

Man #1: “Yeah. How about this for an idea? How about we as a group don’t say another word to you and we get out of here sooner and we don’t have to do this Kumbaya, Fluffy bullshit.”

Yeah. That’s how they all start. So, I try to win them over.

I tell them that I plan on making the course relevant to their lives. I want to help them with their relationships / marriage, their communication with their kids. I want to teach them these ancient secrets to happiness – to understand how their perceptions and beliefs create their world.

And, with every chance for them to open, to share something from their heart … with every ask from me in what COULD be a sacred men’s circle, they respond with crass, 12-year old humor. They demean their wives remarking how they just try to stay away from her so they don’t have to hear her b_tch. They educate me on how all they really want to do is hunt, fish, and f_ck. Cuz they’re real men.

I urge. I push. I tell them that the #1 reason why women leave men is due to listening. I talk about the loss of connection we have in our society – the rise of depression and unhappiness – how we dodge our neighbors now, when 60 years ago we would have known everything about them. They educate me – telling me that happiness in marriage doesn’t exist – that (and I quote) “the simple truth is you want to “mount” your wife for 3 or 4 years and after that, it’s old and you don’t really want nuthin’ to do with her anymore.”

I ask them if they are happy. They say they don’t think about “stuff like that.” They just wake up and go to work, go home and eat, sleep, “try to get a little,” and then go to bed. I suppose it would be more correct to say that a few of the men speak up in this way. Not all of them. Some of them remain silent. They probably don’t agree. Some talk to me in the breaks, opening in the security of no other man present.

In our society, when in a group of other men, you don’t have permission to be weak and open your heart. If one of them had of spoken up, opened up, or shared openly – they would have been immediately viewed as “weak,” rather than the truth – that they were being brave, courageous, and strong.

We need to remodel manhood.

We are openly destroying our full experience in the world by denying the full spectrum of emotion. We are incapable of true leadership until we open ourselves fully to Godliness, which is LOVE and LOVE is gentle.

It’s easy to be closed. It’s hard to be open.

It’s an act of cowardice to deny your heart’s hurt.

The brave road is to be vulnerable.

It is strong to be compassionate.

It’s “manly” to hug. To make eye contact. To engage. To connect.

I am calling out to all you “real men.”

I am starting a men’s circle.

  • If you are up for spiritual transformation, growth, authenticity, challenge … say “I”.

  • If you are up for deep love, awesome sex with your woman, true connection … say “I”.

  • If you are up for taking back our value system, holding hostage these terrible concepts of men… say “I”.

That is… if your man enough.

To my brothers: I honor you.


Ryan Pride


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