There Are No “Real Men” – The search for a role model, and how I learned to live without one

Pride Weekend

I’m going to tell you a secret.

Since I was young, maybe 8 or 10 years old, I’ve never had a male role model.

To be clear, I did grow up with a father. My parents never split, and while they had their issues – I wondered at times if they should have divorced – for the most part I grew up in a stable environment. I disagreed with my dad (and still do) on plenty of things, but generally we get along and have made our peace on most of the details. Of course, I would do it differently if I had children…perhaps that’s a fairly standard response considering the generational gap (I’m 29, my dad is 72).

But, when I think about men I admired growing up there is an empty space.

Searching for role models

My dad taught me some important things, like the value of hard work & attention to detail, and honesty to a fault. I use those every day, and am grateful. In fact, I wrote an essay in high school about my dad’s blue collar ethic and what I considered to be his everyday heroism, but even then I recognized it was an abstract admiration. I certainly respected and loved my dad but I didn’t want to be anything like him.

So from a young age I went looking for other role models.

At 9 years old I dreamed of being like Michael Jordan and loved watching him compete, but it was hard to escape the fact that he was often arrogant, and at times unkind to others, in pursuit of excellence.

At 12 years old I read On the Road and wished I could be like Kerouac, knowing I could never write so gracefully and intensely about what it meant to be a man, wild and tough and free.

At 15 years old I wanted to work in public service/government in a leadership role, but my passion for great ideas was pushed aside by uneasiness over what seemed like a requirement to play the game, be tough, and take part in a tradition of exercising male virility in American politics.

At 20 years old I dabbled in the usual confusion over college relationships, unsure of what was a date or a hookup and trying to be a gentleman even though most of my education in that area consisted of books like Great Expectations and a high school romance that was bonded more by chemistry than any sort of intellectual or spiritual connection.

At 26 years old I married my college sweetheart because I had an idea in my head about white picket fences, true love, and the responsibilities of manhood, despite some obvious issues that destined the marriage to end quickly.

All of these moments, and others, had a quality of uncertainty. Some of it was simply about growing up, and the inevitability of leaving behind a path littered with versions of who you used to be.

But there was a deeper thread too, a voice within that asked is this how a man is supposed to be?

“Real Men” are [ ___ ]

If you’re a man, gay, straight, or anything else, you’ve heard the same phrases over and over:

Be a Man. | Toughen Up. | Take What You Want. | Don’t Show Your Emotions.

These are just a few of the standard expectations that come with manhood. There are less obvious but still troubling ones, too, like “real men always protect their families” or “women aren’t as good at making decisions in high pressure business situations so men have to be.”

I hear even men and women I normally respect using variations on these ideas, or making statements based on personal recollection that aren’t supported by research. And yes, I am one of those annoying people who demands more than personal recollections followed by “all Men are X” or “all women are Y.”

This type of carelessness breeds contempt, and allows people to shape and craft culture without responsibility. It also highlights an unfortunate truth:

Just like women and girls, men and boys are constantly held to an ideal that isn’t fair, or even possible.

I’m not the only man I know who doesn’t really know how I’m supposed to be. Even friends who are gay and/or on the margins and already thinking more radically express the same frustration. We simply aren’t being represented. Our fathers and public figures (actors, politicians, etc…) are nothing like us. And I say that with great love for my dad, who does care about me even if he doesn’t often understand where I’m coming from.

I’m also fortunate to have had a feminist mom, who was quietly more radical than the vast majority of women I’ve met. It was less about what she said and more about what she did, refused to set boundaries for her children, that shaped my life and gave me the opportunity to be where and who I am now.

Personally, I’m not a feminist, though I support the foundations of feminism. By that I mean the core idea that each person should be free to choose who they are, and the people and things and concepts they want to be part of their life. I believe that to be true whether you are a man, woman, trans/intersex, in transition, gay, straight, bisexual, questioning, asexual, or any other variation of human. We all have a responsibility to raise each other up.

Because I didn’t have a male role model I spent many years confused about what a man is supposed to be, and ultimately it led to my wearing a mask that forced me to be something or someone that I am not.

It’s a mask I would argue most men I know have been forced to wear. I’ve said more than a few times on this blog that gender parity and other justice movements aren’t a zero sum game, meaning that for women and other marginalized groups to be raised up doesn’t require an “opposite” group to be held down.

I’ll say it again: We all have a responsibility to raise each other up.

Learning to live without boundaries

Finally, I want to tell you a story.

It’s a story about another secret that I’ve known for a long time, and a much harder one to share because I am unsure of the reaction I will get. I think it will be supported by some, not by others, and probably make a few people uncomfortable who won’t say anything about it at all.

A couple of weeks ago I attended my first Pride Weekend here in San Francisco, and went to a bunch of events. I’ve been working here for about 3 months, and while I like the city I didn’t truly understand how special a place it was until then.

At Delores Park I was moved by Dykes on Bikes. I have friends who are gay, straight, black, white, “weird” and “normal,” but I’d never seen so many people of all colors, shapes, and ages. There was something tremendous about seeing a black woman and her partner, both in their mid-40s and riding together that made me think about how they got here, and what they had to do to simply be who they are.  Needless to say,  even though I’m pretty cynical about the value of the institution of marriage itself, I support marriage equality 100%.

I also went to the march/parade on Sunday and was equally moved by the variety in humans, all there to celebrate the idea that you can and should be whoever you want to be. Afterwards, I ended up dancing at the side stage on Larkin & McAlister.

One thing that I don’t talk about much is that, along with being obsessed with music, I love to dance. I’m most comfortable in a small basement headbanging to some gritty rocanroll with punk kids or stomping my feet to old soul or R&B in someone’s living room. On this occasion, however, I committed to electronic music and dancing with a crowd full of ecstatic kids. Looking up, I noticed a guy on stage grinning widely, and our eyes met. He was slender but muscular, with a slight mustache, and had that mischievous look in his eye that I always appreciate in another human. He came out into the crowd a little later, and we talked for a few minutes, and, after a moment of hesitation I gave him my number.

I’ve always known I was different. I tend to fit in well and get along wherever I go, identify as masculine, and am generally pretty “dude.” I’ve had a few fairly limited experiences with men when I was younger that I didn’t quite know how to categorize. It’s pretty clear to me that I am not gay, and bi-sexual isn’t really a good fit either. I talked with a good friend and she correctly identified that the closest label would be “Queer” because while I am attracted mostly to women (the range of women I find attractive is much bigger than that of men, when talking about physical attributes), the defining factor in what I find attractive is passion for life, and the desire to commit to ideas and experiences 100%.

But for the first time in my life, in that moment, I had that feeling that you get when you realize the world is much bigger than you are, and that you can be whoever you are, wherever you want to.

This is much more personal than I normally get, even with close friends, not to mention on the web, where once something is out there it exists forever. So writing and sharing this wasn’t an easy decision. But I also believe that where the most change happens is in modeling. This is my attempt to do that, and while I’m not sure what reactions I might encounter, the decision feels right.

What boundaries are you breaking down in your life?

122 thoughts on “There Are No “Real Men” – The search for a role model, and how I learned to live without one”

  1. I’ve never really believed in having role models. I just want to be the best “me” I can be. I think we’re all too unique to look to another person to see how we should behave.

  2. Great post, Joe, and I greatly admire your courage and honesty in sharing your story. It’s so true that there really are no “real men,” and I’ve learned that, while I don’t really fit every single stereotype of a macho “dude,” I am fully a man in my own right, and I claim that with confidence. Great reflections here.

    1. Hi Mr Joe Cardillo,

      SoundEagle agrees with Mr Todd Foley about this being a great post, and thus is very glad to reply with comments so as to be acquainted with you here, whilst being delighted that such a special post from you has not gone unnoticed.

      Thank you for introducing yourself and explicating your longitudinal journey through manhood as a function of domestic profile and cultural forces with such free spirit and candour! Grammatically sound notwithstanding, you have expressed and broached issues that have continued to define, confine, baffle and haunt the human male of the modern society.

      Happy July to you and to your newly found freedom to express through blogging as much as you aspire to be (free to be) the kind of person at whom you can eventually look back and affirm without regrets!

      SoundEagle agrees with your view that men have been expected to behave in certain ways and by certain standards, and would like to add that men, not just women, have been oppressed by themselves (and by women to some extent) for very long, at the very least, in dress codes, hair style, fashion and jewellery, in how, what, when and where they can wear and show.

      It is interesting to note that in India, those who are intersexed (or called “the third sex”) are highly respected. In the West, they are forced into gender re-assignment by doctors and/or parents.

      Some anthropologists, human behaviourists and psychologists have come to recognize through extensive research that androgyny (in which an individual can exhibit, learn, exercise, interact and/or experience in/via both masculine and feminine ways) allows any human beings to be most adaptive, communicative and empathetic, whilst being able to tap into a wider range of emotions, activities, spheres and influences with greater ease, understanding and commitment. Androgynous parents also tend to have the healthiest (in all the meanings of the word) children.

      Perhaps your current post here can be said to be some kind of milestone in self-appraisal and in reaching a sufficiently matured understanding of one’s surroundings and identity, in addition to the post being a public acknowledgement or declaration that you can or will find your own compass through life beyond the need for, and the validity of, any exemplary male role model, which is increasingly rare or untenable in our increasingly fluid culture and globalized society. SoundEagle would like to wish you a new dawn and an even better year of learning and discovery in the second half of 2013 and beyond. . . . .

      SoundEagle hopes that you continue to do very well and find fulfillment in whatever you enjoy doing, being and savouring, as the “Trial of the Century” continues to unfold before us. . . . .

      Bravo and Cheers!

      1. Hi SoundEagle – thank you, I especially like your point about androgyny and people who live somewhere between masculinity / femininity…I think there’s a lot to be learned from people who have their feet in more than one, or many, worlds. The human experience has great depth and variety, it’s one of my personal missions to both understand and share that truth with others.

      2. Yes, it stands to reason and straightforward logic that androgyny allows any person to be able to tap into, utilize and understand a greater range of emotional, psychological and interpersonal canvases, palettes, vistas or dimensions, thus diffusing rigid or unnecessary boundaries and bigotries.

  3. Hey Joe! Kudos for sharing your story. I totally see your point of view and I’m proud of you for putting it out there. I too believe there’s a whole sexuality spectrum. For me it’s about the person, and not just gender. I’m glad you had a positive experience and felt like you were true to yourself. Though you feel you didn’t have a male role model, may I say you’re doing an exceptional job of being one yourself! *hugs* So glad we’re blogger friends!

    1. Hey Jess – thanks, that means a lot from you. I’m a fan of your mission to push the boundaries of what you believe and how you live…you do some really good work and it’s inspiring to me.

    1. Caroline – hey, thanks! That’s very cool of you to say. I have to admit, my life and the things I value look completely different from how they looked 5 years ago. Having an open mind and being willing to look at oneself carefully makes all the difference.

      1. Ha! Yes, you probably have the best shot of anyone

        How about we compromise and I say that I’m part of a larger family of thought that includes feminism?

        For me, it’s the individual personhood and identity that is most important, and that can’t be accounted for without several labels at the very least. Plus it becomes an empty vessel (a la “liberal”) that doesn’t really mean much after a while. I’m not sure feminism has reached that point, but it’s a question in my mind (btw, have you seen this – it’s kind of interesting —> )

  4. You said you aren’t a feminist though you support the foundations of feminism. Technically by the definition of mainstream feminism, that makes you a feminist. It’s not all protesting and activism. Sometimes it’s just a mind-frame or an attitude.

    1. Hi Rami – sure, I won’t disagree with you there. I’m not real big on labels in general, but it’s pretty hard to live without them…..and I certainly consider myself an ally to a whole bunch of different justice movements.

  5. Thanks for this post, Joe. It has given me a lot to consider. One of my adult children is transitioning from female to male and identifies as gender queer. It’s a new awareness and adjustment not just for my child but also for me and my extended family. Fortunately, we share your desire to raise each other up, even when we don’t fully understand.

    1. Thanks Anne, I’m glad to hear you are approaching your family situation with grace. Let’s be honest, that’s a lonely and challenging place for your child to be…so even just keeping an open mind and communication is huge.

  6. Hi Joe, I just read your post today because you are freshypress and i admire your courage and your story. I guess lots of people are in the same situations the same are you. so its nice to read this one. I live in Madrid and one of the best cities in Europe that never question you of who you are… here there are no boundaries!!

    1. Thanks Neil – I hear good things about Madrid, need to get there at some point. Truthfully, I think the only person qualified to question who you are, is you. = )

      1. Muchas gracias Joe, Will definitely meet when you come here to Madrid, Mucho gusto!! and as i am Reading your comments here, it gets longer and longer and good that you have inspire us!! Yes indeed Madrid is a good city and I hope one day I can come and visit there too in CA. Ill email you on your gmail this days okay and we keep in contact.

        Have a great day day!! Un placer!! Neil

  7. “gender parity and other justice movements aren’t a zero sum game, meaning that for women and other marginalized groups to be raised up doesn’t require an “opposite” group to be held down.”

    So absolutely true. Thank you. And thank you for being genuine. Un abrazo.

      1. Totally. Love this:

        “Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.”
        John Wayne

        Being true to ourselves is the utmost marathon race of our lives.

  8. Good points Joe, they really hit home for me. The constant search for a role model is something that I have personally experienced, along with the majority of people I know. Whether it be a rockstar, a father, or a God, humans need to look up to someone(for many it’s Jesus), to give them guidance in their values and moral compass.

    I appreciate your voicing that there is no ‘real man,’ because I agree, there are so many different perspectives on what a ‘real man’ is supposed to be that it makes men discontented with the work they have put in to be in the position they are currently in.

    I will be visiting your posts often.


    1. Thanks Kaulia – we all look for examples of how we should be living, I think it’s less about what we should copy and more about how we should think about who we are. “Real men” and “Real women” are phrases that always make me pause…though I am not overly religious I have my beliefs…good point about guidance, if you look at what Jesus taught, it’s actually pretty remarkable stuff.

      1. Yes Joe, we are the creators of our own image. Because everyone else will only see us through their experiences with us, and the representations of that with each other, we ourselves can only truly decide who we are, and which role models we would like to emulate.

  9. I’m sorry I think your father in fact, is one of your male role models…at least he taught you some good values along with support of your mother. Role models doesn’t mean a person consciously choose that person. Sometimes the person is a powerful influence on your young life. And he has been.

    You will find out..when your father dies.

    Or don’t wait until then.

    To my point:
    I have a traditional, immigrant Canadian mother who has gr. 10 high school education from China, she has an explosive temper, forgets to praise her children often and is demanding. Has never worked outside the home after she had her 6 children.

    For many years, I would have denied that she was one of my female role models.
    I got rid of that silly thought. She IS one of female role models: she was and did willing to defend for her children and protect them..even if it meant yelling at someone in Chinese and the recipient didn’t understand Chinese.

    Her endurance to raise 6 children in small house while my father worked as cook, is something to emulate. Her hard work spirit (as well as my father’s) has propelled me forward for university and into my career for last 30 yrs.

    And my good health @54 yrs., stems not just from cycling as an adult but I learned from the foundation of her healthy cooking….that I still prepare some of the good stuff now. I owe my excellent health now (which begins babyhood onward) to her.

    So no she doesn’t look like a gorgeous, nor sound overly intelligent to the bigger world….but she has been one of my role models as a womn.

    1. Hey Jean – thanks for the note.

      I am definitely appreciative of my dad and have made a point (as with my mom before she died) to respect and appreciate him for who he is. I don’t really see him as a role model in the traditional sense, although I’m sure we all have different ideas of what that phrase means. Regardless, he’s a great guy and I love him immensely. Actually I was the one that got him in the habit of actually saying that out loud, so I’m proud of that = )

      I like what you have to say about your mom, too. The people I respect and admire aren’t necessarily the most dramatic, but they matter nonetheless.

  10. Role models are definitely great to have but not something you need. I can’t say that I have one set role model but I’m a compilation of a whole different traits and I find to be valuable and interesting. Michael Jordan was definitely one of my role models. His competitive edge and drive to succeed was definitely something I looked up to and is the only thing i took away from it. Like you said, he was arrogant and many times an asshole to his teammates. I find that we all have multiple role models, and we take what we want and need and build ourselves on that.
    That stoic male who is emotionless, strong and never falling is definitely a model that we try to become because it is such a strong stereotype among men. A moment of weakness or deviation from the norm makes us odd or wrong. To that I say “screw it” because I don’t care. Be who you want to be. Take what you want, leave what you don’t want. In the end, you have to live with yourself so there’s no need to go out of your way to please the world and be unhappy with who they want you to be.

    1. Thanks for dropping by – agree with you on that model of the “stoic male” who is never wrong. That shows up so many places, from politics to sports to the work place, etc….

      I think it also highlights a deeper problem, which is the tendency to become inflexible, which is dangerous. One thing I’ve found is that even when I think I know what I believe (sorry, tonguetwister there), there are usually threads in my brain I should look into and try to better understand.

      1. definitely true. We, as men, have almost been forced to conform to this ideal image of what a man is. For some reason that image is full of twisted characteristics that make us a stone wall: emotionless, unmoving, stubborn to a fault, and a pain in the ass as a result. So is it a sin for us to want to change that? If conforming to society makes us worse, then I’ll opt out.

      2. Well done Joe, I enjoyed reading your blog. I would agree somewhat with Jean and you above, on 2 counts, firstly that your father was in some ways your role model and secondly that we must all assess what the words ‘role model’ mean for us. Is it someone who defines every ounce of who we are, is it someone who has had some influence on the way we think and behave or somewhere in between?
        I happen to think that its anyone who has had some kind of lasting positive influence on who we’ve turned out to be, not necessarily someone we have moulded ourselves to be.
        I think I have several role models and people who I have taken what I believe to be a collection of positive qualities.
        Ask yourself, who do you want to be and try to come up with an answer without thinking of someone you know, think of qualities that resonate with you, not people that do or don’t. Ultimately that will be your greatest compass.

      3. That’s excellent advice – I won’t quibble on the definition of role model, for me personally there’s a subtle distinction between that and someone who has admirable qualities (which my dad very much does). Mostly I am appreciative that he shows up and is present even though I know that my life may not make sense to him (musician, writer, media/tech professional, etc…)

  11. I found this post very interesting to read. I am the mother of 3 including a baby boy and the wife of workaholic man who is rarely home with his family. I worry a great deal about my son not having a male role model in his life on a frequent regular basis and being raised in a house where he spends his entire day with his mom and two older sisters. I can only hope that I am giving him everything he needs to become happy and comfortable with the man he will be. I simply try to focus on raising my son and daughters to be honest, kind, contributing members of society.
    I find great inspiration in your writing and I love your honesty in this post. I hope you find comfort and contentment in your continued journey to find out who exactly you are.

    1. Thanks, Michelle, for the kind words. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t have a fixed opinion on masculine vs. feminine influences…my guess is they are a great deal more flexible than people think, but having said that I’m fortunate to be fairly balanced and I see the value in both. I attribute that largely to my mom who refused to set arbitrary boundaries about who her kids would grow up to be.

      That, along with encouraging your son to be thoughtful, and considerate, could go a long way. I still enjoy getting to do what some people consider “dude” stuff, but it’s because I like to do them, not because I feel obligated or was pushed into them.

      1. You seem like a person who has a better handle on who he is than you even know. I hope to raise my own son without any set boundaries of who he can one day be.
        I’m excited to follow your blog and your journey. Good luck in both!

    2. Michelle, my dad was raised by and around women (mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and half sister) and is a well rounded, thoughtful, compassionate man. It’s allowed him to be a great dad with whom I’ve always been close, and it’s allowed me to be pretty much as habitually “gender neutral” as I want. It was not easy for him as a child but I believe he’s a better adult for it.

      1. Thank you for your hopeful words, Caroline. I hope that I am raising a well-rounded, thoughtful and compassionate man. I just worry about how I’ll make that happen because I also grew up in an environment of mostly women. I think if I focus less on raising a man or two women and more on raising good people the world will be better off with who all of my children will become. The whole parenting thing is quite an adventure and filled with so many worries. I’m just another mom trying to figure it all out!

  12. Hey Joe,

    I was in search of my role model for a very long time. I desperately looked for one until I realized a role model is just a perfect figure we really want to get inspired by. After 4 years of thinking over this at the back of my head, I realized there’s definitely something we are looking for which exists in bits and pieces in each person around us. I dont know how to exactly express myself but all those perfect bits and pieces in the people around us, put together gives birth to our role model. Something I think is very tough to get. Great article Joe. Definitely an eye opener for me. Food for thought!

    1. Hey Ashish – thanks, I think being empowered to build a model of yourself, for yourself, is huge. Someone said to me a while back “it doesn’t matter who you are, it matters who you want to be” and I use that all the time. I ask myself “What does the kind of person I want to be think? What actions do they take?” Seems to help a lot.

  13. I like your assertion that we all have the responsibility to raise one another up and I think you’re right! 🙂 Role models, likewise, are important but I think only in a permissive sort of way. As to your recent experience well done, it’s great that you felt confident enough to cross what was for you a boundary. I’ve always looked at sexuality in a Jessica Stein sort of way: it’s the person, not the sex (male or female) that matters. Wish I could have marched in the parade with you anyway – I think marriage equality would be great. Unfortunately it seems to trouble the older generation, my mother included – I think she’d change her mind if the question ever hit closer to home though… Cool post! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Absolutely. I’ve actually been thinking about that a lot lately with the Trayvon Martin case.

      The most challenging thing seems to be: how can we learn to understand each other’s identity, but still consider each human, as an individual with their own thoughts/passions/concerns. Have you read James Baldwin at all? He wrote some thoughtful stuff on that kind of thing.

  14. This was a fantastic read for me today. It reminded me that, while no one is just like me, I am not alone. My partner and I are both gender fluid. On any given day I might identify as more traditionally male and my partner more traditionally female, or vice versa. I have male role models of a sort, but they all came from fiction. I just try to emulate the things I value from their personalities and leave the rest, there is no perfect or ideal person that I want to be like. Merely traits I want to adopt.

    I’m glad I checked the freshly pressed section and got to read this wonderful post. I wish you the very best, Joe, as you continue on discovering yourself and hope to see more wonderful posts that reach out and build positive connections.

    Because your outlook seems very positive. And I wanted you to know that you raised me up today. I feel more confident in myself because of reading what you wrote. Thank you.

    1. Hey, thanks. Good to hear it resonated with you – I wasn’t 100% on whether or not to post this piece, but part of why I did was that I never really had a place to talk about gender, and who / how I am supposed to be, and I wanted to communicate that to other people. I’m also often a bridge between different worlds, so I wanted to help share that with people as well.

      1. Talking about gender wasn’t done while I was growing up. I was just a girl and that was the end of it. I didn’t have words to convey the ways I knew I was different from most of the people around me. Opening up is hard sometimes, I still spend most of my time contemplating the possible repercussions. I am so glad you posted this piece, it brought a sense of understanding and a little comfort to my day today. I am glad to have made your acquaintance through this piece.

      2. Right? It’s especially tough when you don’t fit the easy labels….on the Kinsey scale I’m probably somewhere around a 2, but even that isn’t an exact thing.

      3. During my formative years the questions of sexuality and gender were often meet with a shrug and a joke in my house. And none of the counselors at schools really considered that sort of talk appropriate, not that I really trusted them anyhow. I muddled through, trying mostly not to think about it, because I didn’t have any framework to think about it in. It wasn’t until I met my partner that I really started thinking about my situation and personality again. Labels aren’t the end all be all, but they provide a framework for me to assess myself and try to come to an understanding about myself. I hadn’t even heard of the Kinsey scale before, but a quick Wikipedia search solved that problem. Knowing you’re very different from what people expect but not having terms, framework, labels to try to help understand how and why is pretty confusing sometimes. But I’m learning to just accept that some things don’t have terms that easily define them

  15. This is a wonderful post. I appreciate your authenticity. I especially like this:

    “But for the first time in my life, in that moment, I had that feeling that you get when you realize the world is much bigger than you are, and that you can be whoever you are, wherever you want to.”

    What boundaries am I breaking? Courage, man. I am allowing myself to be in a same sex relationship for the first time. I love the hell out of my girlfriend but its scary as hell. A year and a half in, and I’m happier than I have ever been. Please keep writing.


    1. Hey Acorn, that’s great – so glad to hear you are doing your thing. I have a friend who is just starting the same, it’s not easy but really so much more joy and so much less pain when you get to be who you really are.

  16. Your courage to take off the mask and break down the boundaries is not only inspiring, but the hallmark of a real man. With this post you have demonstrated that a real man is honest, vulnerable and brave. We need more men like you in this world. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Bryan – thank you, I dig that, very kind of you to say.

      You’ve got a book that just came out! That’s awesome. I got some contacts in a few cities should you ever decide to do a reading / travel in support of it.

      1. Your post sure has stirred things up. In a great way. You seem to have broken down more than a few barriers with your words. (That’s what every writer aspires to do. Including me.) So thank you for offering contacts in support of my book. I just pre-released it on Amazon last week so don’t quite have the fan base yet to be touring, but hope to get there. 🙂 Your words here have resonated with a lot of people, and if you ever read my book, you’ll see that we have much in common, as our struggles are universal. So when I’m ready to tour, I’ll take you up on your offer. Until then, I look forward to following your blog. (And learning what happens after the exchange of numbers with a certain mustached human.) 😉
        All best,

      2. Ha! No movement on the moustache front. It’s ok, it was more of an experience thing than something that needed immediate action. I’ll pick up the book, it looks interesting and I’m always up for something new.

  17. This post simply has every element of a brilliant article. Thank you for your honesty and it was a really interesting read. Sometimes I guess we wear that mask of expectation so much we ourselves forget it’s just a mask.

    1. Thanks Chris – one of the reasons I posted it was that I wanted to share with people who identify as men, especially. By most outward appearances I am straight, and kind of a regular dude. There are things I like about being more towards the masculine end, but that mask alone was limiting, and I suspect it is for most men.

      Have you seen this doc that’s in the making yet? It’s by the gal that did “Miss Representation” …looks like it could be interesting and along the lines of what you’re saying…

    1. Thanks Serene! I was a little hesitant to post it, but I didn’t see anything out there that gave a picture of the kind of person I am and sometimes you have to write about the world you want to live in.

  18. So much of your post resonates with me. I had kind of a similar coming-of-age with regard to father and male role models and I understand the need to wander around between the pillars of manhood, so to speak, to figure things out. And do they ever really get figured out? Well, I have figured out that Dykes on Bikes, Dyke March and the Trans March are my favorite parts of Pride! Cheers.

    1. Hey, thanks Dwayne – y’know, I don’t think it does get figured out. I dig being a masculine dude, there are some parts of the experience that are fantastic, of course that’s because I GET to do them, not HAVE to.

  19. I think we all should be the best we can be, for sure. Role models are good as far as having good examples, but not ones that are a how-to book for our lives. I love both of my parents dearly, but I am very different from both of them in my views and beliefs. I also agree with that we should raise each other up, no matter what our perceived ‘roles’ in society should be. Great post…Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. It was well-deserved.

    1. Thanks Samatha, “different is good” is something that I think gets lost. Being totally honest, we all have expectations for what is good or ok. I know people who are ok with gay and straight, but uncomfortable by androgynous or trans/intersex or gender fluid. Who knows what’s good or right or amazing? I’m a pretty regular dude who decided to have an open mind and learned some things about myself and other people that I never expected.

  20. Wow I admire your courage to share your story, but also to question “a man’s role”. I often feel the same way as a female. The expectations to dress a certain way, treat others a certain way, want children by a certain age, scream when we see spiders etc. It’s great to see someone challenging the men’s side as well!

    1. You know what’s crazy, is that the vast majority of things we think “have to be this way” really don’t. That goes for the whole spectrum of humans, too. I think if we challenge these things in ourselves constantly then we’re better equipped to connect with other people.

  21. Hi Joe,
    I appreciate your story. Its’ very well written. I think you are lucky to able to tell the truth because some people around the globe might not be able to express himself/herself because of both cultural and religion boundaries as it happens in my country. Cheers,- Tamy 🙂

    1. Hey thanks Tamy, I definitely feel lucky to have a space to speak my mind. But I am inspired by what other people are doing in societies where there is a lot less freedom. Ai Wei Wei is one of my favorites doing this in China right now.

    1. Right back at you. It’s been nice to see people raising their kids with an open mind and focused on helping everyone be better. I think that’s especially important for boys because there are so many junk messages out there about what manhood is supposed to look like.

      1. We all are role models rather we like it or not rather its good or bad there is someone looking up to us or down on us it’s just life.

  22. You have a very good point. I for one didn’t have a role model to look up to and it doesn’t really bother me. I just think that I am responsible with the way I should live and shouldn’t bother too much about what other people think.

  23. First off I must say thank you for sharing your story, I understand the idea of not having a male role model, but I have to agree with some of the other comments that I have read. This concept of a role model and or the perception of what a man should be are both misconceptions because in truth each of us should be an individual. I thought long and hard about this concept as a youth and what I determined was if I would succeed and/or fail at least I would do it on my own terms with no regret. Identity is one of the most challenging questions that we as individuals must ask ourselves and even harder to make sure that the one that we end up reflecting is one that embodies the concepts, ideas and values that we want. Congratulations on at least coming to some resolution on how you see your identify.

    1. Hey CS – thanks, I appreciate that. I figure we probably have different ideas of what role model means but that doesn’t really put us that far apart in the end.

      Identity is a complex thing, the only thing that matters as far as I’m concerned is that we are thoughtful about our own and encourage others to do the same.

  24. thank you for this post, it made me think about the definition of sexuality. It was always defined as heterosexual or homosexual, and then bisexual was added, 3 definitions for a feeling we don’t even understand. Maybe we shouldn’t define attraction by the gender of the people we are attracted to but by the type of person they are. I think we limit ourself by feeling like we have to choose one of the 3 options given to us

    1. Whistlebird, I like that. It’s a really nice point. What’s frustrating about saying “I like X or Y” is that it doesn’t respect that we aren’t easy to categorize, and even when we can be categorized it doesn’t mean we won’t change. For all the science out there, we really don’t understand love as much as we’d like to think.

  25. Great post, thanks. If there aren’t any role models, there are at least kindred spirits you meet along the way, who share bits of wisdom and heart. One of those for me has been Edward Espe Brown, a Zen teacher and author of the Tassajara cookbook. Your post reminds me of two sayings of his that I jotted down during an all day retreat:

    “No matter what you do, your inner authorities will not be pleased.”
    “Are you going to be a rule follower, or are you going be yourself?”

    Sadly, it seems harder all the time to swim upstream against the stereotypes. A post like yours helps with that, as well as with the general dumbing down that is so pervasive in the media. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Morgan – I’m a big fan of stealing from other people. There is no better way to learn.

      You’re right also that we’re bound to displease others or even the “other” inside ourselves now and then.

  26. HyeJoe, it’s nice to know your thoughts, sitting in India being gay myself and married once I understand what you are saying. I have threaded the married guy path and then the single guy road. It’s amazing how we trap ourselves in the roles dictated by the society. A society which is caged and typical. I did an autobiographical play in which I come out to the world expressing my sexual preference and the fact that I was married. While The press and audiences drilled me to be unreasonable and insensitive , I remember several woman hugging me with tears in their eyes. Telling me how abused they are by their husbands And here i am inviting wrath From people. Closeted gay men coming to shake hands and give me power. I value and practise individuality . It’s important to stay inspired by your past and your mistakes. Life is huge . And it’s important to stay pure to who you are then corrupt yourself with an image that’s only delusional. That’s the only path to peace and love, That’s what I aim for. I also donot judge people . it demeans a self, who Am i to state whats best for someone . People are usually the Best they can do . im not saying that the world is all nice but we can always choose. and we need to take responsibility for our actions . i am glad to have chanced upon you . You’re BrAve joe. Hugs!

    1. Hey, thanks for the kind words – truly appreciated.

      The cage you mention, that is a good metaphor. I tend to think of it as shelving, but it’s the same thing, the unexamined, hidden away, unspoken, those are the things that hold the most destructive power in our lives over us, and the people we love. Glad to hear you took that step to undo that power. You’re right about the response too, it’s not all good but it doesn’t matter because it’s worth it.

      1. I agree. I remember I used to sit for hours in my study . That’s where in got all the comfort when I was caged/ married in my cases. My expression was null . I wrote poetry , drew faces immersed in rocks, I used to look at the sky all the time , there were no answers but I did get the power one day , I left my wife explained n requested her to let go n free me. Left the house , car ,, cheaque books everything wth her, can u believe no on e ever called me . No sues, nothing,. It’s along story , n I’m a free man today . Can breathe and cry aloud.. A the same time if need be!

  27. Sounds like you are, in fact, a feminist. Which is great. Perhaps feeling the need to say you’re not actually a feminist but you agree with the ideals of feminism also stems from societal pressure that says its not ‘cool’ for a man to be a feminist?
    Thanks for a great post.

    1. Hey Lori! Thanks for dropping by, I’m glad you liked the post.

      I think it’s kickass to be a feminist. It’s just not a label for me. Individual personhood is more important to me than any label, which is something I had a hard time trying to express in this piece (I see the irony of talking about living without a male role model and then trying to focus on individual personhood).

      At any rate, regardless of labels I’m all about collaborating with other humans who want to make the world larger and more inclusive.

  28. I just discovered you, Joe. I was startled reading the first 4 paragraphs of your post. I could have written them myself. The only difference would be that I am 64 and my dad is 94. I also wrote about lack of male role models in my post here: I will want to digest the content of your post and see where it leads me in my own explorations. Right now I am definitely in a “life review” phase, and your reflections will be very helpful in inspiring mine. Thank you!

  29. Joe, as many others have replied, I admire your courage for posting such honest and personal feelings here. You’re certainly not the only man who has struggled with the concept of what he is “supposed” to be. There are so many mixed messages sent to each of us on a daily basis.

    One element of my life experience that I think may be similar to yours is that I had a really great father, but he didn’t necessarily help to guide me in what it means to be a man. Consequently, I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to find myself and figure out what, if anything, I should be doing to embrace my roles as a man. This search led me to launch my own blog about the topic at the beginning of this year. I don’t know if it will help you at all to read my perspective, but check it out if you like.

    Either way, I wish you the absolute best in your journey to find truth and meaning as a man in an increasingly confused world.

    “It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.” – Theodore Roosevelt

    1. Hey, thanks Drew! Apologies for the delay, was a bit busy the last month, but appreciate the kind words. My perspective is that there really isn’t a wrong way to be a man, same as there isn’t a wrong way to be a woman. I wish that message were out there more, would have saved me personally a lot of grief and I’m sure for other people too.

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