What My Dad Taught Me About “Being A Man”

11/28/2018

Image by rawpixel.com

Growing up, I did not fit the mold of a stereotypical boy, particularly that of one in a small town. While I did play all of the obligatory sports to make friends and spent a lot of time outside, there were little quirks about me that landed me outside the realm of a tough, masculine child. These unusual character traits included the fact that my favorite color was burgundy (my mom’s color of choice for decorating), that I was incredibly sensitive and emotional, and that I occasionally joined my sister for a Barbie play date. To me, these things seemed perfectly natural, but even then I could tell that I didn’t fit the the general public’s idea of what a little boy “should” be.

Understanding you are different can be a challenge, especially at such a young age. While I now showcase my quirky characteristics proudly, back then I worked hard to hide them in the hope that it would help me fit in. But every attempt I made to do so felt forced and those in my family could tell that these efforts weren’t doing anything to make me happy. Still, I persisted because I was scared to be different in my small town, scared of being labeled as the “weird” one in my family, and I was scared of letting down my dad. He was a great athlete, worked outdoors, and fit the bill in terms of masculine expectations for our community better than I ever would.

As the middle boy of his three sons, I would occasionally feel like the odd man out. My older brother was sporty, athletic, and always eager to watch and discuss any sporting event. My younger brother was the daredevil; fearless, daring, and always eager for new adventures. Then there was me; sensitive, not particularly athletically inclined, and more interested in watching sappy rom-coms with my mom than I ever would be in any sort of sporting event.

However, different as I might be, my father never pushed any sort of masculine agenda on me. Sure, he tried to get me to be more into sports and a little more fearless, but he was always there for me when my sensitivity was running amok or quietly sitting through movie or show with me that he certainly had no interest in. He never expressed any disappointment in the person I was naturally, just like he never expressed a disappointment in who my brothers or sister were. There were lessons he taught us of course, but never those along the lines of, “You’re a boy; you have to act this way” or “Only girls do that.” Instead, he taught not just to be ourselves, but to be proud of the people we were.

Blaize and his parents

Along with our mother, he taught me and my siblings much more important things about how to act and grow into a good person. Things like treating everyone, regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic status, with respect and understanding. Or that family is the most important thing in this world and we should always be there for each other. He taught us the importance of being happy, regardless of the perception and judgement of others.

To him, it was never about grooming any of us being a manly man; it was simply about showing us how to grow into the best person we could be and treating others with respect, kindness, and understanding. The things he taught me and my brothers were the exact same things he taught my sister; gender role expectations rarely, if ever, played a factor in the kind of person he wanted us to be. I think the only times he corrected our behaviors were when we weren’t following the basic yet profound lessons listed above that he was trying to instill in us.

I feel incredibly lucky to have a dad who taught me that phrases like “Be a Man” should have little bearing on my life. Rather than shaping me into something I am not, he encouraged me to be the best version of myself, regardless of whether or not that fit the narrow, masculine mold that the majority of the world still expects men to fit into. He did the same for my brothers and my sister. None of us fit perfectly into the parameters set for us by society, not by a long shot.

What we have all learned is that it is not about being the best man (or woman for that matter) that you can be to fit society’s rigid gender expectations; it’s about being the best version of yourself, showing strength of character, and showing kindness, compassion, and respect to all those who need it. It’s not “being a man” that is important; it’s about being a person that you are proud to be.

Blaize Stewart
Blaize Stewart is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he received a BA in broadcast journalism and a MA in journalism. He currently lives in Chicago, IL and works as an influencer relations associate for a full-service influencer marketing agency called Faam and as an adjunct instructor at Robert Morris University. Additionally, he runs the LGBTQ+ blog Out Loud, a space for members to share their experiences and thoughts on current events and more.