The Evolution of the Male Role in Society
by Dustin Lehman, MS, LCPC, LMFT
From the beginning of time to present day, men's and women's societal roles have evolved. Of course they have, for reasons too many to list. In the month of the father, though, we’re specifically looking at the male role in today’s world. Nowadays, there seems to be a lack of clarity, an oblique status regarding the male role. Yet men still hold a unique position in this world, and that uniqueness, in action, is what we’re trying to tackle today. Disclaimer: My experience and descriptions of the male role to follow are not assuming mutual exclusivity with that of the female role.
Being a dad is one of the most profound and transformative endeavors I’ve yet to navigate. My role with my two children, Addy (7) and Camden (4), and as a man can be characterized as a secure steward of the disciplines, gifts, insights, and strengths I possess. Past, present, and future have a common thread- increase. Men historically and in present-day have this role to increase their production, income, strength, relationships, and family.
Boundaries are intertwined with this common thread of increase, and a good man has healthy, clear, and well-maintained boundaries. Simply put, boundaries outline the space in which we exist. Those who enter that space and story (by invitation or circumstance) have the position of:
- Edifying the expression of the person’s identity, whose space and story they are participating in.
In other words, we get to help and contribute to someone else’s writing of their story, and vice versa, however small a role. If that doesn’t happen, the story slows down, stops, or the book closes. We establish, maintain, emphasize, or discuss boundaries when a violation occurs.
Not all boundaries are good or healthy, but those that are allow a person to measure whether or not to proceed with that person within their lives. Boundaries illuminate the story. They display the quality and context of the character and help them know the special elements (vulnerability) that may be appropriate within the telling of the story. Men, stereotypically, find vulnerability to be, well, a vulnerability. Weak. Yet vulnerability increases freedom within our relationships and the opportunity for greater intimacy. Feelings have not necessarily been a common dialect for our experiences as men. Though, if we break it down, men who can characterize the qualities of their “best” friends will almost invariably disclose consistency with the pillars of relationship, which are Love (Identity) and Trustworthiness (Safety).
We (men) may not be vulnerable or “emotional” in action; however, we most certainly are in essence. This is a secure indicator of an excellent male relationship or friendship - emotional intelligence and accessibility. Here is an example to clarify:
Recently, leading up to one of my little guy's show-and-tell days at school, we discussed what he wanted to do, and he asked if he could bring his easy-to-transport and set up electric drums. So, I spoke to his teachers, and they agreed. The day of show-and-tell, he was SO excited, and his friends were too. They could hardly wait to see him do his thing. I chose to play with him as we do at home, and while I was hesitant, it was so much fun!
Now, the application: the “spaces in which we exist” had overlap. Camden’s teachers invited me into their space (classroom). Camden invited me into his space with his friends. I extended my space and ability to them. The outcome: a Promotion of creative expression among my little guy’s peers and teachers, a Proliferation of connection, interest, assertiveness, and imagination that relationship is fruitful and accomplishes more than we might anticipate, an Encouragement to be confident and vulnerable at the same time, and an Edification in the novelty and newness of the experience. Since that day, he’s been pounding on all sorts of things. He has rhythm and might have some sore hands soon, but this is an example of the male role to increase.
BUILT FOR UNITY
Unity is another reference to the common thread of increase. I mean, look at a baby and smile, and what do they do right back at you? Unity is part of our stitching and basic wiring as humans. Thus, men (and women) have a necessary position with their kids to do as I referenced earlier - to promote, proliferate, encourage, and edify the expression of their kids’ identity. This position creates increase through modeling and replicating necessary disciplines. Healthy things reproduce- If I act kindly, my kids learn to be kind.
On the other hand, when kids experience repetitive and recurrent violations of the expression of their identity (yelling, shaming statements, punishment vs. discipline), the boundaries of the space they take up become less and less. They shrink and no longer have the clarity for what space they get to exist in. They lose the freedom to expand their space/boundaries and become withdrawn, quiet, confused, and chaotic. This is where suicidal thinking occurs and, generally, destructive behaviors happen. The violations of their boundaries are relatively easy to discover, and they are primed for reconciliation.
“We love people, we help people, and we don’t quit” the Lehman family motto. It’s a lesson in perseverance that was clearly on display during my kiddos’ first ski trip a few months ago. Ahead of our adventure, the anticipation was great, and it was exciting to watch as they prepared and planned together. On the mountain, they opted out of taking lessons and dove right in, making for a brutal first run: Addy crying, "I hate this! I want to have fun!" Camden, angry because he had to keep stopping, "I just want to go!" and me thinking, "What did I think I was going to do with these guys? Did I ruin skiing for them?" But. We didn’t quit.
I began coaching and encouraging them, which snowballed into them doing the same for each other. It was beautiful. Addy started saying, "Good job, Bubba! Follow me! Now just go slow like me, ok?" and Camden, "I'm literally like a pro at this! Watch me, Addy!" They stopped and made sure each was okay after a fall. They stuck together and cared for each other. It's what family is supposed to be. Enduring and patient, kind and compassionate, inclusive, loving and trustworthy. My role was to carry them through the adversity into the increase of their experience. So many lessons, validations, and strengthening of the glue that makes us "us." These kids did it, and after the:: longest run:: down Miami Beach I've ever taken, both kids wouldn't quit. Noodle legs and all.
The male role of increase is made in the proper sequence of being to doing. Who I am determines what I do. To find the best outcome, the highest yield of increase in ourselves and our relationships, we must be steady in the overlap. When the opportunity arises to participate in someone else’s story, look for ways to build up (“promote”), multiply (“proliferate”), motivate (“encourage”), and uplift (“edify”) the person whose space you’re sharing. I love the simplicity of the Golden Rule, treat others how you want to be treated. Pursuing increase within the limits of healthy boundaries is good medicine for us as men and our relationships. And, you know, you might even shed a tear or two along the way.
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