What is strength, anyway?

What is the one thing, above all else, that is expected from men? No matter the culture, geographic region, religion or race...what is the one trait men are expected to exhibit?


Damn near since the dawn of our species, men have been expected to be the stronger of the sexes. And rightfully so, at least physiologically. Men are generally larger and physically stronger than their female counterparts (I'm speaking in broad generalizations here, I'm not trying to start a battle of the sexes). And from that physical size disparity developed a cultural expectation for men to be strong. That expectation at some point extended beyond mere physicality to mental and emotional fortitude as well.

Simply put, we are expected to be strong in every sense of the word. It is ingrained in our psyche to not show fear, or any other "soft" emotion. The only truly acceptable emotions that men are allowed to show are anger and aggression. Such emotions (and resultant actions) are welcome, even applauded, pretty much universally.

One need only to look at the stereotypical male hero. Superman. Batman. Any of the Avengers. The ass-kicking superheroes beloved by generations are built on personas of strength in various forms. They certainly aren't known for their emotional expressiveness - save for maybe the Hulk, which reflects my point exactly.

Culturally, the worst thing a man can do is be perceived as weak. So we put on our game face and act like we have our shit together at all times. Like nothing can faze us, nothing can stand in our way, because we're men, dammit. We got this...

Except the reality is we don't.

There, I said it. We don't have all the answers. We sometimes don't know what the hell we're doing. How could we? There's no playbook for life, for parenting. We're making this shit up as we go and if we're lucky enough to have any semblance of a support group around us, we can at least stumble around blindly as a group. Because god forbid we ask for help. That's weakness...

That's bullshit. 

Here's the reality. We can't go through life acting like we have all the answers. So let's put that notion to bed right now. You don't know any more than the next guy about how to raise a kid, or be a good husband, or a great leader, or whatever. You might know how NOT to be those things. You may know some of what it takes to be those things. But you don't know it all.

And you never will.

When it comes to living life, few things are truly binary. You're not either a good or bad parent, you're somewhere in between. And where you fall on that spectrum varies from day to day, minute to minute. All we can do is try to perpetually learn and improve our position on that spectrum a bit further to the good side before we run out of time. 

Strength is not having all the answers. Strength is knowing you don't and doing what you can to learn. It's taking the hits life throws at us and getting back up. It's admitting we're wrong and asking for help. Strength isn't Hulking out when we get pissed about something, it's recognizing we're pissed in the first place and dealing with the source of the anger. It's having the fortitude to have the difficult conversations when they need to happen. It's being vulnerable sometimes and talking about what we're going through. It's being open, open-minded, and open to feedback. 

I admit I suck at pretty much all of that. But the older I get, the more I'm coming to realize that there's more to life than the crap society feeds us. So I'm trying to improve. Because I owe it to my family to be the best man I can be. To be strong in the way they need me to be. To be strong in the way that I need to be. And that takes continual exercise and more than a little pain. 

And so I strike off into this gym of life hoping to build the strength I need to thrive in it. I don't know yet all the exercises, and I never will. But I'll show up every day. I'll keep learning and do my best to enjoy the process...and the pain. And if I'm lucky, I'll get to pass some of that on to my kids so they too can navigate this crazy world with the kind of strength required not to just survive it, but to thrive in it as well. 

What's manlier than that?