A life-changing experience helped redefine my manhood

In the summer of 2015, I was a camp counselor and at evening Vespers, I heard a poem by a counselor that changed my life.

The author explained how society measures manhood by  “pec size rather than how one affects lives.”

He touched on how a real man is measured instead by letting others know how he feels, embracing the emotions that make us all human.

When I listened, I sat in awe. This grown man explained that by crying, I was asserting my manliness, and by embracing how I felt, I was showing strength.

This went against everything I had grown to understand about myself.

Until this time, I thought being a man meant to be tough, to be stoic.

It meant that I never let my emotions get the best of me.

I grew up with a twisted sense of masculinity and  idea of what my place in society truly was. I considered myself “manly” because I played sports, worked hard, and was well-liked.

Then, on February 12, 2015, my little sister lost the use of the lower half of her body to a rare autoimmune disorder called Transverse Myelitis.

At first it was thought to be nothing, and then possibly a stroke. Eventually, it became clear that this disorder was not short-term.

Ella is now a paraplegic and has had to reinvent her life from a wheelchair.

Every night I sat and asked why it wasn’t me.

For months I felt the guilt of having the ability to walk.  My sister was sitting in a hospital bed for weeks on end while I stayed at home and lived my normal life.

I shut down mentally for a year and became introverted, selfish, and unpleasant.

I had so many thoughts and worries but I didn’t know how to get past them without showing weakness.

I had spent so much time telling myself and the people around me that I was fine, that eventually they stopped trying to reach out.

Life hit me with adversity, and I responded by shutting down.

What I now see is that I denied my emotions to not only the people around me, but myself as well.

I let my hidden feelings drive my personality to a place I never wanted it to go.

Instead of expressing my fear and my guilt, I hid from them.

I was too proud to admit that I was sensitive and a man, and that those two things could be synonymous.

After hearing the poem at camp, this reality hit home. I realized how society misleads men about what they should value in themselves.

It is much more common to find a man discussing how many women he has been with than about treating a woman with respect.

Men too often value the idea of accomplishments and how others see them more than they value character.

We also often become perplexed about how to express ourselves and our emotions.

We end up putting physical attributes before mental attributes.

I worry about what this says about our values as a society.

As an athlete, especially a football player, I am around a culture that is often criticized for its misogyny.

As a man, I now know that it is my responsibility to set an example for younger players and younger men on how to conduct themselves.

We as men can not let the inability to express ourselves hold us back.

If we can create a generation of men who feel comfortable understanding their emotions, we can form a culture that understands the value of character and respect for ourselves and everyone around us.

This not only creates a safer culture for men, but it creates happier human beings.

All men should strive to provide a solid example for not only how to treat others but how to treat ourselves.