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Friday, April 15, 2011

What is My Modern Mormon Manhood, Anyway?

by Josh (bio)

Me and my boys making cookies a few years ago.
My manhood and I have had always had an evolving relationship. I am not what most people think of as a typical guy. I am, generally speaking, not into "typical" guy things. I am not, nor have I ever been, an athlete. I don't watch any type of sport on TV, unless you count Top Chef. In fact, the only way I know that major sporting events are occurring is when Facebook lights up with everyone's commentary about whose team is winning or losing, or why Utah fans are better than BYU fans. Usually I am not sure what sport is even being played. I don't like camping. I prefer Nancy Drew to The Hardy Boys. I am confused by Home Depot (why do they need so many kinds of screws?) I have no idea what a jimmer is.

But I grew up in a home where manhood was more rigidly defined. I have five brothers and three sisters who are almost all athletes. When I was born, the second son, it was likely assumed that I would be an athlete too. I remember playing T-Ball when I was about six, and taking a golf clinic in my early teens. It was pretty much the end of my organized sports career. When I was a teen, my activity in the church was sometimes questioned. I went to all of my Sunday meetings, but rarely went to young men/scouts during the week. Most weeks they played basketball. Occasionally they worked on merit badges - neither one was really my scene. So no, I am not an eagle scout. (Sorry - do I get kicked off the blog now?) I remember once finding out that young men in my ward had been given the assignment to find out what I liked so they could plan activities that I would attend. I am grateful for that leader who wanted me to be involved, but also kind of chuckle that the idea of a boy who didn't want to play basketball or go camping left them so flummoxed.

In high school and college, I did theatre. I don't think my parents were expecting to have to come and sit through a lot of poorly done Shakespeare when they had a son, but they were always very supportive and never missed a performance. I am sure they sat through a lot of poorly done shows just for the 15 minutes or so that I might be on stage. But when I did Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, my senior year of high school, my dad was so proud when he watched me perform that he actually cried.

I wasn't unhappy as a kid. I just never really knew where I fit into a man's world. I didn't know how to talk to or relate to other guys very well. Growing up, all my close friends were girls. It was tough at times. I wanted to be friends with other guys, but didn't really know how. In college, I started to meet more people like me and began to feel less different. As I got older, it bothered me less and less and I became more comfortable in my own skin.

I'm a dad now, and have two amazing sons. (And a fantastic daughter, but this is not her post.) And I feel a certain sense of responsibility to teach them how to be men. Fortunately, I think we live in a world where the idea of a typical man is evolving and changing. Can you imagine my dad and a bunch of his contemporaries writing a blog together about what it means to be a man? Granted, they would have had their minds blown by the whole idea of the internet, but you get my drift. A part of me hopes that my sons follow a more traditional path - basketball games, camping with friends, etc. I think it will make a lot of things easier for them. But I know that I love them, and I know that they will be amazing men, even if they want to major in Ballroom Dance.

I am still not fully at home in the world of men. When I take my seven year-old to baseball practice and am supposed to help him "warm up" before practice starts, I have no idea what I am doing. I do finally have my own mitt (my parents gave it to me for my last birthday so I could play catch with my son), but when he's not up at bat I am most likely reading something on my Kindle, or watching re-runs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on my iPhone. But I'm comfortable now with my idea of manhood and I think I can help my sons get there. It means knowing who you are. It means taking care of the people around you. It means being patient, gentle and kind. It is always going to be a work in progress. But I am figuring it out more and more every day.

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