HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.
In the world today we have a strong picture or ideal around what a man should be. Generally it goes alongs the lines of a strong rock in the family, always there to help out, dependable, reliable, able to fix things when they are broken, the bread-winner, who puts himself out for the family. There seems to me to be a strong sense of duty and responsibility in this role that we put on men. But is this really who men are?
This whole ideal seems to be based on what a man can do for someone else. Men love to do things, even for others, but does this sometimes come at the expense of themselves or their relationships? The classic extreme example of this arrangement would be the man who goes to work reliably and diligently every day to pay the bills but at home has distant, strained relationships with his children and partner.
The whole idea of duty seems grounded in a societal and even religious notion of 'self sacrifice' and putting other people before ourselves. It seems a common message is that others needs are always more important than your own.
Even genuine loving potential moments of connection with our children, wife, parents, clients and colleagues at work can be been diluted by this sense of duty and responsibility. I know I have often felt the tension between what I am really feeling to say or do and what feels like the 'right' thing to say or do.
This sense of duty is like a sticky slime that can attach itself to anything we do or express in life and it suffocates or stifles any real enjoyment or joy in life, if we let it.
What I would like to suggest is that even though this dutiful behaviour looks harmless enough on the surface, even noble, what we actually call responsible dutiful behaviour is actually deeply irresponsible.
I know this is big call and it exposes just how upside down the world really is, but yes in fact the man who fulfils all his duties and cannot be faulted on being a 'responsible' citizen, father and husband is actually being irresponsible!
Why? Because as men we are using duty and responsibility to hide the fact that underneath we are deeply sensitive, vulnerable even hurt human beings. We are using duty as a shield to hide behind which cuts us off from everyone else. It is the perfect place to hide for how can you fault or question a man who on the surface is consistently doing things for everyone else and putting himself out for others?
So by not being true to ourselves and our true nature as men we are actually hurting ourselves and also hurting everyone around us.
From a young age as men, we are bombarded with messages that tell us that we have to be or behave in a certain way in order to be recognised or accepted. There is a constant unsaid threat from everywhere that if we do not play ball with this game then we will be rejected. It is a set up from the beginning and one that guarantees that a man will be forever seeking recognition for what he has done to avoid anyone rejecting him.
Because as men we do not love ourselves or even know ourselves as divine, sensitive, vulnerable beings, we look outside ourselves for validation, acceptance and recognition as the next best thing to that love. We become hooked on recognition, a prisoner to it and so a life long 'tour of duty' begins.
But what if rather than focusing on what we do for others, as men we started paying more attention to the emotions or moods we were in when we were doing all these things? For example, is it not deeply harmful and hurtful to take our kids to school but be distracted, anxious, moody, or angry in the car? Have we considered what our kids consider the most important - the means of transport or the loving connection with their father?
If we really take a step back and look at the quality of our relationships what do we see? Are we really enjoying deep connections with those around us or is it formal, stiff, limited, superficial and detached? Why are we not placing the same importance on our relationships as we do on our actions? Do we not have a great responsibility here too?
Men in their true essence are sensitive, loving beings who are capable of holding, supporting, inspiring and deeply caring for others around them. Perhaps developing our connection and love with this essence and sharing this love with others is our greatest and truest responsibility?
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