Because our voices are stronger together, we asked our bloggers to share their stories as part of Lean In’s new #LeanInTogether campaign.
It’s a Sunday afternoon, I’m a suburban dad, and my oldest son has a double-header scheduled in his indoor baseball league. I line up in the bleachers with the other dads, and we all shout tough, competitive, guy things to our boys on the field.
But then I pull out my wife’s scrapbooking materials, and I begin to cut Christmas trees out of green construction paper. The other dads glance at me sideways. I swear a couple of them cough-laugh.
I breathe deeply and I remind myself I’m still a man.
I’m a man married to a tenured professor of psychology. I fell in love with her tenacity and her deep sense of vocation and when we stood on our wedding altar, I knew what I was getting into — an egalitarian marriage. Which means, if we’re two weeks away from Christmas and she’s grading final exams and our kids’ Christmas party craft needs to be prepared, I’m toting the scrapbooking supplies to baseball. I’ll also be the only dad at the Christmas party.
And all of that can feel a little … emasculating.
But thirteen years of striving for true equality in our marriage has convinced me of at least one thing: having your manhood called into question can be a good thing, perhaps even an essential thing. And ten years as a psychologist has confirmed it: the number one obstacle for men to personal healing, emotional health, and loving marriages is what most of us call masculinity — this idea that to be men we have to be strong, unflappable, and invulnerable. When I ask the question, “What would you have to give up to be vulnerable and honest, to be forgiving and gracious, to be empathic and caring?” the most common answer I get is, “My manhood.”
When men talk about manhood — and when most of us talk about masculinity — those words and ideas and experiences can all be code words for something else: ego.
What do we have to give up in order to forgive and reconcile and confess pain and brokenness and weakness? We have to give up our egos. We have to give up the part of us that wants control and power and likes to dominate because when you’re in control it’s harder to get hurt, when you feel powerful it’s harder to feel pain, and when you dominate you are in charge of who feels insecure.
In an egalitarian marriage, dad goes to the Christmas party and weeks later a thank you from the school comes home and it says, “Thank you, Moms, for helping with the Christmas party.”
And he feels unappreciated and overlooked and he feels his ego flair up again and he knows it’s one more opportunity to let it go.
In fact, in an egalitarian marriage, all of life becomes an opportunity to let it go. Every sink full of dishes he wishes someone else would wash, every time he walks in the door and he’s not the immediate focus of attention because his wife and kids are having their own afternoon reunion, every time he has to change his plans because his wife has a work event that can’t be changed, every time he wants his word to be the last word and he has to acknowledge its only part of the word, every time he wants his agenda to take top priority and he has to remember there is no top priority in his house and even if there was he wouldn’t necessarily be it.
When we get stripped of our egos, it can feel emasculating, and that is definitively a good thing. Because once we have been stripped of our egos, we begin to discover we were enslaved by them. Our egos confine us to hierarchy and separateness, when what we truly desire beneath all of our egoic masculinity is connection and togetherness.
But if our egos don’t make us men, what does?
In his book, Father Fiction, Donald Miller writes about a talk he was giving to a bunch of high school guys about manhood. He told them to take out their notebooks, because he was going to tell them the one thing they needed to be a man:
“The group looked at me anxiously, some of them knowing, intrinsically, that whatever I said, they would be up for the job, and some of them, quite honestly, looked at me knowing whatever I said would exclude them.
‘God’s definition of a real man …’ I said, motioning for them to write it down.
‘… is …’ I continued. …
‘… a person with …’ I repeated, waiting again until every eye was looking at me, and then I let the cat out of the bag.
‘… a penis!’”
Egalitarian marriages teach us men something essential about manhood — it’s not in doubt. So, now we are free to be the human beings we actually are beneath all of our bravado and self-protection. We get to be a person. And so does our wife. Two people, with the freedom to be who they were created to be.
Without someone clearly wearing the pants in the family, life can get a little messy. But isn’t that what life and love are all about? Two people wading through the mess together. On the same equal ground.
When men lean in for equality, they win — and so does everyone else. Children are happier, healthier, and more successful. Marriages are stronger. Teams and companies produce better results. Visit leanintogether.org to learn more.