My dearest Kai,
I am writing you today to address a question that you didn’t ask me. Yet, even though you didn’t ask me this question, I can feel that it weighs on you. Perhaps you wanted to ask this question, but simply haven’t gotten to it yet. Or you may not be fully aware how important this question appears to be in everything you do. Judging by your own actions that is.
What is that question you ask?
What must I do to become a real man?
That’s the question I see bubbling inside of you. Every time you are with other men I see you looking at them as if you’re taking notes, comparing what seem to be appreciated attributes of real men. I can also feel it in your resistance to your teachers, all women, who just don’t seem to get how urgently you need an answer to this question that they don’t have an answer to. In fact, it may appear at times that they don’t want you to become a real man. It seems as if they’re afraid that you will become a real man. And their fear infuriates you. You may not be fully aware that it is their fear of who you might become that appalls you, in fact disgusts you, but I think that that’s why you can’t stand your teachers.
There is a good reason your teachers are scared though. Not any reason you can help, mind you. Good reasons nevertheless and I shall write you about that in more detail in another letter.
Right now however I must tell you that the question you ask is all wrong. The truth is that nobody knows what it takes to be a real man. But we live in a time when it is very important, sometimes a matter of life or death, that we appear to have an answer, or more to the point, that we appear to have the answer.
I am not suggesting that the question of Manhood is anything like the emperor who has no clothes on. Nor am I suggesting that you act like the little boy who called the emperor out. Your manhood is far too important to me and I wouldn’t write you if it weren’t.
There is no such thing as a real man. There. I’ve said it. Nobody has an answer to the question of real manhood. And if someone comes up with some suggestions, they are usually rehashing some old ideas that date back to the 19th century, if not earlier. They have nothing to say about being a man in this century.
And don’t be distracted by an answer given by military people or people who like to be seen in the company of soldiers. First of all, there are plenty of women who are excellent soldiers. Men do not have a monopoly on fighting skills and all the other military behaviors that come with that.
No, the military, I am afraid, is a really bad place to start looking for answers. Women who join the ranks of the military run a very high risk of being sexually abused by their male counterparts. But that is not the worst of it, believe it or not. The worst of it is that there are too many men who know about this abuse and keep silent. To be silent in the face of abuse makes you complicit. And they do not deserve your respect. In fact, if someone ever wants to brag to you about the military, ask them when they spoke out against this widespread abuse.
But back to your question (I’ll have more to say about the military as an example for men later on). The question is not what you need to do to become a real man. The question is who you will be in relationship with the people who matter to you in the face of awful stereotypes about men and masculinity.
What you need to have is the same attitude that the actor Christopher Walken brought to his craft. You figure out what you are supposed to do … and then you don’t do it.
And so, a lot of what I will be writing about is exactly this: What are you supposed to do, and why should you not do it. When you get a handle on “the rules,” then you can start your own path with clarity, purpose, and with intention. Then you can become the one person we are all dying to meet: you, a man. You will not follow someone else’s idea of what a real man should do. You will be the man everybody wants to follow. Not that I care at all about you being followed, and nor should you. No, what I am so clumsily trying to say is that when you, a man, truly shines a miracle will have taken place.
You will be your own man. And everybody who is there own person is attractive to others. There are, I’m afraid, very few people who strive to be their own person. There are many who would read this and beg for me to tell them about a true man. But that’s not what I want for you. I want for you to be your own man. A wonderful, beautiful man.
I am just being honest when I say I can’t tell you what a real man is like. I can’t in the same that a mirage in the dessert can make your thirst go away. But more importantly, and this is why I write you now, even if I could tell you, I would not.
You are too dear to me. And I am eager to see you do not what you’re supposed to do but instead show up something completely new. You! Because you are the treasure. You are the one I am waiting for. And you already are a great man.
Also published on Medium.