The phrase “man up” haunted my childhood. It was used to demean everything I was and constantly remind me that I was falling short of some masculine ideal. Today the phrase is ubiquitous as ever, appearing in magazines and television shows. Almost uniformly, the phrase’s meaning has remained the same—a guy isn’t “acting like a man” or “man enough” so he is belittled and shamed.
When I was growing up, “man up” was used to enforce my behaviour, especially when I expressed emotion, appeared weak or needed help. As an adult, I continue to watch men around me use the phrase to promote senseless violence, homophobia, sexual conquest, and the most destructive of male behaviours—excessive drinking, drug use, and high stakes risk-taking.
Let’s redefine the phase “man up”, so that boys and young men coming of age now can be spared from its wrath. There is a critical mass of men already helping to challenge the outdated model of masculinity, but it’s time for all of us to finally come together and embrace this urgent movement to redefine what it means to be a man. By doing so, we are not only advocating for our own well-being, but also promoting a better, healthier, safer, happier world for all.
Few ways (by no means comprehensive) to reclaim what it means to “man up”:
Be a Peacemaker: Whether it’s out at the club on a Saturday night, an afternoon on the block, or at your family reunion, diffuse conflict and be an advocate for the bigger picture.
Leave the Tears on your Face: Have the courage to express your emotions publicly and unapologetically; it lets younger guys know it’s okay to have emotions and be sensitive.
Communicate: Openly, humbly, vulnerably, and constructively. Even when you’re scared. Even when it’s really hard. It’s always better than the alternative.
Be a Great Parent: Try your best, actively listen, teach them all you know, read to them, hug them, tell your kids how much they mean to you.
Forgive: Whether it’s the jerk on the L train or your father, make peace and let go.
Seek Help: Same rule applies to directions, carrying a massive oak table, and emotional baggage—it’s okay to not do it alone. In fact, we’re all better off when we don’t.
Cook: Embrace the joy and fulfillment of watching a plate of food you made light up a person’s face.
Embrace Fear: Many of the most profound breakthroughs can happen when we face fear head-on and stop running.
Spend Quality Time with your Family: Put down the paper, turn off the smart phone and go play in the backyard.
Change a Diaper: Embrace the gift of being able to change a diaper for your child or baby sibling. It’s a memory you will always have.
Be Flexible: Men are endlessly stereotyped as not being able to adapt—channel your inner Lao Tzu and accept what you can’t control, while joyously swimming in whatever current has swept you up.
Be Responsible: Whether it’s volunteering to be the designated driver, babysitting your little cousin or managing your money, recognize that your precious gift of a life comes with necessary responsibility.
Mentor a Child: Organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters are always looking for more male mentors, especially men of color. Giving up a couple afternoons a month could literally change a kid’s a life for the better.
Be Humble: Be brave enough to follow someone else’s lead. Recognize that you’re part of a much bigger purpose than just you.
Be Healthy: Exercise, eat healthy, get good sleep, lower your stress, and prioritize happiness.
Hold Yourself Accountable: Don’t be too proud to say when you’re wrong or take responsibility when you make a mistake.
Play, Everyday: I’m not talking about Playstation or X Box here, I mean play. Indulge your imagination and your curious heart. Playing keeps us alive, creative, present, and youthful.
Say “I Love You”: Say it to your male friends, female buddies, family, or whoever is most special to you in your life. Let them know how much they mean to you. You never know when it might be your last chance to do so.
Recognize that You Are Enough: This world tries to fool us into believing that we were all born inadequate. Love what you got. Celebrate and cherish it. Know that you are beautiful, important, irreplaceable, and powerful.
Know God for You and Your Family: Knowing God is the biggest advantage you can have as a father and a husband to your family. You are the cover and inspiration your family will always need for Clarence to the next phase of their lives. This advantage automatically makes you a super human to your family.