the new man

it seems like centuries ago, though to be fair to myself, it wasn’t quite that long, i was a home-dad. i left the paid workforce to be the full-time caregiver for my two kids while my wife brought home the bacon. when this arrangement began, i didn’t think anything of it -it seemed perfectly natural to me. having one parent home full-time was very important to us. i was only working freelance at the time my son was born, so it more or less fell into my lap to be the one to stay home.

it wasn’t long before i began to notice that not only was i engaged in a profession that, for a man, was rather unusual, but that it was bringing some profound changes in the way i saw my place in the world. working for pay provides several things that we get used to: we have a client or boss or co-workers to provide feedback as to how well (or not well) we are doing our job, we get a paycheck, we get raises (sometimes), our work has a definite beginning and end, both in the project we are working on and in the work day and work week. heck, most of us knocked off work at 5 and had weekends off.

when i started in the non-paid workforce (and believe me, being a full-time home-parent IS work), i lost all of those yardsticks against which to measure my self worth. there was no one telling me what a good (or bad) job i was doing. my wife certainly offered what she could, but she was far from an objective reporter. to paraphrase rosanne barre, if my wife came home and the kids were still alive, i’d done my job. not too far from the truth. i had to discover and create new ways to measure my masculinity and manhood in a world that was dominated by women who had designed it to meet their needs. it wasn’t easy, but i think i succeeded.

now, “stricken,” (for lack of a better term) with multiple sclerosis, i am once again faced with redefining my masculinity. i no longer cut down trees and bring in the firewood. i can’t climb mountains, or hills, or even the driveway. i don’t mow the lawn or shovel snow, i don’t build or even repair stuff around the house. i can’t play football or rough-house with the dog. i don’t ski any more. i grow physically weaker and less able to remain active. while i still get a paycheck and get feedback from fellow workers (for now – for how long?) i find my earning power shrinking at a time of life when it is supposed to be peaking – and i am supposed to be thinking about retiring. i feel less attractive to the opposite sex.

i am still wrestling with this one. as i do less and less around the house (not really able to even do “women’s work,”), how i define myself as a vital, vibrant man becomes more and more difficult. i try to remain as active as i can be in parenting my young-adult children, and i try to keep my artistic life going. but all of the traditional ways our culture takes the measure of a man are not available to me.

or maybe i just haven’t figured out how to adapt those measures to my place in life.

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    One thought on “the new man

    1. I totally get this…I hear you!

      Death of a spouse and dealing with a chronic debilitating illness (MS) pulled the rug out from under my feet and left me with an “old” self that no longer fit the picture.

      I had to re-invent myself, let go of the person I thought I was (Mike’s wife and a hard working nurse). Somewhere in all this I realized the opportunity this all presented. There really is, as the Zen texts teach us, no ever present, independent unchanging self. It has been an “aha” journey full of highs and lows…never a dull moment!

      A wonderful companion through this has been and still is a book by Lama Surya Das called, fittingly enough, “Letting Go of the Person You Used To Be”.

      Be Well….

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