Vulnerability and Masculinity

By: Rueben Lopez, MA, LPC

In a day and age when there seems to be competing narratives of what it means to be masculine , I too have struggled with what it means.  I grew up with a certain narrative and script that was influenced by a host of factors, including to family and friends and culture at large. It is humbling to process through all the factors that have shaped me into who I am, and who I am becoming.

Growing up, it was the love of my mother and grandmothers that gave me peace and emotional stability, but it was the love from my maternal grandfather and eventually my own father that has helped me gain confidence in who I was as a man. I learned from a young age that being male had nothing to do with being “machisimo,” although some men in my proud family are steeped in this attitude and mindset.  I love these men and love the bonding that exists in their presence. However, there is a negative and perhaps dangerous thing that can exist when men communicate, express, and behave against or at the expense of other people who may be perceived as weak or different. The question that I’ve always wrestled with; how do I balance the societal script I was given of being this “guys guy,” while practicing sensitivity, honor, and respect to all individuals?

I was fortunate to have this modeled for me by my maternal grandfather, Arturo Sanchez.  It was his example that showed me how men could love one another, showing empathy, compassion, vulnerability and meekness.  My grandfather displayed the physical, mental, and emotional strength to survive in a world that was cruel and difficult to an uneducated, hispanic man of his generation.  I grew up hearing about the hard work on the railroads, agricultural fields, and factories that provided stable work and living for my mother’s family. Admittedly, my favorite stories were those of the danger and adventure that followed his long days of work into the cantinas.  This strength and work ethic was balanced by my grandfather’s ability to display physical and emotional love to my family. There was a gentleness about him that was evident, amidst his strength. To this day I greet my grandfather with a hug and kiss on the cheek, as a symbol of my love, respect, and admiration of him.  

To me, the strength and beauty that men can have, can be seen by our ability to express vulnerability in love to one another, especially other men, and to utilize our strengths to protect and build up all types of people. One of the leading themes I see often when working with men is an  unwillingness or unknowing how to express his love and emotion to his spouse, children, and others within their community. It’s time to change our script about what is, and is not masculine.

As scary as this may be, reflect how your story and the script you were given in childhood and adolescence has served you in all facets of life.  If you need or desire improvement, seek out change and begin asking questions. Find a group of men that are wrestling with similar questions, or, seek out someone you’d feel comfortable having this discussion with - perhaps that even means beginning therapy.  Sometimes it may feel overwhelming to know where to start, but it could be as easy as telling the ones closest to you, “I love you.” Everyone here at Mindful Counseling GR is ready and honored to join you in this journey.