We dedicate parts of us and things we create to people all the time. Sometimes this happens in random shoutouts or speeches, and other times, we make these declarations when journeys end or begin.
Recently, I read the dedication at the beginning of a book by Justin Baldoni titled “Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity.” Like many dedications, Baldoni’s are directed toward people he loves, such as his father and his son. But Baldoni also includes a note addressed to those he may not even know: “For all those brave enough to start the journey from their heads to their hearts. You are enough.”
So, inspired by Baldoni, I’ll follow in similar footsteps: I want to dedicate this essay to the men and boys we have raised — and those in my own life who are trying to connect what they think to what they feel. You are enough.
As a woman, talking to men about men never goes down easily. Even talking about men to people who aren’t men might risk coming across as a rant.
Much of our culture has historically been built on the backs of suppressed women, so listening to the head connected to one of those backs may seem pointless to many men. And while I fervently advocate for the rights and protections of those who don’t identify as a boy or man, I’ve also spent some time academically and personally studying the language of men. In the chance that you’re a man and reading this, I think we have some talking to do.
What I’ve found in literature, conversations and classes involves a lot of things that haven’t been said — a dialogue deficit, if you will. It wasn’t until I heard men talking about topics that often go unsaid amongst men that I realized how unfamiliar the conversations were to me.
This all grew more apparent listening to “The Man Enough Podcast,” during which author, actor and director Justin Baldoni along with co-hosts invite guests to unpack social, psychological and interpersonal relationships boys and men have with the rest of the world. Each episode features different people, each conversation covers a different idea and each listener walks away with probably more questions than answers.
Some of the most necessary conversations for growth tend to have that effect.
I found myself listening to the podcast while cooking, driving and exercising. Baldoni’s podcast stood out so much to me that I had to see it on paper. Fortunately for me, he had several books to accompany the ideas the podcast confronted.
Together, the podcast and books told a story of men navigating severed relationships with their fathers, vulnerability in romantic relationships, expectations in careers and struggles with identity. They chronicled different obstacles men face, whether related to race, ability, sexuality, socioeconomic status or health. The dialogues strung together were talking with one another, not at one another — and if ever there was a supportive space for men to explore how they define what it means to be a man, I felt like this was it.
Unfortunately for me, though, the men in my life have had mixed feelings about these conversations related to Baldoni’s work — so much so that dialogues simply get cut short. Or switched to a different topic. Or laughed off.
Both the podcast and the literature Baldoni created may have “man” or “men” in the titles, but they didn’t seem to garner the time or energy of what I assumed to be their target audience.
I don’t blame men for deflecting this dialogue.
A national survey from the Cleveland Clinic found that 53% of men don’t talk about their health with others. The American Psychological Association’s Center for Workforce Studies states women make up 53% of the psychology workforce. The suicide rate for men in the United States is four times that of women.
When most men aren’t talking about their health or seeing men engaging with psychological services and are hearing about the suicide rates amongst men, confronting what it means to be man enough — or not man enough — is dismal.
And while the statistics center on a psychological perspective, I argue there is more to this than what goes on in the mind. After all, Baldoni’s dedication references a journey from the head to the heart — and that journey encounters a whole lot of influence from the society we create.
Listening to “The Man Enough Podcast” reaffirms that men having conversations about their health and their lives is, in fact, an act of bravery.
For many of the episodes on the podcast, guests recall not having had those uncomfortable conversations with their fathers. Many of the guests have also become fathers themselves, and they consider what might hold them back from having conversations with their sons — conversations about what it means to be a boy or man. As one can imagine, these guests also express the difficulties of having tough conversations with those who aren’t men. These might be mothers, sisters, friends or partners. They might also be their therapists — especially If women make up 53% of workers in the psychology field.
But despite the men who do come on the podcast with vulnerability and strength, not enough men in broader society are talking. And if the suicide rate for men is four times that of women, this lack of dialogue correlates to us losing fathers, brothers, friends and partners.
For the boys and men in our society, we need to have these conversations. For those who aren’t men in our society, we need to have these conversations.
And what do these conversations actually talk about?
I’m not an expert by any means, but I do have some ideas based on the podcast and literature I’ve been studying.
We need to talk about creating space in our society for men to feel, whether that involves joy or tears. We need to talk about the limitations of machismo in Latine culture. We need to talk about the overrepresentation of Black men in carceral systems. We need to talk about our boys and men with disabilities and the frustrations from lack of access to basic needs. We need to talk about men who don’t fit into heteronormative or gender binaries. We need to talk about men in relationships, as fathers, as husbands, as friends and as sons. We need to talk about men beyond the definitions that have confined them. We need men to dedicate themselves to the realization that how they define being “man enough” directly impacts everyone around them and themselves.
We need men to talk.
I might not be a man, but I want to be part of the space that allows boys and men to honor who they are and not perpetuate ideas about the men they think they should be. I want to listen to men the same way I need men to listen to me and others who aren’t them. I want to hear the words that men don’t feel they can vocalize, especially not to a woman. I want to confront the power that men hold, but also the feelings of powerlessness that can lead men to feel like they aren’t enough.
Because this dialogue about what it means to be man enough affects us all.
During one of the times I was listening to “The Man Enough Podcast,” my older brother happened to hear it and said, “Good job.” When I asked him what he meant, he explained that he thought I was listening to the podcast to prepare for a sociology thesis on gender norms and social dynamics between young children. I actually hadn’t considered using the podcast in any part of my thesis.
However, at that moment, I realized that no part of the thesis I would write could be completely disconnected from the realities discussed in the podcast. The same realities that Baldoni writes about in his book. The same realities that affect men, and therefore all of us; for men hold power as leaders in our society and hold our hands as those we love in our hearts.
Most boys will grow up and become men, and those men will probably not be featured on the podcast. But I guarantee that if you’re a man and give the podcast a listen or Baldoni’s book a read, you will hear some of yourself in it. I’m not even a man, and I could hear myself in both.
When you do listen and truly hear a reality echoed back to you, I urge you to talk about it.
Your father, grandfather, brother, son, friend or partner might be hesitant to listen to you at first. It’s not going to be easy hearing someone vocalize the things you have been taught to conceal and trade for more acceptable dialogues.
Or maybe you’re worried about saying the wrong thing or showing the wrong emotion at what seems like the wrong time. But the conversation you start will likely turn out to be one that other men — those brave enough to do so — have initiated. It’s a conversation that I don’t want to be the only one having or end up not having with my father, my brothers and my partner.
Because I dedicate this essay to them — those men in my life who I have seen navigate what it means to be man enough, even if they don’t know it yet.
You are enough.