The Masked Man
Joseph Mansfield, M.S.W.
At birth, most men are assigned a mask. Because of strong societal and family pressures, the mask is dutifully, and usually permanently, worn. The masks have various names. There is the Macho Warrior mask, the Mr. Reasonable mask, the Nice Guy mask, the Great Fixer of Things mask, and let us not overlook the mask of Mr. Fearless, the Unfeeling. There would be no problem with this "mask" arrangement - if it worked!
It would also be rather nice if men could occasionally wear these masks for short periods of time when the situation called for it. But, like a huge masquerade party where no one dares to be the first to take off the disguise, men cling to their narrowly defined masks.
How do these masks get in the way? Really now, what's wrong with being strong, fearless, and in control? Everyone has to agree that situations do call for different behaviors. However, to fully assess the true, cumulative impact of the "full time" mask, it's necessary to calculate the cost in terms of relationships and health.To be in a relationship, (especially a personal relationship), with a masked man can be very frustrating. When one feels that they are sharing an intensely personal situation with a man who isn't relating from his heart, or true center, there is a sad feeling of being cheated. To bare one's soul, fears, or dreams to the masked man and to be fed back data, or nuts and bolts rationality, can feel like a real slap in the face to one's basic humanity.
To be hooked up with a Masked Man can, unless one is careful, leave one feeling inferior because of the seeming disparity between their rigidity and apparent strength and one's own basic vulnerability. It is so important to not confuse rigidity with strength. For underneath rigidity, there is a strong core of frailty. It is well hidden, but ultimately must be addressed.
Living up to the John Wayne, Superman,Macho image requires a man to develop a lonely outside act. This outside act rarely works for too long, because underneath, the masked man has a heart, vulnerability and the capacity to feel joy and sorrow. There is an awesome personal toll to be paid for running away from his "more tender" self. The most usual results are fear, confusion, sickness, and heightened rigidity. Oh! The excuses given for perpetuating this arrangement. It's a dog eat dog world! It's just the masculine burden! If I change, I'll lose everything! I'm too old to try anything different! etc., etc., etc. It's too bad that there are so few role models of sane living for men. Most role models are men of steel, totally fixed in a mold, and never reflecting any hint of the process of living. .Until now, men have been unable to look to each other for support in making corrective changes. This is very sad. Women have been more able to give each other necessary support through times of growth and need.
Where do men go from here? first, men must look at the results of their approach to life. Since so many men eventually turn into interpersonal zombies, the liberating fact is that if a man attempts change, he really is risking very little. It may be scary to stop a 30 or 40 year pattern of superficial carburetor and superbowl talk overnight. But, a slow and steady series of risking small changes will have wonderful results. We all know that there is a warm and loving inner person inside everyone. Men must stop burying that inner person. To slowly let that person out will be a benefit to all. It's time for men to "show up" for their life's humanity. It's sad when a man dies, and people in his life mirror the standard ending to so many Lone Ranger shows. "Gee, who was that masked man?"
©1999 Joe Mansfield's Help For Men
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