Don’t Box Men In

There’s a lot of talk these days about masculinity. Toxic masculinity. Failed masculinity. I even had one of my daughters, the feisty one, explain to me that soon men would no longer be required to create children.

Now, it’s not what is being said about men these days that bothers me. It’s that men are actually listening to this garbage. It’s not easy to operate in a world where you’re being blamed for everything that’s wrong with it while simultaneously being expected to fund and fix it.

This is one of the reasons I wrote Raising Men (that’s also the reason why I’m currently writing the sequel). I meet too many guys getting their asses handed to them by life: They’re overweight, overworked, and underwhelmed. They’re miserable and they don’t know why. Their grandfathers and fathers didn’t do them any favors either. They slowly slipped out of the parenting game because they were too busy punching a clock, and their absence was filled by other things—most notably, popular culture—which redefined masculinity in the nastiest of ways by telling our boys to either 1) sit in a corner or 2) respond to challenges with aggression and working their bodies like little robots.

In Chapter 10 of Raising Men, I discuss a SEAL hand-to-hand combat…

…exercise called the Box Drill. The drill begins when our instructors bring us into a large room that is all black—black walls, black curtains, and barriers—with heavy-duty rubber padding on the ground. They lead us to a corner of the room that is marked off by a shaded white box. On the side opposite your box is a door on a fake wood wall, much like you would find on a Hollywood set. We’re told that we’re only safe from harm within that box.

The drill starts when you see your first threat and ends when you get through the door on the other side of the room. There is no time limit and no rules.

Once the drill began, I waited for something to happen. Eventually, five or six of the biggest guys they could find—wielding chains and bats and wearing hoods and protective gear—sauntered into the room. They began to verbally harass me and quickly became more aggravated and aggressive as they approached.

Like any “real man,” I responded with what I thought was expected of me: confidence and aggression. Over and over, I dove right at the guys, hitting and punching them, but each time I got my ass handed to me, the instructors would blow the whistle and mercifully send me back into my white box to reset and do it all over again.