When I say it to a man, nine times out of ten, I get a little bit of a funny look. I’ve been out of the closet for years, so it comes off my lips naturally and I forget that it’s “weird” for many other men to hear me say it. “I help my clients with self-care.” “What we really need to do to improve public wellness in the United States is get people interested in self-care.” When I say “self-care”, they cringe a little. As a wellness coach, I say “self-care” a lot. I say it to men. I say it to women. I say it all the time.
I don’t consider it a masculine term/activity or a feminine term/activity. To me, it’s person thing, an adult thing. To me, self-care isn’t manly/unmanly or womanly/unwomanly. It’s common sense. Like turning off the lights. Like taking out the trash. Like clearing the snow from my car. It’s something that just makes sense. To me, self-care is a self-evident practice of an intelligent person. Of a person living in their fullness*. Practicing self-care is no more and no less than being a steward of one’s life. But when I tell most men that I help people take care of themselves, I feel their discomfort.
I get it. I’ve done enough unfolding as a person to deeply understand how I’ve been influenced by the people in my life and by society at large. Self-care sounds weird to most men because the overwhelming cultural norm for men is self-destruction.
When the powers that be of this country need bodies to take bullets in exchange for oil, fertile land, or access to shipping routes, whose bodies are used? Men’s bodies. Men’s bodies have been considered disposable for so long and it’s considered so normal for a man to willingly destroy himself in exchange for resources that most people don’t even consider it a tragedy**. To ensure this, men are both sold a bill of goods and shamed from the time they leave the womb. What they’re offered for this kind of willing self-destruction is the abstraction “honor”. The shame comes in the form of messages to “Man up!” As if killing others and being killed in the name of the greed has anything to do with being a man.
This ethos trickles generously into men’s sports. Watch Alabama play Michigan in football on a Saturday afternoon on TV. The uninitiated fans, the all-about-watching-sports bros and the pink hats alike, see a crowded stadium full of face-painted, jubilant fans (most of them aren’t “naturally jubilant”, they’re wasted from tailgating for hours before the game). In the bowels of the stadium, if you dared to look, you’d see people, all men, with torn ACLs, broken ribs, and concussions. College football coaches seduce young men to come play for them with promises of the millions they’ll make in the NFL and the abstraction “glory”. Several walk away at 22 with blown knees and brain damage they’ll have for the rest of their lives along with a basket-weaving degree, if they even finish their degrees. An extremely low percentage of college football players, less than one percent, ever play a down of professional football. Those that do hardly make millions. Most make a few hundred thousand per year. Most who make it to the NFL have a career lasting less than three years. Far from “all set” financially, most who play in the NFL also get broken even more during their playing years. The median life expectancy of an NFL football player is about 55 years. You read that right. Do you still fail to believe me that men are encouraged to destroy themselves? How do you explain the fact that every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, all fall and winter, week in and week out, people cram into football stadiums, as many as 100,000 people at a time, all across this country, to cheer at football games. And don’t forget the millions watching these gladiators from the comfort of their upholstered couch with a craft beer in hand. Men dying 20 to 25 years earlier than everyone else is nothing short of celebrated. The Super Bowl is almost as big of a holiday as Christmas.
I can hear the shame coming my way. Men and women alike are calling me a sissy for speaking the truth about war and football. Shaming is the tool used by individuals, organizations, and society at large to get men to choose paths of self-destruction for the benefit of the shamer, be it their comfort, entertainment, or sheer control. Shame away. I’m immune.
Let’s talk about what it means to be a man. It’s not self-destruction. It’s not destruction of any kind for that matter. A man makes life better for his community. A man executes on his mission of life-betterment by living on purpose and getting the job done. He does the work. You can count on him. He’s sturdy.
I’m such a man. Even in athletics where many will feel compelled to shame me when reading this article. They’ll say I’m jealous I’m not playing pro football. They’ll say I’m not tough enough (that’s more shaming). So let’s talk about getting the job done and being sturdy. For starters, I’ve run my own business my entire adult life minus my first six months out of graduate school. I’ve been successful enough in business and in managing my money to be among the wealthiest 10 percent by my early 40s. That’s living on purpose. That’s getting the job done. What about sports? It’s true, I never played for the Cowboys. But through my own effort alone, I went from a short, out-of-shape kid at the end of middle school to an all-league, academic all-state two-sport high-school athlete (baseball and basketball) by the end of high school. Then I discovered triathlon, and by my mid-20s raced at a world-class level. These are accomplishments hardly any of the couch-sitting shaming bullies can claim.
I don’t write these things about myself to brag. I don’t measure myself by society’s standards of accomplishment. I’m here to thrive; I’m playing a whole ‘nother game. I disclose these things about myself to give an example of a man of action. A man of commitment. A sturdy man. Who, yes, is also a man of self-care. There, I said it again. It told you: I’m out of the self-care closet.
I wouldn’t do well in a large company working for “the man” (yes, there’s a lot of irony in that expression). They wouldn’t like it if I wanted to take a break to get some fresh air. They wouldn’t like it if I wanted to work on projects that benefitted humankind or that I enjoyed. My feelings don’t matter there. I don’t matter there. Fitting in and “paying your dues” matters. Just like in war, just like in football, when you’re worn out, they don’t skip a beat: “Next man up,” they say. “Next man up,” is society’s mantra for men. There’s always another one willing to enter the fray. Many men enter the fray of employment, and become a utility, for the abstraction “stability”, which they’ll never find there because it can only be found within.
Many people consider men’s bodies, men, to be disposable. For their country, their team, their company. Like plastic bags in a landfill, endless rows of men’s bodies, dead long before they needed to be, are arranged in places like Arlington National Cemetery. The busts of football ”heroes” don the halls of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In both places, millions of boys are conditioned to believe that “honor” and “glory” are a fair trade for self-destruction. Companies don’t generally extend such niceties as cemeteries and museums. They simply discard you when their shareholders demand a bigger dividend. See ya.
Men are disposable to many women too who use the abstraction “love” to use men as workhorses, vending machines, and pensions through marriage: “If you love me, you’ll buy me a diamond ring worth three month’s income.” And when she’s ready for a new man (80 percent of divorces are initiated by women), she’ll demand alimony which the court system will hand over to her without hesitation (despite earning and having nearly as much money as men, 97 percent of alimony recipients are women). It’s like a guaranteed “love”*** annuity. You get “love”*** for as long as you want it, then you get to cash out. It’s a good deal. A man is a great investment. This, of course, is a burden on many men. And it’s another way men are acculturated as a resource. A resource that must be willing to destroy himself for his destroyers so they can get what they want from him.
Now you understand why a man has trouble eating a salad, getting the sleep he needs, or doing work he enjoys. If I man does something for himself instead of for his country, team, company, or wife, he’s in danger. If you’re on a football team and your knee starts to hurt and you tell the coach, seek treatment, or ask to sit out a practice to let it heal properly, do you know what happens? It means you’re one step closer to getting cut. You’re one more fuck-up from your career being over in an instant. Injured players are of no use to Bill Belichick and his record as a winning coach. So you play with injuries and get hurt worse, sometimes irreparably. If you’re a married attorney doing great work and on your way to making partner and you have a plan to make that happen in three years to allow yourself enough energy and time to enjoy your early 30s, forget about it if your wife wants a colonial house and two kids before she’s 32. So you burn the candle at both ends and live off coffee and takeout. Otherwise, she’ll trade up, while subsidizing her life with alimony you pay her while she dates. Tending to his own well-being has serious consequences for a man.
Is it any wonder that life expectancy for men is five years shorter than it is for women? Current life expectancy is 81.2 years for women and 76.4 years for men. And over 80 percent of suicides are committed by men. Most people who read this won’t bat an eyelash over either of these statistics. Men die earlier. So what? Men kill themselves at staggering rates. So what? “Suck it up!” they shame. I don’t expect any expressions of sadness, not even crocodile tears, over this. It’s the way most people think about men’s disposability.
My message to men who want to live great lives: Wake up. Embrace your humanity. Free yourself from the conditioning you’ve received. You’re here to live and to live well. Be who you are. A great builder. A great engineer. A great healer. Whatever it is, do your thing. Do it well. Be a man of substance and make life better for others. And take great care of yourself. It only makes you better at what you do and who you are. It won’t be easy. “Honor”, “glory”, “stability” and “love”***” are cunning seductresses used by cunning manipulators. Say no. Be you. Be free. You can do it. I believe in you.
“The alternative to self-love, in other words, is self-destruction. Because if you won’t take the risk of loving yourself properly, you will be compelled instead to destroy yourself.
My message to men who want to shame me now more than ever: Remember, I’m immune. Going for a run, eating vegetables, and taking downtime doesn’t make me a wussy. Taking care of myself doesn’t make me a “girl”. Taking care of myself doesn’t make me “gay”. These are ridiculous notions through and through. What intelligent, evolved, mature man doesn’t choose to do that which allows him to be his best? Let’s put it another way. How manly is obesity? Type-2 diabetes? Anxiety? These disorders are hugely common among men and are hugely avoidable with my dirty little term “self-care”. I know, I know, having some KFC will “put hair on my chest”. I don’t know much about physiology, except a ton, and I’m certain eating junk food doesn’t result in torso hair growth. I’m equally certain that eating junk food limits blood flow to both a man’s brain and penis. Is being a capable man and a great lover manly to you? Because decreased blood flow to your brain and penis equals two other common results of male self-destruction: dementia and erectile dysfunction. Really, you should come work with me. We’ll make a deal. You don’t call me a sissy or a wussy and I’ll look you in the eyes, treat you like a man with the respect you deserve, and call you by your name. We’ll get to work on you taking good care of yourself. You’ll get your mojo back and we’ll both be glad about that.
My message to society: Stop shaming men to destroy themselves. Stop treating men as an asset. Respect men fully as people. Full stop.
When men stop shaming themselves and when society stops shaming men, then we’ll make some hay. Behavior change on the individual and societal level isn’t for the meek. You’ve got to go deep. You’ve got to get to the roots. I’ve shown you one important root in many men’s lives that you probably didn’t think you were going to see today. Ignorance is never bliss and truth is always freedom.
Author’s Note: Men shouldn’t embrace self-care to be more like women. The absolute last thing I’m advocating for is androgyny. I firmly stand for masculinity and femininity and man-ness and woman-ness. Authentic masculinity and femininity need to be celebrated. Again, self-care is a gender-neutral term/activity. Men and women are equal in value, but very different in nature. So different, in fact, that they’re like the opposite poles of a magnet. It’s this very polarity that makes relationships between men and women interesting at all. Everything we can do as a society to create a culture of equality amongst all people is hugely beneficial for all of us. It’s obvious that that’s the way to operate as a society. But we mustn’t mistake equality for sameness, for androgyny. To be equal, a man not need be like a woman. To be equal, a woman need not be like a man. To be equal, men and women need not be the same. Look around. That’s been the experiment of the last 50 years or so. What we have are millions of men trying to be like women and millions of women trying to be like men. The result is men who are unrecognizable as men and function as second-rate women and women who are unrecognizable as women and function as second-rate men. Equality-sameness is an absolute social disaster. Equality-polarity is one of the most brilliant experiences a person can have on Earth. I highly recommend it.
Author’s Note: Some people, upset by my truth-telling about war, will try to shame me by telling me I have the freedom to write this article because of soldiers who fought, and died, for my freedom. I disagree. Countries fighting countries in contrived schemes of “good guys” and “bad guys”, which are always straightforward wars over resources, is childish. Two very intelligent, very wise men (see the quotes below) who created more than most hawk bullies could ever dream of creating agree with me. Also, 99 percent of the people who will attempt to shame me on this can be put in their place in 15 seconds. All I have to do is ask them if they’re raising their sons and daughters or grandchildren to serve in the military. I’ll spare you the suspense: They’re not.
“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”
“Every nation ridicules other nations, and all are right.”
Author’s Note: Some people, upset by my truth-telling about marriage, will say I’m bitter. That attack couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve never been divorced. I’m a lively, positive person. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. I speak these truths about marriage (it gets even better below) because they’re an important part of breaking down a culture of self-destruction for men (that’s what this article is about) and creating a culture of self-care for men.
Author’s Note: Some people, upset by my standing up for the wellness of men, will say I’m putting down women. They might also say that women have been and are treated worse by society. Of course, all people should be treated well. Of course, all lives are of equal inherent value. My standing up for men isn’t putting down women. Men and women aren’t in competition. Men thriving doesn’t mean women can’t thrive and vice versa. That’s absurd.
*Living in your fullness is a concept I first became aware of when reading books by and about psychologist Carl Jung. If you’d like to explore what it means to live in your fullness, I highly recommend exploring what he called the archetypes of the mature masculine and mature feminine.
**When you listen to news reports, listen to how reporters talk about men and women who die. You’ll hear reports like these. “A resident of the West End died last night in a home fire.” “A woman, who lived with her husband and children, died tragically in a home fire last night.” “Two firefighters perished yesterday while battling a blaze in York.” “Two female firefighters, recent graduates of the Maine Fire Service Institute died yesterday while battling a blaze in York.” You’ll hear men described as residents, firefighters, soldiers, etc. and rarely identified as men specifically. Dehumanized. It’s easier to consider them disposable that way.
***Love, in both its passive form as in really enjoying someone or something and its active form as in taking great care of someone or something is absolutely spectacular! Love and marriage are two different things. Marriage is about property rights and has been since its inception as both a religious and government institution. When people get divorced, they don’t divide up the love, they divide up the assets. The passage below from the Old Testament of the Bible makes is perfectly clear that marriage originated as an institution of property rights. Marriage is, in fact, institutionalized prostitution. With the advent of agriculture around 8,000 B.C.E., the first form of property, grain, emerged. With property came ownership. With ownership came trade. With trade came prostitution. There’s a reason it’s called “the world’s oldest profession”. Seeking to both get their cut and control the masses, religions and governments quickly got into the prostitution industry. That’s what marriage is: prostitution regulated by religions and governments. There are other sources of information besides Disney movies.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
—Bible, Exodus 20:17
Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.
There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.