By Mannie Thomas III
Coach and Growth Coordinator
I can still remember the first time I felt like I disappointed my father. We were on our first trip to visit extended family in Texas and I was about 3 or 4 years old. I was outside playing with one of my cousins and when he hit me I went into the house crying to tell my father what had happened.
My Dad had always been my comforter, my place of peace. Since the day of my birth I had been little Mannie and we were inseparable. I would fall asleep on his chest, eat on his lap, and held his hand in public and always felt safe.
This day would be different instead of finding comfort I was met with anger. The words he said left a lasting impression “boy don't you come in here crying, boys don't do that. Now go back outside!” I was confused, what had I done wrong? Why was I being pushed away? Where was my comforter? Later I would learn that if people hit me I was supposed to hit them back and in fact I was praised if I won.
I carried that frame of thinking with me for a long time and at times I was seen as the protector, I was the popular guy in school and was seen as tough among my friends and I thought “hey I represented in the way that real men should.” What was also happening was, I was trying to make my father proud by never crying and being victorious when it came to acts of violence. As I look back, I don’t think I was ever punished for fights that were deemed inappropriate, they were excused with the “boys will be boys” mantra.
The relationship between my father and I changed as I grew older as well. I could no longer look forward to physical affection and the closeness we once had was gone because after all it was time for me to be a man and go at it alone, but that was normal right? Eventually, my maladaptive thinking, isolation, and the submergence of my true emotions contributed to me ending up in prison.
So you would think that when I was introduced to the conversation of patriarchy I would have been all in, but no that wasn’t the case at all. The biggest problem is that most of us men are suffering from a system that 1, we don't know exists and 2, aren't even aware that we are playing. I entered into the conversation thinking that I was going to have to apologize for male leadership,I had no idea that the all too common societal beliefs that I had picked up in my youth were contributing to an entire system of oppression and male dominance.
My experience in Success Stories began to help me see a very different picture. I remember being asked “when did you stop giving yourself permission to feel?” Initially I couldn't even answer that question. Richie, the cofounder and a good friend, asked me to consider whether or not my definition of manhood and masculinity was hindering me from being my best self. Eventually, I realized that day I accepted the belief that boys don't cry was the first time I gave myself permission not to feel and drown my true emotional self. The continual submergence only created a being that was confused, feeling more wrong inside, isolated and that the only sense of control and meaning could be found through violence.
Since then I define my masculinity by honoring what is most important to me and my community. I find strength in sharing my full range of emotions even sadness and fear because I know that is apart of being fully human. I know now that my manhood isn’t defined by being a provider, my willingness to be violent, or the idea of doing everything all on my own. This has been the gift that Success Stories has given me but it doesn't end there. Being able to be active in this work and to witness men lifting the veil from their own eyes and discovering the mask that they have been wearing for quite some time has given me a sense of purpose.