“No pain, no gain.” “Boys don’t cry!” “Quit being a faggot and man up.” These are just a few of the phrases many young boys hear growing up. This is what they are taught it means to be and become a man.
But these words inflict unimaginable pain and leave scars that go unhealed for a lifetime. What’s more, the words are then accompanied by even more egregious acts of violence such as physical abuse.
And what’s left in their wake? Adult men yearning to fill the void that threatens to swallow them whole. Moe knows exactly how this feels. But he also knows that his story doesn’t end there, it’s just beginning. And that’s a good thing.
Growing up, the guys who were considered the most manly played sports– mainly basketball. As a result, I often found myself trying to do those things, joining every game I could find outdoors. When I told my mom I wanted to play football in middle school, she said I was too small and that she didn’t want me to get hurt. So, I just played it in the neighborhood. There, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I felt a part of what it meant to be a man because I could do guy things.
A man also walked a certain way. He had a slight limp or pimp in his step and a really deep voice. A man had women left and right. When he talked, it was mainly about sex. And he didn’t cry, ever. But I didn’t fit that standard because I was very sensitive growing up. Even though it took a lot for me to cry, I did. And it was mainly because I was constantly being bullied both inside and outside my home.
Since I didn’t do most of the things that guys did, I took more to the girls, which meant I was always being called a faggot, gay, or a sissy. No matter what I did, I wasn’t considered masculine enough. And I never understood why. All I knew is that it hurt to be picked on and teased. And deep down, I never felt comfortable with myself because I was trying to deal with deeper issues regarding my own sexuality. And my peers weren’t the only ones who taunted me, so did my mom’s ex-boyfriend for many years.
A man also walked a certain way. He had a slight limp or pimp in his step and a really deep voice. When he talked, it was mainly about sex. And he didn’t cry, ever. But I didn’t fit that standard…
I remember a time back when I was 19. That was when my mom was still with her ex-boyfriend. Although I was hanging out with a girl in my room, my mom’s ex-boyfriend had an issue with me allowing guys over. For some reason it made him uncomfortable. That led to a big fight between him and my mother, so I had to get involved. It got physical. And that’s when he called me a faggot. This was a pattern I’ve had to deal with for years and I’ve had just about enough of the taunting. I remember saying to myself “Is that the only thing he can think of?”
I allowed his words to really hurt because I was tired of him and everyone else calling me that. But instead of leaving it at that, I decided I was going to shut him down once and for all, so he could never call me that again. I yelled, “The next time you put your hands on me, I’m going to cut you. And the only reason you’re calling me a faggot is because you want me and can’t have me!”
After that, he couldn’t say anything else. In that moment, even though I was scared, tired, and fed up with everything, I realized he knew the power that word had over me and that it was a painful trigger. No matter what was going on, he knew that I would go to bat whenever that word was thrown at me. But no more. I was scared, fed up, and tired of everything. No more. I wasn’t having it.
Through the birth of my daughter, Alayah, I’ve been able to be the kind of father I never had, which has helped me heal and learn even more about myself as a father, son, and man.
There’s a lot of pain when I think back on what I’ve experienced growing up, especially when it comes to masculinity. And for a long time, I felt abandoned by my own father, which is why when he did come back to my life, I would often lash out at him. In my own way, I wanted him to feel the pain, loss, and loneliness I felt. I wanted him to experience the pain I had to because he wasn’t there to protect me. But that isn’t the end of the story.
Through the birth of my daughter, Alayah, I’ve been able to be the kind of father I never had, which has helped me heal and learn even more about myself as a father, son, and man. Being a father, I know that if no one else loves me, my daughter does, unconditionally. And that unconditional love is what I’ve craved for a long time.
Because of my daughter, I now know what it means to feel fulfilled. And that’s what her name, Alayah, means: powerful and complete. Now that she’s in my life, I can to teach her how a man is supposed to behave. How he should approach her. How he should make her feel. I can teach her to never confuse abuse with love, and be strong enough to think for herself. We can live, learn, and grow, together.