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What is being a man?

Updated: Mar 18

Working a lot with men, I often get the question: "What is it like being a man?"

Do you know what it is to be a man? Do you have a specific picture in your mind of what a man should be like in relationships, in work, in sports, or in life? I certainly had an image most of my life. A picture built by movies I have seen, friends I had, men I have had as an example in my life, teachers, and last but not least, my expectations.

Real men work on oil rigs!

During the first decade of this century, I worked on many oil and gas rigs worldwide, but mainly on the UK North Sea. I was a young engineer working on control systems for big rotating machinery.

Most men on these platforms were of a particular type. Short, muscled, unshaven, and covered in tattoos. The general conversation was about beer, football, and sex (or the longing for as soon as they went ashore). The entertainment in the evening was watching a football game on the telly, regularly burping or lifting the butt for a fart, welcomed by the laughter of the others in the room.

The guys worked hard and were friendly, but somehow it never flowed between them and me. I thought it was because I was always new on the rig. But slowly, I became aware that it concerned my interests. Their ambition in life generally was not mine. I was not a lover of football, so many times the conversation stagnated at the question: "Who's your favorite team?". Or when someone mentioned they had been in Amsterdam, I was curious about their impression, but mainly they talked about the famous 'coffeeshops' and being stoned from landing to departure. When we left the helicopter after it brought us back to Aberdeen, a pint of lager (or two) was enjoyed before collecting the luggage, after which everybody went home.

Slowly over time, I started to doubt my masculinity. I worked in a men's world and did not feel I belonged. I didn't focus so much on the 'men's stuff' they discussed. I couldn't feel the same rawness and primal needs. Was I in touch with the Iron John archetype in me? Sometimes, yes, I could feel him during sex, but often he was kept under the radar.

It was time to confront this 'problem' and do an intense men's training. I wanted to face my 'Wildeman' like we call the archetype in Dutch. I wanted to become a real man! Whatever that meant.

My initiation as a man.

I did a 4-day initiation for men on Venwoude in the Netherlands. During these four days, I constantly looked for the Wildeman in me. I was convinced that that was the masculinity I was lacking. I found it and lost it again, or so I thought. To my surprise, the training wasn't about shouting and releasing; the training was about masculinity and femininity in men; it was about the polarities in us; it was about heartfelt leadership, responsibility, vision, love, and tribal brotherhood.