The world can be very unforgiving for men. I know this runs contrary to much of what we understand about gender politics, biology, patriarchal chauvinism and sexism. After all, women bear children, are underpaid for working the same gigs and are constantly judged on their looks. But men also carry a heavy burden throughout their lives. The fathers and sons are most often the ones sent off to die in foreign lands for wars they do not choose… The brothers and uncles are disproportionately the ones who go to work a mile underground in the dark each day, to mine riches and resources that will never be their own. The world can be tough on guys, all the while expecting them to be tough guys.

As such, to make it through this brutal world, we feel an excessive pressure to build ourselves into brutes. Not only in the large, angular silhouette we form physically. But in our manner and demeanor… Our interests and inclinations. We must often dismiss and eschew virtues—intelligence, gentility, curiosity, empathy, sympathy, artistry, mercy, all in an attempt to maintain a mutated and misconstrued masculine archetype. We are called to abandon the fullness of the person we can be, limiting our evolution into our greatest selves, all in the name of “being a man”.

I see it all the time. The images of sport hunting, where a dude upends the food chain, straddling a grizzly bear he shot with a scope from 500 yards away. Social media pictures of arsenals. Beef, beer, bikinis and beards. Chicks with guns. In red sportscars. Drinking Jack. Pickup trucks with lifts. Lips full of dip. Blacked-out tints and murdered-out rims. The Marlboro Man drinking a Budweiser with Clint Eastwood. Suede Timbs on the feet to make the cipher complete. We get it.

The manhood we’ve been marketed is the Dan Bilzerian-influenced wet dream of every adolescent heterosexual American male. We are all conditioned in this manner to some degree. I’m no better. Your humble red-blooded author is not immune to the trite masculine clichés of our time.

It is all unspoken code for the unspeakable truth. We’re all afraid. Deeply fearful of so much… Most importantly, our own inherent weakness. Insecure in our ultimate strength. Not of the sort that relates to the bench press and the barbell curl. But a weakness of a more substantial vintage. One that speaks to a lack of efficacy. And the inability to control our fate. Or to affect our surroundings. Or to avoid our most certain mortality. It can be a lot to digest. Hence the Jack Daniels.

But instead of whiskeying ourselves into oblivion. Or putting up a transparent ruse, we are better off embracing our fear. Admitting our vulnerabilities. And using what we’ve been conditioned to believe to be weakness, to grow strong. Intellectually powerful. Emotionally developed. Capable of loving and caring. Knowing that such sensitivity is not antithetical to manhood. And confident enough to discover the complexity of complete personhood, beyond the safe confines of the mancave.

Writing these words isn’t easy, for I know I am setting myself up to be judged. But that comes with the territory. And is a heavy load I feel obligated to hoist. Part of my legacy in this world is to challenge preconceived stereotypes and the restrictive walls of the box in which we have been placed by convention. Society has reinforced a caricature of the “alpha” male, as an unfeeling, over-bearing savage. But these traits so often run in opposition to what being the man necessitates… To what fatherhood requires… To what leadership demands. So to be a real man, as I have come to understand it, we must strive to be so much more. The exception to their rules. The antidote to their illness. The end to the alpha.