“Be a Man”

Is what I’ve been told all my life by my father.

“A man has to be serious, proud, stubborn,” is what he has been telling me for 22 years. And we aren’t on speaking terms right now, which happens quite often, but this last argument was probably one of the biggest reasons for him to give me the cold shoulder.

You see, my father comes from a simpler time, where societal roles were allotted based on your height, weight, strength, speed, and most importantly, genitalia. Now, my father is far from being a crazy conservative, but like most people who must bear the momentum of time and progress, he still has trouble fully living in the present. He believes that there are roles in life and you must abide by these laws. In his words “It’s the norm”. I’ve asked him many times about who made this “norm” and what defines something as normal or not, but I’ve only received dismissals and claims of meaningless arguments on my side.

Throughout my childhood, I was relatively free; I was never grounded, I was never forced to do homework, but all of this came under one condition: “be a man, Alik.” I had to be serious, I couldn’t make people laugh, I had to keep a straight face, a straight back, a straight posture, I had to be straight. And this is something many Armenian young men are forced to deal with.

I’m not saying women don’t have expectations to live up to. Of course they do, however, with the recent rise in the fighting for greater equality for women, men have become somewhat overshadowed.

“They’re going to laugh at your face, Alik. Is that what you want? To be the laughing stock of your class?”  was almost the exact quote from my father’s shouting after he saw me come home from school with a Sun drawn on my face with a yellow marker. I was in the 6th grade and I’m sure if my friend had known what kind of a big deal this was for my father, she probably would have not done it. Men in Armenia are forced to put up an act of solidarity and strength. The only way we know how to handle our problems is to bury them under other problems and hope that there are so many of them that they’ll be hard to see.

“What are my friends going to think when they see you like this? A clown?” This was from the recent argument. A man has to be firm. And yet, not once did he stop to ask me how my day went. Not once did he ask me why I never smile at home. Never once did he ask me why all my clothes smell like alcohol and cigarettes. As long as Alik has a straight face, the demeanor of a prison inmate, and the physical stature of a boulder, he is a man. And nothing else really matters.

“If you stay serious, people will take you seriously.” But what if that’s not what I want to be? What if that’s not what the men in Armenia want to be? Too many of us are forced to act a certain way because the people before us believed that’s how it should always be.

And now, for the past several months, I haven’t spoken to my father, because he was disappointed in the way I am, the way I act, the way I dress, and what I do. I would imagine many men around Armenia feel the same. There are many expectations placed on men, as well as the pressure not to disappoint. At the end of the day, the gender role of making money falls onto the man, and even if it’s not something you may agree with, it is still the bitter truth, that men are looked down upon when they do not support the family.

“You’re not a man, Alik.” And so when the argument finished, he stopped speaking to me again. We walk around the house, not looking at each other, disregarding each other’s presence, and not saying a single word to each other. This happens often. If I was younger, I would have been heartbroken by this, but at this point, I honestly don’t really mind the cold shoulder any longer. Both my father and I have probably come to the agreement that I am not the kind of son that he wanted, I did not live up to the expectations of a “normal” man.

“Be a man, Alik.” It’s a real shame he never did teach me exactly how to be one.

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