Over the summer, I was given a challenge by the folks at Dove Men + Care: write about what it means for a man to be comfortable in his own skin. I accepted the challenge, sure, but I didn’t know what in the world to do with it. I don’t even think of myself as comfortable in my own skin.
Later this summer, I had the privilege of having “the talk” with my 10-year-old son. He was old enough, and with my wife due to deliver our fifth child, the timing was right for explaining the birds and the bees. We had a good time together and enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation. The evening actually went very smoothly. At one point, though, as we were talking about the awkward teenage years that lie ahead for him, he asked me a question that made me stop to think: When did I become comfortable telling girls about my feelings? That’s not a question I had anticipated. The answer was, “I didn’t.”
As a boy with three sisters, my son has already realized that there are some differences in the ways girls and boys relate to each other. In a neighborhood where most of the kids his age are also girls, he’s gotten to experience a fair share of drama and giggling, and of course a couple of girls, who at this age are naturally a bit further along in the development cycle, have already had “crushes” on him. He’s managed just fine through all of this, but he’s already recognized that there are challenges in communicating with the opposite sex.
[quote float=”right”]I was not comfortable in my own skin, with who I truly was, and that was ultimately the root of the problem.[/quote] My son’s question lingered with me well past that evening. It took me back to my own years as a teenager. True, I wasn’t comfortable telling girls about my feelings. My guarded emotions weren’t my only problem. I was uncomfortable with myself, unsure of where my own feelings lie, always trying to balance perception and reality, never certain of the right thing to say, embarrassed at my lack of knowledge about style and pop culture, more of a chameleon than I care to admit, and attempting to cover it all up with fake confidence and a smile. I was not comfortable in my own skin, with who I truly was, and that was ultimately the root of the problem.
The path to finding comfort with who I am was not a short one. In some ways, I still haven’t arrived. Yet, I have made progress here. Looking back, I can clearly see some of the aspects of my own journey to comfort.
I am loved.
My parents loved me, and they demonstrated that in many ways, and I knew and accepted it. However, it was my wife who helped me truly understand what it meant to be loved. It was she with whom I could safely be emotionally vulnerable. Her love for me allowed me to drop my facade and be genuine. In so doing, I was able to get to know myself in ways that were previously unavailable to me because I had kept my guard up. Being in a genuinely loving relationship was (and is) a key part of finding comfort with who I am.
I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
I was raised in a God-fearing home and taught from an early age that God had made me who I was. The idea is expressed well in the Bible in Psalm 139, which is a prayer that speaks of how well God knows each of us individually. The key verse is Psalm 139:14,
[quote]I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.[/quote]
Who I am, every part of me, was wonderfully and marvelously made by God. Knowing that is not a challenge; accepting it, on the other hand, is not so easy. As my children have come along, though, I have experienced in my own small way the wonder of observing God’s creation, and it’s easy for me to look at them and say, “Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” The awe of my children’s creation gives me pause and forces me to reckon with my own existence. As a father, I can step back and recognize that my own wonder and pride at who my children are is just a sample of how God must feel about His creation — including me. Coming to terms with that has had an incredible impact on how comfortable I am in my own skin.
I am self-determined.
A number of people and experiences during my childhood instilled in me the notion that I could be anything I wanted to be, but it was my career that made that concept real to me and impacted how I see myself. Starting with college and continuing through a number of different career paths, I’ve recognized that at the end of the day, I alone am able to determine whether or not I will be successful. I am the only one who can choose my attitude and how I will respond to the challenges each day brings. Putting this into practice forces you to come to grips with how you feel about yourself. After all, if you question your own value, you will doubt your ability to achieve your goals. You will be your own biggest obstacle. I embraced the concept that I was responsible for determining my own success, and as a result I became significantly more comfortable in my own skin.
This challenge has proven to be a useful thing for me. As I mentioned early on, I don’t tend to think of myself as comfortable in my own skin — part of that teenage uncertainty that has never been fully expelled, I guess. The process of thinking about my life, though, and especially the thought-provoking question from my son, have helped me to realize that I actually am comfortable in my own skin. That may be the key: to find comfort, you must seek it. I searched through my life for points where my own comfort was increased, discovered more than I expected, and in so doing became even more accepting of who I am.
Ben Martin is the CEO of THE FATHER LIFE. He lives with his wife and five children in the Rochester, NY, area.