My Own Man
Eight years ago, I was starting to write songs and record them. I got frustrated with the limitations of my voice, so I decided to take a few voice lessons. A friend of mine introduced me to his old vocal coach, Neil Semer. I thought we’d be working on scales and practicing breathing. But after a couple of lessons, Neil turned to me and said, “I think you’re afraid of your masculinity.” That wasn’t territory I expected my voice teacher to cover. But it hit home. I was afraid of things we often associate with masculinity (even if women possess them too) – aggression, competitiveness, toughness. I realized I wasn’t just frustrated with my singing voice; I was frustrated with where I had ended up in life. I felt unaccomplished, powerless, a guy who couldn’t defend or assert himself. I thought I was proud of being the “sensitive” guy but now I saw I had conflicted feelings about being the “softie.” I also started to see that in rejecting old-school macho manliness, I had failed to tap into any authentic masculine part of myself. Clearly I had a lot of baggage around being manly. And when I talked to friends about this, I realized that just about every guy I knew had his own baggage. Very few men I knew related to the old model of manhood, but very few could fathom what would replace it. How should men be men, if all the old ways of defining manhood no longer seemed relevant to our 21st century lives? As a documentary filmmaker, I was used to pointing my camera at other people, but this time I felt like the only way to get the access and intimacy I wanted to explore the emotional landscape of masculinity was to make myself the subject. So for over six years, I filmed my own life. It turned out to be a momentous six years. I met my wife and we had two sons. I did a lot of work to heal my relationships with members of my family. And I did things for the film that seemed like a lark –I went on a men’s weekend, I went to see a life coach, I went hunting – and each in their own way transformed my life, and the story I would tell in the film, in ways I couldn’t have possibly predicted. It was Lauren the life coach who heard my well-rehearsed, long laundry list of grievances against my father and said, it’s time to get over all that so you can live your life. Respect and love your father so you can respect and love yourself. The advice might sound pat, but the process of getting there was profound. The getting there changed me, and gave me the heart and soul of my film. I thought the film would be a zeitgeisty meditation on our rapidly changing ideas of manhood in our society. It ended up being a film about something more timeless: the endlessly fraught and fascinating tug of war between fathers and sons, and the transformative power of forgiveness. It’s a film about me and my family, but I’m hoping that the film will offer you a new way of looking at yours.
Starring David Sampliner, Edward Norton, Ian Kahn
Director David Sampliner