June 10, 2014 at 5:25 PM ET
Actor and former NFL player Terry Crews has accrued a reputation for being an alpha male —how else do you think he landed his role as the iconic "Old Spice Guy"? But in "Manhood," Crews writes candidly of the less celebrated side of masculinity, highlighting the importance of being a good spouse and a nurturing parent. Here's an excerpt.
I have to preface this book with a story. It was a blazing hot summer day in Southern California, the perfect moment to sit in an air--conditioned movie theater and relax with a wonderful, special effects–-driven Hollywood extravaganza, expensive candy, crunchy popcorn, and an ice--cold drink. I had promised my seven--year--old son, Isaiah, that we’d do what we call “Man Time”—-something very rare in our household, which is mainly comprised of the female energy of six women—my wife, four daughters, one granddaughter—and our twelve--year--old female house dog, Coffee.
Isaiah and I both agreed a movie would be the perfect respite from the heat. Being men, we decided our movie would be Iron Man 3. It being summer, there were product tie--ins for the film everywhere we looked, and I actually owned a fairly pristine original print copy of the third issue of the Iron Man comic book. So even though my son had never seen the first two movies in the franchise, he had to see the new one, and he was at the impressionable age where, if he didn’t see Iron Man 3, he wasn’t cool.
We found the perfect seats, sat down with our snacks, and endured what seemed like an hour of previews. Isaiah was noticeably wincing through most of them, but I attributed this to the fact that the movie theater had a really loud sound system. Then, finally, the movie started. Robert Downey Jr. was as compelling as ever, the effects were amazing, and the action was ramped up to eclipse the first two movies. I was enjoying myself.
Then I noticed something.
Isaiah’s face was caught in a twisted frown, one hand in his popcorn, the other covering his eyes as he peered through his small fingers.
“Isaiah, you okay?” I asked, thinking maybe he had to go to the bathroom but didn’t want to miss anything.
“Yeah . . . ,” he said, his hand still stuck to his face.
I shrugged and turned back to the movie. A bomb exploded, and one of the bad guys appeared to die. I heard a whimper next to me. My son was gritting his teeth, holding a bunch of popcorn in a clenched, sweaty fist, paralyzed with his hand in the bag of popcorn. He was shaking.
“Isaiah, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I’m okay.”
But something was clearly not okay. More intense scenes occurred seconds later, and he tensed with every one. I knew I had to do something.
“Isaiah, let’s go to the lobby for a sec.”
He nodded, and we headed out into the lobby. Our eyes squinted as we adjusted to the sunlight and found a spot against a wall. I took a knee so I could examine his face as I talked to him.
“Isaiah, are you scared?” I asked, as gently as I could, so it wouldn’t sound like a taunt.
“Uh, no. I’m okay.” His face was still squinting, well after our eyes had already acclimated to the light in the lobby.
“Isaiah. It’s okay. You can tell me. There’s nothing wrong with being scared. Even Daddy gets scared sometimes. You can always tell me if you’re scared. There’s nothing wrong with that. Are you scared?”
“Yes . . . ,” he said with a nod, appearing defeated.
“Isaiah, you wanna go home? We can get in the pool. Would you like that?”
His face relaxed and brightened, and I knew I had found the answer.
“Yeah! But the movie—-”
“Don’t worry about the movie, man. The most important thing is that we have Man Time.”
I smiled, and he cheered up immediately.
“Isaiah, always tell me if you don’t like something, or if you’re scared of something. I’m not disappointed in you if you are, but I would be disappointed if you didn’t tell me how you really feel. I love you, man.”
“I love you, too, Dad. Let’s go swimming!”
With that, we threw all of our concessions in the trash and headed out into the hot sun.
I’d love to be able to tell you that I’ve always been like this: patient, caring, thoughtful, and a good listener. But the truth is, for most of my life, I was just the opposite. I was impatient, uncaring, hardheaded, and ignorant. I was selfish in every way possible, a brute to my wife, and a tyrant to my kids. My older daughters can tell you I’ve made them sit through movies they were scared of, just because they asked me to take them. No pain, no gain. My way or the highway. Right? Well, that’s what I thought back then. I was the classic, type A, alpha male to the core. A strong, athletic competitor who used all of the charm and wit at my disposal to manipulate family, friends, coworkers, and everyone around me into giving me exactly what I wanted, and if they didn’t, I was going to get them back one way or another.
I am a man. That’s what men do. Kick ass. Take names. Do the job you’ve been paid to do. Accomplish your dream, no matter what it costs you or who gets hurt. He with the gold makes the rules. You crying? I’ll give you something to cry about. That’s life. That’s the way it is.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
After we came home from the theater that summer day, I watched Isaiah run down from his room in his bathing suit and leap into the pool, as happy as I’ve ever seen him. I became overwhelmed with emotion when I thought about all of the wasted opportunities, the dumb mistakes, the ruined family trips, the things I should have said, and the hard lessons I’d had to learn in order to get to this place of greater clarity.
We absorb the world’s lessons young: Be brave. Be tough. Show no weakness. Have no pity. Isaiah went to that ideal of manhood that day. He felt he needed to be tough for me. Endure this test for me. I can do this. Even when he couldn’t. He denied how he felt, even as his world was crumbling all around him. Male pride is like walking a ledge on the side of a building, and any taunt or challenge will keep a man out there—-until he falls to his death. I talked Isaiah down off that fictional ledge, at a movie theater. At seven years old. But now he’s free. Until the next challenge.
I’ve been out there. I was on that ledge for more than forty--one years. Thinking that this is what manhood is. Being scared to death but never admitting it. Yelling and being angry with everyone, like I was holding on to the side of a building, because, psychologically, I was.
I’ve been searching my whole life, trying to find out what the definition of manhood is. Was it my father, Big Terry, when he went to work as a foreman at the GM plant in Flint, Michigan, with his work shirt ironed and his work shoes shined? Or was it Big Terry, drunk after work, and descending into the dark place where he made everyone in our household afraid? Was it Big Terry’s calloused hands? His ability to build anything and everything? The fact that he put a roof over our heads and shoes on our feet? Was it the preacher who worked our church up into a frenzy of righteous fervor, rolling on the floor and speaking in tongues, but had dark secrets of his own? Was it five--year--old me, lifting our household furniture to feel strong? Or me, at age ten, starting my own secret life that would haunt me for the next three decades? Or me, finding football in junior high and being told by one miraculous coach that this could be my way out? Or me, getting married the day before my twenty--first birthday? Or me, being drafted into a seven--year career in the NFL? Or me, having been featured in more than forty movies and three hundred episodes of television, and earning success as a pitchman for three of the most popular brands in the world? Was any or all of that being a man? This book addresses that question—-to both men and women—-and explains, through the story of my life, what I’ve discovered. Welcome to Manhood.
Copyright © 2014 Terry Crews. Excerpted by permission of Zinc Ink, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.