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Exploring Healthy Masculinity: A Conversation with Suraj Arshanapally

In the realm of fatherhood and raising daughters, the concept of healthy masculinity plays a crucial role in shaping family dynamics and individual growth. The Dads with Daughters podcast recently featured Suraj Arshanapally, the founder of the multicultural man initiative, shedding light on the importance of cultural diversity and healthy masculinity. Through the power of storytelling and introspection, Suraj’s journey encapsulates the evolution of masculinity, challenging stereotypes and encouraging authenticity in self-expression.

Cultural Diversity and Personal Identity

Suraj’s upbringing in a bicultural household provided him with a unique perspective on masculinity and identity. Growing up with Indian heritage at home and American culture outside, he navigated conflicting messages about what it means to be a man. Suraj’s experience with early facial hair development highlighted the impact of societal norms on self-perception. This narrative underscores the need to recognize and celebrate cultural differences in shaping individual identities and expressions of masculinity.

Reframing Healthy Masculinity

The concept of healthy masculinity, as explored by Suraj, emphasizes values that prioritize personal well-being and positive contributions to society. Through conversations with men from diverse backgrounds, Suraj discovered common themes of empathy, respect, and self-care as integral components of healthy masculinity. By rejecting outdated stereotypes and embracing introspection, men can redefine what it means to embody strength and vulnerability in their roles as fathers and community members.

Fatherhood and Active Parenting

A critical aspect of healthy masculinity lies in active fatherhood and caregiving roles. Suraj highlights the significance of modeling positive behavior and values for children, emphasizing the impact of parental actions on shaping a child’s worldview. By fostering empathy, respect, and open communication within the family, fathers can cultivate a supportive environment that promotes individual growth and emotional well-being.

Empowering Future Generations

Looking towards the future, the multicultural man initiative aims to extend its reach to children, advocating for inclusive narratives and empowering young individuals to embrace their authentic selves. By promoting diverse representations of masculinity and encouraging self-expression from an early age, the initiative seeks to dismantle harmful stereotypes and foster a culture of acceptance and understanding among future generations.

Encouraging Introspection and Dialogue

In promoting healthy masculinity, fathers can play a pivotal role in fostering introspection and open dialogue with their children. By exposing children to diverse perspectives and challenging societal norms, fathers can instill values of empathy, inclusivity, and self-acceptance in the next generation. Through mindful language and supportive interactions, fathers can create a nurturing environment that nurtures individual growth and self-confidence.

The intersection of cultural diversity, healthy masculinity, and fatherhood forms a compelling narrative that promotes personal growth, understanding, and empathy. The stories shared by Suraj Arshanapally and the multicultural man initiative serve as a beacon for individuals seeking to redefine masculinity, embrace authenticity, and cultivate meaningful connections within their families and communities. Through introspection, dialogue, and a commitment to positive change, fathers can lead by example in fostering a future where healthy masculinity thrives, and individuals are empowered to be their true selves.

TRANSCRIPT

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:00:05]:
Welcome to dads with daughters. In this show, we spotlight dads, resources, and more to help you be the best dad you can be.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:00:16]:
Podcast where we bring you guests to be active participants in your daughter’s lives, raising them to be strong independent women. Really excited to have you back again this week. As always, I love being able to sit down, talk to you every week, be able to bring you different people that are going to open your minds and allow you to think about things in a little bit different way because it is so important for you and I to know that we don’t have to do this alone. We don’t have to go about fatherhood alone. There are so many people around us that can offer support, offer resources, offer a listening ear. Whatever it may be, There are many people that have gone before us, many people that will come after us that we can help along the way as well. That’s what this show is all about. It is here to help you in this journey and for you and I to learn together because, as you know, I’ve got 2 daughters myself.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:01:08]:
So it is important for me to learn and be open to learning and know that the learning doesn’t stop as they get older. It continues, and we have to continue to be able to support our daughters as they get into adulthood as well. Every week, I love being able to bring you different people, different guests that can bring different perspectives for you to consider, for you to put tools in your own toolbox. And this week, we’ve got another great guest with us today. Suraj Arashnapalli is with us today. And Suraj is the founder of the multi cultural man, which is a initiative that uses storytelling to celebrate cultural diversity and healthy masculinity. So we’re going to be talking about this journey that Siraj has been on to get people talking, to to really bring stories out into the open and to go even deeper into these stories. And I’m really excited to have him here.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:02:03]:
Suraj, thanks so much for being here today. So I guess first and foremost, I mentioned that you started the multicultural management journey back in 2023. And I guess, 1st and foremost, I’d love to turn the clock back just a little bit. I’d love to for you to get into your head a little bit about why this was important to you, why you felt the calling to try to bring these stories out into the world.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:02:37]:
Started this in 2023, but I kind of wanna turn the clock a little bit more to my childhood. So my parents immigrated to the US from India. And what that did for me was gift me with 2 cultures. So I had Indian culture in my household and I had American culture everywhere else. And so I would parse out what customs and traditions and ideologies belong to each culture, but also what resonated with me. And growing up, I was really informative to my worldview and my identity, but simultaneously, I was also receiving a lot of messages around masculinity. So I would receive messages such as, like, boys and men do this, but they don’t do that, or they can act this way, but they can act that way. And so I there it was really confusing trying to figure out who I could be and and how I wanted to move through the world.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:03:32]:
And something that I also recognized was that a lot of these messages didn’t account for my cultural identity or my cultural experience. So one one story that I can share when around the time of puberty, maybe even a little bit earlier, my experience was that I grew facial hair much earlier than my peers. And my classmates found this confusing, and I found it confusing because I didn’t know. I didn’t see anyone that looked like me. And so what this did was, like, my facial hair was used as a reason to other me or differentiate me, and I ended up going clean shaven for, like, the next decade of my life because I associated facial hair to be abnormal through this messaging. But then at some point in my adulthood, that messaging flipped, and essentially, facial hair was seen in I thought And I thought, you know, this is really confusing because this is not the messaging that I received earlier on. And so what it taught me was that one, are the messages around masculinity are malleable. They evolve.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:04:41]:
They aren’t set in stone, and so we shouldn’t take them that way. And then it also taught me that we need to widen our definition of masculinity and the messaging around masculinity to encompass all types of men from different cultural backgrounds as well as people who identify with a masculine gender expression. And so I started to have conversations about this intersection with other men in my life and friends and found that my facial hair story was just one of many stories. There were, there were a lot of stories where men would tell me about a specific identity, whether it was, like, their queer identity or religious identity, or they would tell me about a specific aspect of their personality, like, they were an empathetic person or that they really connected with, you know, the the women in their lives. And those were used as reasons to differentiate them in their lives from the other men because it didn’t fit into that quote, unquote norm when we think about masculinity or the messaging around masculinity. And I found this really unfortunate because I found that a lot of these aspects that the men in my life were hiding or not sharing with the world were connected to healthy masculinity and the types of values I wanted to see in the world. And so that’s kind of the evolution of why I started the multicultural man. You know, these series of conversations showed me that I need to put a spotlight on these culturally diverse stories of healthy masculinity to really amplify

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:06:21]:
It’s so such an interesting And then ultimately, to widen our definition of what we see as masculine.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:06:26]:
Every person has their own version of it in some different way, whether it’s culturally based or socioeconomically based or other there’s so many different factors that make a person who they are. And part of that is their understanding, their definition of what a man is. And a lot of times that comes out of, in my perspective, the men that they grow up with, the men that they see or they interact with, and they start to emulate those individuals. Going back to your story, I guess I would love to unpack that a little bit because I’m sure that around you, when you said you were talking about the facial hair story for yourself when you were growing up and coming into that facial hair when no one else in your peer group was, but the men around you did. So you saw these 2 worlds colliding for yourself. And you said it took a a number of years for you to get to a point where you accepted that. What did you have to do for yourself to come to that acceptance and be able to live an authentic life for yourself?

Suraj Arshanapally [00:07:40]:
I think at the time, I didn’t accept myself. I just didn’t know how to navigate having facial hair amongst a lot of people. A lot of the the boys my age didn’t have facial hair. The men in my life did, but that seemed like a very different age group. You know? And I remember when I was a child, one term that I was called was man child because the boys around me didn’t know how to they they saw the men in their lives with facial hair or older siblings, and then they also saw me. And so that was it was confusing at the time, and it took me a while to figure out how to appreciate facial hair. I think it was the conversations that I’ve been having with men around culture and masculinity. So one conversation that comes to mind is a conversation I had with with this man named JJ.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:08:27]:
And JJ, his religious identity is sick. And in Sikhism, facial hair is honored and respected. And he was telling me how it was so important for him to maintain his facial hair, as part of his religious identity and the cultural significance that comes with it. Through that conversation, I realized that facial hair is just a part of my experience. I’m Indian American, and my outward appearance is going to look different than others around me who aren’t, who don’t identify with that. And I really appreciated having that conversation with JJ because he was able to share his experience and put a spotlight on why it’s something that’s part of our identities that we should be able to achieve some of this services. It wasn’t a dream of the military experience for yourself. As you said, you wanted to bring stories out into the open to explore healthy masculinity. Define for me healthy masculinity because every person is going to have a little bit different definition of that for themselves.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:09:35]:
Yeah. I’m glad you said that because this is this is something I think about quite often. So if we were to define masculinity as maybe a list of traits and behaviors that are typically associated with boys and men, or we define it as an energy for how you move through the world, regardless of how you define it. I would say a healthier form of masculinity is that form of masculinity that prioritizes your health, but also the health and well-being of your loved ones and your community at large. And so there are a couple ways that I’ve been thinking about this. And one way it evolved from the conversations that I’ve been having with men around their understanding of healthy masculinity. And that first way is about that list of traits. So for many years, a lot of these men had received messaging around what they can and can’t do or how they can and can’t behave.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:10:28]:
And so a lot of these messages, and I’m sure you’ve heard many of these, are that, you know, boys don’t cry and don’t be weak and boys are strong. And when you connect those with how it manifests that they need to prioritize self reliance in an unhealthy way. So if they feel like they need help, whether they’re going through a mental health crisis or whether they’re not feeling well physically. Whatever it may be, they may need to reach out for medical help, but they may see it as a sign of weakness, and they should just rely on themselves to get through it. And so these aspects or these messages around masculinity that many of us received when we were young weren’t the best for our health because they didn’t teach us how to prioritize our health. And so a lot of these men are doing are rejecting those messages by turning them into messages that they can live healthier lives. So that might mean that they express their emotions, or it might mean that they figure out ways to prioritize their mental and physical health, or they when they are in a conflict, they figure out how to navigate it peacefully, or they are active fathers in their children’s lives. I resonate with this approach because I think it helps really prioritize health and well-being of oneself and the community.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:11:52]:
But another the the other approach that I wanna touch on is one that I started to think about more through the conversations I’ve been having with other men, and it’s a little bit more of an introspective approach. And it requires one to think about their values and what values are important to them and also what values they want to see exemplified and embodied in society. So one example for me is I grew up in a Hindu household. And so in Hinduism, there is one value, how I move through the world using a peaceful approach. So when conflicts arise, I channel this value and I figure out a way to mediate them in a nonviolent peaceful way. And when I think about the values that are important to me, I share them with others. And Then through these conversations, I’ve learned about other values that are important to other men. Brian Anderson, who I recently had a conversation with for the multicultural man is a great example.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:13:07]:
I remember when Brian was speaking about his Catholic background and then his role as a father, he spoke about servant leadership being a really integral part of his being and the way he, you know, he moves through the world. And so when he, he spoke about when he thinks about the actions he takes, he for or what decisions he wants to make, he thinks about his children and the community and the impacts that it’ll have on them. And that’ll help him decide whether he wants to take those actions. And so I’ve learned a lot about the value systems that are connected to healthy masculinity as well. And and so that’s a long answer, but it’s the two approaches that I think about when I think about healthy masculinity. The rejection, the negative messages, but also about value system

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:13:52]:
who is the cofounder of Gathering Together. And there’s been others, other conversations that you’ve been collecting since 2023. What have you learned thus far? And what are you taking out of those conversations that are helping to frame your own masculinity?

Suraj Arshanapally [00:14:15]:
Yeah. So it’s been really interesting because I have talked to several men across cultural traditions. And I actually I recently started documenting them in 2023, but I’d been having these conversations since around 2020. And it’s been fascinating to learn about the ways that men are thinking about masculinity, or they haven’t thought about masculinity and learn in the moment and how their experiences while so culturally diverse and pull from different cultural values and have different experiences, we’re able to share a lot of similarities. And when I ask people what it means to be, to be a man that moves through the world in a healthy way, or like what healthy masculinity means. I get a lot of the same answers. It means to be a good person. It means to approach society in a peaceful way and to care about people to be empathetic, and those are values that I really resonate with as well.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:15:18]:
And so I think for me, something that I have learned from from these conversations is that I need to really do some more introspection on what is important to me. And when something feels off in terms of the socialization around masculinity, like, I feel nervous asking for help in this very particular situation, it’s important for me to ask myself why and figure out what the connection to health, whether it’s myself or society is. And I think that allows me to approach life in a healthier way. And so if anything, these conversations have taught me that I have a lot to learn.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:16:04]:
Now not every dad, not every man is ready to unpack all of that for themselves. Sometimes it’s going to take them some time to be able to have those internal dialogues or find someone that they’re willing to talk to about these issues. From the conversations that you’ve had thus far and introspection that you’ve done yourself, are there things that men can and maybe should be doing to be able to start moving themselves in that, we’ll say, right direction of being able to be introspective that can help them then to better understand themselves, which then allows them to understand themselves as fathers?

Suraj Arshanapally [00:16:49]:
Yeah. You know, it’s a good question. And, you know, I’m not I’m not a father yet, but I thought about this because with this being a podcast centered around fatherhood, you know, what is the connection between healthy masculinity and fatherhood? And one trait that I think about when I think about healthy masculinity is active fatherhood and caregiving. And I believe that this value or aspect of healthy masculinity is really important for us as a society. When someone becomes a father, they don’t abandon their value systems. If anything, it’s even stronger because now you have little ones who are watching your every move, who are learning from you, and who you were teaching as a father. And so I think if the one piece of advice that I would give, or I would give myself, I should say, who hopes to be a father, is to really think about how I want to show up in the world, whether it’s my day to day actions, whether it’s how I handle challenges, you know, in the household, whether minor or large. And if it’s something that I would want my kids to emulate, then I can keep moving forward.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:18:01]:
But if it’s not, then I should probably figure out why I’m doing that and make some changes. And, and I think this is important because, so when I’m a father, I want my children to grow up in a society that values empathy, that values empathy and respect and health and peace. And I think it’s important that if I want those values to show up in society, that I live out those values myself. And I’m not a father yet, so I can think about this prior, but I think anyone at any stage in their fatherhood journey can do some of this thought work and introspection there are more stories to tell and more stories to explore. What’s the future of the multicultural man?

Suraj Arshanapally [00:18:52]:
So right now, I have been conducting interviews like we mentioned, and that has been really fruitful, and I’ve learned so much. And I document those on the website. And then I also have a newsletter where I reflect on values related to healthy masculinity, and I talk about lessons I’ve learned from other cultural traditions. And that that I and I really enjoyed that as well. What it feels like currently is that I am speaking to adults and it feels really healing to me, specifically my inner child to share these stories. But the future, I would say, of the multicultural man is to do more work with children and really make an impact on the lives of children because I would love for these stories to help widen our definitions of what masculinity is. Ultimately, I see I would want the messaging around masculinity to allow kids to live their lives as authentically as possible from the beginning of their life to adulthood and to feel free to be and do whatever they want and to not feel limited by any identity or ability due to the messaging or the social expectations around masculinity. And while I don’t know what entirely that looks like in practice for the multicultural man yet.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:20:16]:
That’s the direction I would love to head. But for right now, I’m finding a lot of value talking to other adults about their experiences around masculinity from different cultural traditions, but also doing a lot of introspection myself and sharing those thoughts through the newsletter.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:20:41]:
The to think about things, on a deeper level earlier and break down some of those stereotypes and explore the some of the norms and values of society. But I guess one of the things that I would ask is that there are many fathers that also have sons. And as they are raising their sons, are there things that they could be doing, should be doing to be able to encourage these type of introspections, these type of conversations to help them to find that healthy manhood for themselves that they can start at an earlier age.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:21:19]:
I think some of the things that we can do is, from a very young age, introduce diversity of people, whether it’s through children’s book or, you know, children’s television or through the stories we share with children. We want them to see the world for what it is, you know, a very culturally diverse space, where people look and identify in all different ways. And that can help from a young age, increase their empathy and towards other people and increase awareness. So that’s one thing that I think fathers can do for sons, daughters, for any children. Another thing that comes to mind is, and I’ll share a story. So when I was around 4th grade, I remember we had gone on a class field trip and it was to a library. And I was flipping through a book and I remember overhearing some of the adults talking and the adults were talking about our reading scores and reading speeds. And they had mentioned one of my classmates who was a girl.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:22:17]:
Her reading speed was on par for what it was supposed to be for our grade. And then I had overheard them talk about mine and mine was lower. But they justified it by saying boys learn slower. And so I remember hearing that message. And, you know, I was young at the time. I didn’t have the tools or the ability to contextualize what that meant, but that message stuck with me throughout my whole school experience, the shortcut or the easy way out. And I think it the shortcut or the easy way out. And I think it was unfortunate because as an adult, I now read and I do that voluntarily.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:22:57]:
And I think about all the years I missed out because I didn’t feel confident around reading because I thought, am I destined to just be slower at this? And that message made me feel like my reading speed was a metric I needed to use to measure my success or my, yeah, my confidence. But but it wasn’t something I really needed to be measuring at all. I just needed to enjoy reading. And so the reason I’m sharing this story is because I think the messages we share with children, while inadvertently could be harmful, but, you know, obviously weren’t intended that way is that messages stick with children. They pick up on what we’re saying. And so we want to make sure we are using language that empowers them because at the time we may say something, but they’re not gonna be able to contextualize what it actually means. And we want to ensure that they feel they feel confident in their skin and their ability to be and do whatever they want is validated and encouraged. And so I would say between these two things, sharing culturally diverse stories with children from a young age, and also being very intentional around the messaging that we use when we speak with children or speak about children because if they’re listening are a couple of things that we can do.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:24:17]:
Well, Suraj, I just wanna say thank you. Thank you for the work that you’re doing to encourage men to explore healthy masculinity in a different way, to share their stories. And if people wanna find out more about the multicultural man, sign up for the newsletter, learn about the stories that are being captured. Where should they go?

Suraj Arshanapally [00:24:36]:
So you can go to the multiculturalman.com, and you’ll find all the information there. Or you can go to the multiculturalman.substack.com for the Substack newsletter.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:24:47]:
Well, again, Suraj, thank you so much for all the work that you’re doing. I look forward to seeing all the stories that come in the future, and I wish you all the best.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:24:55]:
Thank you. Thank you so much, Chris. And I just I just wanted to add real quick that I had listened to a previous episode of the podcast and it was the one with Sean Harvey. And I really appreciated it because you had both talked about the importance of people checking in. And I love that how it connected to healthy masculinity, because I think oftentimes when we talk about just being a man in general, but also as fathers, it’s seen as a sign of weakness to ask for help and to be in community with others to want that social interaction. Isolating experience without that community. And so I just wanted to thank you for all the isolating experience without that community. And so I just wanted to thank you for all the work that you’re doing around fathering together and building community for fathers.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:25:45]:
So it inspires me because when I’m a father one day, it’s just nice to know that you’ve built this community that is welcoming and open for everyone to join. And I’m excited for it. So I just wanted to say thank you.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:25:59]:
Well, I do appreciate it. And I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again for any father that’s out there, any man that’s out there that it is so important to be open to be I’m gonna use it again, the v word vulnerable. It’s important to be vulnerable and to know that, as I said at the beginning, you don’t have to do this alone. And there are so many men around you that may be struggling with the same things that you’re struggling with as a father, as a man. And so often, we bottle it up and think we just have to push through, and you don’t have to. You can ask for help. You can talk to someone. Put yourself out there.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:26:36]:
Maybe hard at first, but once you rip off that Band Aid, it becomes easier. So, Suraj, thank you. Thank you for that. I really appreciate it. And as I said, I do wish you all the best in the journey to come.

Suraj Arshanapally [00:26:47]:
Thank you.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:26:48]:
If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode of the Dads with Daughters podcast, we invite you to check out the fatherhood insider. The fatherhood insider is the essential resource for any dad that wants to be the best dad that he can be. We know that no child comes with an instruction manual and most dads are figuring it out as they go along, and the fatherhood insider is full of resources and information that will up your game on fatherhood. Through our extensive course library, interactive forum, step by step roadmaps, and more. You will engage and learn with experts, but more importantly, dads like you. So check it out at fathering together dotorg. If you are a father of a daughter and have not yet joined the dads with daughters Facebook community, there’s a link in the notes today. Dads with Daughters is a program of fathering together.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:27:37]:
We look forward to having you back for another great guest next week, all geared to helping you raise strong and empowered daughters and be the best dad that you can be.

We’re all in the same boat. And it’s full of tiny screaming passengers. We spend the time. We give the lessons. We make the meals. We buy them presents and bring your a game. Because those kids are growing fast. The time goes by just like a dynamite blast, calling astronauts and firemen, carpenters, and musclemen.

Get out and be the world. Choose them. Be the best dad you can be. You’re the best dad you can be.

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Christopher Lewis


Christopher is the co-founder of Fathering Together and the Chief Information Officer. He is the father of 2 daughters that are now in their tweens and teens. He started Dad of Divas, a blog to share his own personal experiences in being a father in 2007 and in 2018 started the Dads With Daughters Facebook Group to allow dads to connect, learn and grow together. He works in Digital Media on a daily basis, but also has over 20 years of experience in higher education administration.

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