It’s a phrase that some of us heard all too often as boys—used in the wrong context or never adequately explained or both. Variances include “man up” and “grow a pair” and carry with them some sort of cultural imagery of a macho dude laughing in the face of danger or using brute force to accomplish some task of inhuman strength.
But what does it really mean to be a man?
At the heart of this question, I think we must first answer an even more important one:
What does it mean to be human?
It’s a highly-debated topic, but I know we can all find some common ground here. These are aspects of our humanity that nobody can debate.
We are born with a conscience. Of course we all have a conscience. Could you imagine arguing against this? Here you are reading about it. Are you thinking about the truth of this statement right now? The debatable question isn’t really whether we can think “outside ourselves”, but whether these consciences of ours are hardwired to discern right and wrong. I won’t answer that for you, but I think a reasonable person would say that some of this thinking is culturally learned and some appears to be innate.
We are born with different talents, abilities, affinities, and flaws. And we are all beautiful. In the craziest way, our consciences inform us that, despite our flaws—physical, emotional, whatever—we are all beautiful. And together, even more so. No matter the disability or flaw, there is still something uniquely a part of us that gives value to every individual—even the worst of us.
We are born to fail. “Nobody is perfect.” You’ve heard it before. But do you believe it; and how does it influence how you operate from day to day? If we truly believe this, then we shouldn’t be surprised by “falling short”, doing wrong (commission), or intentionally withholding good from someone when it is within our power to do it (omission). If we truly understand that we can never live up to a standard of moral perfection, then we must be patient with one another and eager to forgive, not holding grudges.
In essence, manhood is truly about recognizing what it means to be truly human and applying that knowledge to how we live each day. To me, this is what it means to “be a man”:
1. Take Responsibility. A man takes responsibility for his actions, right and wrong, and he accepts the consequences without holding a grudge or complaining. When was the last time you missed a project deadline at work and simply owned the repercussions?
2. Do Your Best. No longer holding eachother to an unachievable standard of “do no evil”, our new benchmark becomes “do your best”. We will all fail. The questions become: what was the process of our failure? and did we fail trying?
3. Be Honest. How many skeletons are in that closet of yours? I’m not saying telling the truth is easy, but I am saying it’s right. When it comes to our spouses, how many of us can truly say “my wife knows absolutely everything about me”? Deep down, all people—even the manly men—just want to be loved for who they are.
I’m telling you, this sort of thing can get ugly, collateral damage can be massive—even family-imploding. In cases like that, you may want to seek professional help as you begin to explore what it means to be honest—with yourself and with your spouse.
Men, bring up the dirt. Let your wives help you. And be loved for who you are. You may just find it’s one of the most freeing feelings in the world.
4. Be Strong and Courageous. Part of living with conviction means being the same person inside and out—being transparent. Strength of character is what I’m getting at here. It takes strength to follow through and live where “your word is your bond”. And it takes courage to do the right thing when it’s unpopular or misunderstood by the majority. We must believe that in these courageous acts we are serving the greatest good.
5. Ask for Forgiveness. Often. Remember what it means to be human, do your best to do right, and be honest about your shortcomings. Use the words “Will you forgive me?” and not some generic run-around. Get to it and be vulnerable. Demonstrating true humility means allowing the person whom you have wronged the opportunity to say “I don’t forgive you.” Don’t think that you’re above asking this question to your kids. And you can bet that you wrong nobody more frequently than your spouse.
We must indeed take seriously the task of raising our boys and making them men. It is one of our greatest endeavors as men. “Lead by example” is another over-used but true saying. Teaching means showing. By our actions. By our words, too. We should strive to continually say to our boys, “Son, watch me.”
So I ask you now:
How well are you showing your son how to be a man?