I remember an incident with my father where I was boasting about “being a man.” I don’t remember my exact words nor my age. However, I said something like, “I’m a man now.” My father immediately responded, “You’re not a man,” and then he told me what a man is. I’ll never forget that lesson, especially since it was consistent with my observations of him growing up.
My father said that a man is a guy (male) who keeps his responsibility. In other words, a man is a male who is responsible. Another aspect of manhood that I learned from my father is that a man is himself. He would say something like, “be your own man.” My father was big on not following the crowd, i.e., not giving in to peer pressure.
I also remember reading a psychology book or article (it’s been a long time) discussing masculinity and femininity in the context of child development. It dealt with why boys and girls are different, and a central thread in the article was whether behaviors were learned or intrinsic. In other words, do boys do “boy” things because it is in their male genetics, or were they taught to do them like playing with trucks, playing rough, suppressing their emotions, etc.? The article did not have a definitive answer, and it is still unclear what is intrinsically manhood (masculinity) or what was learned.
This article is my answer to the question, “What does it mean to be a man?” I hope that this article will help liberate some men trapped by social expectations and even self-imposed limitations. Being a man is quite simple but not always easy to implement because of the socially imposed manly requirements and feminism that has negatively infiltrated society.
Characteristics of a Man
You may be surprised that there are not that many characteristics of a man. Here is what I think a man fundamentally is.
- A male human being (he has male genitals and other male-specific organs)
- Responsible – Does what he is responsible for doing (e.g., duties on his job, fatherhood, husband, etc.)
- He Is his own man – He does not allow peer pressure, social norms, etc., to define him.
Fundamentally a man is a male human being who does what he is responsible for doing and is not deterred by what others think of him or expect him to do or be. I am not suggesting that others do not influence a real man because all humans are. However, he does not operate by significantly factoring in what others think or expect of him. He “dances to the beat of his own drum.”
The Cultural Factor
I must point out that being a man may differ in different cultures. For example, being a man in the bush of Australia may vary from being a man in North America. Culture has a profound impact on what it means to be a man. Therefore, we cannot ignore the cultural factor of manhood. The context in this article is manhood in the United States of America.
Even then, the manhood may be different in different parts of the US and the underlying cultures within. Remember that the United States is a melting pot of many cultures and peoples. Those people bring their cultures to America and abide by them as much as possible.
Men Are Responsible
One of the things that I learned from my father about manhood is that men meet their responsibilities. That suggests that a male cannot truly be a man if he has no responsibilities. A man is responsible for his household, wife, children, employer, business, and God.
A married man is responsible for loving his wife as Christ loves the church (See Ephesians 5:25). He is responsible for raising his children the way they should go when older. His instructions should stay with them throughout their lives. He is responsible for keeping his home in order.
Men are ultimately or should be responsible to God. He pursues God’s kingdom and involves Him in his life. He recognizes that he can’t be accountable by his own power. Men need God!
Men Are True to Themselves
A man is not trying to be someone else or what others think he should be. A real man strives to be himself and to express himself his way. Now, of course, this doesn’t mean that a man is immune to his influences. However, it does mean that he hasn’t succumbed to the whims of others in his life but instead moves forward on his own terms. He tries to be who he wants to be, not what someone else wants him to be.
My father was his own man, and he stressed that disposition to my brothers and me. He was not one to follow the crowd. He told me several times not to give in to peer pressure. He spoke candidly and would do things that would make him appear to be mean. However, he was himself and no one else.
Real men are themselves and not merely an instance of cultural expectations. I believe that this is the key to manhood. Be yourself and be responsible.
Mothers: The Potential Threat To Manhood
How does a boy become a man? Again. Different cultures have different ways for a boy to enter manhood. One thing is certain. It takes a man to teach a boy how to be a man. Unfortunately, this is where trouble arises because there are many boys whose mothers are teaching a pseudo-manhood. I am not suggesting that mothers cannot raise their sons to become responsible adults, assuming they are responsible adults. I am saying that it takes a man to teach a boy to be a man. Therefore, a mother cannot teach her son how to be a man no more than a father can teach his daughter how to be a woman.
Many years ago, I read an article that stated the greatest threat to a man-child is his mother. I didn’t understand that statement because I was surrounded by strong and responsible women and strong father figures growing up. However, it started to make much sense as I observed those with children in my generation and up, including my own household.
A common practice I observed was mothers appeasing their sons. Their sons would become momma’s boys or out-of-control youth and adults. That is not to say that mothers can’t keep their sons in control and disciplined. The point here is that when a mother (or father) appeases their sons, they harm them in the long run. I saw a lot of that between young mothers and their sons. In some cases, the father was absent from the family.
Boys need a father or at least a father figure to teach them how to be a man. The mother becomes a substantial threat to her son if she attempts to teach him how to be a man. The best she can do is guide him along a path to being a responsible adult and hopefully find a father figure for him if her husband is not around.
It is also critical that mothers do not undermine the father’s instruction. Men know how men think and remember their mindset when they were young. Therefore, men can relate to their sons deeper than women. Women, in most cases, do not understand the male perspective the way society drills men to know the female mindset, in my opinion. Therefore, in an attempt to appease her son, she may go against the instruction or practices of the father. She may deem his actions harsh or insensitive, but he means to instruct his son to develop into a man.
Again, this is not to say that mothers hurt their sons or cannot teach them to be responsible adults. The probe arises when they attempt to teach their sons how to be a man. They cannot do that. If she doesn’t realize or accept that, she becomes a significant threat to his manhood.
The Father’s Presence
Becoming a man necessitates another man, preferably the father. I’ve alluded to this already. A father can teach or show his son how to be a man. That means that the father must be actively involved in his son’s life or the boy to which he is the father figure.
A boy that grows to adulthood without a father or father figure will experience developmental issues regarding manhood. He may develop a warped perspective on being himself, being responsible, how to treat women and his wife, etc.
According to www.fathers.com, children from fatherless homes are more likely to be poor, become involved in drug and alcohol abuse, drop out of school, and suffer from health and emotional problems. Boys are more likely to become involved in crime (See the full article here).
Other studies and research show that a boy with a present father will fair much better later in life than not having his father around. A fatherless home will have an adverse effect on a boy’s development.
I said previously that a man is responsible. Therefore, a father is accountable to his son. He is responsible for instructing him to become a productive adult and real man. A son will learn more from observing his father over the years than by being told. Actions speak louder than words.
Therefore, fathers need to be actively involved in their son’s life. The father is the primary maker of men from boys, starting with his own son. He may, of course, be a father figure to other boys without knowing it. Fathers need to be present.
Men and Marriage
Being a man does not change because of marriage. A man must still be responsible and faithful to himself. However, he has additional responsibilities to his wife, household, and children in marriage. He has to manage his emotions, expressions, and pursuits because his life now includes others. He has to balance his manhood with the extra weight of a wife and family.
A man should be authentic with his wife, so men should not put up a façade when dating. Your wife needs to know who you really are to interact with you effectively. Unfortunately, men sometimes suppress themselves for the sake of the wife or keep the peace. I think that is a bad idea.
I remember how I chose to do my wedding my way. Why should the bride come down the church aisle with pomp and circumstance, and the groom sneaks out the back with his henchmen waiting for her? I was not too fond of that idea. I believed that marriage involves two people coming together, but from the beginning, cultural norms promoted separation, not togetherness and the wedding was no exception.
I also rejected the notion that the bride’s family’s responsibility was to pay for the wedding. It was our wedding, so why shouldn’t we be responsible for paying for it, even if we did get contributions from our families. The notion of responsibility ran deep in my mind.
I did not accept the norms so commonly spoken of by couples. For example, it is the man’s responsibility to put the toilet seat down. No. It was the responsibility of the one using the toilet to ensure it was in the desired position. My wife and I agreed to put everything down, the seat and lid.
I opposed the stereotypes of men’s and women’s jobs in a home. What happens if his wife is not a good housekeeper or cook? For example, keeping the house clean and cooking is not necessarily the wife’s responsibility. My father once told me that I should know how to cook the foods I enjoy, so I learned how to cook (though I learned to cook from my mother). I wash dishes, sweep and vacuum floors, and do other household duties. If I want a neat, clean, and stress-free house, I must be responsible for doing what it takes to make it happen.
What does it mean to be a man? Being a man means being a responsible male human being true to himself. Cultural norms will influence you, but overall you are operating with the mindset of being yourself.
There is still much debate about what traits are intrinsic or learned. However, scientific studies show that men and women have different brains, translating into different behavioral patterns, i.e., men and women think differently. Therefore, a woman cannot teach a male child how to be a man, though she can teach him to be a responsible adult. Only a man can teach a boy how to be a man in any social context.
Fundamentally, a man is a responsible male who is faithful to himself. He rejects the notion that social norms or the expectations of others dictate who he is. He may accept some social norms (e.g., real men don’t wear pink), but he doesn’t have reason to oppose them. A man who is true to himself does not mean he rejects social norms. It means that they do not limit him from being himself.
Real men are responsible male humans who are faithful to themselves in any context (e.g., cultural, religious, peers, etc.).
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