This past week, I’ve engaged in a couple of intense conversations about manhood in America. A lovely, thoughtful young friend of our family, age 25, was lamenting that she could not find men her age who were worth the trouble of dating. She finds herself interested only in men who are at least ten years older than she is. “They’re the only ones who ask questions and follow through on commitments!” In another chat, a former student of mine who is a military chaplain recounted to me his experiences with young male soldiers who not only are sorely lacking in coping and interpersonal skills, but have few decent male role models to help them develop those abilities. He’s only 30 years old, but he’s very much in the role of “dad” for hundreds of young “weekend warriors” in the Army Reserves.
He and I noodled together about how to help males become real men. We both promised to email each other with some basic principles about the arts of manhood. Here’s my list – and please me send your suggestions for additions!
THE ARTS OF MANHOOD
What it takes to be a real man (regardless of sexual orientation):
* Real men ask questions. When they are lost, they admit it, and seek direction – whether it’s about geography or about how to handle a challenge in a relationship. Real men spend more time asking questions of their romantic partners than they spend talking about themselves. Real men show real and sustained interest in who their partners are, what they want, and how they feel and think. Real men aren’t afraid they’ll look dumb if they ask a lot of questions.
* Real men make commitments and follow through on them. They aren’t afraid of making a promise if they are sincere about delivering on it. If they say they’re going to do something, they do it. If for some reason they aren’t able to follow through on a commitment, they tell the truth about it in a timely fashion.
* Real men are outrageously righteous, and righteously outrageous. Real men put fun into hard work, and they turn their play into service to others. Real men are uproarious in goodness, outlandish in kindness. They know how to have a wild good time while making the world around them a better place.
* Real men are worshipped as sexual partners because they worship their partners first! They take the time – even if it is a long time – to make everything just the way their partners need it to be. They ask their partners exactly what they want, and they ask for continual feedback as they give their partners exactly what they want, how they want it, and when they want it – no more, and no less. They are masters of the arts of love because they are perfect love-servants.
* Real men hang out with real men. They have long-term bromances. They make extra effort to spend time with men they admire. They mentor each other. They share what they’ve learned with each other. They show up for each other in good and in tough times. They seek each others’ advice and counsel. They resist their inner urge to be “self-reliant” when they most need the support of their brothers. They go out of their way to befriend younger men who could benefit from their experience and network of relationships.
* Real men are servant-leaders. They show real humility. They aren’t afraid to let the world know about their real skills and abilities – but they also recognize that they are fallible. They are rightly proud when they climb tall summits, but they are humble about the fact that they didn’t make those magnificent mountains. Real men lead by helping others do their jobs. They support the people who report to them. Others follow them because they show the way to serve. Real men aren’t full of themselves: they empty themselves into those who follow them.
* Real men are mindful. They know themselves. They pay attention to their thoughts and feelings. They acknowledge and creatively channel their emotions. They show their joy, their sadness, their grief, without being destructive. They don’t bottle up their feelings and then explode. They are pro-active with their emotions. If they are getting angry, they take a break. They take a walk, do pull-ups, breathe deeply. They let the sharpness of the emotion subside, and only then deal calmly with whatever it was that got them angry. Real men practice mindfulness in disciplined ways such as meditation, journaling, and prayer practices.
* Real men are really strong. Sure, they might be able to bench-press hundreds of pounds, but they’re even stronger than that. They have resilience. If they get beaten down, they gather their wits and their strength and stand up as straight as they can. Real men don’t whine. They express their frustrations, but they don’t hide behind them. They tell it like it is in the moment, but don’t act like that’s the last word. They keep going. If they run out of road, they make a new one.