An interesting question popped up over lunch yesterday.  How do you explain to young men what it means to be a man. 

I, of course, instantly fell back into an old comfort zones.  Being a man is driven by your values.  Those values are important and include God, Integrity, character, respect.  All inter-related and neatly bundled.  It works.  All decisions are driven by those values and though I sometimes fall short of my “ideal” man I try not to miss by much.

But that answer doesn’t work.  The question was, how do you explain those values to young men.  Kids really; aged 15-25, who are desperately trying to figure out what being a man means and what skills they need to become those men.  More importantly, how do you do it if you only have an hour to spend with them.

From values we began discussing “skills” needed to “be a man” and covered a long list of them.  Everything from how to shave properly, to how to shoot, to how to change a flat.  But while those are all good skills to have they don’t answer the question because, in the end, they’re just a set of skills and without the values to tie them together they’re nothing more.  You can add ‘the ability to take a leak anywhere I want’ to the list and not really add value to the list or detract from it at all.

So, it’s a combination of things, integrity, respect of self, basic engineering skills, responsibility, providing for your family, love of country, submission or adherence to the laws of man and humility before God.  Difficult concepts to explain to a teenager whose only goal in life is to get laid… tonight… hopefully twice.   Or to explain to a young adult who has a general understanding of what the words mean and really thinks they’re a great idea but wishes you’d shut up because he’s got plans to meet the boys at the bar at 8:00.

In the end, the best idea that I could come up with was two fold.  Help them identify role models and teach them to learn from those models in an effective way and do what you can to BE those role models.  Not a great answer but it was a short lunch.

Me?  I drive an F250 4×4, shoot well, and try to fix a problem before I abandon it to the repair guy.  I get dirty when I work and I work hard to ensure that my wife has a comfortable life.  I try to make good choices directed by a Christian upbringing and I try to make the same choices regardless of whether anyone will ever know.  I display a love of life and a love of family in my daily living and to balance that I will, occasionally, have a bubble bath.  But if you giggle about that last one I can kick your ass.

So, how would you do it? How do you teach a young adult to be a man in todays world while dealing with the confusion of gender roles and general androgynation. of both roles?

Oh, and for what it’s worth, views from both sexes are important and welcome.

While you formulate your reply I think I’ll have a bubble bath.


13 thoughts on “Manly?

  • November 19, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    I know we don’t know one another very well…but I thought I would post on this…

    I really appreciate your goals here and the desire to think this through as part of my desire as a pastor is to train and lead men to be followers of Jesus, sacrificial servant husbands, intentional fathers and men who pursue their vocation with diligence and for God’s glory. I find that there is a crisis of men in our culture…as many would agree including this man…Darren Patrick – pastor in STLouis…

    I think the model of life on life modeling is crucial in this…and humility is required from both…to learn and to teach in such a way that the disciple follows Another and not his teacher…but I was encouraged and reminded by this…Thanks for your words about this…

    I think when we begin to formulate what it means to be a man…what it is foundationally…we need to either resist culturally defined values/skills or at least acknowledge them as such. William Wallace never changed a tire or shot a gun (though he would have used it well). So, i think what it means to be a man needs to be somehow supra-cultural…things that are rooted in the Created Order (and found in the Bible) as things that should be true of men in all cultures and all times…take responsibility, work hard, lead/serve, provide/protect, etc

    A recent book I read called The Masculine Mandate was a challenging reminder for me. you might like it…and could read it in a few bubble baths…=)


    • November 19, 2010 at 1:39 pm

      Awesome answer. Thanks Brian. I very much appreciate the time and effort that you took to respond.

  • November 19, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Glad you liked the link. In many ways this is the crux of the issue for me, personally: “2. The internet has retarded Generation Y’s social skills. ”

    I don’t know if that is totally true but I think that a lot of us have focused too much on online social skills and not enough on real world ones.

    The modern man has to embrace both I think.

    For me, the internet acts as a great leveling agent against meat space flaws, my weight and other self image problems in particular, and in many ways I feel more myself online than I do in social situations. But the results speak for themselves, I’m 40 years old and unmarried with no current prospects of changing that. I’m trying tho and it’s hard work but worth it.

  • November 21, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Provider. Protector. Teacher. Counselor.
    An interesting discussion. We HAVE tried to blur the differences between men and women, and I also think we’d do better to embrace and more efficiently utilize those differences.
    We’re looking at a world that is changing rapidly around us. It’s possible the gender-blending pendulum has reached its limit and is beginning to swing back…
    That’s my hope.

  • November 21, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    I too might be falling back into old comfort zones in agreeing that being a man is driven by values. I would also label a second element you identified, especially in your statement “…I work hard to ensure that my wife has a comfortable life.” Commitment.

    Its one thing to say I value security and comfort for my wife. Its another thing for me to identify, obtain and apply the skills required to provide that for her. Not just once, but over a lifetime. Not just in the areas that come easily, but in areas that require effort and even sacrifice.

    Finding a way to pass any of these elements on to young men is a challenge. Selecting role models is a great start and one I’ve used. However the discussion always returns to values in the selection of those role models.

    Even though the discussion seems to have come full circle, its a challenge as men that we have to pick up, for the next generation and beyond. One well worth thinking about.

  • November 21, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    Thanks guys.

    I don’t know that it is as important to dig too deeply into the values early on though. The thought in providing role models is to provide a sort of moral compass. There were men in my life that provided (and continue to provide) this guidance. At the time I didn’t “know” that they were role models, they were just good men that I looked up to. As situations arose in my life I considered how they would have dealt with things. I still do that.

    A story about one of them can be found here:

  • November 22, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Rob and I discussed this last night. My takeaway was that until youth start thinking of themselves as men the rules don’t apply. At what point did you start thinking of yourself as a “man”. I think that if you think carefully about it the answer will surprise you. It almost certainly wasn’t when you were 16 or even 18. For me it was after I turned 21 and returned home from a war. Keyworkd “after”.

    We have to encourage them to cross that threshold and start thinking of themselves as men. Once you do that helping them understand what being a man means becomes easier. Last night I described it as the “chicken and egg problem”… e.g. I don’t feel like a man until I know and apply these values but until I feel like a man I don’t want to do the work of applying those values.

  • November 22, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    I think you have hit the nail on the head with the blending of values and effort — having values is a wonderful thing but what is the benefit if there is no action based on those values? I also agree that it is time we stopped trying to make men and women alike — we are different and we should glory in those differences. Go on — get your hands dirty — but wash them before you hold the door for your wife!

  • November 23, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    I reckon the conversation is about as deep and wide as they come. It does seem that the rest of American culture is beginning to work through some of the same thoughts, certainly the Christian contingent is working hard to redeem manhood.

    Ligonier’s video cast ( today is R.C. Sproul working towards the answers to What is a real man? What are the distinguishing traits God has given to man & what responsibilities accompany them?

    The answer(s) to the question are, in my humble opinion, critical. For the individual male, certainly, but much more for the man who would mentor, train, and mold other men. I reckon I need a few more cigars, a bottle of good Scotch, and some additional discussion before I’m ready to say I have a handle on it – but the urgency is that the 18yo, 16yo, 15yo, 13yo, and 12yo boys who show up 5 outa 7 days a week in search of an answer from us, well, they ain’t getting younger nor are they willing to hold up while it gets figured out.

    I bad want to better redeem the time with them.

  • November 28, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    For years we’ve heard about the crisis within different races because men were ‘sperm donors’ and not daddies. It’s not just a racial thing, it’s not just a big city thing either. For so many different reasons in so many different aspects we quit when things get hard or we can’t figure out how to fix them. Throw it away and buy a new one. That’s what a whole generation of men and women have done with their marriages and families.

    My girls have lots of girl friends which equals a whole lot of guy friends all in the 19-23 age range. There are two young men who frequently show up at my house that I DON’T have to remind how to treat my girls and my home respectfully, their possessions are well cared for, and would be horrified (not pissed off) if the law wanted to talk to them about anything. These are the only two that still have their God-given daddies at home with their mamas.

    Not saying that a good man can ONLY come from being raised in the same house by his biological father. Jinksto – you are living proof of that. But I have to say, your mama didn’t pollute your life with a string of garbage either.

    So, you want to do what you can do to make men out of these boys, there is not a cornerstone ideal here. You have to have a good foundation. Personally, I think this whole idea that I’m more important than “others” is a big part of the problem. We were taught and we’ve taught our children that what I feel is more important than what YOU feel. What I want is more important than what YOU want. I over YOU. That’s wrong. So much of the problem is that we don’t make any attempt to serve others or to give.

    So I guess what I’m trying to say, is SELFISHNESS is the problem. Wait a minute….. that sounds like something the BIBLE says…. selfishness is the root of many evils. The tenth Commandment is God’s warning against harboring an attitude of covetousness, self-seeking, looking out for number one, and the desire for selfish gain. And from the time Eve and Adam of the tree, selfishness has been a struggle for all human kind.

    So we have to teach our boys (and girls) skills to overcome the inherent selfish nature they are born with and our present society celebrates.

    “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” (2 Timothy 3:1-4).

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