Teaching your son what it means to be a real man

I went and asked my 17 year old son to tell me what he thinks it means to be a man.

One of the things I used to tell co-workers that I was mentoring is that it’s a good idea to spend half your time thinking about how to do you work, and the other half of the time actually doing it.  This was an obvious exaggeration, but I said it to make a point.   A couple of years back someone from the men’s group at my local church invited me to a series of meetings that was going to talk about how to be a better husband and father.  My first instinct was to decline, but then I remembered my own advice and realized that in recent years, I hadn’t really spent enough time learning how to be good husband or how to be a good father.

In the last meeting, one of the guys challenged me a bit by asking me: Have I been teaching my own son what a real man is?  The guy had been reading Robert Lewis’s book Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood which is focused on this idea of countering cultural ideas about manhood. I’ve read through the book and while some of the teaching techniques Robert talks about don’t fit my style, the ideas in the book are great ones to ponder.  The central statement of the book is that:

“A real man rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, and leads courageously for the greater reward.”

In my own book Essence of Wisdom for Parents, I talk about the importance of having good conversations with your teens, so after being challenged by my friend, I went and asked my 17 year old son to tell me what he thinks it means to be a man.  He thought for a moment and responded:

A man is someone who is responsible for himself, but knows how to ask for help when he needs it.  A man also knows how to recognize when others are in need and helps them.  Finally, a man knows how to stand up for himself.

I then asked him if having sex with a girl makes you a man, he responded with a simple No, and looked at me as if I was crazy.

I’ve been thinking about his answers and can’t help but being proud.  However, there are some deeper principles that I will have to share with him over the next year or two.  I think I’ll add to his answer that

A real man works regularly to deepen his relationship with God.

I also think I will work to modify his last point so that he understands that

A real man knows how to stand up for himself, but only after first humbly considering the idea that he may be the one who is wrong.

Maybe I’ll also teach him that advice I had forgotten:

A real man spends half his time learning how to be a better husband, father, and neighbor – and the other half of his time living it.

So how about you?  What do you do to make sure your son’s know what it means to be a real man? What do you do to teach your daughters what it means to be real woman?

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