So You Want To Become a Man

by Brett & Kate McKay on March 20, 2008 · 31 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

schaefer.jpg

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Cameron Schaefer, author of Schaefer’s Blog, a site dedicated to better living. Make sure to check it out and subscribe to his RSS feed. Cameron is a graduate of the Air Force Academy and flies C-17s for a living.

In the modern techno-industrial culture, it is possible to proceed from infancy into senility without ever knowing manhood. ~ Edward Abbey

Six weeks ago I became a father. This experience has changed my life. But more than anything it has got me thinking about being a man. There are a few events in life that society has deemed as way-points on the road to manhood: graduating college and getting a job, getting married, buying your first house and having a child. These seem to be the big ones and, right or wrong, they are used as indicators of maturity in the lives of men, a measuring stick to judge the transition from boyhood to manhood.

I have noticed this more in the past few years as I’ve passed these points one by one. Slaps on the back from my dad’s friends, nods of approval, choruses of “You’re really growing up” indicating admission into the men’s club. These things have become commonplace in my life recently. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not mocking these occurrences in any way. In fact, I’ve quite enjoyed them. Deep down every young guy wants and needs approval from the elders of the church of manhood indicating acceptance as a member…an equal.

But are these life events really the best indicators of manhood? It seems not, as there are plenty of boys walking around wearing the bodies of men, holding degrees, jobs and a hefty mortgage, but retaining the soul of an 8-year old. So what is it that really determines whether someone has crossed from boyhood into manhood?

I wonder if in reality the whole process is somewhat counterintuitive, consisting more of dying to self and wrestling with humility, than inflating our ego and becoming the type-A Johnny we often see hailed in culture as “the Man.” As I’ve tracked my progress and thought about the men in my life whom I respect, I’ve come up with the following traits that truly define what it means to be a man:

Selflessness

No man has ever risen to the real stature of spiritual manhood until he has found that it is finer to serve somebody else than it is to serve himself. ~ Woodrow T. Wilson

Men live for someone or something greater than themselves. Walk the halls of most high schools and you will immediately notice the primary topic of conversation and matter of utmost importance is “self.” When we are young, most of us think that the world revolves around us and can’t imagine that we are just a small part of a much larger picture.

Most men would say that marriage and the birth of a first child mark the primary passages into manhood. Why? For many of us, it is the first time we have been charged with the complete service of another, a direct attack on the kingdom of “self” to which we have grown accustom. However, marriage and children are not necessary for entrance into manhood, service can take on many forms. Countless great men have given their lives in pursuit of a cause, something equally as noble. Whether through kids or causes, becoming a man means serving someone or something greater than yourself.

Consistency

Real men are people that others can count on. Whether it’s simply doing what they say they’ll do or being at the right place at the right time, becoming a man means being consistent. Showing up for work late, missing appointments, not returning phone calls and general flakiness are all signs of immaturity. Anyone can do things right every once and a while, but chances are if you look at the men you look up to the most, all of them have gained your respect and trust through consistency.

For many of us consistency is a tough quality to attain, a seeming attack on the rebellious “I’ll do what I want, when I want” attitude that we take such pride in. This complete independence, we assure ourselves, is the true sign of manhood. After all, we’re not whipped right? In reality, independence is easy, something any youth can achieve. Absolute independence often acts as the disguise for immaturity and insecurity. Consistency is the game for pros, men who actually have people counting on them, men with responsibility….real men.

Humility

My power will be in humility ~ Walter Russell

Humility is often thought of as a “soft” trait, hardly the first thing that comes to mind when we think “man.” But the truth is, cockiness is most often displayed by those who have the least to be cocky about. Their insecurities come out as they grasp for the compliments and praise they so desperately need. Real men are secure in their abilities and do not find it necessary to place themselves in higher esteem than those around them. In fact, they are often the quickest to share the glory with those around them.

It seems as you study the men in history we consider great or heroic, their life is often characterized not by how high they attempted to maneuver themselves in respect to other men, but rather how low. In the incredible movie, “Gladiator,” we see this displayed in convincing fashion. The coward son of Marcus Aurelius fought to mask his insecurities through swagger and a mad dash for power.

In contrast, the hero Maximus, the epitome of manhood, consistently chooses restraint and humility. He took care of the men around him, teaching them how to fight in the arena, and not for a second deeming himself more valuable or worthy. The result? His men adored him and many gave their lives for him. The great power of Maximus was in his humility.

Selflessness, consistency and humility. As I’ve surveyed the scene around me, these three traits have stood out as defining characteristics of passage into manhood. So, do I feel like a man yet? To be honest, I often feel like it was just yesterday that I was playing high school football with the guys in Deti Stadium. But the process has taught me so much. Mainly that I still have much to learn and maybe that’s what becoming a man is all about.

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cameron Schaefer March 20, 2008 at 8:26 pm

Brett,
Thanks so much for publishing this. It is an honor to be a part of such a quality blog! It will be interesting to see what others believe defines the passage into manhood.

-Cameron

2 Kevan March 21, 2008 at 12:12 am

This is a great post, inspires me to continue on my quest to be the best man/husband I can be. I think that one of the defining characteristics of becoming a man is learning to understand and take hold of what it means to be responsible. Of course, if a guy adheres to the guidelines you presented, then I guess we can assume he would be pretty responsible. :)

3 Brian Timm March 21, 2008 at 6:16 am

yet another great post!

i absolutely LOVE this blog. you guys really post great content time and again.

this is no exception.

i agree with all of the traits, and i’ve been trying to model my life after 2 of these for a long time. the missing link was constancy.

thanks again for bringing great content to my Google Reader.

4 MJ Lynch March 21, 2008 at 6:46 am

I like the idea behind this post but I don’t think selflessness is a mark of manhood. A real man does not live for the sake of others but challenges himself and others to live up to standards of virtue. Any person can be a cog in a machine by serving a cause or living purely to pay for the kids — a man serves only virtue.

5 Tyler @ Building Camelot March 21, 2008 at 7:02 am

Great post – simple and to the point. These characteristics definitely define what it is to be a man. They are also some of the hardest aspects in a males life to change.

I know I struggle with my selfishness all the time. Maybe it’s because I’m only 30 and have a lot to learn. And I think one of the biggest hurdles is to realize what and how you’re selfish. When you sit down and think about it, you soon realize that we are much more selfish than we first thought.

–Tyler

6 Akshay Kapur March 21, 2008 at 7:04 am

And I thought if I could down a pounder with tons of hot sauce and 10 bacon strips in one sitting, I would be a man! Way to burst my bubble!!

Love this post…especially the part of consistency and responsibility. Its tough to always be the strong arm, the pillar of someone’s or many people’s lives, yet as much as we complain, deep down we love the feeling of being needed for the things we care about (please…not mall shopping!).

At the same time, I believe these qualities to be essential and important in any human being, regardless of gender and race. Unlike European or Middle Eastern cultures, America questions the traits of manliness (as exhibited in this blog!) and defines itself relative to its counterpart; femininity. Yet the labels themselves imply differences and segregate the two sides.

Thinking human first, man second makes me much more aware of the societal norms we live with everyday. Its a practice I find enlightening…and practical.

Very thought-provoking post!

7 CE March 21, 2008 at 7:35 am

I remember my friend’s dad telling me that you get to a point in your life when you realize you’re not living for your self any more – and that’s a good thing. I’m starting to realizing that I’m building a world for my wife and kids and some of the most important people in my life, and I’m proud of it.

Every once in a while though – and sorry to get all Oprah – but I still need to do something for myself. It enables me to keep doing the other stuff.

8 wayne March 21, 2008 at 7:58 am

Love the post, and totally agree. Reading it left me feeling a bit depressed though. It seems as I try to live this life of ‘true manhood’, I am the only one doing so while all those around me don’t get it, and therefor aren’t supportive. Couple that with the fact that women of our society (including our wives) can’t respect our approach because they are too busy comparing us to “the type-A Johnny we often see hailed in culture as “the Man.” “, and always letting us know that we are falling short of ‘that’ mark. In fact, what other men think doesn’t phase me that much. It’s when our women don’t respect this view of manhood that makes it so hard to pursue. It’s enough to make you want to give up.
If you think the whole world is crazy or wrong, and you are the only one that is right, maybe you are the one that is wrong.

9 Bill March 21, 2008 at 8:05 am

“t seems not, as there are plenty of boys walking around wearing the bodies of men, holding degrees, jobs and a hefty mortgage, but retaining the soul of an 8-year old.”

Who says there isn’t great writing on blogs?

10 Raj March 21, 2008 at 8:09 am

I really liked the post and I agree that it really means a lot of people trust one to be there for them when needed.

Dugg the post and even subscribed to Schaefer’s Blog :)

11 Jim March 21, 2008 at 8:37 am

Excellent! Boils it down to the core: selfless, consistent, humble. I’m 40 with a wife and two daughters, and often I feel like I’m still a 10-year-old kid who doesn’t know his place in the world of adults.

I seem to have become a responsible adult in spite of my self-doubts. However, I still occasionally go on a search for what manhood/adulthood means (that’s what led me to this site).

Discussing it with my (wonderful) wife recently, she basically said what this blog did, and told me as far as she’s concerned, I meet these three criteria and that’s proof enough to her that I’m a good man. Reading it here reinforces it and makes me feel good about myself (although I’ll probably always be having the self-doubt).

Regards,

Jim

12 Julee March 21, 2008 at 12:02 pm

Good work Cam. Very insightful! But, what else can we expect from such a Manly Man?!

13 Zubairc C March 21, 2008 at 3:24 pm

Thanks for posting this. Several of your comments resonate with what was said by a Muslim scholar, Imam Sulami, in his Book of Chivalry, nearly a thousand years ago:

“Chivalry is that a young man adheres to the following code (extract from a long treatise):

1) That he brings joy to the lives of friends and meets their needs.
2) That he responds to cruelty with kindness, and does not punish an error.
3) That he does not find fault with his friends.
4) That he is relaxed and open-hearted with his brothers.
5) That he is generous.
6) That he keeps up old friendships.
7) That he looks after his friends and neighbours.
8) That he is lenient with his friends.
9) That he permits his friends to use his possessions as if they were their own.
10) That he invites guests, offers food and is hospitable.
11) That he respects his friends and shows his respect for them.
12) That he is truthful.
13) That he is satisfied with little for himself and wishes much for others.
14) That he brings joy to the lives of friends and meets their needs.
15) That he responds to cruelty with kindness, and does not punish an error.”

14 ST @ WhataManKnows March 21, 2008 at 3:29 pm

Excellent observations — great work.

Sincerely, ST

15 Mark McCullagh March 21, 2008 at 4:19 pm

Great post Cameron.

I always respect and appreciate consistency.

To be selfless and giving without expectations benefits everyone in your life.

Humility. So misunderstood and, in a sense, underrated these days. The opposite is pride. I like what you said about real men being secure in their abilities etc. If more people practiced humility, think of how much better the world would be.

16 Rodney Hampton March 21, 2008 at 8:31 pm

You could have done an in-depth post on selflessness alone. It’s an especially tricky concept to wrap your head around, particularly if you’ve read a lot of Ayn Rand as I have. Furthermore, there is definitely a tension between the kind of rugged individualism that Americans say they aspire to, and understanding that where we are in life has a lot to do with a lot of help (seen and unseen) we got along the way.

Additionally, the kind of honorable selflessness that has been tied up with concepts of the warrior throughout the ages is too easily exploited by, say, a government that doesn’t value the sacrifices of its soldiers and spends their lives on adventures in foreign lands without a plan to bring them home again.

However, being a man isn’t necessarily about selflessness in a traditional altruistic sense of the word. It’s about shouldering responsibilities. Sometimes those responsibilities are put on you by circumstances beyond your control like if you’re the first on the scene at an accident. Sometimes you create a duty you have to follow through on because you chose to raise your right hand and agree to serve for a term.

Sometimes your responsibilities are solely to yourself and your own sense of excellence. You set a goal and you work your tail off for it. If you reach it, great, set another goal aim higher, strive to be better. This isn’t about competing with others at a certain point, it becomes about competing with yourself.

When you’re first starting out, sometimes your responsibilities are pretty simple: feed, clothe and house yourself so you aren’t a burden on the taxpaying men who have their head screwed on straight.

Later, if you create a situation where you’ve brought some little lives into this world, you’ve chosen to take on the additional responsibilities that fatherhood entails.

In all of these cases, from the outside it looks like you’re being selfless. In actuality, many of these choices are completely selfish and are done to satisfy your own ego. What matters, however, is that once you embark on a task you see it through to completion unless it is entirely impractical to do so.

Confused as I am yet? Much of being a man, I’m certain, is likewise tangled and bundled together. When someone has the right stuff you know it. When they don’t, it’s just as obvious.

But, keep writing your blog posts. Maybe we can all figure it out together.

17 Hamilton March 24, 2008 at 9:37 pm

I agree, humility, consistency, and selflessness are the three pillars of manhood. He who gives of their natural gifts and enthusiasm without expecting anything back in return will receive more than he can imagine. To reference an old movie, check out “It’s a Wonderful Life”. You rarely know how much a life well-lived effects others!

18 Dan April 3, 2008 at 3:02 am

These are all apects of the personality of Jesus the Christ. He was consistent, selfless and humility was his middle name. We do what we can do for those we come in contact with during our lifetime. This is probably no more than around 500 people or so with varying amounts of influence. But Jesus was the perfect example to untold billions of christian men, believers and non-believers alike. He gave his whole life to try to save others(all who will believe) from eternal death.

He not only showed us what it means to be a real man, but also revealed to us the character and purpose of God.

19 Jaime April 4, 2008 at 8:07 pm

Humility and selflessness are not necessarily qualities of a man, depending on your place in history, these might have very well been traits of chattel (women, children, and slaves). A Roman or Greek would have recognized them as such.

20 D.M. Cook July 21, 2008 at 11:32 am

Fantastic thoughts, Brett & Kate. Especially the idea that “consistency is the game for pros”. I’m finding myself in a rebellious phase of my life right now and realizing just how difficult–and how much more essential and meaningful– being truly consistent, truly dependable, is. Being consistent is one of my new guiding principles, and reading that from this blog (which I’ve only recently discovered) is a fantastic confirmation of what I’ve been thinking for some time. Thank you!

And your point about selflessness and servitude– bravo! What a concise and beautiful point: “Whether through kids or causes, becoming a man means serving someone or something greater than yourself.”

The most important thing to remember is that (as others have said), many things we think of as being selfless are in fact egoic– getting married and having kids especially. To truly evolve and “grow up”, we need to stop using others to get what we want and start using and seeing ourselves as tools with which to serve others.

Great work, guys!

21 DP September 8, 2009 at 10:45 am

Great article. This is the article that tuned me into AoM a long time ago. I had just watched “Secondhand Lions” and in the film “Hub” gives his nephew an excerpt from the speech “Everything a boy needs to know about becoming a man” I was inspired and searched google in hopes that the entire speech existed somewhere. Unfortunately it didn’t, but that search lead me to AoM, which is essentially a constantly changing ever growing version of what that speech could be. I’ve been greatful ever since.

Speech:

” Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good. That honour, courage and virtue mean everything ; that power and money … money and power mean nothing. That good always triumphs over evil. And I want you to remember this…. that love….true love never dies ! Remember that boy … remember that. Doesn’t matter if it is true or not, a man should believe in those things , because those are the things worth believing in…… got that ? ” – Hub (Movie: Secondhand Lions)

22 Gary October 9, 2009 at 4:34 pm

As a recovering alcoholic I had to find,yield to and continue to practice these principles to remain sober. It has taught me a better way of life.

23 Michael January 27, 2010 at 4:00 pm

A great study. These are principles i will continue to abide by for the rest of my life.

24 Tom Y November 25, 2012 at 8:56 am

The stated characteristics are, indeed, essential to being a man. However, those same characteristics are also essential to being a slave. I think that some qualification is in order.

25 Tom S. March 20, 2013 at 5:10 am

Good observation by Tom Y. To me for example there is nothing wrong with ego in itself. There is nothing worse than someone who is trying to be egoless who lets it be known just how egoless they are. Children are told often “good job” in order to bolster their feeling of self worth and accomplishment. Unfortunately in the adult world people are told “bad job” a lot more than is necessary and I’ve found it helpful to pat myself on the back and tell myself “good job” quite often especially in my very negatively oriented workplace. There’s everything right about looking at one’s own accomplishments and taking a glowing pride in them. “Well done” does not have to come from others in order to make one feel worthy and “trying” to be humble when recognition is deserved is not necessarily good for the development of happiness. If you have patted yourself on the back and given yourself a resounding “good job” for accomplishments it makes it a lot easier to feel pride in being a person and human being rather than worrying about being an example of perfect manhood or womanhood. Of course, strutting around like a rooster in a henhouse is the form of ego that most others do not like to see so don’t get too carried away with giving credit for self worth!

26 Kaseem Euniverez Brown October 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm

The ambition of man comes from him becoming Man, i must say i am becoming 1 so i pray to GOD that i will do a Good Job.

27 chandu October 31, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Very nice post. Reinforcing what we have seen earlier on Character her in AoM. Moral autonomy, disciple and social welfare..underlying thoughts. This post just brought these concepts out from abstractness into the realm of everyday life.

28 C November 14, 2013 at 11:25 pm

I would like to pose a question. Would all the gentlemen who are praising this article (and it is very praiseworthy) feel the same way about the pursuit of these upstanding and outstanding character traits as the true path to manhood, if they were still virgins? You see, the message that I see and hear is that for young men this is the only thing that defines manhood for them. Can all of you honestly say that you would feel the same about this path of personal development if you had not crossed the threshold of loosing your virginity?

29 Finnish Woman March 14, 2014 at 10:45 pm

I have been with my husband for 18 yrs. Over these years: I have lived through His emotional & physical abuse, infidelity, pornography, extreme selfish financial spending, income of millions, and total bankruptcy. He is a poor husband, but Excellent Father. I’m still w/ him for the sake of our 2 children.

I absolutely agree that the true & honorable attributes of a Real Man are selflessness, consistency, & humility.

Most of the young & modern women have not experienced enough life or have not been thought to appreciate these qualities. It’s quite sad!

Mr. C,
There are many women who desire to be with a man with above character traits. I’m sure that they would love to show a Virgin man what Heaven / Nirvana Is like!!

My best wishes for all you good men & may God bless you!!

30 Joe March 29, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Great words for any man or boy to read. Thanks for the insight.

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