Teaching My Son to Be a Man

by Brett & Kate McKay on December 2, 2008 · 40 comments

in Fatherhood, Relationships & Family

Image from mattbellphoto

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Sean Platt at Writer Dad. Check out his site!

Whenever I’m watching a movie that harkens back to a sepia tinted yesteryear, it isn’t the simpler times I long for so much as a return to the distant days when a man rose alongside the sunrise and was expected to give the daylight his best.

Clothes were sharper, adolescence shorter, and the word man still deserving of the first spot in the word manners. Now it seems as if there is something missing, something stripped from today’s men, besides their buttons and blazers. I peer at photographs of my grandfather in his prime, and ponder the polarity of our worlds. A dozen decades have hurtled by with such speed; it seems they have left our populace with a case of collective amnesia. I look past the creases of my curling photographs, grateful that I can still teach my son what I believe it means to be a man.

The fellows in those old photos look like they had manners, you can practically see them. Even greasy and fatigued, they never went outside without a hat to hold the hair upon their head. It is difficult to believe that they would have left behind their pleases and thank yous. If it were only manners abandoned, things might be easier to explain to my boy, but it isn’t. There is a mindset now missing, an outlook thickened by decades of languor.

If I were to stare in my son’s eyes, and explain what it is that makes a man, I would not breath a word about how much that man might bench, or in which athletics he may excel. My inventory would be different; a list our grandfathers would surely approve.

I would tell my son that he must never walk away from what he knows is right, and though it may be hard to stand tall against our enemies, it is even harder to reach for the sky opposite our friends. I would tell my son that he must do both, always and without fail. A man who goes along with that which he knows is wrong, whether it is to be a part of something or simply because it is easier, will see less than he wishes when looking in the mirror.

We may not need to wear three piece suits, seven days a week to look our best, but that doesn’t mean we should leave our houses looking like slobs. Proper grooming reveals our respect. Respect for ourselves, respect for those in our company, and respect for those we happen to meet. Proper grooming is not the sole domain of the affluent. Soap is cheap and time runs in equivalence to air.

My boy will know to open the door for his wife, because every day he watches me open the door for mine. Somewhere in the midst of the feminist movement, there was a misunderstanding. Just because we are no longer required to do something by the reduced laws of society, doesn’t mean we never should.

I can only imagine how the beat of the world will be bouncing by the time my son is teaching his boy to be a man, but I do know that by being the best father I can be, I’m shaping a fraction of our collective future. As I teach my son, so I teach my grandson. Those values that are most important to me, are the values that will grow dearest to him.

In between the large lessons learned, are the small examples set. Those things which go unspoken perhaps, but rarely unnoticed. For example, my son will know how to admit when he is wrong, because a real man does not always carry the need to be right. Being a man means recognizing when we err, and then extracting our best lesson from the experience. He will know how to play with his children, because he will use the same imagination he has always been encouraged to use.

Possibly the single most important lesson in this brave new world, where a treacherous credit line is often but a signature away, is responsibility. My son will understand that things should be bought only when needed, and that we should pay for them only with money we have.

A man, above all, recognizes his duty and therefore does not accept it lightly. He understands that his word is his bond, exercised by everyday actions and daily decisions. He will not waft through life selfish or disconnected, like someone who carries a fickle mind. A man, a real man, will not make promises he cannot keep, and chooses his words as carefully as he does his commitments. And because this man honors his words, he is in turned honored in his actions.

And while years may fall carelessly from the calendar, and the world may pass us by like a reckless wind, it is never too late to man up and mean it.

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Justin Luddington December 2, 2008 at 10:59 pm

Hear, hear! Well written.

2 Bob Iger December 3, 2008 at 4:46 am

Very true. Great article!

3 Weber December 3, 2008 at 5:05 am

beautiful

4 Joe December 3, 2008 at 6:00 am

Great article – very well written and well said.

5 Thomas Black December 3, 2008 at 6:00 am

Amen. And Preach it! Are the exhortations which come to mind. I’ve grown incredibly weary of the weak minded, ignorant, slob image that passes for manhood in this day and age. Yes a man should be tough, but tough inwardly first – with moral fiber coming before muscle fiber.

Oh, and one point I would love for you to address. I repeatedly tell my son: Under no circumstances whatsoever is a man EVER to hit a woman. Never.

6 Derek December 3, 2008 at 6:37 am

Great post.

When I look at pictures from yesteryear and pictures of men today, there is really no comparison. It’s not just the affect of nostalgia…..the manliness of guys back then just exudes from the frame. Same with old movies…sure they’re acting, but their poise, sense of dignity and control…simply the way they carry themselves as men is quite different.

7 Ricky B December 3, 2008 at 7:30 am

D@mn.

That was powerful, man. Thank you for this site and all the revelations it has given me. As someone who grew up without a father around, it’s good to have a resource that’s truly conveys the essence of TRUE manliness and not the shallow expectations and interpretations that are out there today.

thanks again.

8 NZR December 3, 2008 at 9:06 am

This was one of the best things I have read in a while. While I haven’t any children, this is still something that I can take and use in my own life preparation for fatherhood.

Thank you.

9 riredbird December 3, 2008 at 9:26 am

“A man, a real man, will not make promises he cannot keep, and chooses his words as carefully as he does his commitments. ”

Unfortunately to some (men and women alike) these days this translates to some as make no promises and make no commitments therefore you can’t be held accountable. “I’ll try” “we’ll see” and “Maybe” are excuses for failure. The honor and integrity comes not so much in keeping the promises but making them in order to keep them.

10 Janice Cartier December 3, 2008 at 9:52 am

” it is never too late to man up and mean it.”

My wish for the day would be exactly this. Every woman would thank you for it.

11 Janice Cartier December 3, 2008 at 10:01 am

” …to man up and mean it”

This would be my wish for today. Every woman would thank you.

(Wonderful Sean. Love the photo. Made me think of my dad and grandfather. They wore tie clips. Anyone ever put those on anymore? )

12 Tom December 3, 2008 at 10:17 am

I like your point about how during the feminist movement, there was a misunderstanding. You’re absolutely right about the fact that we’ve gotten collective amnesia, and have forgotten exactly WHY manners are important, and what the real worth of a man is.

Excellent post. I wish every father would read and follow.

13 ~~~ December 3, 2008 at 11:12 am

You’re like the father I never had.

14 Adam Snider December 3, 2008 at 12:15 pm

Ain’t it the truth?

This is exactly what I needed to read today. I’ve been thinking a lot about how the true meaning of manliness got lost somewhere along the way from the past to the present. Somehow, it got twisted, and so many of us never grow past boyhood. For whatever reason, these boys never become real men, and so use violence and disrespect to make themselves feel like men. That’s not real manliness.

Real manliness are the qualities that Sean is teaching his son. Real manliness is the kind of manliness espoused by The Art of Manliness. I just wish more people would heed this advice.

15 Hayden Tompkins December 3, 2008 at 1:08 pm

This article is just phenomenal. I lovelovelove what it said about opening a door for a woman.

16 Eric December 3, 2008 at 1:25 pm

Great post. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes. It’s from a silly movie, really, but one that contains a lot of great wisdom. Joe vs. the Volcano, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The chief of the Waponi tribe (which needs Joe to sacrifice himself to the volcano) says “we are the children of children, and we live as we are shown”. That quote has always resonated with me.

17 Scott Kellner December 3, 2008 at 1:46 pm

Thanks for posting. I’d add the old standby from Kipling. It’s golden:
http://www.swarthmore.edu/~apreset1/docs/if.html

18 Patrick December 3, 2008 at 2:46 pm

Fantastic article!

19 Oracle989 December 3, 2008 at 3:09 pm

Wow. Powerful article, sir, powerful indeed. This is the kind of wisdom all fathers need, the kind that could make the world a better place. This site should really get on some national programs like a syndicated radio show or the Today show or something, get the word out to the fathers and boys of today.

20 IamTyler December 3, 2008 at 3:55 pm

Very well written article. This should be posted in newspapers around the country. I myself am tired of feeling ashamed of my generation. So many of the lessons I learned are lost. I see so much selfish and self-destructive behavior. Im no lumping us all into one group, but i feel it has become more prominent now than ever in our “i want everything now” society.

At 30, i’m still learning what it is to be a good man, but there are things that i have always done. I have always said “please” and “thank you”. I have always held and opened doors for strangers, both men and women. My rule on that one is, if you see the person coming, wait and hold the door for them. I have always done my best to put others infront of me.One example is, at the grocery store, if I have a cart full of items and the person behind me has a basket, I let them go infront of me. I could go on, but what I’m really getting at is simple. As a good man, I feel that it is my responsibility to leave things better than I found them. Make a positive impact on a persons day, weather you know them or not. Say good morning to a stranger, if someone looks like they need a hand, simply offer. All minor things that can make a huge difference.

Quite simply, be the person that people can count on, weather they know it or not. The next time you see a person who looks like maybe they could use some help, think of your grandfather and grandmother, your father and mother, your brother or sister, your son or daughter and act accordingly. Do for people what you would do if anyone of those people were standing next to you (especially your mother) and you won’t go wrong. Be a proud man and lead by example.

21 Spc. Lauer December 3, 2008 at 8:02 pm

I damn near choked up reading this. God bless you, fine sir, for an insight on becoming a father. I read this hearing my dad’s voice teaching me the important lessons that taught me to become the soldier and the man I am today.

May every man read this, and express to his son the Art of Manliness.

22 Barbara Swafford - Blogging Without A Blog December 4, 2008 at 12:08 am

What a beautiful post. I love hearing dads talk about the relationship with their sons. Obviously your son will grow up to be just as sensitive to life issues as you are. What a fabulous role model you are. Your boy is lucky, and loved.

23 Tara@Sticky Fingers December 4, 2008 at 2:20 am

I couldn’t agree more with you Writer Dad.
I too have a son (6) who I hope and pray will grow up to be a ‘man’. We teach him that manners are priority (a child with good manners goes a long long way, I have found), treat people as you wish to be treated and above all else live your life so that when you look back on it you will feel proud.

A lot of this comes down to dads. My boy watches his dad like a hawk, copies everything he does and you can see him teetering on the edge of wanting to be just like him.
It breaks my heart to witness how few fathers recognise that any more.

24 Ian December 4, 2008 at 11:03 am

“For example, my son will know how to admit when he is wrong, because a real man does not always carry the need to be right. Being a man means recognizing when we err, and then extracting our best lesson from the experience.”

That is a great point. The need to be right is in the realm of those with low self-esteem and lack of respect. Being a man is not always fun, nor glorious, but it pays its dividends in a different manner. Being a man gives back when others look to us for support and for the wisdom that we acquire by doing well, being well, and giving well.

As always, Sean, you are a master wordsmith with the weight of truth behind your articles. Thanks for writing this.

25 Matthew Dryden December 4, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Oh. Hell. Yes.

26 Betsy December 4, 2008 at 6:12 pm

Sean, this is your all time best because it has all you are and strive to be. Bravo. Hall of Fame. Hats off to you!

27 Kelly December 7, 2008 at 5:06 am

Sean,

I’m with Betsy. You often get me “right here” but this is just on another plane. Is a sole tear carefully hidden allowed at one of my favorite places to lurk?

Thanks, AoM, for having Sean in to write this dead-on portrait of things I miss and things that shouldn’t be missing at all.

Regards,

Kelly

28 Túlio de Almeida December 12, 2008 at 9:16 am

Very good. Right in every country.

29 Nigel December 12, 2008 at 10:50 am

What a superb article. It brought back such memories of my Dad. I have a favorite photograph of him taken on a day out in the early ’60s, well before I was born in ’66. He is standing with his ’56 Cresta (I’m writing from England, so think ’53/4 Chevy to get the mental picture) and as Sean said, exuding from the photograph you can practically see the manners, manliness and strength of the man. He is wearing a grey suit, white shirt and a dark tie and all my life I have striven to be as much of a man. As a consequence of having such a good example to follow, I pride myself on my apperance, and try to uphold all of these lost standards mentioned in the article and most of the comments. As I look at what passes for men these days slobbing around with their pants half way down and a little boy’s hat on backwards or sideways, cursing swearing and spitting, it occurs to me that they’re probably not behaving like that just to annoy me, but in fact they don’t actually know how to behave in public, and don’t have any standards to aspire to. This article should be compulsary for new parents.

30 melina December 14, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Hello there. I’m happy to see that there’s actually a website for males on the art of manliness – or being a REAL MAN! I commend you. My site is about the art of femininity!

Quote; ‘For example, my son will know how to admit when he is wrong, because a real man does not always carry the need to be right. Being a man means recognizing when we err, and then extracting our best lesson from the experience….’

Wow, I think I must be reading the words of a real man here, a man who’s sense of worth is so secure that admitting he has made a mistake will not crush him!

I am sure with you as a role model, your son is definitely going to grow up into a real man as well!

Melina :-)

31 Kyle January 20, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Absolutely one of the best articles I have ever read! Thank you for teaching me these valuable life lessons.

32 sean808080 March 24, 2009 at 2:58 am

Great post on a great blog. Thanks for voicing what some have realized through trial and error.

33 Alejandro April 22, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Great editorial, Sean, and very true! I’m thankful I had a great father in my life. I don’t care what those self-righteous feminist jerks and so-called enlightened men say, men are vital to the welfare of children as are women. Humanity has survived in tact because fathers took active roles in the lives of their offspring; not – as Barbara Tuchman once claimed – in spite of it. Every boy should have a father, or at least a father figure, like my own dad and, of course, Sean!

34 Ryan December 31, 2009 at 10:10 am

Ouch. That one hurt. Bravo.

35 Sonia May 4, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Why are these qualities particular to men? You seem to have assembled a wonderful list of characteristics like honesty, respect, and poise that we all, as human beings, should be able to expect from each other.

On a side note, I am a woman, and I’ve always had the impulse to open doors for people. I’m uncomfortable when men open doors for me just because I’m a woman, as I’d be just as likely to open a door for a man. So yes, open doors for people. It’s polite. But know that every individual will have a different reaction that may or may not be “congruent” with what’s expected for their gender.

36 andrea June 29, 2010 at 12:04 am

Amen…. love it!
All men should be taught this…

A man, above all, recognizes his duty and therefore does not accept it lightly. He understands that his word is his bond, exercised by everyday actions and daily decisions. He will not waft through life selfish or disconnected, like someone who carries a fickle mind. A man, a real man, will not make promises he cannot keep, and chooses his words as carefully as he does his commitments. And because this man honors his words, he is in turned honored in his actions.
And while years may fall carelessly from the calendar, and the world may pass us by like a reckless wind, it is never too late to man up and mean it

37 Ann July 8, 2010 at 1:37 am

What beautiful wisdom to share – thank you thank you, Sean for writing this. My ex-husband and father to our two children has been MIA due to chronic mental illness and alcoholism. Your words sum up the lessons I as a single mom have tried to teach my son throughout the last 17 years. He will soon go off to college – your book will travel with him as a small surprise in his suitcase. Peace.

38 Greg April 25, 2013 at 5:53 am

That’s great. I have just found this site when attempting to understand more fully how I can better teach my son to be a ‘good man’. I have asked him to make a list (as I have too) to open a discussion around the topic of what makes ‘a good man. Respecting women was the 1st thing I wrote alongside, ‘respect yourself’. My son is 22 and I am concerned that I have not offered him much education in this area. My dads dad dies when he was very young and I feel that I was not offered much guidance in this area. Good manners and punctuality were the primary ones my dad taught me. I want to go much deeper than this so coming across Art of Manliness has been great. Thanks Brett and Kate and everyone who has also commented.

39 Kenny A. December 5, 2013 at 10:04 am

Reading through the archives makes me wish I had found this site years before I stumbled upon while researching advice on what it meant to be a Godfather.
Having no children myself, I find plenty of useful lessons to pass on to my nephews and my Godson when he is older.
Thanks!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter