Manvotional: A Manly Boy

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 26, 2009 · 26 comments

in A Man's Life, Manvotionals


Learning to be a man begins at an early age. Boys try to mimic the manly things they see their fathers and other men do. When they get older, they seek the advice of older men on what it takes to be a man. This short essay from Draper’s Self Culture was published in 1907 and gives advice to boys on how to be manly boys. Print it off and share it with a boy you know.

A Manly Boy

For a boy to be manly, he must act like a man. By this I do not mean  that he must no longer be a boy. He must be willing, as far as he is able, to help his parents, and try to assist his brothers and sisters in every way that he can.

There are many things which men do that it would not be right for boys to attempt. But there are also many other things which wise and thoughtful boys will try to do as well as they can, and yet be true boys.

There is an old saying that “you cannot put old heads on young shoulders.” This is true to some extent; but when it is given as an excuse for being thoughtless and careless and rude, it is misleading.

We do not want to see our boys going about like little old men, and bearing burdens which their shoulders were never meant to carry. We do not want them to be robbed of the freshness and lightness of youth, while they are yet children but in years.

We believe that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” But it is also true that “all play and no work will give Joe a ragged shirt.”

Now a manly boy is as often as fond, if not fonder, of play than a boy who has nothing of a man about him. This is because the work he does gives him a change of employment, which makes play all the pleasenter when he takes part in a game.

In every home there are many things to be done which a boy can do just as well as an older person. He can black boots, mend broken things, run errands, work in the garden, and help his younger brothers and sisters with their lessons.

He can treat his parents with repect, follow their advice, and act in such a manner that they feel they can trust him to do right when he is out of their sight. They know that he is anxious to win their praise, and that he values their esteem.

I remember asking a father if he was not afraid to send a boy of thirteen to pay a large sum of money.

“Oh no,” he replied, smiling, “I know it is quite safe with him. You see, he is such a manly boy.”

When you are older and read the lives of some men who have risen to high places in the world, you will find that when they were boys they began to act like men. Yet they were just as fond of fun and play as other boys who never tried to give  their parents a helping hand.

How often we hear a boy say, “I wish I was a man!” And if we ask why, we often learn that it is because he wants to be able to do as he likes. He is tired of having to obey his parents, and be guided by them. He thinks he knows better than they do what is best for him.

Such a boy is already going wrong, and only wants the chance to break away from the restraints of home. He is not a manly boy. He is often a forward, foolish boy, who can be easily led astray, and who will sooner or later come to grief.

When a manly boy wishes to be a man, it is not that he may have his own way, but that he may be better able to help his parents and be more useful in the world. It is not that he is tired of being a boy, but he is willing to give up youthful pleasures for the sake of those who have done so much for him.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 James Clark September 26, 2009 at 9:26 pm

A rare boy indeed. But as a father, how could one inspire such philosophy in a boy? And once the boy thinks he knows best, is it too late? Most men, when they were boys, were boys. And were foolish. To say that the manly men were men when they were boys inspires no confidence in (dare I say most?) men reading this, but rather informs them that they somehow are, or were, lacking. This is not useful :-( But it is informative, and entirely believable.

2 Brett McKay September 26, 2009 at 10:00 pm

As a father you can inspire your boy to be a manly boy by 1) being an example of honorable manliness, and 2) giving him responsibilities and discipline. Yes, all boys are foolish to a degree, but I have seen responsible, mature boys-manly boys-and I have seen immature, irresponsible boys. To say that it is impossible for a boy to be a manly boy is overly dismissive.

3 Playstead September 26, 2009 at 11:40 pm

It depends on what you’re definition of manly is. Even the best boys are going to be foolish and get into trouble on occasion — it’s how they learn. As a father I know that mine are on their way to be great men when they do something that shows integrity, trust and courage. They found a wallet today and they turned it in without even a thought. Times have changed, but the essay is still valid. The only thing I would change is I want my kids to be kids as long as they can. They be men for most of their lives.

4 Will September 27, 2009 at 12:17 am

Having a baby boy with Down syndrome may be responsible for my different perspective, but I am eager for him to develop as fast as he can — because they develop more slowly than normal.

But I don’t think that’s the reason. I thought the same before we had him. The things you need to be a good man — virtue, honesty, strength, responsibility, perseverance, courage — don’t prevent you from being a happy boy. You can develop them early, and be the happier for it.

5 Dan September 27, 2009 at 1:19 am

I am often so proud of my son because he is so focused and driven…like I would expect most men to be. Indeed, sometimes he shows the same drive that I have when I go after something at work or on my leisure time. Sure, he’s still a boy as well, but he’s also becoming a man.

This old essay was so awesome. I liked how it offered simple things…helping siblings, shining shoes, chores, etc. We’re not asking our sons to climb the highest mountain. For now, the mole hill will do. Makes me proud of my son!

6 Ajmal Hamid September 27, 2009 at 6:51 am

It is nice to find an article for young men and adolescents here at AoM.

This one is very general and would like to see something a bit more detailed on one certain subject. Like issues that young man and adolescents face and how manly men, as young men and adolescents, dealt with these problems.

Being a young man myself and a regular here at AoM, I would like to bring to your notice, lack of material focusing on young man. This one is a delight for the young minds.

Hoping to see more such articles…

7 K.A. September 27, 2009 at 7:18 am

Excellent essay!
I often tell people after a simple act of courtesy (such as holding the door or complimenting someone) that I learned it from my Dad. He had a phrase, “Good manners NEVER go out of style.” which I ascribe to. I usually follow that with “He is the smartest man I know”.
My success in life and my marriage I attribute to him.
What is sad today is that so much of our culture encourages men to act childish and not the other way around. Men are not taught to be men as boys. They are told that the goal of adulthood is to remain childish and irresponsible. No wonder so many

8 Lee September 27, 2009 at 10:10 am

These articles on “boys to men” are surprisingly of use to an older man, such as myself. I was fortunate in that I’ve often enjoyed success. I did not succeed exceptionally well with my own son. As I get back up and move on, these articles speak of tasks and directions which at any age can garner an approach to a potential maxim which might read, “There are few times, indeed, when a man cannot learn to and practice being a “better man”.” I am privileged to have found this website and it’s verities.

9 Hans Hageman September 27, 2009 at 11:14 am

I’ve been lurking and I thought it was time to post to say “thank you.” I work with under-served youth in Harlem, New York. It is a community where mothers “raise” their daughters and “love” their sons. We generally live in culture where we refuse to acknowledge a boy’s need to face challenges, have adventure, and be dangerous – and we have not embraced our role as men to serve as their guides in this process. This has meant that the void is filled by gangs and peer culture.
The boys (including my own) have learned and will learn to box,camp, hunt, wrestle, fight in defense of those weaker than themselves, give up their set on the bus to a woman, become emergency first responders, and teach little kids how to read. Thank you, again, for providing such useful resources and a roadmap for your readers who understand what real “Rites of Passage” should consist of.

10 Ray September 27, 2009 at 3:08 pm

It is better to build a man than to try to repair one. Great post.

11 Blake Helgoth September 27, 2009 at 4:46 pm

I often joke that the reason we have children is so that they can do the chores. Obviously, this is not true, but we do expect our children to do chores appropriate to their abilities. The larger our family gets, the more important this becomes. Girls as young as 5 can learn to cook, boys of age 6 can clear the table, read to their younger siblings and take out the trash. Both can vacuum, make their beds, fold clothes, sort laundry, pick weeds, take mail to the mail box, put groceries away and much more. Now, it would be easier if I did it for them, but they are told that privileges comes with more responsibility. In our house, fulfilling responsibilities leads to tickets which can be used, with permission, for privileges like watching a movie, reading a book for pleasure, playing on the computer, special treats, etc. Many today do not think their children can help until they are 9 or 10 years old! However, waiting that long deprives them of the true self esteem they gain through success at helping around the house.

12 Lenadams Dorris September 28, 2009 at 1:59 am

As a father of a daughter I’m always interested in what is gender stereotypical versus what is gender true…or better yet, genderless true.

I read the above article substituting every instance of “boy”, “man” and “manly” with “girl”, “woman” and “womanly”, and found that there is not a sentence or admonition that did not continue to make perfect sense.

Meaning, this is not a document entrapping boys into stereotypes…it’s just plain good advice if you’re interested in raising well-adjusted and happy children…boy *or* girl.

13 Kevin September 28, 2009 at 1:44 pm

@Ray: Easier perhaps. Equally admirable in my book.

Sound common sense. Children become adults through responsibility, and a little bit goes a long way towards manliness. Good find.

14 Art Gonzalez September 28, 2009 at 3:51 pm

I have a 13 year old (almost 14) and have always tried to be a good role model for him. He’s very much into sports (martial arts, basketball) and is very protective with his mother and little sister. I’ll share the article with him. I’m sure he’ll like it.

Many blessings,

Art Gonzalez

15 fubeca September 28, 2009 at 5:08 pm

The article reminded me of a book I just started reading called Bud and Me. It’s about two young boys — Bud Abernathy, age 9, and his brother Temple Abernathy, age 5 — who would go on cross-country adventures. Their father was Jack Abernathy, a good friend of Teddy Roosevelt. You can read more about them at

The thing that struck me about the story is that in our current society any parent who allowed their young sons to do what they did would be considered negligent and the kids would probably be taken away by the state. Back then, around the turn of the century, the boys were celebrated and got a lot of positive press.

16 Omar September 28, 2009 at 5:27 pm

Eye opening. Insightful. Most of these things I didn’t know and I’m a grown man. Everything happens for a reason. I can impart this knowledge to the youth. Thanks.

17 Brucifer September 28, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Having carried a *gasp* pocketknife ever since I was old enough to have pockets, I feel for parents today who try to raise their sons to be self-reliant and have dignity. These days, society prolongs adolescence well into one’s 20′s and “helicopter parents” shield their children from any and all “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” In many of their wimpy, passive aggressive fathers, and in many of their self-obsessed sports and media “heroes,” today’s boys have a dearth of good role models. There are so many slovenly and boorish young louts around these days, that among many young women, a boy who has manners, dresses himself well and has a modicum of personal hygiene, is automatically suspected of being gay.

18 John Skookum September 29, 2009 at 5:54 am

My son is 14 and bumping his way toward manhood about as well as I could hope for. Last week we came home in a hurry because my wife was away and my daughter thought she heard a funny noise downstairs. I picked up an axe and he grabbed a baseball bat, and with him at my back, together we scoured the house and made sure of his sister’s safety. He showed not a moment’s hesitation or fear. Afterwards, I thanked and complimented him, and while he grinned delightedly, I was even more impressed with his aw-shucks, no-big-deal response. Of such experiences is the steel of manliness forged. It was the first time I truly knew in my heart that I had done a good job raising him.

19 Janie Woods September 29, 2009 at 8:53 am

As a mother of three man children (17, 15 and 6), I appreciate these articles more than you know. I can honestly tell you that the one compliment I receive is how polite my son’s are. I’ve had women stunned because my youngest will hold the door for them. However, I’ve seen all my sons’ bewilderment, at young ages, at the women that don’t thank them or just blow past them when they hold a door. I just tell them, usually loud enough for the woman to hear, that all people were raised with manners.

My older boys are polar opposites–the oldest is happy go lucky and has a “oh, something will come along” attitude, whereas my middle son is focused, driven, and very goal oriented. I often wonder how I could raise such two opposites in the same house…*sigh I also think that my youngest will be the perfect combination of both: goal oriented but not so serious that he misses the fun of being young.

20 David February 9, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Fantastic. This should be mandatory reading for every boy and his parents. Thank you.

21 kingbiscuitpants April 5, 2010 at 6:12 pm
22 Nathan Zeigler April 6, 2013 at 12:54 pm a simple book by Robert Lewis ‘Raising a Modern Day Knight’ is a great aid in directing your children. It has Bible based stuff in it also, but if you don’t believe that stuff there is still a lot of great ways to pull a man out of your boys.

23 Gustavo Solivellas June 16, 2013 at 7:17 am

That is why I love this site and also, where parents are thaught to reise their children with strength and confidence :)

24 Tony October 6, 2013 at 8:51 am

This is how our son was raised. Our family motto is “Choices are made, consequences are paid” and that was repeated frequently. When he wanted to start hunting, at 12, he had to work to earn a rifle to do so. A neighbor complimented his work ethic to me. It was reflected in the fact that none of the boys he was going to room with during college could arrange rent and utilities for their apartment, even though some were in the same town so our son had to do it from Germany where he was visiting us for the summer. Then he was the one to keep track of what was owed and pay the bills. Now at 27 he has a good job with excellent prospects, even in this economy. As for manners, we drilled in old school Southern manners and he is finding that females his age don’t know how to react to a man that treats them with manners and respect.

25 J.L. Manning November 7, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Ten years ago, I suppose I became a manly boy. My family was in a bad way, my mother severely ill. I stepped up and helped out. I gave it my all and even left high school behind in favor of a home school option. Things were hard…but somehow we made it through, everyone gave a lot, including me. I’m 22 now and I am the man I am because of that I think. I feel as if I hadn’t gone through that (still am) I wouldn’t be a good man now. Not saying that I am, but I like to think that compared to most my age…I am. Awesome article Brett.

26 James Abel December 4, 2013 at 4:40 pm

I am continously amazed at the usefulness of this website. I’ve told you two this before, but it bears repeating: Good Job Brett and Kate. This blog is truly a service to society as a whole.

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