As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I didn’t have a ‘normal’ childhood, although I wouldn’t mind having a conversation about what a ‘normal’ (note: when a word is set off by apostrophes like this, I am mentally doing a half-quotes sign with my fingers. A half-quote sign is just the index finger on each hand. ‘Important’ stuff.) childhood really is, when all is said and done.

All that to say that I don’t know that I had much of a model of what a man should be, how one should act, how one should treat a wife or kids, or how a man deals with stress and challenges.

So naturally, I turned to Google to get some answers. Here’s what the oracle had to say:

  • an adult person who is male (as opposed to a woman); “there were two women and six men on the bus”
  • serviceman: someone who serves in the armed forces; a member of a military force; “two men stood sentry duty”
  • the generic use of the word to refer to any human being; “it was every man for himself”
  • homo: any living or extinct member of the family Hominidae characterized by superior intelligence, articulate speech, and erect carriage
  • a male subordinate; “the chief stationed two men outside the building”; “he awaited word from his man in Havana”
  • an adult male person who has a manly character (virile and courageous competent); “the army will make a man of you”
  • valet: a manservant who acts as a personal attendant to his employer; “Jeeves was Bertie Wooster’s man”
  • a male person who plays a significant role (husband or lover or boyfriend) in the life of a particular woman; “she takes good care of her man”
  • one of the British Isles in the Irish Sea
  • take charge of a certain job; occupy a certain work place; “Mr. Smith manned the reception desk in the morning”
  • game equipment consisting of an object used in playing certain board games; “he taught me to set up the men on the chess board”; “he sacrificed a piece to get a strategic advantage”
  • provide with workers; “We cannot man all the desks”; “Students were manning the booths”
  • world: all of the living human inhabitants of the earth; “all the world loves a lover”; “she always used `humankind’ because `mankind’ seemed to slight the women”
  • Man is a male human. The term man (irregular plural: men) is used for an adult human male, while the term boy is the usual term for a human male child or adolescent human male. However, man is sometimes used to refer to humanity as a whole. …
  • “The Man” is a slang phrase that refers to the government, leaders of large corporations, and other authority figures in general. “The Man” is colloquially defined as the figurative person who controls the world. …

I hadn’t remembered that island at all.

But back to ‘man.’ These definitions don’t really help, except for the one that says, “an adult male person who has a manly character,” as in “the army will make a man out of you.”

Is anybody else suddenly thinking of Mulan? “Mister I’ll/ make a man/ out of you!”

But what is a ‘manly character?’ Not turning to Google this time.

Have you ever really stopped to think about this question? Especially if you’re a man, and more particularly if you are a husband or father, I think it is important to consider what it means to be a man. And this could be a definition that is specific to you- so it’s relative. Or it could be a broad idea about what a man is, either today or in the past.

What does it mean to be manly?

Are we talking about being brawny? Physically powerful? Physically capable– meaning that you can build a set of drawers or have no problem putting IKEA furniture together sans instructions. Okay, that’s more of an engineer, really.

Does physical capacity enter into the definition of man today?

I’m going to say No. I don’t think it would be hard to find a man or two who can’t bench press 100 lbs but who still deserve their man card.

How about tastes? Is your man card revoked if you prefer to spend your down time watching/listening to musical theater as opposed to reruns of Tango and Cash and/or Bonanza? If you don’t like sports, you prefer to dress snappily, and your favorite band is Andrew Lloyd Webber, are you still a man?

I really don’t think that tastes make up a man either. I like to joke that if a fellow I know doesn’t do anything active, knows all the words to Phantom of the Opera, and has never seen a Die Hard movie, that fellow has forfeited his man card. However, all things considered, I have to say it doesn’t matter.

What being a man today, and in my (NOT HUMBLE) opinion, for all of history, means is related to power of will.

Some words that I’ve come up with that describe a man, or ought to, are these:

  • honorable (added with thanks to Matthew Walker (utoxin on Twitter) for the reminder)
  • duty-bound
  • stoic (uncomplaining)
  • resolute
  • unwearying
  • dedicated
  • giving
  • humble
  • gentle

A bit of elaboration: I started with duty-bound because I think that duty, or living up to what one says or indicates he will do, is a very human moral compass. I believe in universal morality, but I also know that we are temporal creatures who need motivators that work at our level. For me, duty works. I have not lived up to that duty, including the covenants and promises I have made throughout my life, perfectly.

But thinking of the life I live and what I do as motivated by duty, as something that reflects upon me in each moment and defines my heart and who I am in moments of choice, has helped me raise my game.

I also say stoic, because as far as I am concerned, men don’t complain. If you want me to think less of you as a husband, father or any other man, start complaining. Complain about your life, your wife, your kids, your car, your aching knees.

No really, go ahead. And watch my respect for you plummet. It would be like a progress bar going backwards, with a cool sound effect to go along with it.

Men are stoic. We don’t complain. We don’t burden others with our problems. We don’t whine and moan about stuff.

This is NOT to say that we don’t talk about our concerns. I learned this the hard way. I thought stoic meant that I should keep it all to myself– keep my dislike of my old job or other things, quiet. That’s not the case. Doing that is a sign that I am not trusting my wife, or other loved one, enough to share my soul with her. That’s nothing to do with her- it’s all about me being prideful and martyred and resentful.

No, I know that I can share my concerns with my wife. I can tell her my doubts and fears as related to myself, our family, our kids, my writing, and anything else. I can do this WITHOUT burdening her, but in the spirit of showing her I need her there for me.

Men are not to be martyrs. We are to take upon ourselves all that we can and more, keep our hearts open to our wife, and then push ourselves beyond human abilities to get what needs to be done, done. We are not to be aloof and cold to our wife or kids; we are to love them, play with them, smile with them, and work our brains out to provide for them. We are not to make ourselves out to be infallible, so we can share our weaknesses (and it takes a real man to do that), but we don’t have to lay the burden of DEALING with those weaknesses on our loved ones.

I don’t know if I’m describing this very well, but I find that there’s a balance I need to strike. I need to make sure that I sit and talk with Hotness, and listen lots of course, often. I need to share my legitimate concerns and joys. I need to listen to her and she needs for me to let her listen to me. As I’ve done this better, I’ve felt closer to Hotness and that is a great thing.

But I’m not going to complain to her. Nope. That’s useless. And I’m not going to whine.

I believe that a man is the first line of defense between the world and his family. He does his darndest to keep his family safe and protected inside the forcefield of his and his wife’s love.

Men don’t complain. Men get it done, or work hard enough to pound ‘it’ into submission sufficient that it gets itself done. Men don’t take themselves seriously, although they take their behavior and promises and moments of choice very seriously. Men are humble because they know they must always be learning and improving in order to get anywhere near deserving their beautiful and brilliant wife and extraordinary children.

Men who can’t be bothered to learn to cook, help out with laundry, clean toilets and bathrooms, clean dishes and who will not lift a finger until they get a Honey-Do list have no respect from me.

We’re men, for crying out loud. We can take it. We can do it. Anything the world throws at us, we will handle.

I don’t know if I expressed my feelings on this issue adequately. Maybe I need to come back and revisit this again, later. But for now, I’d love to have you weigh in on some of these ideas. What is a MAN to you? What qualities do you think a man today ought to have?

Please don’t say regular showers. We know that already.