For a man who writes a lot about Masculinity and Manhood, I have not put a lot of effort into creating a concise definition of what I believe a Man to be. I would reckon that if you scoured all of my posts you might create a definition that would look like a missing link between what I first learned about myself when I lost my job in 2001, had my big life changes in 2009, and a dusting of the ideas that I have evolved today after testing my thoughts with hundreds of men. I have considered trying to write out a definition that reflects my thoughts today… perhaps something that I could revisit every couple of years to see how far I have moved, but I stop myself every time I consider this seriously…
…because it would do you no good.
My definition of what it is to be a Good Man is personal. it has come through years of experience working with struggling men, recovering from my own traumas, rebuilding my marriage, rebuilding other people’s marriages, becoming a work at home Dad, and a hell of a lot of time spent studying Philosophy, History, and Religion. Discovering what it is to be not just a Good Man, but a Whole Man, and a Free Man has been an evolutionary process for me. The process of figuring it all out has been as important as the conclusions that I have reached.
If I were to write down here what I have come to believe in plain English, it would inspire some (possibly), cause others to explode into a storm of inane pedantry, give some more a good excuse to misread my ideas and then go out and do what they want anyway secure in the belief that they are becoming Better Men for it, and doubtless inspire the religious fury of people with their own ideas who are out looking to be offended. What I would not be able to do is communicate adequately what I have come to understand.
If you are smart, you wouldn’t believe me anyway. Most of the definitions of Manhood out there are toxic, unworkable, or manipulative. Every boy wants to grow up an earn the right to call himself a Man. There are a lot of devious people that understand this and have used it to manipulate Men and boys into throwing away their health, their happiness, even their lives to serve a cause that doesn’t give a damn about them. A great many war memorials are litanies of the names of Boys who gave up their lives hoping to live up to another person’s definition of being a Man.
And even if a few men parsed out what I wanted to say entirely, at best they would have an academic understanding of my ideas that comes from reading. They would not know in the bone-deep sense that would really serve them how to become that Good, Whole, Free Man.
There are some things that must be learned firsthand by doing.
What I have found is the way that helps Men the most is the art of directed exploration. It starts with a little investigation: looking into how a Man sees his role, his sex, his gender, his nature, and his status… and calling him out where he has swallowed self-destructive and toxic ideas. Then I give them the framework for building a new, healthier idea of what it is to be a Man. Finally I give him tasks and challenges: first to cut out self-sabotage, toxic behaviors, and self-abuse; to quit addictions and ditch unhelpful people and possessions. Second I start challenging him to get out there and try new things – to volunteer, to make new relationships, to scratch things off of his “bucket list” early, to say the things he has been afraid to say.
It helps to start with a goal in mind. Coaching of any kind works best when you have things you can track and aim for. Often, self-exploration is incidental; you set out to save your marriage, and discover how to be a husband worth staying with; you set out to get a promotion at your job, and find out that your are meant to be leading, not punching the clock.
Done in the right order, the right challenges put to a
man lets him see for himself exactly what makes him a Good Man, a Healthy Man, and a Whole Man. He learns about who he really is, and who he can become. He can see for himself what it is to be a Man distilled from all the conflicting, self-serving messages. Not as an academic definition, but as an experiential conclusion, something he knows so deeply that care for his self and others around him, integrity, and his personal code all become fundamental to him, as vital as breathing, and as easy as getting out of bed in the morning.