Years ago, while working at a non-profit and treating teenagers struggling with addiction, I learned that what they all had in common was an absent father. Either dad was not in the picture or he was emotionally unavailable. The result was blurred boundaries, low self-worth, and very little awareness. It caused anger and emotional voids that were filled with unhealthy habits.
Today in my practice, a common thread with many of my female clients is the way they were treated by men and the affects it has on them today. I believe men underestimate the impact they have in this world. I believe definitions need to be challenged. My goal in writing this isn’t to give you a definition of what a man should look like. I think each man must come up with his own definition. My goal is to challenge you to do so. Here are four characteristics that I believe are foundations on being a man. They are things I’ve learned in my own journey from boy to man.
1. Men respond.
For the 43 years I’ve been on this planet, generally (and I emphasize “generally” because I know not all guys are like this), most males don’t think of how their words and actions will affect others. An example of this is a husband who assassinates his wife’s character or verbally vomits on his children. Someone who gets into physical altercations to prove something. Someone who pulls from his ego instead of his heart.
It takes discipline, patience, and maturity to filter oneself and think about others before one responds. A response requires thought, meta-cognition. A reaction is instinctual. Boys react. Men respond.
2. Men look inward first.
They are willing to examine their defects. They practice transparency and non-defensiveness. They express how they feel. They don’t try to be someone they’re not. By walking with a mirror, they don’t get caught up in heated arguments. They handle confrontations by acknowledging, taking responsibility, and making choices. And they move forward, changed.
3. Men have a cause.
Something worth fighting for. It doesn’t have to be to end world hunger. It can be to save a marriage. Fighting for one’s position in life. Expressing art. Sharing gifts. Being a better version of oneself. Something he believes in, even if others don’t. Whether it’s one’s character or an empire, men build. Boys deconstruct.
4. Men take action.
Boys complain. I have to admit, I have only recently made a choice to stop complaining when things don’t go my way in life. Many habits like complaining and losing one’s temper stem from undisciplined thinking and the inability to manage emotions. I know many men who talk about change. Who talk about wanting to “fix” their relationship. To lose weight. Be a better father. To stop drinking, cheating, spending, hiding, and numbing. But only a few take action and climb that mountain daily. Only a few fall down over and over but keep getting back up. Only a few put their money where their mouth is.
Think about all the men you know in your life. Friends. Fathers. Uncles. Brothers. Coaches. Boyfriends. Husbands. How many possess all four? If they do, acknowledge them. Because we need more of them in this world.