What Does Being a Man Really Mean?

family vacation

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When it comes to modern standards for manhood…there are none! There is no definition of what goes into making a man and because of this we are faltering. Because male culture lacks an inspiring standard to live up to, guys are struggling more than ever to find purpose. A large part of this struggle has resulted from a diminished role in the family. What does this leave for men? What do we have to strive for; what do we have to live up to; what do we have to be responsible for? Follow this three-part series, as we delve into the meaning of being a man.

Role of family in manhood

Without pressure and structure nothing can realize its form or potential. Try baking a cake in a zero gravity oven without a pan and see what happens. Try telling a boy to become a man without guidance and a role — have you seen what has happened? Modern guys have taken to video games and drinking, among other things, in a hopeless search for the meaning that used to be found in family. Without the challenge and virtue required to be a strong husband and father, guys lack the substance and structure to be men.

When you take away a man’s role in family, you take away his reason. Asking a boy to become a man without a role or reason is both senseless and impossible. Asking a boy to become a man without a definition for the word is like asking him to find El Dorado without a map, and it will only lead to feelings of shame when he fails to reach his destination. Is it insane to think that guys require more structure to be men?

Women have an obvious and irreplaceable role as mothers, so the importance and necessity of women is not questioned. But the mere mention that men may also have a role to play in family will sound the alarm for ridicule. As the role of men in family has diminished over the past half century, the character of males has declined commensurately.

I’m a relationship coach, and one phrase that I hear continually from single women across the country is this: “Where are all the men?” They see plenty of guys, but women who are looking to start families need dependable and responsible men. Because our role has been diminished, men have forgotten they’re even supposed to exist. How are we supposed to hit a homerun when we don’t even have a plate to step up to?

So the onus is on men and women to create a plate for men together by reestablishing the importance of husbands and fathers. In all of the cultures I’ve studied, the definition of manhood can be distilled to one common theme: the ability to give life to the community.

The role of mothers and fathers

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Women are blessed with the role of motherhood, and so one of the most important ways they give life to the community is though birthing and raising children. Women are the bearers of life and this makes their role in family clear and indispensable, but what about men? Are we expected to be content with zero responsibility and zero recognition?

Since men cannot give birth, they must have a role all to their own: this is the role of protector. Qualities that go into making a protector are gentleness, kindness, dependability, trustworthiness, honesty, courage, strength, a sense of duty and integrity, among others. Women give life while men protect it, and to the same ends we flourish together.

The concept of earning manhood might sound foreign because the roles of men and women have been washed from the collective conscience of our culture. But, in other places and cultures, the rites of passage to become a man or woman are alive and well. Rites of passage are rituals that test the character of a person to determine eligibility as a man or women in society; to determine whether they can give life to the community.

These tests are determined by what a particular culture perceives as life-giving. But the key is that men and women are made. Until they have made the sacrifices to build virtue and responsibility, people are not accepted into society as men and women. Their titles are earned and have nothing to do with anatomy.

Virtue and manhood

The Latin root for man is vir, so to be me a man or woman is to be virtuous. Virtues are what give character and protect people from actions that can diminish their ability to love and share intimacy, both of which are requirements for life in a family.

As the meaning of man and woman has become confused, people have become deprived of meaning. Man or womanhood is no longer measured by character or by the ability to contribute to society. Without an aim to grow and contribute as a man or woman, people fall into instant gratification and lose purpose. Honoring, respecting, cherishing, and inspiring the best within a woman is no longer part of the challenge of becoming a man, and so we have lost the character that actually defines manhood.

Preparing for and upholding a strong family is the ultimate challenge for a man, requiring forward thinking, wisdom, planning, integrity, perseverance, faith, courage, resilience, and gentleness. Without the incentive of a family, the majority of men have no reason to look outside of themselves for growth of character. Without family, there is no role for a man to fill.

The second part of this series explores the roles of manhood in other cultures, and also the things that hold us back from being the best men we can be.

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