My dad…with my son. 1982
To be a Better Man? Better than what, than who? What does it mean to be a man in the first place?
My personal journey toward manhood started when I was very young. In that one very special moment, before I could even talk, when I realized that I was male. That I was more like my dad than my mom. That moment, even though I can’t remember it specifically, was pivotal and would chart the direction for the rest of my life.
Even though that moment itself is lost to my memory I know it happened. Because I do remember what followed; an entire childhood of emulation. I gravitated toward all things male, I imitated my father, I sought his approval and recognition in all things. I knew somehow, instinctively that one day I would become what he was…a man.
My dad worked a lot when I was young, as many parents of young families have to do, so my time with him was limited, but profound. Like most children I spent the majority of my early life in the company of my mother. Weekends were a special treat because I had both parents together.
Admittedly, I was extremely fortunate, because my father happened to be one of the good ones. A good man, a good father, and a good husband. I didn’t even know bad men existed until I was in junior high school, and began to hear stories from some of my peers.
I was equally blessed with my mother, who knew how to celebrate my fathers manhood without diminishing her own role. I give them equal but different credit in who I ultimately became. My mother taught me most of what I learned about life, she did it through talking to me, doing projects with me, singing songs and spending tons of time with me…and her lessons were invaluable. My mother taught me how to ‘feel’, and what it was to be a human.
My father taught me very differently, and without even realizing he was doing it. My father taught me quietly, simply by living his life the best he could. He taught me with his example… about what it is to be a man. And because I had identified myself as male early on I was fixated on him and the example he was setting.
So yes, I was lucky. I began to realize as I got older that everyone isn’t quite as lucky as I was in the parental department. I believe my experience gave me a uniquely clear perspective on others though. I could see what they had missed, I could understand what they were lacking, and when I could…I tried to help them. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, I was still a kid myself after all.
Time went on. I continued to be fascinated by the lives and development of other people, and marvel at the difference certain events (or lack thereof) play in how people turn out. I was a student of humanity, of both men and women. I learned many things…as a person will when they pay attention.
Now, many years later, many of my observations have congealed into conclusions, but I continue to learn. I also continue in my compulsion to help other people too, which is what led to the creation of Being A Better Man.
So now I’ll answer the questions that I opened this article with.
What does it mean to be a man? The shortest, most concise answer is this; a man is an example. What kind of example is obviously up to the man himself, but every man is a living, breathing example to someone. Your children, your friends, your co-workers, people on the street you don’t even know…someone is always watching you and in that moment you are the example of what manhood is. Even when you are alone, you are watching you. When thought of this way it becomes obvious what else being a man is; being a man is a responsibility. Obviously manhood is much more complex and we will explore further in other articles and on the podcast, but if I had to squeeze manhood into two words they would be ‘example’ and ‘responsibility’. At the core, that is what it means to be a man.
Being a better man? Better than who, or what? The answer to this one is much less complex. Too often we make the mistake of measuring ourselves against other people, other men. I made the mistake early on of measuring myself against my father. It was a mistake because I am not my father, no one can ever be someone else. All we can be is ourself. We can use the examples and attributes we admire in others and apply them to ourselves but ultimately, the only true measure of a man is his own self. So, if I want to be ‘better’, the only true measure of that is to be better than myself. To be better today than I was yesterday. This applies to every aspect of life…if I want to be a faster runner for example I can measure that by being faster today than I was yesterday, if I do that everyday I will eventually come close to my personal potential as a runner. Even though there will always be others who are faster.
Likewise, if we want to be better men then we should focus on ourselves. If we can identify how and where we can be a better man than we were yesterday then eventually we will come close to our potential as a man.
The things we focus on expand. Some people focus on their careers, their relationships, their hobbies, or…their vices, and those things expand accordingly. It’s possible to be a wealthy successful guy who is a terrible man. It is possible to find the love of your life or be the best golfer in the world and also not be a good man. To really “have it all”, to reach our goals in life and also be a good man when we get there we have to focus on being a better man.
That is what this blog, website, and podcast are all about. I’m on this journey with or without you. I want to die as the best man I can be, I’m inviting you to join me.