I was hanging out with some students recently, grabbing some food and just talking about life, when suddenly one of my guys started to visibly have some issues. Eyes watering, coughing a bit, he asked, “Do you know if this has [common allergen]?”
On the outside, I remained calm and cool, but on the inside? I. WAS. FREAKING. OUT.
Becuase I realized, I was responsible. Am I gonna have to take this kid to the hospital? Is he gonna die? What am I gonna tell his parents? Anybody? How can I be responsible for another human being?
Fortunately, I kept calm. Turns out it wasn’t anything, he wasn’t allergic to it, and my internal reaction was a total over-reaction, but it still shook me up a bit. Responsibility is a tough thing. I understand why people run away from it.
My name means manly and strong. I’ve had that on a plaque hanging on my walls for years, and it’s something I’ve always aspired to. I’ve always wanted to be the strong one everybody else could depend on. While everybody and everything else is falling apart, I’m still there, as solid as ever.
Strength is easy. But manliness? I always pictured a bunch of buff guys chain smoking cigars while bench-pressing cars or something. That’s not me.
File that away for a moment.
I have recently had a bunch of conversations with a bunch of the boys in my youth group. I don’t know why, but I’ve had to share some really hard truth about some decisions they’ve been making that won’t lead them anywhere good.
And in each conversation, I’d notice half way into it just how forlorned they’d look or talk, how they’d slump down, and how they just looked like they were being beaten down by what I was saying. Because, every other time they had a conversation like this, it was probably their dad or step-dad or mom’s boyfriend that was yelling at them and verbally if not physically abusing them. And I realized I might be the first man to actually have something to tell them out of and with respect.
I think, I’m really convinced of this: Many of us guys are very good at being strong. We’re good at doing “guy things” like drinking beer, playing video games, lifting weights, watching football and killing spiders.
But most of us suck at being men.
I don’t want to get on the societal bandwagon about the death of modern man. Inevitably they talk about how men have disappeared to be replaced by hoodie-wearing, video-game playing slacker 20 somethings. (Hey! That’s me!)
But that’s so superficially stupid.
Men take responsibility. Boys make excuses.
Men step up. Boys run out.
Men run toward hard things. Boys run from hard things.
Men do. Boys wait.
Men create. Boys criticize.
Men control themselves. Boys flex their muscles.
Men do what’s right. Boys do what’s convenient.
Men serve others. Boys serve themselves.
More and more middle school guys I meet almost flinch like abused puppies, and it’s all because the only influence they’ve had in their lives have been fathers that are more boys than men. Boys that yell because they can. Boys that hit to show they’re the most powerful in the house. Boys that run out when things are tough. Boys that serve themselves ahead of any and everybody else.
I’m convinced that men, at least the kind of men that matter, aren’t overgrown kids that figured out how to use their penis and use their muscles and strength to get whatever they want from anyone and everyone weaker than they are.
But men who matter are different. In one profound way: they own responsibility.
The responsibility to serve and love others far and away above themselves and their own self interests. They run into hard situations when everybody else is running away from them.
They own the responsibility of providing and caring, not only for their own family but also their community.
They own the responsibility of speaking up for the right things, and doing the right thing, even and especially when it’s hard.
Society has decided that manliness is getting anything and everything you can for yourself. It’s why so many of today’s dads are either absent or terrible. They run and hide, or stay and dominate.
Few know what it means to be manly. To subdue their strength and use their strength in service for others. To stand up for what is right, even when it hurts. And to provide protection, love and support even when it is hard.
The cultural issue is that we’ve replaced this kind of manliness – which is hard and difficult and requires commitment – which a pale substitute.
But the best men I know haven’t fallen for the substitue.
I don’t want to either.
Like my name says, I want to be manly.
Manliness isn’t power for youself, but strength in service for others.
That’s the manliness that’s worth striving for.