My nephew, Pryor, recently became a teenager, and his Aunt Cindy and parents asked the men in his family life - his father, grandfather and uncles - to write out "what it means to be a man". This would be published in a small booklet and presented to him for his birthday. This was my submission.
First of all, you need to thank your Aunt Cindy, and your parents for this collection. You are growing up in a golden age where knowledge and wisdom is easily transferred: the internet, email, books, YouTube videos - the sources are truly endless. But what matters most, and what should stick with you the deepest, are the words that come from the people that know and love you the most - your family.
First a quick word about your parents. Other than marriage, parenting is truly one of the great unknowns in life. Very little can be planned for, and since all Fathers, Mothers, and children are unique individuals, they will all react to and view differently the same set of circumstances that life throws at them. But what is cherished is just how important time - shared time - is to a family. What is transferred between your family members, just in the everyday act of living together, is priceless. Never forget that. You are truly one of the lucky ones. In our families, great efforts are always made to ensure that parents have the time for their children. And for us grown-ups it is always a balancing act between working to provide for your family, and making sure you have enough time for your kids so that they know they are loved and cherished. As we pass on to you what it means to become a man, it is important to understand where we are coming from as your Uncles, or Grandfather, or Father.
OK, enough about parenting. Let’s talk about you becoming a man. Wow. Hard to believe that you are already taking your first steps in this journey, but here you are! Your own sense of what manhood is will constantly be developing and changing. Perhaps now it is patterned after your Father (that is good). Or maybe a sports figure. Or a TV/movie character. Or maybe a great parkour hero. As you grow and develop physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, you will know what feels right to you. You will “copy and paste” into you that what you want to be, and discard that what you don’t. You will be lead by the spirit that God has implanted in you - pointing you towards who He created you to be. He has also given you the gift of free will. You are free to try things, change your mind, change your direction, make mistakes - to try all, and to be all that you want to be.
Being a man seems to be such a clearly defined image in movies or books. Strong . . . courageous . . . you know . . . MANLY. Can that be you? How do you know who to be, or how to be?
The only thing that you can do better than anyone else on this planet is to BE YOURSELF. Be your own man. Become the man that YOU want to be. Yeah, I know. Geez, Uncle Derek, what the heck does that mean? Well, let me give you a few tidbits of what I know a man to be, and what a man isn’t. Here we go, in no particular order . . .
1. A man moves towards what is right, and stays away from what is wrong. That imprinted knowledge is a gift that we all have, given to us by God. Sometimes, we might not always know what the right thing to do is, but we can feel when something is wrong - and we steer clear of it.
2. A man isn’t afraid to try. Victory or failure actually doesn’t matter - it is in the effort, the trying, that we find our success, and our worth. The painful lessons learned in a failure are nothing more than then the bricks upon we build our future success. Not that failure doesn’t hurt - it does - but it is temporary, provided that we keep moving.
3. A man doesn’t pursue what is cool, he pursues what it smart. Probably your biggest challenge for the next several years. There will be a lot of times the people around you will want you to do something you know is wrong, or hurtful to someone, or just plain stupid. Remember, in the end, integrity will always win out over popularity.
4. A man is as good as his word. His yes means yes. His no means no. He finishes what he commits to. He doesn’t quit when things get tough, or uncomfortable, or unpopular. He never lies. He keeps his promises. He listens to opposing viewpoints. He never elevates himself by putting down others.
5. A man is humble before God and those around him. He doesn’t do end-zone dances. His actions and accomplishments speak for themselves. He is neither boastful nor apologetic. He realizes he owes his success partly to God-given gifts, partly to help from others, and partly to his own personal efforts. It’s never all about him.
6. A man is always respectful towards women. He honors his mother, sister, and grandmothers. He never views women as something to be acquired. His girlfriend or wife is his partner, his equal. He is glad that men and women have their differences (your Dad can tell you about that later, and no, I’m not talking about the physical differences).
7. A man acknowledges his own fears and weaknesses. These are God-given emotions. They are something to be accepted and used for good, not ignored or be ruled by. It’s OK to be afraid or hurt. God places trials in our lives to shape us in the long run. No one ever became great by taking the easy route.
8. A man will admit when he is wrong, and will apologize when he needs to. Owning up to your mistakes is actually one of the greatest signs of intelligence and integrity. It is NEVER a sign of weakness.
9. A man never stops trying. He will make mistakes. People will fail him. This world is an imperfect place. He will falter at times, but he gets up and moves forward. When going through hell, he keeps going.
10. A man realizes he has absolutely no control over his reputation, but has total control over his own integrity. What matters to a man is not what other people think of him, but what he thinks of himself. His self-respect is what truly matters and carries him through the tough times in his life.
One of things I hope you are beginning to experience, Pryor, is your inner voice. Pay heed to it, for that is God’s spirit speaking to you. During these next several years you will be bombarded by all sorts of messages: “think this way, be this way, act this way!” The world will want your attention, your money, and your loyalty. Some of these influences will be good, some will be bad, some will have elements of both. The hardest part of your life ahead will be in figuring out which is which, and then acting appropriately.
Who can help? Well, first off would be your Dad. He is such a good and decent human being and loves you more than you ever know. Don’t ever think that there isn’t ANYTHING that you can’t talk to him about. Sure, it might be uncomfortable at times, but you can always trust him. Next up would be your Grandpop and Uncles. While none of us will know exactly what you might be going through, you might just find a nugget or two from us that might help you get through a rough patch. Finally - and most importantly - you have God. My prayer for you is that you will come to know God not as a big Gandalf-figure in the sky, but as the one person who knows you better than you know yourself. Talk to God. Ask specific questions. Then watch for the answers - you will be amazed at the people or circumstances God will place in your life to deliver your answer! It’s OK to even be mad at God when things aren’t going well. The one thing that I have learned in my 55 years of living is that there are very few coincidences. God is always there. Seek His advice. He is totally there for you.
Finally, I want to say how proud I am of you. Of who you are right now. Notice it is not about what you’ve done - it’s who you are. I am not worried about if you will be successful or not. I know you will be. Success will always follow those that live with integrity. May God always bless you, my nephew.
All my love,