What Does it Mean to be a Man?
Last night I picked my son up from lacrosse practice. It was his second practice and until recently, neither him or I had given much thought to the sport. Everything from the equipment required to the basic stuff like rules of the game or how to catch and throw the ball, was new to us. Because many of Ethan’s friends were joining the team, he decided that he wanted to as well. However, picking him up last night proved to be one of those moments where as a parent you feel a bit helpless.
To provide a bit of background, Ethan is a very athletic 15 year, old in great shape, who is rapidly becoming a man. Unlike his dad, his body is comprised of lean, ripped muscles and a set of six pack abs. Although Ethan is not a big kid, he is in great shape! Ethan grew up and still is, extremely active. In the winter you will find him snowboarding, while in the summer he will be outside doing tricks on his mountain bike, riding BMX at the skate park or in the woods riding his motocross bike or ATV. When it comes to sports that have wheels, Ethan is VERY proficient. Give him a bike and in no time he will be riding wheelies for miles (no exaggeration). Because of his intense love for X-sports, we rarely played catch, basketball, soccer or any of the other common sports that many kids and parents played growing up.
Last night when he got in the car, I could tell something was wrong. Ethan, normally a carefree happy kid was feeling pretty down. When I probed into the issue, it turned out that he was struggling with lacrosse. He was feeling left behind and a bit isolated. Instead of performing drills with his teammates, the coach had him off to the side learning how to catch and throw, lacrosse style. In lacrosse, catching and throwing is a necessity of the game. You simply have no choice but to learn how to do it well. In addition, though I think he is perfect, he feels as though he is too small and wants to “get bigger”. In other words, he wants to add muscle mass.
As a father who deeply loves his kid, it’s hard to see him so down on himself. My first instincts were to protect and shield him from his pain, tell him it’s alright to quit and allow him to go back to the things that he is good at. Although that’s what I wanted to do, I knew that doing so would not be serving him in the long run. I knew immediately that this was going to be one of those times where God was going to test him and help him grow. The best I could do would be to offer him my wisdom, guidance, love and support.
After a brief conversation on our drive home, Ethan immediately went to bed. Feeling a bit helpless, I said a prayer, closed my eyes and fell asleep myself. When I awoke this morning to write my blog (at 4:30 AM-it’s becoming a habit now) I heard the question God had placed in my head while I slept. “What does it mean to be a man?” Immediately, I knew that the answer to this question was going to be the subject of today’s blog. I can’t wait to hear the answer.
What does it mean to be a man?
It’s hard to believe that you’re almost 16. Time has gone by so quickly. From the first time our eyes connected I knew that my life would never be the same. I remember waking up early that morning to discover that your mother was having contractions. Because you were our first, the birthing classes that we attended prior to your arrival, informed us that once contractions start it may take a long time for you to come out. With that in mind, your mother made the decision to take her time. She showered, packed, then finally decided that it was time for us to make our way to the hospital. When we arrived, we were shocked to discover that she was already too far along to receive an epidural (oops). The best they could do was offer her basic pain medication. I don’t think it really worked too well, which brings me to my first point.
Sometimes being a man means knowing when to be quiet, this includes chewing gum in your wife’s ear during labor, even if you are simply trying to be supportive. Also, under no circumstances should you ever try to compare the pain that they are going through to the time that you, __________________. Because no matter what you fill that blank with, it simply doesn’t compare to the pain she is experiencing in that moment and she WILL let you know as much.
Back to the story. As it turns out, although we’ll never know for sure, it’s very possible that not having an epidural that morning saved your life. I’ll never forget how quickly the scene changed in the delivery room the day of your arrival. Throughout the morning, there were only a few of us in the room. Your Mother, myself and a nurse. Once it was time for your mom to push, the doctor came in to assist in the delivery. I knew something was wrong when, with little notice, the room was suddenly full of medical professionals working frantically to get you out. You had stopped breathing and though they weren’t sure how long it had been since your last breath, they knew the situation was getting critical. It was then that the doctor took out a scalpel and without warning or time for anesthesia, performed an episiotomy. (Which brings me to my next point. Being a man means admitting that women are absolutely the tougher sex!)
Moving on… At that point your Mom was instructed to push, she had to get you out quickly so that the team of doctors and nurses could get you breathing again. I want you to know that your Mother, with nothing to dull the pain, was brave and fearless as she pushed you out. If she had been sedated, the doctors said that she may have not been able to push so hard and get you out in time to save your life. It’s true that everything happens for a reason.
The second you arrived, the nurse cut your umbilical cord, put you in a cart and placed an identification band on your leg. After doing so, she grabbed my arm and did the same. (well, not my umbilical cord, that had already been cut years ago) Next, she rushed us both into the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) so that the doctors could connect you to all sorts of machines that would monitor your very existence.
Confused, I was told that since you hadn’t been breathing for such a long period of time, there was a very good chance that you may have suffered brain or other organ damage. The next 24 hours would be critical. If you peed, it would serve as a sign that your kidneys were functioning properly. If the kidneys worked, it was likely that everything else would work too. I don’t think it’s possible to have been more excited than we were that day to see a tiny little diaper full of yellow pee. Which brings me to my third point. Being a man means to have faith. Faith means to have complete trust in the unknown. To believe that everything that happens to us is part of God’s plan. Having faith means believing that even when things seem to be at their worst, when everything seems to be falling apart, its not, it’s just part of a grander plan that God hasn’t revealed to you yet.
In life, bad and scary things are going to happen. There will be moments that don’t seem fair and moments where you feel like you’ve lost all control. It is in these moments where you get to decide what kind of man you want to be. You can either play victim by focusing all your attention on what is “happening” to you and ask, “why me?” or you can choose to immediately shift your attention and focus to the lessons you can take away from that experience. If you remember to identify, learn from and offer gratitude to your negative experiences, you WILL become a stronger person. Remember that the quality of your life will not be determined by “what” happens to you but rather by “how” you perceive what happens to you.
I learned so much that week. I learned about functions of the human body, hospital protocol, the kindness of strangers, and unconditional love. I learned that your Mom is a bad ass and that you are a fighter. I learned that life is a gift and while it is easy to forget, the fact that any of us are here at all, is a miracle. Part of being a man is recognizing this fact and identifying your individual gifts, given to you by God. It is important that you identify them early so that you can spend your life using YOUR unique talents, in the service of others. When searching for your gifts, it’s important that you don’t compare yourself to others. Your talents are as unique to you as theirs are to them. Remember, there will always be someone that is bigger, faster or stronger. Someone with a nicer house, a faster car or more money. There will always be someone smarter, better in school or better looking. Rather than comparing yourself and creating feelings of anxiety, jealousy, anger and overwhelm, celebrate your friend’s unique talents as much as you do your own. While you do so, search for the gratitude in who you are as well. For while it is true that there will always be someone that is better or has more than you, it is also true that there is always someone who would do just about anything, to trade places with you!
Though we had a rough start, I am extremely grateful for the lessons that I learned that week. In many ways, God used your birth as a wake up call for me to become a better man. Notice that I said “better” and not “perfect”? Life isn’t about being perfect, its about continually learning from your mistakes and trying to improve. As a man, I’ve made plenty of mistakes. In fact, the last several years of my life have been devoted to learning from my mistakes in an effort to improve myself and the life we share. As a result, here are some of the things that I learned, through the mistakes I’ve made, in my pursuit of becoming a man. Since we are not given an instructional manual at birth, I hope that you can avoid the need to experience my mistakes for yourself and rather accept this advice to be true.
A Real Man:
- A Real Man: Admits when they are wrong, then apologizes and makes things right. If you find yourself in this position, don’t wait to make amends, as my first mentor John Lindsey (RJ’s Dad and owner of Midwest Action Cycle) once told me, DO IT NOW!
- A Real Man: Never gives up. No matter how hard it gets, don’t walk away, don’t quit, there is always a lesson to be learned. And while it is true that sometimes you have no choice but to move on, make sure you do it in a way that leaves you with no regrets over “what could have been”.
- A Real Man: Knows it’s okay to be the first to say, “I’m sorry”. Not only will it make the other person feel better, you will as well.
- A Real Man: Loves fiercely. If you choose to love, do it with so much passion that she can’t help but know that you have chosen her and that you are going no where. Along the way you may hear that girls like men that are “bad boys” or that they want a guy that challenges them. While this may be true, the girl that deserves your heart won’t need to play games, she will be as into you as you are to her. When you find her, hold onto her and give her what she needs, love, attention, truth, presence and for goodness sake, make sure that you lift the toilet seat!
- A Real Man: Seeks perspective. He understands that his way of “seeing” the world is only his point of view. When conflict arises, remind yourself of this and instead of immediately flying off the handle, a mistake I’ve made plenty of times, pause, stay calm and attempt to see things from the other person’s point of view BEFORE you respond. Doing so will help keep the peace and clear up many misunderstandings BEFORE they escalate.
- A Real Man: Takes calculated risks. There are no sure things but nothing great ever happened by playing it safe.
- A Real Man: Goes all in. When you make a decision, your answer either has to be HELL YES! or HELL NO! There is no such thing as HELL Maybe. Indecisiveness will drive you and the people that you surround yourself with crazy! All you have to do is make decisions based on what is best for you and those you love, then stick to it and go all out in its pursuit. Remember, “God didn’t give you the ability to always make the right decision but he did give you the ability to make the wrong decision right!” – Andy Andrews
- A Real Man: Stands up for what he knows is right. It may not always be the popular thing to do but if you know in your heart that something isn’t fair, right or just or if you see someone being bullied or picked on, it is your obligation to speak up, step in or find someone who can help.
- A Real Man: Dreams BIG! It’s your duty to believe in the power of your dreams. If God didn’t believe you are capable, he wouldn’t have planted the idea in your head in the first place. Believe that you can do anything you set your mind to. The world is waiting for someone like you to step up. Be bold and take action. Don’t just think about it, do it!
- A Real Man: Laughs. Don’t take yourself or for that matter, life so seriously. This may be one of my greatest regrets. Laugh more, play more, enjoy more.
- A Real Man: Works hard AND plays hard. Play and Work are NOT the enemies of each other, they are companions, it’s important that you strike a balance and live a life filled with both.
- A Real Man: Eats Ice Cream. Honestly, I’m not sure if this one is true or not but the fact is, that you are never to old to act like a kid or enjoy a cold treat.
- A Real Man: Dances. Nothing will make your wife happier than to share a dance with her man. While the other guys may be too cool for school or worried about what other people think, you make her laugh, feel loved and proud to be with you. If you ever find yourself forgetting how to dance, refer to the movie “Hitch” and let Will Smith teach you how!
- A Real Man: Respects others. You don’t always have to agree but you do have to always respect someone else’s choice, opinions and decisions. (Even when you KNOW they are wrong 😉 )
- A Real Man: Is spiritual. Seek a relationship with God. Read, understand and “live” the Bible. If you don’t know where to start, ask someone who does.
- A Real Man: Has a mentor. You are not expected to know everything. The fastest way to learn is by modeling the behavior of those that have already accomplished what it is that you want to do. By nature, most people are good and they will be more than willing to help or at minimum point you to a resource that can get you started.
- A Real Man: Reads. There are so many incredible books in this world that are filled with centuries and centuries of wisdom. Do yourself a favor and develop a love and passion for reading. Audio books count too!
- A Real Man: Surrounds himself with people he loves and respects. You will become the sum of the five people who you spend the most time with in life. Make sure that the people you surround yourself with are taking you closer to where you want to go and the man you want to become.
- A Real Man: Asks for help. Don’t have so much pride or be so stubborn that you are afraid to ask for help. Most people are more than willing to lend a hand, providing you would be willing to do the same for them.
- A Real Man: Expresses his feelings and communicates his thoughts clearly. Excuse my French but whoever said that real men don’t cry, is full of S–T! Expressing your feelings doesn’t make you less of a man it makes you human. Speak your truth and if it hurts, a good cry never killed anyone. Expressing your feelings won’t only make you feel better, it will help those you love understand, respect, connect and love you more.
While this is certainly not a comprehensive list, it is a good start. As you continue your journey to becoming a man, I want you to know that I am always here for you, no matter what.
Proverbs 28:26- “Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.”