I’ve been thinking about men.  No, not THAT way!  Just wondering – in our day and age, how do boys learn to be men?  How do we all understand what it means to be a man?

The last few decades have brought us considerable angst about women, and what is valuable in women, and what little girls should aim for in life.  And there has been a lot of disparagement of men.  But I hear very little about what makes an admirable man.  In decades and centuries past, they wrote about “manly virtues” – honor, courage, loyalty, steadfastness, responsibility, even self-sacrifice.  I don’t hear much about such things, any more, except in regard to our military.  Do these ideals still define a “manly man” to us?

If you are a man, what and how did you learn about this?  Books?  Role models – father, teacher, boss, friend?  Popular culture – movies, music, television?  Are there conflicts among these sources?  Are our boys and young men being offered these ideals, or others?

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10 Responses to Men

  1. Jim says:

    My friends and I learned to be a man from watching James Bond on the silver screen. It really wasn’t JB, but really Sean Connery. He seemed like a man of culture and style AND he was good with the women, and that is what most guys hoped for.

    Last Wednesday night, I was at a service of prayer to help men recapture what it really means to be a man of God. There were some powerful prayers for us men, spoken by some sweet women. The years of women’s lib have been emasculating to men and the PC culture has hurt too. After prayer, we were knighted by the sword from Lord of the Rings. What a powerful image, remembering the men who fought against all odds, running in to the crowd of enemies BOLDLY going where no man would dare. The knightly approach seems to be a good model, if you add in the Christian love, Charity, we are to have for our women and children.

    We are to give our very lives for them. We can learn these virtues from dads, reading from the Lord. It doesn’t matter, but we are to learn and love. Thanks for asking the question. I hope others will respond because it is interesting how men feel about this good topic.

  2. Karin Benning says:

    In my estimation, men have had way too much pressure placed on them to be the hero figures in life. Since the advent of women’s liberation, men have been called upon to develop the softer sides of themselves (especially by becoming more involved in the lives of their children). Women have found their more courageous sides (by needing to help out financially as the economy changed). Sorry, Dr. Laura! I do not see this as emasculating or defeminizing, but rather a process of both sexes becoming more well-rounded, healthier human beings…capable of better survival in life if a situation calls for it by developing the opposite (traditionally) masculine or feminine traits. A man can find himself alone, having to raise his children; a woman can be left alone, having to forge a financial existence for her children. Shouldn’t both sexes learn the skills that are needed to succeed in life from each other? “Honor, courage, loyalty, steadfastness, responsibilty, and self-sacrifice” are virtues ALL human beings need to own—not just one sex or the other. The self-actualization in these areas need not threaten either sex, but rather serve to help men and women become REAL partners in life. An “admirable man” in my book is one who is willing to set aside tradition and who is willing to call upon within himself whatever traditionally masculine or feminine trait is needed in any given situation. It is called being the best human being one can be. My father valued a college education for his daughters, and by spending time with me, he was able to teach me to stand on my own two feet in life. Men and women should teach each other their opposite values (in non-threatening ways) in order to strengthen each other; that, to me, is real love.

  3. Kim says:

    I agree with Karen’s comments about developing all sides of our character and those positive traits listed by Susan in both genders. I think a man can be incredibly strong and brave at the same time as being tenderhearted and merciful. (I’ve often thought that there is nothing more appealing to me than to see a tiny infant in the big, strong, yet artfully tender, arms of its daddy.)

    I see good things that have come from the encouragement of men to develop their nurturing capabilities, and for women to develop their abilities as financial providers. There seems to me to be no downside to either of those. What is sad, and I think wrong, is when a man’s traditional traits of bravery, courage, protectiveness, etc., eventually fell under the category of chivalry, as a pejorative, and considered silly and unnecessary. Likewise, a woman who loved being a full-time homemaker and wife and mother as her life’s vocation was considered to have not achieved much, to be missing a greater goal, to be “less than”. Those ideals suffered dearly, and I believe society lost its way on those issues.

    Children, obviously, suffer due to the vast number of broken homes, but boys take the brunt of that, it seems. Typically, it’s the father who is out of the home and they lose that male role model. That may be a contributing factor to a negative feminization (in the sense of being “weak”) of some boys while growing into men, in that they never learned the basics of what it means to be a man who sacrifices for the sake of his family, and that lack is passed down to each subsequent generation, if it is not arrested and corrected somewhere along the line. For the most part, a boy needs a good man in his life in order to learn how to be a good man. His mother can teach him honesty, integrity, skills, manners, how to love, etc., but he needs a male role model to teach him how to feel and think like a man.

  4. Susan says:

    These are some really thoughtful comments that show a wide range of perception on the subject. Thank you! They spark in me a whole lot of responses. In general, it seems that there has been a movement, over the past few decades, to blur the distinction between the sexes. Maybe it was perceived that in earlier times, that distinction was drawn too sharply. To me, now, it seems that the blurring has gone too far, and while it promotes many good things, it is bearing some unintended consequences. It has robbed men of their sense of pride in manhood, as they are pressured to be more woman-like. (And women have been pressured to be more like men, and as Kim said, looked down on for finding fulfillment in homemaking – or priding themselves on modesty and chastity). Sometimes it seems to me that in trying to equalize responsibility, we have created a situation where women are expected to be responsible for everything (single parenthood being the prime example), while men live into the James Bond/Jason Bourne identity and remain aging teens. I realize this is a sweeping generalization and is unfair to many men, but it is what is reflected in the popular culture of music, movies, etc., and is more clearly demonstrated in the social conditions of inner city ghettoes.

  5. Karin Benning says:

    I think the attitudes of the early days of women’s lib are over, thank goodness. It was reactionary and defensive by nature, but when big changes take place in society, they are often explosive at first because the feelings have been held in too long. Women came on too strongly, and men didn’t know what hit them. Bad for both sides to behave this way. Women saw men as holding them back from who they needed to be and they reacted with agressive anger; men felt confused, bewildered, flummoxed by how they were to behave toward women NOW???!!! However, once women felt they had some credibility for their points of view, I believe they were able to become more assertive about their needs and less aggressive. (Men are listening to us now.) Let’s hope men have less pressure on them to “do it all”, and that plain good manners prevail on both sides.

    I like everything Kim said. I do question whether or not “tradtional traits” are in the process of evolving. And also, since I didn’t have any boys, I am wondering what it means to “feel and think like a man”? Courage is something both sexes need to develop. Protectiveness is necessary for caring for children at various stages, but a grown woman needs to develop her own ability to survive with courage, too.

    I asked my husband what he thought was the best thing a man could teach his son, and he answered, “Respect for women.” No doubt that is going to mean something different to different women who have varied needs in relationships. That is being a “good man”, I believe, to listen and respond to who a woman really is.

    My husband had two little brothers in the organization Big Brothers of America, and they credit him with who have have become today. Their masculinity has taken entirely different forms as individuals: one is a rough and tumble kind of guy (a policeman), and the other is more artistic (an actor) by nature. Both are married. Both are good with children. Bob was able to accept them as they were and help them to develop into who they were to become.

    It is certainly possible for women to develop their own personal strengths while being homemakers. It is such a worthwhile occupation, but I don’t think it is the only way to go. For me, it took being more out in the world with a job to learn how to develop my own courageous side—in an assertive, not so aggressive way. In fact, while men and women are out there trying to become who God meant them to be, assertiveness ( as a neutral trait?) can serve both well.

    Hope this makes sense. It is a heavy topic! But interesting…

  6. Karin Benning says:

    P.S. Edit line #3 …and men didn’t know what hit them, so they hit back.

  7. Fr. Lazarus says:

    I am thinking this whole thing of “being a man” is really pretty Mysterious. I captialized the “M” in Mysterious because I believe that “being a man” (and “being a woman” for that matter) is Eucharistic. I receive my identity as a man (and women receive their womanhood) from Christ and in Christ — “in Him we live and move and have our being”.

    I believe we are far too busy trying to come up with definitions; strategies; and what not; in order to become or make ourselves the “men” (and “women”) WE think/beleive we should be in this world.

    Even though I don’t come near to comprehending it, I am convinced that the whole thing is a treasure hidden in plain view — The Divine Liturgy. My manhood is a gift if I will receive it in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. I am told in both the Old and New Testaments that I am created to be a “son of God”. My manhood in as much as I have it and live it is revealed and becomes lived ONLY in as much as I receive and live out my “sonship”. One is the fruit of the other.

    Once again — one heck of — a Mystery.

  8. Susan says:

    I am so glad to hear from a couple of men! We women, as usual, jump in with our analyses – of men. And the men just ARE. That is, to me, both frustrating and comforting.

    I am not sure I understand what Fr. Lazarus is saying, although I can readily admit that men are, to me, a mystery – which is what started this whole subject.

    On a more serious note, in pondering this reply, it becomes clear that our sexes are a Mystery (capital M) that is hidden in the very character of God. So, is it worthwhile to talk/think about it all from a sociological point of view? Doing so tends to get us believing we can engineer, or re-engineer, the meanings of male and female. Maybe that is not a good thing? Maybe Fr. Lazarus’ wisdom would be simply to stop intellectualizing about it, and live it, hopefully prayerfully? And by doing so, the meanings would naturally become clear?

  9. Fr. Lazarus says:


    My point exactly.

    Our identities ARE hidden, revealed, and offered to us, in the character of God, if we will repent of our own “engineering”. Our identities, and the character that is developed (matures) as a result, are received relationally — sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters in the family of God (by grace).

    The sociological aspect, which is essential, follows and becomes the context in which all of this (with much fear and trembling) is lived (but probably never understood).

    “Prayerfully” is a great way to put it. Indeed, I can only begin to access and live out my manhood by living in the vortex of the intersection of revelation and repentance which is the essence of prayer. So, my manhood is the fruit of essential prayer. It is the fruit of the Divine Liturgy — the picture and reality of true prayer.

    But then, all things in the Chrsitian life are the fruit of prayer. We are wonderfully and Mysteriously made. (The capitalization of the “M” is intentional and my [risky but admittedly honest] reading of something back into the phrase.)

  10. Fr. Lazarus says:


    I just sat down and read today’s (April 5th) selection from “Morning and Evening”, by Charles Spurgeon. Wow!! He says it beautifully. He speaks of cross-bearing and humility. Humility is the fruit of the intersection (cross) of revelation and repentance.

    Out of humility grows manhood and womanhood.

    It is ALL about the Divine/Human (Christ the God-man) Liturgy — “the work of Christ” and therefore by the power of the Holy Spirit “work of the people of God in Christ”.

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