I had contrasting male role models when I was a boy. My Mom’s dad sang in the church choir, helped out around the house, read books and listened to classical music. He was a calm and thoughtful man who took care of others. The men on my Dad’s side drank whiskey and beer, smoked cigars, hunted and fished, played cards and bowled. Some referred to cooking, cleaning and child rearing as “women’s work”. They maintained an allergic attitude toward anything related to the “c” word: culture. That’s not to say that they were stupid, but more that they liked what they already understood. Reading a book, going to a museum, listening to a concert seemed like pointless exercises.
The movies I watched as a kid (pre-cable, often in black and white) starred John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and James Garner. These actors represented contrasting styles of manhood. John taught me to suck it up and endure danger and physical trials with little or no complaint. Women were to be treasured and protected, but would remain largely unknowable. Robert showed me that men may act on evil tendencies and can’t be trusted at first glance. James acted as a jester, as a man who pointed out the absurdities of life. Running away from a stupidly dangerous situation, not of one’s making, was acceptable.
I’m not like any of these examples, and I can’t really define precisely what makes a man good or bad. Many men I’ve known drift back and forth between kindness and cruelty. Most lean hard in one direction, but even the extreme cases have surprised me on occasion. Some evolve from one form of manhood into another.
I guess that my bases for self-judgment draw on all these influences. I know who I’d like to be while remaining aware that I fail to meet my own standards. I try not to judge other men’s lifestyles and choices, but a recent public example of “tough guy” manhood seems particularly repugnant to me. I’ll never take that hot mess of hyper-inflated ego, blind cruelty, and pointless domineering as a guide to anything exemplary about manhood.
Here’s what I believe:
- A good man accepts defeats and success gracefully. He doesn’t blame others for his failures and doesn’t claim full credit for his advances.
- A good man acts for the welfare of his family and community.
- A good man does not denigrate others or spread gossip and slander.
- A good man acknowledges his mistakes and sincerely strives to do better.
- A good man admits that he feels pain, and does not pretend that he is invincible and immovable. Stoicism becomes an act of choosing a rational response to hardship, not a denial of pain.
- A good man tries his best to follow through on his commitments. He does what he says he will do.
- A good man does not exploit the weak and less powerful.
- A good man tells the truth as he knows it, but doesn’t believe that he is the sole and complete possessor of truth.
- A good man does not believe that his current good fortune is God-given proof of his higher worth. He chooses to be grateful for blessings received.
- A good man is humble. He understands that he is a small speck in a vast cosmos.