Byrd: When is a man considered a man?
At what point in a man's life is he considered a man? Is it really as simple as completing a religious ceremony? Or simply crossing an age threshold set by state law? Is it when he fathers a child of his own?
Hollywood tells us that being a man means you're a muscle-bound, obscenity-spewing ball of fury firing round after round of hot lead vigilante justice. It tells young girls that men are emotionally crippled animals capable of salvation with just the right amount of love and patience so that they blossom into what every girl wants a man to be.
It's not so easy defining the measure of a man, is it?
I took the challenge to Facebook, where I polled friends to discover their thoughts on what it means to be a man. Within about an hour, I had responses from two guys and three gals.
The first guy said, "Not asking for directions when lost." I translated that to mean a man is self-sufficient. The other guy posted a vintage-looking photo of a man holding a car door open for a woman with the saying, "Real men still do this."
The first female responder said, "A real man knows the difference between a need and a want." Another said, "Last week here (in Sidney, Neb.) fathers got up in front of a lot of people and danced with their daughters. That is what it means to be a man." The response my wife most liked: "I think what it takes to be a good man is compassion, intelligence, sense of humor, kindness, and how to take care of himself and a family if he makes one! I also think that what it means to be a man is to be strong when ya need to be and soft when ya need to be!"
Although every answer was different, I was thrilled no one said a man is measured by the car he drives or the clothes he wears because I drive a Chevy Cobalt and haven't a designer piece of clothing to my name. I also noticed that nobody compared manhood to Hollywood's vision of Rambo, Magic Mike or any character portrayed by Gerard Butler.
Psychologists have told us that a father serves as a child's first role model in defining what it means to be a man. Fatherhood.gov says that "when fathers are involved in the lives of their children, especially their education, their children learn more, perform better in school, and exhibit healthier behavior."
It's truly a shame that not every boy gets the opportunity to learn from his father. This is something I know about firsthand as a week after my 11th birthday, my ailing father passed away as a result of diabetes. Sure, I remember my childhood and I remember how he fathered me as a young child, but I was just about to knock on the door to manhood when he was taken from us. The one man I wanted to hear the answers from is gone. And I didn't have any grandfathers left to ask either.
Now that I'm a graying 32-year-old husband and father of three, I'm not so sure I'm any closer to the right answer than I was when I was 11 years old. I certainly know I look the part but sometimes I feel like my script is incomplete, leaving me to stumble as I try to make up lines on the fly.
So you can see my predicament as my almost 15-year-old son looks to me to define what it means to become a man. I'll admit to feeling a bit ill-prepared for such a challenge, and it makes me wonder if my own father would have felt the same way had I gotten the chance to ask him.
If defining manhood was so easy, I'd probably be able to tell my son that I became a man at 18 when I asked his mother, a former high school flame, if I could be his father. His biological father left the U.S. shortly after his mother became pregnant. I just felt that every child needed a father and fortunately for me, she agreed.
Or maybe I became a man when I asked for my wife's hand in marriage (I asked her parents first), or maybe it happened when I said my wedding vows and placed a ring on her finger. Or was it when I bought my first home? Or every time I change a diaper? Kiss a boo-boo? Do men say boo-boo?
When it comes to answering the question for my son, I think I'll tell him that maybe there's no single measurement of a man, that maybe we're all just little boys on the inside hoping to make someone proud of us, and that maybe being a man isn't so much about being the man as it is about striving to be the best man we can be.
If that's the case, then becoming a man is a lot less about our physiques or accomplishments and a lot more about becoming a person our family and friends can trust, respect, rely on and admire. I'd say that gives us a chance every day to define and redefine what it means to be a man.
I would also wager a guess that measuring up is as personal to us as the journey itself. But as long as we strive toward being good men, then maybe the battle is halfway won.
Byrd is the news editor of The Dickinson Press. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him at klarkbyrd.