Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Most Manly Man

     Every day 3,609,708,194 male humans wake on this planet.  We all have very different lives, but we are also similar in many many ways.  Some awake to another in their bed, others wake by themselves.  Some live a life of solitude, while others choose to live surrounded by others.  Some work the fields of a farm, some work in an office, and some are even stay at home dads.  Some may find themselves in a church 7 days a week, and some may find themselves in a bar room 7 nights a week, and some may even find themselves doing both!  Some kill others, while still there are others who fight against this.  Some Male humans find themselves embracing the love in the world, and some still find their place in hate. There is an endless amount of examples I could make here, but my opinion stands that no example is stronger than this: Some male humans decide to become men, while others stay boys for the remainder of their lives.

       I don't assume that I know everything there is about being a man, so often I may quote another who I hold in high regards on the subject.

     So often I hear the phrase "make a man out of (you, him)."  What does this mean?  Surely, as created in the Bible God did not create a little boy in a grown male body, but he created a man.  Why do we need something to "Make a man out of us"?  Society in America has very differing opinions on what differs a man from a boy.  Some say the the loss of virginity creates the man.  Some say that becoming a father creates the man.  I have heard many things over the years that reportedly "make a man" but none so interesting as "Paying off your first financed obligation, that is when you can call yourself a man".  There are infinite examples of this as well throughout history with rites of passage.  Who is correct then?

1 Corinthians 13:11 states "When I was a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man I gave up childish ways."

     This is a biblical example which illustrates that for a long time there has been an easy way to distinguish the difference in men and boys: mindset.  There is an obvious difference to me, as a father, when I see someone who is pretending to be a daddy and one who genuinely cares and loves his children.  A real father will set aside his wants and needs to provide a glorious life for his children, while teaching them how to be independent so they can grow strong and be well prepared when they leave the home.  Somebody who is "playing house" may also provide for the child and his family to the best of his ability, but instead of preparing the child for life, he may either degrade the child's self esteem, look at his responsibilities as obligations forced upon him, or simply allow the child to be dependent upon him for everything.  This "learned dependence" prevents the child from ever truly growing up, always calling home when faced with obstacles instead of facing them head on.  This kind of father is crippling to have because not only do they not teach the skills that are necessary to survive in this world but they also determine their own self-worth from their children's dependence on them.

     This is easily observed in fatherhood, but it also easy to distinguish the difference between boys and men when you analyze their approach to interpersonal relationships, especially romantic relationships.  A boy will often approach a relationship in one of two ways: they will either think "what can I get from this person?" or "What does this person need/want from me?"  To me, a man is one who approached interpersonal relationships as an opportunity to share his gifts, love, wisdom, and life with another human being.   Relationships we have with ourselves, our children, other adults, and even the relationship we have with our pets are what shape us into better men if we let them.

"A man should be able to hear, and to bear, the worst that could be said of him"- Saul Bellow

    Here Saul Bellow says two completely different things and he says them so eloquently that it took me a moment to realize. Any man should be able to hear the worst someone has to say about them and not let it enrage or anger himself, but if the man is truly a good man he should not have worry that something truly bad would be said of him.  Living a loving life of integrity and honesty is the only way to accomplish this.  Truly, who is more man, the male who hears the worst opinion of himself and goes about trying to change it through anger or arguments or violence, or the male who takes feedback from others and uses it to make him a better man.  I believe that even the harshest criticism of one's character can be molded into a useful statement to help one grow.

"Ultimate Vulnerability.  That's manliness"-Billy Sunday

     Many times in society we see Manly men depicted as tough fighters and impossible to make cry statues of muscle, but in all honesty the physical body does not determine anything about a man's worthiness or success.  How could we measure success?  Is success the number of sexual partners we have had?  Would a man measure his success by how rich or famous he is?  How about being the most knowledgeable person in his social circle?   What of the best fighter, surely that man is manly.

"Service to others is the Rent you pay for your room here on Earth."- Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali said that you have to serve others?  The least humble boxer (that I know of) said that serving others is important... even more so he said that it is our "Rent" for our room on Earth.  This man, who stepped into the boxing ring so many times over the course of his life and pummeled other men, even he realized that life is not just about who is the strongest or the toughest.  Muhammad Ali saw that we are nothing without each other.  If you never open your heart to the world and share your love and your gifts with the world with the hopes of making the world a better place then how do you expect anyone to call you successful?  The word success is a word that for me invokes the thought of an ending.  Success could be the end of a marathon or the end of a blog posting or it could mean accomplishing the greatest goal of your life, but doesn't that mean that you are completely done with that task?  Success could be how you view your life's individual tasks, but isn't it better to view our lives as a whole?  Truly we have all failed something in our lives once before.  Does this make us successes or failures?

A successful man is by definition a man full of success, but how is that measured?  How do you know when you are full?  How do you know when you have canceled out all of your failures and become "Successful"?

You Can't.

Successful is a term created by humans to explain a state of being that is neither realistic or truly objective. You can only determine the level of one's success through the analysis of their lives compared to your own and in saying that you must understand that only you can truly judge yourself as successful or unsuccessful.   Setting goals and accomplishing them are great things, but shaping your life to be a better man, One full of love, integrity, respect, selflessness, and vulnerability.  Men, as I have discovered from examples in my life are imperfect by design.

The Most Manly Man- A tiny story about a man I admire
The most manly man I've ever known is one very dear to my heart.  He signed up to fight for this country's freedom and though he never saw combat, I know he would have gladly laid down his life for me.  This man married young and started a family very early.  He worked every day that I can remember from my childhood and struggled to make sure that food was available to his family.  His work eventually took a toll on him as he moved away from the man in his goals.  Burdened by many things he altered his way of living completely. He sinned and it pulled his tiny family apart, and he hurt so many people in the process. He fell away from God and the church, and slowly he was becoming somebody who he never believed himself to be.  This is not the part of the story that is significant though.  You see, our failures do not define us.  What defines us as men is the ability to accept our failures and move on, our ability to genuinely apologize and ask for forgiveness and make sure that this wouldn't happen again, our ability to learn from the failures and to help others learn from our failures, and our ability to forgive others who may have wronged us, but most importantly our ability to forgive ourselves for everything.
This man learned.  This man apologized and forgave and he taught me so many things.  This man is the most imperfect, vulnerable, loving, and honest man that I know.  He isn't the best by a long shot, and he accepts that and every day he does his best to be the best child of God, husband, and father that he can be.  He knows that we are not complete or successful until we have served the Lord and other people and are resting in God's Kingdom.  My father, George Vogt IV, is one of the most amazing men I have ever known, and truly, I have learned so much from watching his failures... but not the failures themselves.  I've learned from watching his reactions to all of his challenges in life.  This man never gives up.

That's what it means to me to be a man: Integrity, Love, Compassion, Vulnerability, Service to others, Self acceptance and self love, and thinking about things in a manner which you put other's needs in your heart.  These things are surely qualities neccesary to becoming a man, but truly the greatest aspect a man can have is a desire to be a better man than he was the day before and the Determination to make it happen.