“How does a boy become a man?”
Out of the blue, that question was put to my middle-aged son by his grandson, my 12-year-old great grandson. Although a straight-forward question, it is one that I had not ever before been asked to ponder, or reply to with mere words. Given the perplexing, divisive, socially confusing era we now face, with pronoun fixations, gender pre-occupations in grade school and other self-indulgent distractions from the more profound challenges of the modern age, the question and the answer may not be as simple or orthodox as when Rudyard Kipling wrote his famous poem “If…” or when Teddy Roosevelt wrote: “He can not do good work if he is not strong and does not try with his whole heart and soul to count in any contest; and his strength will be a curse to himself and to every one else if he does not have a thorough command over himself and over his own evil passions, and if he does not use his strength on the side of decency, justice and fair dealing.”
Of course, concepts of manliness change with the times. In this country today, in cities like Chicago, New York and San Francisco and other cities with so much crime in the streets, store lootings, and fatherless families, there are young men who steal with impunity, who not only have no concept of manhood, but have no command over themselves or their evil, unbridled passions. Burdening maturing young men with the trendy, misguided stigma of toxic masculinity, is in my mind undermining the natural matriculation to true manhood, and is socially engineering a generation of mentally emasculated young men.
If I were asked, I would tell my great grandson that time and responsible living is the path to manhood. Good role models, fathers, can help you find that path. My father did that for me. He taught me the bedrock values of honesty, integrity, and personal discipline. Next to my parents, the Boys Scouts of America, yes the Boy Scouts of America, shaped me positively in so many ways, as I struggled with the confusion and common curse of male adolescence. A caring scout leader, Mr. Nason, bless him, whetted my appetite for camping and the outdoors. And I learned practical skills that few pubescent boys have any knowledge of in this 21st century America: knot tying, how to build a fire outdoors, teamwork, how to face fears, how to cook outside, how to use a compass, or navigate by the stars.
Scouting also left its mark in other ways. The Boy Scout motto, oath and, law exposed us to the precepts of morality and duty. We learned that serving others and overcoming our inherent selfish nature of youth was a stepping stone to adulthood and, yes, manhood.
To be honest, I have no idea how the scouting organization is fitting in to the troubled America of today. I suspect it is thought in some circles to be “uncool” to be a Boy Scout or wear the scouting uniform. This saddens me deeply. If I were my great grandson’s father and was asked the question about the path to manhood, I would encourage involvement in scouting.
I know what manhood is not. It is not very white teeth, perfect abs and working out at the gym every day, or “shooting beers” at the fraternity house. I think real American farmers and cowboys were usually pinnacles of manhood. Not John Wayne but real cowboys. They were not afraid of hard work or dirty hands. Breaking green horses was a metaphor for life and manhood. When they got “throwed” they got back on that bronc and never gave up. They knew how to deal with defeat, with bad crops and mean critters. They respected womanhood and never shied from showing tenderness. Yes, they were patriots and most had a relationship with a Higher Power.
I would tell my great grandson that every man needs a creed or a motto to guide his life by, and a faith in his Creator that imbues him with humility.
Finally, and above all, know this: In the era that I have lived in almost a lifetime, the best men that I have known loved their wives and placed their family as the most important priority in their lives. Manhood does not come easy. But I have found that if you try with all your might to be a good and responsible man, whether husband and father, or simply a man who can see beyond himself, this will bring more inner peace than anything that you can do or be.