There is no authoritative manual available that teaches me to be a man. At forty-one years old, there are many different ways that I have tried to learn:
- Many lessons resulting from experiences, trials and errors.
- Studying religious teachings, stoicism, human psychology and behavior.
- I have two fathers that I grew up watching, observing and evaluating.
- Close friends whose fathers had a big impact on how I saw men. I specifically saw Tom Mayo and John Reier run their families, be leaders in their churches and in the community.
- I have been influenced by culture through tv shows, movies and music.
- I observe my friends and tease out what I believe are characteristics of being men. I have paid close attention to Tyson Carrol, Eric Atnip and Jeff Buhr as they have developed careers, dated, married and started families in the 17 years we have been friends.
- I listen to the Joe Rogan podcast. This show is part of our culture today, however deserves a specific call-out given its influence on me and the unashamed approach it takes to being manly.
So what exactly makes a boy become a man? How should men act? What are the guiding principles of being a man in our world today?
I will be honest and say that I do not have an answer. At least not one that is formulated well enough that it would be of value.
What I am most certain about are characteristics that are not manly.
Here is the one that I have been learning and figuring out the past few years in very challenging but clear ways:
“Boys are independent, men are interdependent“
I have shared previously that I gravitate towards a ‘lone wolf’ mentality. That lesson was learned via the culture I grew up in. The idea of falling down meant you needed to ‘cowboy up’, and to ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’.
That lie has been incredibly challenging to overturn.
Brian Tome shares in his book, The Five Marks of a Man, the following five characteristics:
- Men have a vision
- Men take a minority position
- Men are team players
- Men work
- Men are protectors
The saying, “Boys are independent, men are interdependent” comes from the “Men are team players” discussion.
The idea of being ‘interdependent’ goes further than admitting that you shouldn’t be a lone wolf. When you are interdependent, you rely on others. You depend on them for living a complete and fulfilled life.
That is counter to everything I understood about being a man.
That was true until I found myself in places where I felt like a failure, incredibly alone and searching for hope.
In those moments I found people to lean on.
- I depended heavily on friends who would just hang out, go on runs or take off on a hike and allow me to throw up all my worries on them.
- I returned to attending church, with the hope that I would find other men that were also trying to figure out life.
- I attended Man Camp.
I first attended Man’s Camp in the spring of 2018. I have since attended the fall 2018 and fall 2019 camps. If you want to learn more about what man camp is, you can look on their website.
The fall 2019 camp is just a few days in the rearview mirror, but I have already seen that it has impacted my life. I have witnessed God work in my life in very clear ways leaving each camp. In the fall of 2018, I challenged God to give me a response that would leave no doubt that it was him working in my life. He responded.
This year I took the independent vs. interdependent issue into camp. I walked out of camp having left behind most of the fears I had on not being self-sufficient.
How was I able to address that fear? Here is what I take away from the fall 2019 Man Camp.
- No man has everything together. I witnessed men share stories of struggle, frustration, fear and brokenness. When I see other men able to share their lives, it frees me from the expectation that I need to have everything in order in my own life.
- God will work in your life if you allow Him. I walked into the mash tent with something specific I wanted prayer for, however within just a couple of minutes I was challenged to admit the deeper issue that was present. It took an uncomfortable amount of silence for me to decide I was willing to let God lead. Everything in my body wanted to walk away. I have been blessed by the decision to stay.
- Men can find common ground in our challenges. I was a trip captain for this camp and my group included men from New Orleans, North Carolina, Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and I came from Orlando. We were different in many ways, but I now have a group of men that I share common ground and know I can reach out to when needed.
I know more about being a man today than I did twenty years ago. However, I also know that in another twenty years, while I will likely have more wisdom, I will still be unable to write an authoritative guide on being a man.
As I look to navigate the challenges of being a man in today’s world, I am less anxious about doing that alone. Today I am vigilantly working at building my team that can support me and I can do the same. Learning how to be comfortable and willingly interdependent, that is my next step forward in being manly.