The Rev. Neil O’Farrell shares a few of his insights into what makes a decent man.
I think, notwithstanding Webster’s, decency is one of those things hard to define but easy to recognize. For example, decency is not making your wide-screen TV or favorite sports team into your best bud, particularly if you have a family. Decency is shooting hoops with your son or daughter, while missing the big basketball game inside on the TV, and still knowing that you had a great afternoon.
We’ve all met men who are decent—so much so, that were you asked to describe them, decent might be the first word out of your mouth.
My young barber is one of the most decent men I know. He wouldn’t use that word, but I sure do. He and his wife went to hell and back again to get pregnant, and he’s been there with her for every moment—without complaint, full of encouragement. He even changed his work schedule. Decency precludes his knowing how many people think of him so fondly. He just thinks he’s living his life and doing his job. Nothing major.
The world is thirsty for decency, and I don’t see that thirst being easily quenched. One of the reasons many of us are liking Pope Francis so much is that he comes across as a decent man, even if we disagree profoundly with aspects of his theology.
So, what are some of the aspects of a decent man? Because articles with numbers in the title are frequently the most read, I’m coming up with a numbered list. The truth is, the list below isn’t exhaustive. You can add your own character traits of decency as you want. To start, I’ve noticed that many of the most-read articles on the Good Men Project are about sex. Let’s start there.
First: A decent man keeps sex in the bedroom, so to speak. Have a hot date last night, or you and your spouse decided to spice things up a bit? A decent man might have a smile on his face and a spring in his step the next day, but another person is not going to hear any details from him of what fun he and his partner had, and by what means.
No one likes to imagine being stripped naked in front of others. Talking about your sexual exploits subjects your sexual mate to more or less the same treatment. About the only thing a decent man would say is that he enjoyed his evening. And then he changes the subject. None of your libidinous, voyeuristic fantasies will be stoked by a decent man, unless you are that man’s lover.
Two: A decent man will always ask you that second question. I lived in Washington, DC, for 25 years. The typical cocktail party question is “What do you do?” If you didn’t answer the question with something prestigious, the questioner would find some excuse to go on to the next person who might be on a higher rung of the ladder.
Instead, the decent man will ask something not-status-driven, like, “What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?” After you tell him, he’ll ask the “second” question, something like, “How did you get into that?” He’ll be genuinely interested in what you tell him, and a conversation will ensue. And the reason for that is …
Three: … A decent man listens. That doesn’t mean he’s as quiet as the Sphinx, but if you’re talking to him, both of you are living in the now, and you know he’s not wool-gathering about something else. A decent man can have a conversation with almost anyone, except those persons so into themselves, that the decent man will decide why bother?
Four: Here’s one that is crucial, and perhaps surprising, particularly if the decent man is single. A decent man will gladly hold your baby, play with your toddler, and change a diaper without making a big deal of it. There isn’t a parent on the face of the earth that doesn’t need someone, who, at the spur of the moment, can take care of a child, including a child at his or her messiest worst. Truly—“decent man” equates with “diaper changer for non-biologically-related children.”
Five: A decent man is someone who’s paying attention to the world around him. By that I mean he’s paying attention to the people in his physical orbit, and how he might help them in an instant, if necessary. He is the mature embodiment of the ideal Boy Scout. A decent man is never in such a hurry that the people around him are just a passing blur. Just like he listens, he also sees.
Six: The decent man will always make fun of himself rather than of others. But not so much to be self-centered, so that he becomes the focus of every conversation. He can be self-deprecating in an enjoyable, wink-of-the-eye sort of way, and then he asks you a question. (See points two and three above.)
Seven: He really learned the lesson about sharing. He’ll share just about anything with you, including his knowledge, broad shoulders, and more prosaic things like a leaf blower. He’s not a doormat, but his ethos is a lot bigger than just about anything in his reach, unless, of course, it’s another person needing assistance.
Eight: The reverse side of the above point is true. If a decent man borrows it, he will return it. Soon.
Nine: A decent man is safe and strong. I don’t mean in the physical sense, but when you’re around a decent man, you realize that you are in the presence of someone who is truly strong, in the most expansive sense of the word. He knows that your business is not the world’s business, nor a path for self-aggrandizement. You can tell him things, you can cry on his shoulder, you can ask his advice. He’ll respond to you the best he can, he won’t pretend to be an expert on things he isn’t, and it will be as private a conversation as the one a penitent has in a confessional.
Ten: A decent man is just plain fun and enjoyable to be around. That doesn’t mean he knows how to tell a joke or win at charades. If you come into a room and see him, he’s the one you will seek out above most of the rest of the persons there. He’s the one you can invite for dinner, and tell him that he’s going to be a guinea pig for a new recipe, or you’ve made a stew basically out of the left-overs in the fridge. He’ll join you, and probably think it’s as good as an invitation to the White House.
Eleven: Decent men know that people and things have breaking points. He will do his utmost not to break things. If he does, he’ll try to fix them. But, if he breaks something, he’ll be quick to apologize sincerely. He knows how to make a good apology: direct, compassionate, and without reservations or excuses.
Twelve: A decent man picks up after himself. If he’s your spouse, he doesn’t leave clothes on the bedroom floor. If he’s a guest, he’ll rinse out the glass he used and put it beside the sink, and make sure the pizza box is in the garbage and not on the coffee table. This rule works aptly on a metaphorical level, too.
And, going back to Rule One …
He often is breathtakingly sexy, doesn’t particularly know it, and doesn’t use it as his calling card to unfair advantage. Maybe he’s hot in some traditional way; but, even if not, he’s definitely got a physical vibe going on. He can make your heart beat faster. That is because the decent man can take all of the above rules, internalize them, and wrap them up in a complete package while he’s wrapping you in his arms. Even if it’s a hug of friendship, greeting, or comfort, and you never land in bed together, nonetheless there is material there for a fantasy that makes you smile. Although landing in bed together would probably be fun.
So, those are some of my basic insights into what makes a decent man. If you’re a man, these rules will give you a target to aim toward. If you’re a woman, put these rules on a list because they work equally well as you look for a mate or just a good friend. Decent men make very good friends. Interestingly, for both men and women.