Tor Constantino believes some of life’s greatest lessons for manhood come from seemingly insignificant, man-to-man moments.
My wife and I have a two-year old son, T.J., and we also have two older daughters ages 10 and 13 years respectively.
For anyone who’s wondering, make no mistake about it—boys are different than girls and they require different parenting skills at times.
Case in point—during dinner last evening my wife told us how she took our boy to a local playground where he met a three-year old girl named Audrey. The two preschoolers soon hit it off and were playing great—running, swinging, climbing, crawling, sliding.
But my wife soon noticed that T.J. made every activity a competition with little Audrey saying things like, “I race you” or “I gonna win.”
Each time the kiddos got to the respective slide or tunnel, T.J. would move his body in front of young Audrey to be first—and she let him. Now we ALWAYS stress with him the need to take turns and to play nice with other kids.
My wife reinforced those positive messages on the playground to T.J., while simultaneously apologizing to Audrey’s dad. Our son doesn’t always get it right but he’s only two years old—he will as he matures, we’ll make sure of that.
However, my wife brought up the point that we’ll have to train him to not only be nice—but to be chivalrous, respectful and kind to women as he grows. She noted that chivalry wasn’t a specific area of focus while raising our girls.
While we’ll expect our daughters to hang out and be friends with chivalrous boys and to look for those types of positive behaviors as they build relationships—chivalry tends to be a trait that we only teach boys.
My wife made it clear that she expects me to take the lead in this particular area, and to proactively point out to T.J. when I exhibit chivalrous and polite behaviors to her or the girls (e.g. opening doors, allowing them to enter a room first, dropping them off by a door in the rain, giving them my coat or umbrella in surprisingly inclement weather … etc.)
In addition to respecting women, I will have to teach our son other Manhood 101 stuff too—which got me thinking about the best piece of advice I ever received from another man.
That man was my grandpa.
My maternal grandfather died in 1982 when I was 12 years old. His name was Matthew Nichols, and his passing was the first significant loss of my life because I loved him so much and he had such a positive impact on me.
He never graduated high school and was a self-taught electrician by trade, yet there were several invaluable life lessons that I learned from him.
One such lesson occurred when I was in the first grade at Hawthorne Elementary School in Wilingboro, New Jersey.
My teacher was Ms. Ringenwald, and one day during recess I got in big trouble because my two best friends and I decided it would be funny to go behind the school and pee on the building.
I went along and did just as they did. We thought it was the funniest thing, until one of the recess aides found us and saw what we were doing.
Not only was I banned from recess for two weeks, I was roundly and soundly spanked when I got home from school that day by my parents—strong adherents of corporal punishment.
To add to my embarrassment and shame, our grandparents were staying with us. I remember crying on my bed when my grandpa came into my room and unexpectedly turned the thermostat on my wall to 60º, forcing frigid air to pour into the already autumnally cool room.
He sat down on my bed and waited for me to stop crying. Then he gave me a hug. We sat there in silence for a minute, when I told him that I was getting cold.
He then explained something to me that I have never forgotten. He said that a thermometer goes up and down based on the temperature of the room that it’s in—even as a first grader I understood that concept.
However, he went on to say that the thermostat actually determines the temperature within a space—just like the chill we were both experiencing at that very moment in my room.
Grandpa then told me that even though he loved me, he was sad because I chose to be more of a “thermometer” at school that day by lowering my conduct to the bad decisions of others.
He hoped that next time I would be more of a “thermostat”—setting the tone and expectation for conduct rather than merely following the bad behavior of another.
He then gave me another hug and turned off the air conditioning as he left my room. The blowing and the chill across my skin stopped immediately. His lesson made sense and it’s one I’ve tried to follow ever since.
That inconsequential moment in time had a profound and enduring impact on my life. I’ve applied my grandpa’s advice when I’ve observed or been confronted by bullying behavior; when faced with ethical questions on the job as well as when making life-affecting decisions for my family.
Set the tone, don’t follow the bad decisions of others. It was the single best piece of advice I ever learned, man-to-man.
I’m anxious for the moment to share it with my own son, man-to-man.
Question: What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from another man and who was it?