What is the definition of manhood?
I’ve always wondered what it means to be a man. I know that sounds strange, considering I supposedly have the right genetic profile and age to qualify for manhood. But still … what exactly is a man? The men on TV don’t look much like me. They all seem to have hair where mine is missing and lack hair where mine is growing. And they are surrounded by beautiful young women all the time. Now don’t get me wrong; my wife is a looker, but we’re not in our 20s anymore nor do we have the energy to be engulfed in large crowds of partying young people.
I grew up thinking that manhood was all about getting the girl. My uncle introduced me and my brother to Elvis at an extremely tender (and dare I say impressionable?) age. I didn’t quite understand all the innuendos that I do now, but one thing was clear: Life was all about getting the girl. So I tried. I had my first girlfriend when I was all of four years old and I never looked back. But marriage taught me that there was more to this relationship thing than the hunt. Surely a real man can’t always be searching for the next woman. That might seem cool on television, but it doesn’t bring lasting fulfillment in the real world.
A few years ago, I read a Christian book on manhood. Everyone was reading it, so I felt obligated to join them. It was totally depressing. It described a real man as one who loves the outdoors, running through woods, getting dirty, and hunting with grandpa. I have trouble killing spiders, I need a shower at least once a day, and I hate mosquitoes and dirt. I told my wife one day after reading the book that I finally figured out that I’m not a man. Thankfully, she begged to differ.
What if our culture is too caught up in superficial definitions of manhood? What if the stereotypes are all wrong and lead to the insecurity that causes guys like me to wonder if I have what it takes to be a man? Is there room for a man who likes to stay indoors, read a good book (or magazine), watch romantic comedies with my wife, and keep the air conditioning set at seventy-three degrees?
If there is hope for a man like me, I need a new definition of manhood. I need a definition that is large enough to include a man with a balding head, artistic sentiments, and a fierce commitment to monogamy.
I like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. I think he had insight into manhood. Insight into a definition that can include all of us. Insight that we can explore together as men. He said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
What if being a man is truly about character? What if it’s not about being perfect, but about striving and failing? Making mistakes and falling down? Making errors and getting fired from the job that you love? What if it’s truly about what is on the inside rather than the outside, and about getting up after failure? If so, maybe even I have a shot at being a man.
Previously published on STAND Magazine
By Steve T. Hayes, Contributing Editor