My Dear Son,
I know you think that because I’m your mom, and a woman, I don’t have anything to teach you about manhood, but I do. Women see things that men don’t often talk about. I want to share a few of these things with you as you embark on your journey to manhood.
Grown men make friends, but they rarely make close friends. Do whatever you can to keep the friends you make while you are young. The friends who see you cry in middle school, and don’t abandon you, will always have your back. They will be there for you when you lose your job, or your marriage, or your health. You will need these friends; I guarantee it.
They almost never say this out loud, but men care about other men. If you move or lose track of your childhood friends, which happens sometimes, find more. Making close friends, especially as an adult, takes courage. It requires time and a willingness to share vulnerabilities, not something most men enjoy doing. Trust me, men care deeply about one another. When your dad sees a friend on the verge of getting fired at work, he will stay late, take on extra assignments, work harder, and do whatever he can to help. Soldiers risk their lives every day to protect their comrades. Don’t be ashamed to let your friends know when your life falls apart, because it will, probably more than once. The number of men willing to lift you up and help you will surprise you.
You don’t have to be defined by your career. Men often use their careers and salaries to rate themselves on the manhood scale. And our society reinforces that. Resist this temptation. You are more than your career. Pick a job you can be good at and work hard. Then come home and engage with the people you care about. Strive for balance in your life. You will never quite achieve it, but that doesn’t matter. The people who love you will admire your dedication a lot more than they will admire your title.
Winning isn’t everything. You are going to hear this a lot, and may not believe it. Not in sports, work or love. It’s still true. The best thing you can do for the long-term health of any relationship is to figure out how the other person is right. Stop defending yourself with witty, stinging comebacks, and start looking for the truth in what others say. You don’t have to agree with everything, but finding even a fragment of truth to focus on creates a place of safety and acceptance where trust can grow.
Having children will change you. Being a parent will awaken a deep, primal need to provide and protect that you are now only vaguely aware you possess. It will probably scare you to know you can love someone more than you love yourself; and to know that person is completely dependent on you. It’s okay to be scared. Do it anyway. Raising children will force you to grow and to attain a level of manhood you won’t find any other way.
You will wonder if you are man enough. Mom guilt gets a lot of attention, but Dad guilt is just as real. It won’t be physically possible for you to make enough money and/or spend enough time with the people you love to completely assuage your guilt. Good men rarely feel man enough because they mess up every day, and you will too. You will miss important things while you’re busy doing other important things. You will not always be around to protect the people you love. You won’t be able to buy your children everything they want. All of that is OK. Be clear on your priorities, prioritize accordingly, and when you come to crossroads, you’ll be able to make the hard choices—then let go of the guilt. You are man enough as long as you do your best. That’s what it means to be man enough.
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