How To Be a Real Man

I’m not going to get into the inspiration behind the point of this post simply because it would take too long to write and it would muddy the purpose.

A conversation I was having with a girl friend of mine got me thinking about what it means to be a real man. I’ve been reading GQ and Esquire every month for the better part of the last few years. Esquire more than GQ often cites small examples of what it means to be man, a gentlemen, basically instructions for how to behave in situations ranging from the professional, to the personal, to the intimate.

If I were to distill this overall “man” behavior to one word I’d say that word is respect.

Respect for oneself. Respect for others. Respect for tradition… and to some extent, change.

Respect for oneself can be defined in so many ways. My means to defining respect, in all it’s forms, is not an exhaustive list of rules. No. It’s more a general set of guidelines that provide a little room for interpretation given that every man and every situation he faces has different variables.

  • It can be expressed in the way you dress. Style is subjective and can run the gamut of tastes. But taking care to make sure it’s clean, and that it at least looks like some degree of thought was put into your outfit, that’s a form of self respect.
  • Speaking in public spaces about topics that are better left between friends in a more private setting.
    • Don Draper (of Mad Man fame) has a classic line. He said, “take off your hat.” In a short elevator scene on the way up to Sterling Cooper, Don is in the elevator with an older woman. Two young guys step onto the elevator and continue their off-color conversation. Don shoots a look. They continue. Don then says, sternly, “take off your hat.” Straight-faced, eyes focused and unwavering. The guys knew his statement had zero to do with hats and everything to do with ending their conversation while in the presence of a woman. The woman glanced back over her shoulder and Don did nothing other than stare at her briefly. No knowing head nod or wink to let her know he had taken care of it. For him, it was all in a day’s work of being a man.
  • Try to do it well. Whatever “it” is doesn’t matter. When a man engages in an activity, it is a reflection of his values and his capacity to do. If “it” is his career, the effort he puts into it is a reflection of his work ethic. If “it” is the shelves he is putting up to house his entertainment center, the effort he puts into making sure the wires aren’t visible and that everything is level and clean is a reflection of his character.
  • A gracious loser. A man knows he cannot win every time. Despite his best efforts, which are a reflection of his mettle, there will be losses. Respect yourself and your opponent enough to be gracious about your defeat… just make sure you learned from the loss and obliterate them in the rematch.
  • No man is above apologizing… or crying.
  • I once read a quote that said something like, “A man’s true character lies in how he treats someone who is of no consequence to him.” Basically meaning that a CEO who treats an assistant with respect by offering a “please” and “thank you” rather than a barked order is a man of quality and professionalism. Respect for others.
  • Although this sounds cliche, a man knows the right thing to do isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
    • This probably needs it’s own site the topic can be so vast and confusing, but the truth is simple… when a man is breaking up with a woman, he knows that being direct, honest, and having that conversation as soon as you begin feeling like it’s time to move on is what it takes to remain true to what it means to be a man.
    • Esquire had a great table of how to break up based on how long you’ve known each other. Like one date meant you could call her to let her know you weren’t interested. Three dates or more, in person. Text Msg, never.
  • A man isn’t scared to fight. He doesn’t go looking for one as that is the province of juveniles and the uneducated. Solving differences of opinion with words is the truest form of being a man. Defending oneself when if something should come to blows is another one of manhood’s truest forms. Provoking a fight, is unacceptable.
  • Love in all it’s forms is where a real man has lots of room for interpretation. Writing poetry, buying flowers and candy… sure, for some men that’s fine. It pushes the boundaries of my definition, but those things have their time and place. Holding her pocketbook while she shops, that’s tough, but also semi-acceptable. Reading to his children and acting like child when playing with them, completely acceptable form of expression of love and still being considered a real man.
  • Opening doors, listening, being patient, honest, and complimentary are all the qualities a real man has when he is around women.
  • A real man can mix it up when he is with the boys. Crass remarks, the retelling of ethnic jokes, bathroom humor, also acceptable forms of being man… so long as their done during long car trips, at a camp site, and no women are around to hear the men let loose and unwind.
  • Real men believe in something and would fight for that belief. Political, religious, whatever. A man doesn’t impose his view of the world on others, no, but he will listen, discuss, and debate his points of view with anyone.
  • Gentlemen are well read, traveled, and know a thing or two about other cultures.
  • Men should their way around a woman’s body… although lots of practice is the preferred way of men, paying attention to her movements, subtle gasps, twitches, leans, and words is another way.
  • A man doesn’t use pick-up lines. He uses genuine interest in the woman and conversation.
  • He can spot the clues. A touch of her hand on his shoulder, a lingering stare, the closeness of her body to his when there’s plenty of space to keep a distance.
  • Even if she’s open to it, a man knows to limit the dirty jokes around her (and by limit I do mean RARELY). Sure they can get a laugh, but too many and you’re pervert. One or two and you’re a man who can push a boundary but in a comical way that breaks the tension and shows a lighter side to balance his serious one.
  • A man always expects to pay. For dinner. For drinks. For the cab. If she offers, decline. If she offers again, accept. This changes when there is a relationship there, several months long and a stated commitment. A dating man is a gentlemen and when he does the inviting, he’s is paying.
    • If she invites, still expect to pay. If she’s worth your time, she’ll offer to pay before the bill comes or when she invited you.
  • Men shouldn’t gossip. It’s unbecoming. Sometimes a story needs to be retold, or a rumor needs to get some clarity or confirmation. Things aren’t always so cut and dry. A man can rise above this stuff, and should, but every now and then it’s ok for a man to get a little more information about something. “Did she really do that? Wow.”
    • A man doesn’t start the rumor. He also, when possible, removes himself from the area when certain topics are being discussed. Especially when in the confines of a professional setting. Sure the intern is cute, but that’s something you tell only your closest friends and outside of the office… if at all.
  • Honest with himself and others. He doesn’t tell half truths. He stays silent or doesn’t comment.
  • He faces problems and asks for help if he needs it.
  • He understands that he is not an island and the weight of the world isn’t on his shoulders. He realizes that his actions affect others.

There is a lot a man should be, but is not. All men should aspire to live to these ideals because even if you can’t hit upon all of them, you may achieve many of them. And well, that’s not so bad.

Go forth and be men… ya jag-offs.

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