How to Help a Boy Become A Man

When we succeed, we should always seek to pull someone up behind us. As a man, I think it behooves us to help pull a young man, or even a boy toward that success, too. But, first, we must reach a level of maturity that proves our manhood.

That means that we must know what it is that makes a man, and then, show the boys we raise as a father, or the boys we serve as a mentor, the path toward manhood.

I’m fifty-five years old. But, I’m not sure that age makes me a man. I know a few boys who have refused to grow up. They may not have sang that commercial jingle. You know the one “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a … kid”

It wasn’t hair on my chest, or my face, that made me a man either. But, I’ll admit, when I was a bare-chested teenage boy, I shaved my chest In hopes of growing just ONE hair strand. (Embarrassing, I admit)

As a matter of fact, I didn’t understand what it was to become a man until after I had become one.

I think a boy must learn to, and be committed to, working daily on improving themselves in these seven areas:

  • A Love for Others
  • A Sense of Peace
  • A Behavior of Kindness
  • A Faithful Attitude
  • A Gentle Hand
  • A Personal Discipline
  • A Joyful Heart

 A Boy Becomes a Man When He Has a Love for Others

It’s Week 7 of the CoronaVirus shutdown. And, what better time to talk about having a love of others?

These two months reminds me that love is found in the little things. Like wearing a mask. Or gloves. Or (as much as we hate it) staying at home for two months.

When I read about true love, it always strikes me that love is an act, not a feeling. Love requires that we put others before ourselves. And, even when you’re “in love” — you’ve got that feeling — you’re putting that special someone before yourself.

OK, it might be an act in hopes of “winning her over,” but, you’re still being unselfish for a minute.

How does a boy develop a love for others to become a man?

A boy becomes one who loves others first by seeing another man loving others.

I’ll never forget my ninth Christmas when my dad found a few dollars extra (we were getting reduced price school lunches at the time ourselves) to gather some produce and other groceries for a family in our church who had lost everything after the father died.

“Son,” he said,” we won’t have a lot of presents under the tree this year. But, I promise, we’ll be happier than we’ve ever been.”

I’ll be completely honest and tell you that I couldn’t understand how not having Christmas presents could ever make me happy. But, it’s one of my most favorite holidays ever.

Dad woke me up about daybreak that December 25th, and after we loaded up the car with all the goodies, he and I drove up to their house and unloaded everything onto the front porch.

I was sure that I should knock on the door and hand the ham and other groceries to someone in the house, but my dad insisted that we should be quiet and not wake anyone up. (Like someone sleeps late on Christmas! REALLY?!?!?)

After we unloaded the car, dad pulled out of their driveway and parked a half of a block down the street.

And, we waited.

An eternity later (or so it seemed), we noticed the door open. And momma and her three children ran back and forth from the porch to inside the door, carrying bags into their home.

From that far away, I couldn’t see the tears, but, I certainly saw all four of them wiping tears from their face.

Then, that very moment, I understood what my dad just taught me.

When you have a love for others, you surrender what is yours to help others. And you earn a sense of happiness that you’ve never felt before.

A Boy Becomes a Man When He Owns a Sense of Peace

The second thing a boy must master in order to become a man is a sense of peace. I’m not talking about the opposite of war. I’m talking about an amount of confidence that keeps a man from starting battles with others.

It’s the mature version of “my daddy can beat up your daddy.”

When you have an amount of confidence, you know you don’t have to pick a fight. I was always the “runt” in school. I never started fights in school. But, I noticed that when I finally got fed up with the bullies bugging me and fought back — they never bothered me again.

Decades later, I asked one of my regular bullies about that. In a moment of honesty, he explained. “You were a little kid, I knew I could beat you up. And, if I did, then no one else wanted to bother me.”

Then, as  my 30th class reunion, I asked the bully I fought with why he stopped. His answer blew my mind. “I didn’t want to risk the embarrassment of you beating me up, so, I left you alone!”

I discovered a truth I wish I had known back in 1979 as a freshman in high school.

Insecure boys become bullies. They pick fights. They go around looking for fights. And, they do it because they’re afraid and have absolutely no confidence backing them up.

Argue with me if you wish. I’ll just ask you, are you threatened by that bit of truth?

How does a boy develop a sense of peace to become a man?

This sense of peacefulness begins with a sense of confidence in oneself. And, that must begin early.

Thankfully, a boy doesn’t have to learn that confidence from their dad. As a matter of fact, I probably learned that from other men around me. My dad had a hand in it, no doubt. But, so did some other men from my past.

The first time I went camping with a church group, we went camping inside a cave. I couldn’t sleep at all for the first few hours.

I was the youngest, smallest boy in the group of 20 or so boys. And, after having watched that scary movie “The Birds” a few months prior to our camping trip, I was a little nervous with hundreds of bats flying in the top of the well-lit cavern.

Mr. Bill noticed my wide-open eyes making sure none of them dive-bombed me and my friends in the middle of the night. “Phillip, those bats aren’t going to bother you. Besides, if they tried, look around, there are two guides here, and me and two more men from church here with you — relax,” he said, “you’ll be fine. Get some sleep, you’ll need it tomorrow.”

A boy learns self-confidence from men who exhibit self-confidence. And, a man learns self-confidence by realizing that he doesn’t have to match everyone else’s standards — just his own.

A boy becomes a man by becoming a peace-maker, not a trouble-maker. A rebellious boy isn’t a man because he stands up. He is a man when he stands up with an air of confidence that breeds peace in a time of conflict.

A Boy Becomes a Man When He Exhibits a Behavior of Kindness

The third characteristic of a real man is a behavior of kindness.

A kind man is one who, as they say in 12-step programs, “does the next right thing.”

I learned that phrase while helping serve as a volunteer in such a program. It’s a great phrase.

Do the Next Right Thing.

A kind man does the next right thing. When he sees someone in need, he helps them. When he sees someone mistreated, he seeks justice for them. When a man sees sadness in others, he finds ways to plant joy. When a man hears a lie, he corrects it – gently. When a man sees an argument escalating toward a fight, he steps in to disarm all involved. When a man is faced with a struggle, he seeks wisdom and guidance. And, when a man is offered wisdom and guidance, he — at most — listens to it. Hopefully, he learns from it.

Those are how a man does the next right thing. And, that’s how a boy begins to exhibit a behavior of kindness.

How does a boy develop a behavior of kindness to become a man?

Someone shows that boy what it means to be kind. To his momma, to him, to his siblings, to his neighbors. It’s that simple, yet, so very difficult.

A Boy Becomes a Man When He Shows a Faithful Attitude

If I had to choose one characteristic out of these seven that makes a man, this would be it.

I guess the centrality of this characteristic in my list is because it is equally central to being a man.

A faithful man is honest. What he says matches what he does. As my grandfather would say, “a man’s word should be his bond.”

We can understand this better when we study the word “bond.”

In chemistry, a bond is and electrical reaction between two or more atoms that holds those atoms together to form a stable and reliable molecule.

For instance, when an atom of Sodium comes in contact with an atom of Chloride, table salt (NaCl) is formed. Or, when two atoms of Hydrogen form a covalent bond with one atom of Oxygen, a very strong bond creates water.

The bond between H2O is so strong, that sometimes, you can float quite heavy objects above thousands and thousands of molecules of water that share their bonds with each other.

The bond is reliable. The bond is strong. And, the bond shares it’s strength with others.

A faithful man is reliable. He can be trusted. If he says he’ll do something, you can bet it will be done. As a matter of fact, you can trust him so much that it would qualify as a guarantee on a loan. You can count on it better than you can insurance.

And, his faithful attitude undergirds his words, his relationships, and his life.

Then, when that man makes a commitment to “love, honor, and cherish til death,” she knows he’ll be there, no matter what.

This attitude — state of mind — directs the other six characteristics of manhood.

How does a boy develop a attitude of faithfulness to become a man?

I grew up in Alabama. There was a great football coach from the University of Alabama, you may have heard of him. Paul W. “Bear” Bryant.

At least one time in his award-winning career as head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, Bear was recruited to coach pro. And, he’d have made more money. He’d also gotten out of Alabama during a very tumultuous period of history during the civil rights era.

In 1969, he almost left Alabama for Miami’s NFL Dolphins. But, in an ironic move, he chose to remain faithful to his team, and his alma mater. That decision resulted in the Dolphins hiring another great coach — Don Shula. Don’s son eventually played Quarterback for Alabama — and became the Tide’s head coach before now-coach Nick Saban was hired.

I’ve since interviewed a few players from that era, and they note that his belief in him inspired a revival of that team which resulted in the 1971 come-back, earning him his second “Coach of the Year” honor.

Teach a boy to be faithful by believing in him. And, when you do, he’ll do things you never thought possible to show you his faithfulness to you.

A Boy Becomes a Man When He Uses a Gentle Hand

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but, a harsh one stirs up anger. That bit of ancient wisdom proves true today.

This goes back to the point that a man is a man of peace. A harsh word belies a harsh heart. And, it creates enemies quickly.

I mentioned one of my boyhood heroes earlier — Paul “Bear” Bryant. Did you know he had to sue a journalist for lying about him in a Saturday Evening Post article? The magazine printed an article written by Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In this article, Bisher accursed Bryant of encouraging his players to brutally injure a Georgia Tech player during their 1961 loss to Alabama. Then, six months after filing his lawsuit, the Post printed another libelous article accusing Bryant and then-Georgia Athletic Director Wally Butts of fixing  the Alabama v Georgia game in 1962.

Both Butts and Bryant sued the New York magazine. Butts’ appeal to the US Supreme Court resulted in an awarded payment to Butts of over three million dollars. Bryant settled for around three hundred thousand on both cases against Saturday Eventing Post publisher Curtis Publication.

One of the reasons I came to love Coach Bryant is because he was a gentle man. After a tough win, he didn’t celebrate or rub it in. And, after a bad loss, he didn’t blame others. Even if the complained about a bad call, he did so with a gentle spirit — a gentle answer.

I believe that’s why he decided to settle his case against Curtis Publishing out of court. He knew he souls have pushed the case and brought further humiliation to both the reporter and the company. But, instead, he just wanted his name to be cleared.

How does a boy develop a gentle hand?

As my dad has often said about life, “principles are ‘caught’ more than they’re ‘taught’.” Examples are the primary way any of these seven characteristics become a part of a young man (or an old one).

Too often, we hear men tell boys “men don’t cry.” I’d like to caution you — first, that’s terribly untrue. Second, your response is not gentle, but highly accusatory.

“Teach your children well,”Crosby, Stills and Nash explains in their hit song. It’s sage advice.

If you teach you children well, you do so with gentleness, and with love. That means you teach them truth, not lies. Now, it might be true that men don’t let people see them cry (although I’d argue even that with you), but, to tell a boy to ignore one emotional response to an external stimuli ends up teaching them to ignore other emotional responses – and that’s teaching your children to be emotionally ill.

A Boy Becomes a Man When He Builds Self-Discipline

Now that I got that “men don’t cry” myth addresses, let’s talk about self-discipline. That’s the ability to manage your feelings and weaknesses, while pursuing to accomplish the “next right thing” even in the face of temptations to abandon good.

Most of the time, we think of the word “discipline” as correction. So, among other things, “self-discipline” can be understood as self-managed correction. But, the word “discipline” also indicates that one is a “learner” or a “follower.” Thus, one who is self-disciplined directs his own learning, and discovers a way of life — or philosophy — to follow.

How does a boy develop self-discipline?

First, in order to teach a boy how to be self-disciplined, he needs to learn the value of learning. He needs to go to school, every day, with a thirst for knowledge. He needs to read valuable books. And he needs to learn how to apply the lessons he learns to his life experience.

Next, if you want to teach a boy about self-discipline, you need to show him. When you get pulled over by a policeman, don’t curse, or slam your hands on the steering wheel in frustration and anger when the law enforcement officer flashes his lights. Show some self control, and kindness, and some respect.

Better yet, show a faithfulness to the laws and obey them. And, explain to him that you want to obey the laws (even stay in place orders) so that you can be faithful to those in authority over you.

As an added benefit for you, when he learns this practice, your live becomes much more peaceful. That’s because he starts trying to be more faithful to your house rules.

A Boy Becomes a Man When Has a Joyful Spirit

Finally, a man has a joyful spirit. I’m not talking about one of those who is always telling a silly joke. I’m talking about JOY.

A joyful man keeps a positive spirit even in the worst of times. That’s because he sees every disaster has an eventual happy ending. At mimimum, there’s always a good lesson to learn (he’s a learner, remember?).

When you have a confidence about you that things will turn out better, and a discipline to manage your emotional responses, you’re able to influence people just by being. They recognize something inside of you that they don’t have — and that they wish they did.

How does a boy develop a joyful spirit?

When your son, or a boy you’re mentoring, runs into a bad spot, teach him to look for the silver lining.

I remember when, as a small boy, I heard Fred Rogers say on his TV program “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,”when I was a boy and I would see say things in the news, my mother would say to me,”look for the helpers. You will always find somebody who’s trying to help.”

Find someone who needs help — and help them. And, while you’re doing it, involve that boy you’re trying to influence to become a man.

And, there’s another piece of sage advice — “do no harm.”

I love these three words of wisdom. “Do” that reminds us that, as men, we must be active.

While talking to a mentor the other day, he presented this riddle, “four frogs sitting on a log intended to jump. Which ones were still there?”

Of course, the answer is simple — they were all still on the log. Potential energy is just stored — nothing happens until that potential is tapped!

“No,” which is attached to the word “harm” gives us an absolute. No sets the filter to “off.” There is to be zero amounts of harmful things in your actions. Which means we then need to understand what the third word means.

But, first, let me reiterate — “no” means there is no tolerance. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Period.

Harm means something that is damaging to one’s life, livelihood or existence. To any degree.

If you’re not harming anyone, you develop a sense of joy in who you are.

You, Too, Can Become a Man…

If, as you think about these seven characteristics of a real man, maybe you’re thought, “I might need to work on that.” It’s not too late. It’s never too late.

Let me encourage you to begin using these steps:

Find some examples to follow by reading biographies of men you respect for their ability to live in these principles.

Get a circle of friends who are around you often to hold you accountable. Tell them what you’re trying to develop in your life and ask them to “keep you honest” abut your process.

Set some goals, and keep working on one of them until you’ve mastered it.

Happy Manhood!

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