Ed Cole taught me that “You are male by birth and man by choice.” Such truth in that my sonshine. (That’s what I call my boy)
When we found out we were having a son, I took about two hours to process that news. I had readied myself to be told Zaza was getting a sister. To be truthful, I had absolutely no good reason for believing that other than perhaps unconsciously preparing myself for being a Dad to two daughters not one of each. 😉
You have enriched my life and our family in so many ways. Your energy and enthusiasm is SO male, your creativity and thoughtfulness continues to leave me wide-eyed at what’s IN you. Your sense of humour keeps me laughing (even though we have to have conversations about what you think is funny and what I call respect but we will work on that together, ok?) I love how you love your Mum. It’s priceless to see you hold her, your connection runs so deep and sometimes I sit across the room and watch you interact with my wife with deep gratitude, and waves of emotion run over me. You are a perfect match for your big sister, a willing playmate, a caring brother and you are growing in your independence which I applaud.
Some people are saying it’s harder to be a man today than ever before. Maybe that’s true, I wasn’t there ‘before’ – Papa and Nonny were. They would probably say it was simpler, but I’m not sure it was easier. Some people are saying we have an epidemic of manhood. Maybe that's true too. It seems to me that as a society we are less clear on what manhood actually means; the spectrum of strength to sensitivity seems to fall short of something that embraces full and whole manhood.
At the end of your prayer, you pray those last three big ideas. “Love God, lead my family and leave a legacy.” For me, those three things matter to your manhood more than most anything.
Let me explain:
LOVE – The commitment to embrace
The ancients wrote that “The greatest is love.” People will forget what you did and remember how you made them feel. As I reflect on life and leadership so far I’d recommend saying less and listening more. Sharing more encouragement than opinion. Find the 1% you agree on and give 100% of your energy to that (Attribution: John Maxwell 101% principle) You personify love my son. You have a deep well of care, consideration and sensitivity that I see in few men. Keep that and you’ll go far.
LEAD – The courage to stand out
Part of manhood is having a deep vision and purpose for your life. Men without a purpose are spineless, nothing to hold you up in the face of challenge and opportunity. When you have purpose you have a true north to get up to, invest into and seek out. The lack of a purpose means you delay responsibility, challenge, failure. Never be afraid to stand up, step up and create a better future for yourself and those around you. Leadership begins with self. Please learn the art of self-leadership as early as possible in life. Just that will launch you forward faster.
LEGACY – The privilege of serving
You are a unique individual but you are also part of a family, a wider family and also a community, a country and a world. You, my son, have a responsibility to be your very best not only for the sake of your own sense of pride but perhaps more so for the sake of those who will benefit the best version of yourself. Legacy is hard to point to looking forward because it’s more potential and possibility. It’s easier to see it in retrospect, the fruit of what came before. When it comes to legacy, you have to believe that continuing to sow the right seeds will produce the right harvest. In your life, your marriage, your family, your careers and your contribution to the planet.
The curious thing is, I’m still learning to be the man I’m describing to you right now. Your life will be punctuated by points of growth and change, all the while winding upward towards the dream and purpose you pursue. It will also be dotted with disappointments and hurts, realisations and revelations, joys and celebrations, regrets and determinations. The main thing is to be certain that you are becoming more of the man you need to be over time. Doing less and less of those things that will place weeds in your life and legacy and more and more of those things that will give greater assurance of a healthy and enriched experience and future.
Before we go on, can I ask you for forgiveness? In all the teaching on manhood that I read and that resonates with me they talk about this thing called a “Father Wound” Richard Rohr defines it as “a deep hurt, a deprivation that leads to a poor sense of one's own centre and boundaries, a mind that is disconnected from one's body and emotions, a life often with the passivity of an unlit fire”. As a definition this feels too drastic to believe that it would be true for you. I know it's worse for some and not others. Even as I write this I loathe the idea that I would wound you in a way that at some point in your life you’ll have to process on the way to fully formed manhood. I hate few things but this would be on the list, knowing my woundedness has wounded you. My boy, I’m sorry, please forgive me. Just like Papa never set you to give me a Father Wound I never intentionally did that to you. That said, when you know what it is, name it, learn from it and be pleased of it. You are not the Father Wound, you are, in part, the healing of that wound, and you are so much more.
Manhood 3.0 – Master Model
It’s more complex and less linear in real life but this model will serve as a roadmap for you as we navigate from male to man together. What you need to do is focus on the following five principles below, when you do, from bottom to top, you will increase the likelihood of succeeding in each subsequent level. Like the games we play on the apps when they ask you to level up. When you do formation and education well you set your self up for action and purpose. If you choose not to do formation and education well I will guarantee you they will bite you as life unfolds in the are of contribution and purpose.
The other thing this will help you with is when you hit a roadblock. One of my big mistakes is I have treated problems as something I ‘action’ my way out of when what I really needed to have done is dig deeper into the formative and learning possibilities in these moments. I missed a number of opportunities to grow personally and learn relationally because of this, I trust I am amending that now and into the future.
Following that two things come into play. Firstly, what will activate the principle in your life and equally what will remove the principle from your life. So many of us have strategies for offence but not defence. When you know your kryptonite you can guard against it. Lastly, the frequency of review is important. Too little and you won’t make the progress, too much and you’ll focus on the wrong things. Jon Rohn said to “Make measurable progress in reasonable time.” I reckon that’s great advice to do the same.
So, here’s my take on the future of manhood.
How it works:
FORMATION – Nurture your soul
Your world will rise and fall on the health of your soul. By formation, I mean taking responsibility for the maturity and health of your soul. As you get older this gets more important because it shows up (for better or for worse) more and more. A middle-aged man who keeps living out of his immaturity, lack of formation and brokenness is just plain embarrassing sometimes. Don’t be that man.
Cultivate humility of character and guard against independence.
EDUCATION – Sharpen your talents
When you see your skills and gifts as talents to steward not things you own, you have launched yourself on the road to maturity. You alone are responsible for the stewardship of your talents and you alone must own the development and deployment of them.
Learn the art of discipline and guard against the arrogance of your giftedness and the assumption that growth is automatic, it isn’t, growth is intentional.
ACTION – Contribute your best
As a man, you’re built for activity. Curiously contemplation and reflection matter as much, but only if it leads to productive work. You are built to work, be ok with that in the context of your education and formation. Find your best contribution, be true to yourself, your passions and talents. Fulfil your responsibilities, serve others, love all. There's a huge thrill in seeing others benefit from your presence and talents.
Guard against indifference. When you stop caring, feeling and crying you stop the deep maters of the souls that keep us alive as humans.
PURPOSE – Fulfil your why
You were born on your due date. Do you know only 5% of babies actually come on their due date? You did. And you came really quick by the way. There’s a date better than your birth date. It’s the day you clarify WHY you were born. You have deep purpose and reason for being. Discover that my boy. Name it and allow it to be an empowering true north for you. Let it be the thing that helps you say yes to a few things and no to everything else.
Maintain your perspective. Purpose flourishes when perspective is clear, Guard against self-centeredness, the kind that thinks you are owed something, you’re not. What you get you have by grace and favour, persistence and integrity.
LEGACY – Outlive your life
Play the long game, my son. All around you the temptation to compare and evaluate and wish you had, become more, done more, seen more and had more. It’s rubbish. You are not running someone else’s race. You are running yours.
Dream about not just what you will do but who you will be to those that matter most. Live consistently and well. Guard against disconnectedness and disengagement. It profits nothing to be alone and successful.
You are male by birth and man by choice my sonshine. Right now I will lead you with the very best I’ve got. Soon enough we will walk side by side and following that I’ll stand you proudly on my shoulders and shout to the world ‘This is MY son, look at the man he has become.”
This is for leaders. I am for leaders.