Now that football season is in full swing there is a lot of testosterone in the air. It seems like every commercial is selling the perfect tailgate and every news analyst is explaining how current events will effect my fantasy league. I haven’t seen this much face paint since Braveheart and I have to say it all feels pretty macho. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above this hype. I yell at the TV as much as the next guy, but all this chest bumping and beer chugging has me thinking about what makes a man.
You see I grew up with a pretty typical vision of manhood. I thought my worth was going to be found in athletic success and female conquests. And it made a lot of sense because that’s what I saw in the movies I watched, the music I listened to, and the advertising that caught my attention. But the images I saw were mixed, because on the one hand they’d tell me that my manhood was measured by my ability to take from others, and then the next moment I’m told that it’s really about self-sacrifice. I had Adam Sandler pulling from one side, and Braveheart on the other. So what really makes a man?
I’ve learned to answer that question through the real role models in my life and not the fictional characters on TV. Guys like my squad leader in the Marine Corps, who would stay up hours after the rest of us racked out to plan missions and make sure we were as safe as possible. Or my grandpa, who I would watch in his shop with awe, knowing that he could fix absolutely everything, and that he learned it by decades of work providing for his family. I think of my dad who taught me that I should be proud of every job I do, no matter how small.
I realize that I’m at a weird age now where there are less and less mentors before me, and instead I have to start living out the ideals they have imparted. I find myself up hours after my children are asleep, working hard in order to provide for their needs. I try to coach my son so that he can be proud of the little chores we already assign. And in certain moments I’ll find them my kids looking up at me, thinking that I must be able to fix anything. It’s a strange and beautiful gift, and it’s a reminder that as fun as football season is, what really makes a man is what he’s willing to give to others.