What is a real man?
And how are we men supposed to live up to that standard?
As a parent of two sons and two daughters, I am particularly driven to model the best male human being I can be. But what is a real man?
Is a real man one of the guys in those TV shows with perfect abs and no hair on their bodies? Is a real man that guy who all the women love? Like the dude from the Dos Equis beer commercial?
Can just any man be a real man?
Or does a real man need to be someone incredible like John Wayne or Arnold Schwarzenegger? Or maybe Bill Gates or Steve Jobs? Does a real man need to be famous? Or have lots of money?
What does a real man look like? Does he have flowing locks of thick hair on his head? A chiseled body and a square jaw?
Is a real man someone who controls and dominates? Is a real man a warrior? What if the world gets its wish and there is peace on Earth? Will there be no place any more for such men? Are real men the cause of all those wars and all that death?
Is today’s man a dinosaur? A left-over remnant of another age when brute power ruled the land. Now that wisdom is king, can’t women achieve equally to men, or perhaps, have an advantage? Who needs a brute, except maybe to move the furniture when you are vacuuming?
And what about guys who are not brutes? The 97 pound weaklings? Can they possibly hope to be real men?
When my boys ask me (directly or implicitly) what it means to be a man, how will my answer differ from what I tell my daughters about being a woman? Is there a difference anymore between being a man and being a woman? Or are we all just on the road to being neuters?
In other words, Can you be ordinary and still be a real man? Or is a real man, by definition, extraordinary? And if that is true, what are the rest of us?
Kind of reminds me of one of those wild animal TV shows I saw once, where the dominant elephant male chases all the other males away and then hoards all the females to himself. Every so often a new male upstart will dethrone him, just to start the process all over again. And what do the rest of the adolescent males do? They run in packs, mostly. Get into trouble. Get killed a lot, doing stupid things. Sound familiar?
Is that our nature? Are human beings really pack animals, to be dominated by a few males while the rest of the male population just take up space and mark time until our next life (and chance at pack leader) comes up?
But today we humans are monogamous, aren’t we? Maybe we don’t have to dethrone anybody? So is that the problem? Are we constantly looking for the guy we are supposed to dethrone and don’t know where to look? And are we seeing him as the guy above us on the corporate ladder, or our competitor at work, or that guy who always gets the chicks? Are we operating under some kind of outdated DNA drive to compete in a struggle that is no longer relevant?
Perhaps the problem for us guys is that we don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing? What our role in this new world is or will be? Or how we’ll fit in? And perhaps we are afraid that, if we look too closely, we might find that our new, apparently diminished role among the human race really isn’t worth pursuing?
What is so great about being a man, anymore? As opposed to just being a neutral human? And what will I teach my kids about what it means to be a real man after considering all of this?
Why You Want To Be A Real Man
I have thought about these questions for years. For a long time I had few answers. But in recent years I have found what I think are the answers.
The questions aren’t rhetorical. They are very real. And if you are a man, at least a few of them have passed through your mind more than once.
Many men today find ourselves living lives that do not fulfill, and in relationships that often feel, somehow, emasculating. We wander through life without meaningful direction, looking for something but we do not know what. Relationships fail when that special someone doesn’t deliver the answers we seek. So we start new ones only to end them or settle into a dull state of generalized dissatisfaction.
There is a reason for this. Most of us have never fully come to terms with what it means to be a man. In a sense, we are stuck in a form of perpetual adolescence.
Let me explain.
The Coming of Age Process
Somewhere along the line the modern human male forgot the process of coming of age. This coming of age process is given lip service by some older religious rituals like the Bar Mitzvah. But today’s versions of these ceremonies have become little more than glorified birthday parties.
A coming of age ritual in ancient cultures was something much more frightening, much more exciting, and much more transcendent than anything we experience in the modern world.
Imagine finding yourself completely alone. You are surrounded by the most terrifying danger you can imagine. Your heart is pumping. Your adrenalin is flowing. You are visibly shaking. You want to run, but you are surrounded. There is absolutely no way out. The danger (death itself) approaches you head on. What do you do?
This is the typical challenge that a young thirteen year old boy would face as he withstood the power of the gauntlet – the trial that he had to pass through in order to be reborn into the world of adulthood.
The men of the tribe had no use for a fellow warrior who could not be trusted to have their back in battle. If he couldn’t handle this challenge, he was not yet ready to be called a man.
Women would cry during these trials, both in fear for their son’s well-being, but also in mourning the loss of their little one to the ranks of the village men.
If a boy succeeded in overcoming his challenge – if he turned to face the terror and took it on despite impossible odds – he was forever after called a man. He would be greeted as a man by other men, and by women. He would have his own house or hut to live in, and would usually take a wife soon afterwards. He would take his place as a man among men – a child nevermore.
He was what we today would call a real man.
He looked different. He walked different. He was different.
There was now a lift in his step. No, not the fake hot air of a bull crap artist. But real, magnetic male presence. The men could see it. And the women could feel it. To women this sort of presence is erotically magnetic. It is the force that causes women to be attracted to men who otherwise seem rather ordinary. It is the real man’s secret.
What I have just described includes a mish-mash of tribal customs. It is not meant to represent any one culture. Rather, it is meant to encapsulate the spirit of all humanity as the boy ascends to adulthood.
This is the magical process called coming of age. There is nothing like it in western culture today. It was washed away long ago.
Some men today experience the effect of this process in wartime bonding and tragedy, or in other traumatic circumstances. Middle aged men bang drums and run naked through the mountains in an effort to rekindle the spirit of this process at an age far advanced from when it should be experienced.
And it works.
This process works. The man who exits a trans-formative coming of age experience is a real man in every sense of that word. Far more of a man than he would be had he attempted to copy any of the hollow “real” man examples I gave earlier.
Of course, one experience isn’t everything. Throughout this new man’s life he will continue to test himself, to build his skills and accomplishments. Eventually he will pass the wisdom he gathers onto the youth of his village, just as his elders did for him.
Today this process has been interrupted. We no longer celebrate the stages of life as humans once did. And that is a shame – and a problem.
Whatever Happened to the Coming of Age Ritual?
I have my suspicions as to how and why this coming of age process was abandoned by history. Here’s what I think happened:
When hunter-gatherer societies settled into small farming communities thousands of years ago, the power of mass organization was discovered, and with this, the ability to produce huge food surpluses and growing human populations. Unfortunately, this level of farm organization required a fairly strict hierarchy of power to run efficiently. This meant that there needed to be a few organizers and an army of meek workers who obediently followed directions, much as our modern army of household and industrial machinery mindlessly follow our orders today.
Strong, independent men do not make compliant, meek agricultural workers. So whatever process turned obedient little boys into warriors had to be nipped in the bud. What this new, agricultural powerhouse society needed was men who acted and behaved like adolescent boys. Boys that an angry, father-like figure could keep under control with a combination of fear and awe. In the end, that angry, father-like figure would turn out to be whichever despot or king had taken control of their world.
In other words, men needed to be domesticated.
And men already knew how to domesticate things. You see, this process of domestication doesn’t just work on people. We were doing it with wild animals, turning them into docile creatures for our benefit. And much earlier, we had done it with our best friend – Dogs.
Dogs are obedient, loyal, and fantastic friends, right? How about a pack of hungry, wild wolves? Want to meet up with them on a cold, dark night? What’s the difference between the two, really? I mean, biologically speaking? Today, scientists believe that modern dogs are just wolves who have been bred over the years into a state of perpetual adolescence.
Wolves never bark. But wolf pups do bark. Wolf pups are sweet. Wolves can be serious, dark and unpredictable. Wolf pups are dependent on adult leadership to guide and discipline them. Wolves rely on the pack as co-equals. Yes, there is leadership, but all members of the pack are respected as adults.
Today’s men may just be the equivalent of loyal dogs. Dogs are great. But, who are you being loyal to? Your wife? The man? Perhaps your frustration with life is that you need to grow up and be a wolf.
Real Men in Today’s World
Where does this all leave us today? Why is an ancient coming of age ritual relevant in a 21st Century world?
We guys are lost because we are stunted. We are boys playing with toys and looking for instant gratification, instead of driven men who know what we want and go get it. Mommas boys. Today’s women sense this and they are sick of it. If you listen to them you’ll hear it. “Where are all the real men?” women are wondering.
It’s not momma’s fault, either. It’s not even dad’s. Neither of them could have known better. And the world we lived in conspired to keep us in our place.
But times have changed.
The world needs creative self starters, not obedient followers. And I believe that today’s man is more than ready to leave the boy behind, especially when he comprehends the benefits that come from real manhood.
The first of these benefits is the power of adult masculine presence. This presence is what defines the original alpha male. It is what creates the magnetic attractive force that draws people, particularly women, to follow and enjoy the company of certain men. You might call it the real man aura. It is an easy sense of confidence that communicates a basic lack of fear.
You see, it is fear that others sense in you that keeps them away from you. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of … whatever. And what the coming of age process does for a man is to teach him to face that generalized fear and to overcome it. Once you no longer are afraid, life is more enjoyable.
Today, our world needs real men.
Making a change in how we live our lives is critical, now more than ever. Our old society based on power and coercion is dying, while a new society based on mutual independence and interpersonal respect is being born. I know that it is hard to recognize this new world through the noise of today’s chaos, but it is there, growing steadily. And you can be a part of creating it.
But first, you must be reborn. Face your darkest fears. Face ultimate failure and survive to tell the tale. Find a way to recreate the coming of age challenge in your own life. And reproduce this experience for your sons as well.
Today is a time of new independence for humanity. Of breaking free from old bonds and chains. A world of opportunity where old institutions break down while new ones are born, built around sustainable relationships between equals.
We men are desperately needed now to help build a world where human equality is sustained through personal responsibility and mutual respect. A new world much like the world our warriors ancestors lived in. We live in bodies basically designed for those ancient warriors. Perhaps it’s time we got back to a lifestyle more in sync with who and what we really are.
I once suspected that men were no longer needed for our society to survive and thrive in the 21st Century. That we were dinosaurs of an outdated world.
Now I know that the opposite is true. Our world needs real men today more than ever before. And we – you, I, and our sons – need to be those men. For ourselves, for our sons and daughters, and for the future of humanity.
Thanks, and all the best,