A Man Lives By A Code

A man lives by a code, a quiet discipline of honor we learn first from our fathers and try to perfect for ourselves. We learn by example and by counterexample. I have studied the ways of my grandfather, who left, and my father, who stayed, and I have learned something about what it means to be an honorable man.

A reader asks, “What does it mean to ‘don the mantle of manhood’?” It means to deeply accept the responsibility of being a man.

To be responsible is to be one who answers what is asked of them. Responsibility is the practice of response, of making a reply to the conditions that meet us. The mantle of manhood is the emergent realities of life as a man, this man,  in a particular place and time; to don the mantle means to intentionally accept these realities, to embrace them, and to employ them for the repair of the world. To don the mantle of manhood means that, finding oneself a man, one responds to that condition. There is no one answer. The common denominator is the condition of being a man and making the choice to reply to that condition with honor.

This weight is unchosen, neither earned nor deserved; it simply is. I did not make it, yet it is I who must hoist it, for it is I alone who can. I am answering, for I have heard the question. I did not create the meanings assigned to manhood–I just stumble into them like everybody else. But it is I who decide for myself, given reality as I observe it, how I will respond.

The only difference between a man’s mantle and that of anyone of any other gender is the differences in our lives. Honor is in no way limited to men. I discuss it here through my lens as a man, because I think there are some important particulars of that experience, and because I believe it is the task of men to ask our brothers to do better. For this same reason–our different selves and circumstances–there is no one mantle of manhood, but a massive Venn diagram of overlapping and non-overlapping experiences.

For me, it’s like this. People move around me on the sidewalk. People turn and listen when I open my mouth. If I lose my temper and shout and stomp and punch a wall, people and animals cower in miserable fear, though I have never touched them in anger.

My code is not a series of answers, but a series of questions.

If my voice and my strength can easily scare women, men, children, dogs, how will I conduct myself?

If being a man means when I speak, others listen, what will I say?

If being a man means being strong, what will I carry? What will I defend?

If being a man means I could walk out on my family, what choice will I make?

If being a man means a capacity for violence, how will I behave?

It is written, “For who will eat, and who will enjoy, if not I?” (Ecclesiastes 2:25).

We could also ask, For who will feed, and who will increase enjoyment, if not I?

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One comment

  1. Jay Sennett

    “If my voice and my strength can easily scare women, men, children, dogs, how will I conduct myself?”

    The answer to this question (or questions?) has been the bedrock upon which I have build my masculinity. More than 18 years later, I can still recall the first time a woman feared me, as a man, a stranger no lfess, for no other reason other than I had become man and was much bigger than her. This moment has been one of the top three defining moments of my transition.

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