What is the measure of a man in America in 2015?

I don’t know. I am not a man.  Let’s start there.

I grew up with two sisters, my mom and my dad.

Now, at 42, my family is composed of my husband, my three boys ages 12, 9 and 6, and our 6 year old black lab, Rudy (also a boy). And I love football.

Listening to the Brock and Salk podcast this morning, I heard them reference a quote by Jim Harbaugh, formerly of the San Fransicso 49ers.  He is now the football coach at the U of Michigan. The gist of what he said was this;

“(Football is) the last bastion of hope for toughness in America in men, in males,” Harbaugh said.

Well. Jim has never been exactly eloquent, but you don’t have to worry about guessing what he thinks.  There is no subtext here; and while exaggerated for effect, this is just his truth. 

So the ESPN radio hosts posed the question, “What does it mean to be a man in America, in 2015?” This was the most interesting conversation I’d heard in some time on my daily podcast, so I flipped open my I-Pad and touched my Dictionary.com app to give me somewhere to start.


  1. strong and durable; not easily broken or cut. 

This one gets debated almost every day in my life.  Because I have three boys, of which the oldest usually defines tough as “don’t cry when you get hurt”, and refuses to clean up the wounds on his legs and arms because he wears them as badges of honor.

My middle guy feels everything at a much more intense level and so as you can guess, he feels pain strongly and he cries alot.  My youngest has always endured physical pain like it’s a fly to be swatted and move on.  When he cries, we know he’s injured. Except that recently both of these guys have mastered the ‘fake’ cry. Not cool.

Mark works for our living and I’ve been a stay at home mom, so I’ve been the one to wipe away the majority of tears, kiss the boo-boos and inform my oldest that belittling his younger brother(s) for any given hurt and cry does not make him tougher, it makes him weaker and not only chips away at his strength, but at the relationships he has. He may or may not hear me all the time.

On the other hand, I do not run to every cry. Anymore. Sadly, now, as a jaded mom of three boys, I’ve seen far worse injuries than a cut or a scrape.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t check, or don’t care, (that’s an understatement), it just means I’ve learned to wait a heartbeat, listen, and then judge if this time needs my facilitating, or if this time, they can get up and keep on playing. 

capable of great endurance; sturdy; hardy: tough troops.

As for the times I’m not around and they get hurt, I’m generally ok. I know they are going to get hurts and scrapes and bruises and scars. And I value the time they spend without us around, where they work out problems on their own or together. This doesn’t come easily for me.  It’s not the world I grew up in, and because my boys were each born with and developed their own individual challenges, it has been incredibly hard to progressively send them in to a tough world.  

I know they are boys, not men, however that is our goal, to raise boys who know their own worth, can stand in their identity and treat themselves and others with love and acceptance, to possess an ability to perservere through adversity, injury and brokeness.  Life is tough. They need to be their own kind of tough. More than that, they need to know how to use that strength to notice, care about and do what needs to be done for others who are weak or broken.

not easily influenced, as a person; unyielding; stubborn: a tough man to work for.

As my boys have ventured, or been gently pushed, further from our circle of influence, we have faced the reality that we cannot protect them from everyone.  We can set parameters and boundaries, but the truth is, it doesn’t matter how young or old, mature or delayed a person is in any way, there are going to be people in our lives who are harmful.

I hate it.  I’ve felt my heart break in a thousand different ways watching my boys interact with groups or individuals and face rejection, unkindness and indifference. Helping them navigate realtionships and hurts has been the greatest challenge I’ve faced as a parent, as a person. I’m not an expert -far from- in relationships or emotions, and so I have been facing my own lifetime of vicious inner struggles along with with boys.  And in a way, growing up with them. 

In the act of walking with them, my husband and I see that they are “capable of great endurance.” 

The best thing about not ignorning pain is that helps us figure out who we are.  That we are in control of our emotions, reactions, behavior.  In this way, I am grateful for how hard, how tough, it has been and is to watch from the sidelines as my boys play out their own personal stories.  And grateful they still come back to our huddle.

difficult to perform, accomplish, or deal with; hard, trying, or troublesome: a tough problem.

The flipside of having all boys and being a woman is that there are many times when it is essential that I am not around.  I can feel it gathering like a pile of food wrappers and empty Gatorade bottles behind the couch. (My oldest son sponsored this metaphor.)

That is when I get out while the getting’s good.  And I leave my boys in the company and hands of their dad.  

Mark has always been very involved in all ways with our boys.  That was part of the deal, we both need to be all in to do this thing called a family.  I haven’t always made it easy for him, nor he for me, and kids are wired to make it difficult for everyone, but I’ve most definetly come to appreciate his strengths and perspective, and the equal fun and teaching he brings to being a dad.  Boys need their dads.

He is also human, and I give him much credit for being real with our boys about his missteps and mistakes.  I respect him for his willing spirit to do what he needs to do, and for being the living breathing model of a man that our boys need.

vigorous; severe; violent: a tough struggle.

Why are we even talking about what makes a man in 2015? Maybe we’ve come to the natural beginning of a new era. The previous generations definitions of “being a man” are now cumbersome.

Milennials are coming into adulthood now, and so just as when other eras have hit this milestone, fear and tradition yet again emerge and express time honored words from the elders:

“This generation has no idea what it means to be an adult!  They are lazy, selfish, self-absorbed, have no work ethic, don’t care about anyone else and are the most entitled generation ever!”

The danger of painting a portrait (or maybe I need to say posting an Instagram) of a generalization is that you don’t look any further than the examples that verify your beliefs. Fear can easily make it feel like it’s just safer, easier to blame “them.” Because we have never been wrong.  

Are some of the accusations leveled at Millenials factual?  Probably. And they are certainly amplified due to the crazy fast pace of technology. My Generation (X) though, heard much of the same when we entered adulthood, and it effectively managed to anesthetize an entire generation already overwhelmed with the expectations of those who came before us who “gave us the world”.  

This time around, when I see the new generation entering the fray, I’m less worried and far more hopeful.  I see that their openess holds a chance for real change. The broad unrest in our nation, even today, the message that we are tired of being told how it’s done, and by who, is a rallying cry. And Justice is a cause people will get behind.

tough it out, Informal. to endure or resist hardship or adversity.

That’s why in 2015 we are talking about what it means to be a man. Or a woman. Or a community. 

As interesting as is the conversation Jim Harbaugh spurred, it isn’t so much a characteristic that makes “a real man.” 

It’s action and purpose that defines a man. Aggressive and Passive have had their way for decades, centuries. Instead of all the outside signals that used to alert us to “manliness”, it’s time for, past time for, asking the hard questions. 

Not, how much does he make? What are his career goals? What sports does he play? How does he dress? What make and model of vehicle does he drive? How high in the draft did he get picked?

How about, how does he respond to adversity? How does he talk about other people, especially those different than him, or who can do nothing for him? How does he treat his wife, his children, his friends, family? Who does he look to for advice and wisdom as a man? 

hard to bear or endure (often used ironically): tough luck.

The past half a century has been a rapidly swinging pendulum in the defining of “what makes a man”. I think it may be time to take a time-out. Do you know to stop a pendulum?

The way to end the dizzying swinging of back and forth requires two things, friction and resistence.  When those two elements are consistently at play, the pendulum will slow, until it is still, back at center.

Playing at a ‘perfect’ model of a man created by corporations who want to see you buy their version of manhood, or allowing fear to convince you that one person can’t chage anything isn’t what the world needs to see.

Contintuing to perservere despite the imperfections of life and love, to endure while things are hard, standing up and speaking even when fear shakes you, when we see men acting in these ways in our lives and neighborhoods, and passing on the real lessons they’ve learned to others to build a team that can play the game that is life in America, we will begin to see hope for the true measure of a man.

Man Made DIY-I like how they are keeping the conversation going, interesting, fun, timely.

What Makes a Man-I found this article to be enourmously helpful in looking at the conversation that is taking place among Christians. 

The Man-blog post by a man I know.

Nick Offerman aka Ron Swanson-no modern conversation on manliness is complete without a few insights from Ron Swanson, Pawnee, Indiana.


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