Being a Man
My teenage son sent me a writing prompt one night. He asked me, “Define a man; describe what makes a man a man, and not a boy.”
It’s interesting, having an eighteen-year-old. We are both writers and enjoy each other’s writing, and I am a man raising four young men, so one might conclude that I have some empirical evidence revealing the truths of manhood vs. boyhood. Maybe. Here’s what I know.
I am a man who was raised by a real man. A man who was a gentleman, a chivalrous, gracious, well evolved man. The things I noticed about my father were his manners in public, his care for his family at home, and his relationship with his Father in Heaven. What made him a man was his accountability and responsibility. He was accountable to his wife, his children, his parents, his boss, his church, his friends and neighbors, and most importantly, his Savior. He was slow to make changes in our lifestyle, thoughtful about spending money, and considerate of the effect his actions and decisions had on others.
As a young man, I hit the road and summarily dismissed my upbringing and the values my family had imbued in me. It didn’t take long—bouncing into people in social settings or at work or in romantic settings—before I saw my core values irrepressibly surface. As hard as I tried to find my own way of bending culture, the truths my father blessed me with by his manner of living remained a benchmark so clear and high, that all other positions languished in the shadows of Father’s truths.
As a teenager, I spent months walking the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail; hitchhiking coast to coast, north and south. I slept in ashrams, panhandled with the STP family, worked on shrimpers, banged nails, and sought wisdom from everyone I met. The men who spoke their wisdom often were out of step with their words. The few whom I met who walked their talks invariably sounded like Father.
I spent a week in St. Augustine, a runaway at fifteen, keeping company with two much older fellows from Montreal, Guillaume and Francois, nineteen and twenty. We scaled the walls of Fort Matanzas at night and slept in the museum beds. These guys were inventive and funny, creative and artistic. I was attracted to them. They were also pranksters and ne’er-do-wells, making ends meet by slight of hand, pick pocketing, and petty thievery. I feared for them at every moment.
I got them involved in putting together a street act to make some honest money. I played my guitar and sang badly, Guillaume sang harmony and played a stolen tambourine, and Francoise sang, danced and did monkeys shines from a slack rope we tied between two parking meters. Pretty soon, the guitar case filled up with change and bills from the amused tourists. But true to form, Francois tried to steal my share of the loot, and only kneeling on his ribs and bloodying his nose convinced him of the math I wished to see upheld.
That night, I didn’t sleep in the fort with the Frenchmen, as I feared they would take all I owned and head to Key West. When I saw them on the street the next morning, Francois had two very black eyes and I could barely maintain my composure when he sneered at me, and then grimaced from the pain of that effort. I ducked them for the next few days and worked down at the docks packing shrimp. The pay was low, but I ate seafood at every meal. They finally caught up with me, playing for quarters in front of the movie theater. They asked me to join them a few blocks closer to the tourist attractions and repeat our previous evenings antics.
I said, “Francois, I haven’t punched anybody in the nose in over a year, but if you fuck with my money again, you’d best run. And since you can outrun me, no. Find another guy. Good night.”
I got picked up by the police for vagrancy the next night. When they found out I was a runaway, they took me to the St. Augustine County Jail. They called my parents who asked how long the police were willing to keep me. The county would hold minors for two weeks, so I got three squares and a hot cot for a fortnight.
Well, Connor, Francois and Guillaume were boys, and the young cop who picked me up was a man. He was a young black man in his twenties, came from the same little town in NJ where I grew up. He had joined the Navy and, upon finishing his tour of duty, took a job as a county sheriff. He had many wise words for me on the ride to jail, and even more wisdom the day he drove me to the airport to fly home.
Here’s some of what I’ve learned about being a man:
Boys don’t accept responsibility for themselves. Men do.
Boys are accountable to no one. Men are broadly accountable to their families, employers, neighbors, their culture and their God.
Boys infract and point their fingers at others. Men step forward and accept the blame when it is theirs.
Boys skulk and move in the shadows. Men walk in the light, head high, fearing nothing, except, perhaps, displeasing their women.
Boys shrink when challenged. Men use their heads and decide wisely how to deal with surprises.
Boys tease the girls and play with their hearts. Men cherish their women and protect them unto death.
Boys laugh at the weak and the stupid. Men help them along the way.
Boys run from trouble. Men gather their babies and lovers and deliver them to safety.
Boys are cowards. Men are fearless, for they have found where all the power in the universe is held, and they have access to it.
Boys use their mouths to tear down. Men use theirs to build up.
Boys dabble in lust and infatuation. Men fall in love and become the servants of their lovers.Connor, there is so much more, but my bed calls. My bones are weary and I must rest, for tomorrow, I will again, put on the shoes of a man. You will too. You are becoming the man I always wanted to be. Keep up the good work, son.
About Scott Gressitt
An amateur writer and rapscallion, I write of my past, a life laden with extraordinary events. I have walked in places most of the population avoids. Besides scars and bruises, I’ve collected experiences that frighten, delight and entertain. I write with the intent to take you on a wild ride where all your senses are fully engaged. Enjoy.