An Open Letter to Young Men
As a man who is not exactly old but who is certainly old enough to have seen a few things you probably haven’t, I think it is time someone talks to you man-to-man.
At your age, you spend a great deal of time thinking about how to be “cool” (or whatever the word being used today is). You think about how to dress, how to walk, what words to use, how to greet your friends, how to impress young women and all the other things which constitute “coolness.”
What does everything about being “cool” have in common?
Simple. It is all external. It is all about how other people see you. You can’t be “cool” because you think of yourself as “cool.” You can only be “cool” if others think you are.
And that’s a problem because the other thing that guys your age want is to be men. And to be a man is not external, it is internal. It is about self respect and honor. Certainly, there are external signs and actions – which we’ll get to in a bit – but the actual state of being which we call “manhood” is very much something which is internal.
That means that you develop a sense of understanding about the way a man thinks, acts and speaks from which you do not depart no matter what your peers may think of you. And that will often create a conflict between being “cool” and being a man. Now, if you think about it, you realize that this conflict can only mean one thing. Being “cool” is part of childhood and immaturity. You cannot be “cool” and be a man at the same time. On the other hand, if you are fixated on being “cool” you are certainly not yet an adult.
Thankfully, if you are thinking about what it means to be a man, you are old enough to choose. You have the emotional wherewithal to decide if you are ready to move beyond concern for the opinions of others – of people who are themselves still very immature – and into that phase of your life where your internalized code of honor overrides those opinions, driving you to do what is correct, appropriate and right rather than that which is “cool.”
Here’s the bad news. Being a man is much harder in today’s society. Just a few generations ago, there was a set of rules for appropriate behavior which fathers passed on to sons and enforced on them until they were old enough and mature enough to follow those rules because they recognized their correctness and importance. Today, most fathers either do not know what those rules are or consider them too out of date to bother with. They certainly do not – by and large – teach their sons these rules and make certain they follow them.
So, if you want to understand how to truly be a man, you end up having to walk a path in the dark, trying to figure it out for yourself.
Here’s the good news. Some of us still remember and live by those rules and we are more than happy to pass them on to not only our own sons but to young men in general. We do so not only because we want to make sure that our daughters have real men in their lives when they are old enough but because society as a whole has fallen into disrepute since the old rules have been discarded.
Here are at least some of the rules, updated for today:
1. Take Off Your Hat. Seriously, take off your hat. When you have a roof over your head – a house, a school, especially a house of worship – take off your hat. It is not raining in there. The sun is not shining in your eyes. The wind is not blowing. Hats are not appropriate indoors. Take off your hat.
The same applies when a lady is in your presence. If you are outdoors and it is raining or there is a good reason for your hat, remove it for a moment and then put it back on, but take it off at least momentarily. It shows her that you are acknowledging her presence and have made a conscious choice to show her respect.
2. Open The Door. If you are with a lady, if you see a lady approaching a door, if you are with someone older or see one of your elders approaching a door, open it and let that person go through first. For that matter, if someone is having or could have difficulty with the door (his hands are full, she is pushing a baby stroller, there are crutches being used and so forth), open the door.
3. Let Others Go First. Unless it is a case of life and death, you are not going to gain anything but a few seconds by elbowing your way ahead of others. Let them go first. This is especially important with ladies. Again, they deserve respect from you. And don’t be shy about letting them know just why you are letting them go ahead. A respectful smile and the words “Ladies first” will go a long way towards making a lady’s day. They hear such things all too infrequently these days. To have a young man not only allow a lady to go first but to tell her that he is cognizant of the respect she deserves is unusual enough that she will regard it as special. And a lady – every lady – deserves to have such special things happen as often as possible.
4. Help Her With Her Coat. If you are with a lady and she needs to put on her coat, gently take the coat from her and hold it for her. Hold it just low enough that she can get her arms in and then gently lift it onto her shoulders. The first time you do so for a particular lady, she is likely to be surprised. Again, it does not happen much today. When she looks at you in surprise, simply smile respectfully. The look in her eyes will be all the payment you will need.
5. Pull Out Her Chair. When a lady is preparing to sit, walk behind the chair, pull it out just enough that she can comfortably sit and gently push it in such that she is sitting at the right position relative to the table.
6. Watch Your Mouth. Equality has made women and men think that all language is appropriate in all situations. It isn’t. Even today, you know which words are not appropriate in all situations. If you wouldn’t use a word in church or when talking to your principal in school or in front of your grandmother, do not use it in a lady’s presence. When in doubt, find another word. Do not talk about body parts which are particular to one gender or another. Do not talk about the things which take place in a rest room or the body parts involved. Do not talk about the intimate details of sexuality. Do not tell dirty jokes. None of these are appropriate in the presence of a lady.
7. Kiss Her Hand. I know it sounds corny these days. Do it anyway. When greeting a lady and she reaches out her hand to shake yours, take her hand in both of yours, lift it to her shoulder height, lean down and just lightly touch your lips to the back of her hand. Don’t slobber or make loud noises. Just touch your lips to her hand. She will be surprised. Very surprised. Chances are – however – that her surprise will be pleasant.
8. Women Are Not Toys. Don’t play with their emotions and affections. Don’t ogle their various body parts. Don’t try to trick them into bed. Don’t grope them. When you take a lady on a date, do not think about how to end the night with a roll in the hay. That is not the reason women were put on this Earth. Walk her to her door at the end of the night. Kiss her on the cheek or – if she wants – lightly on the lips. Be happy if she lets you hold her hand.
Sex is not a game. It is not entertainment. It is not a physical activity invented for your selfish pleasure. It is about love and commitment. Wait. Both you and she will be happier for it in the long run.
9. Buy A Belt. I’m not joking. Buy a belt and use it. Thread it through the loops at the top of your pants, pull those pants up over your hips and tighten that belt such that your pants do not fall down. If your pants are loose enough that your underwear is showing, they are too loose. If your backside is hanging out of your pants, your pants are too loose. Buy a belt and use it.
10. Buy Some Real Clothes. Buy yourself two suits, two sports jackets, half a dozen dress shirts of some understated color (buttons all the way down and a collar), a couple of dress pants, a couple of pairs of khakis, a pair of black dress shoes, a pair of brown dress shoes and a dozen ties without cartoon characters on them. Learn how to wear these kinds of clothes. For instance, do NOT wear white socks with dress clothes and shoes. Dark socks only. Do not stick both your hands in your pockets at the same time. It makes you look like someone who does not know how to comport himself. Stand up straight. Hold your head up. Learn to stand and sit still instead of fidgeting. Dress and stand with pride.
11. Put The Phone Away. When you are in company, it is rude to text, play games, e-mail or talk on the phone. If it is an emergency, excuse yourself and walk away before taking the call. And I mean a real emergency, life and death or something similar.
12. Get A Job. Not only will you earn some money but you will learn discipline, a sense of responsibility, how to work with others, how to put up with people you do not like telling you what to do and a hundred other lessons you cannot learn by spending hours every day playing video games. While you’re at it, put some of that money away. Open a bank account and put a little in every week. Don’t touch any of it no matter what. When you are offered the chance to get a credit card, don’t. Or if you do because someone advised you to use a credit card to build your credit, only spend 30 or 40 dollars a month and pay off the bill completely on time every month. There is nothing you need or want which cannot wait until you have the cash in hand. Credit cards will enslave you for life if you are careless with them.
There are other rules but these will do for a start. Notice that they are about honor, responsibility, duty and respect. Respect may well be the most important of these as the other factors can be said to require respect in order to come to fruition. Respect for others, respect for yourself. As a man, as a gentleman, respect for ladies should be one of your primary concerns in life, ahead of your own desires. Paradoxically, by making respect for the fair gender an ingrained part of your very being, you are building your own self respect and your own sense of honor.
It all comes down to having a code of honor, a set of rules to live by and sticking to them come Hell or high water. Your friends will laugh at you. They will say that you are being ridiculous. They will tell you that nobody acts this way anymore and that these rules don’t matter.
They will be wrong. There are some who do live by these rules. And our numbers are growing. Those who do so will get better jobs, be held in higher regard by the people who matter and receive as much respect from ladies and the rest of the world as they give. And then some.
You see, while you are focusing on making these rules part of your being, the outside world will notice. Some will mock you. Those who matter will applaud you. If you are lucky and make the effort to teach them, your sons will emulate you.
You will be a man while others remain overgrown boys.
One of my favorite poems is by a British writer named Rudyard Kipling. It is entitled “If.” Like this letter, it gives a set of rules by which to live your life, rules for men under fire. It ends with what may be the most significant lines a young man could ever learn:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!
I wish you the best of luck in your journey towards manhood. I hope that the Blessings of Heaven will fall upon you as you take that voyage and forever after. It is in all sincerity that I say that I hope you will be true men and that this letter has – in some small way – helped you take a step or two along the way.