The Ultimate Measure Of Man

What does it mean to be a man? Against what or whom do men measure themselves? How do you know whether or not you are a man? These are questions I would ask the men in my life (dad, uncles, cousins), and I was given different answers. Perception, life situations, and history have shaped these men’s vision in different ways, yet their different viewpoints measure a divided thought process in society on what defines a man. Growing up, I saw different aspects of life that I perceived to be manhood.

I always saw financial stability as a sign of manhood. Men were supposed to be the providers, and money is a direct means to that end. All I ever heard growing up was the importance of saving money, having good credit, paying off debt, and paying bills on time. I didn’t lead a privileged life, so I unfortunately lived through the consequences of not adhering to those warnings. We went moments without heat because we couldn’t afford it that month. There were scrambles to pay light (the electric bill), cable, and other utilities. I learned that the perception is that men have the means to survive, or they know how to get it if they don’t, by any means necessary. Fortunately, we didn’t succumb to the “other side”, and we found legal ways to pay our bills.

I had a turbulent financial history during my early years in college. I had charged-off credit card and cell phone bills, and it wasn’t until I started working for bill collectors (cue irony) that I understood the ramifications of horrible credit, and finally worked my way to a 700+ credit score. I had to work on my savings, but I felt accomplished that I was able to pay bills, manage debt, and have good credit. Was I a man yet? Not quite. I knew there were other defining measurements to compare and contrast with my life.

My grandmother would stress the importance of school, and becoming successful. As a Haitian immigrant, the values of hard work were never overlooked by her. She would remind me on a daily basis that:

You have to get good grades if you want to get a good job! You get a good job and have a wife and you’ll be very good! I pray every day for you to get one!

So, not only did I have my parents and grandparents hopes to live up to, but I also had the burden of an entire celestial plane rooting for me to succeed! I always wondered if this is how the President felt about his position.

So I excelled in school, got the grades, attended a great University, and was able to land a job at a premiere company. The formula for success is imperfect however, and I always struggle with the notion of success. Where others consider me successful, I still feel I have many accolades and goals yet to accomplish. I did know that I was on the right path. So success has to be the ultimate measure of a man, but that’s not it either.

Of course there are the superficial signs of manhood, like killing the nasty bugs that women fear. I had a supervisor who would call me into her office anytime there was a creepy crawly that entered her airspace and ask me to “take care of it” in her best elevated mob boss voice. We’re also expected to be tough, strong, and in control of our emotions. Some men take crying, or emotional, as signs of weakness. I say that a man who knows his limits is more complete. You know your threshold, and can surpass it to become a better you. You can also have a comprehensive view of all world situations, seen from the eyes of the emotionless, and the emotional. While some of these stereotypical measures of men are accurate, it’s more than that.

I’m a Man Now!

I see a lot of young men having children and proclaiming this because they assisted in bringing a new life into the world. As men mature, experience life, and begin to build a family, they see that certain responsibilities become theirs. I had a friend once hold a forum for high school boys on this very subject. He spoke about this subject, and how he thought that fatherhood made him a man...but he was sadly mistaken. It’s easy to have sex, it’s hard to be a father, but there’s more to being a man then procreation.

For those men who don’t get married or have children, they still have their own separate burden. They have to assume a leadership role and “make something out of themselves”. They have to carry themselves with respect, do the right things, be dependable, and everything above. The perception of men is that we own these moments and learn from any and all mistakes. So building a family and taking ownership of responsibility sounds good, but it’s not that either.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a great quote about manhood:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

To me, this sums up the topic perfectly. You can be the most financially stable, successful, family oriented man, but if you fold under pressure, are you really a man? If you don’t learn from your mistakes, accept challenges, stand for what you believe in (whether the opinion is popular or not), and articulate your viewpoints for all to understand, then how do you truly measure up to any other man? Material items and a few goals accomplished will never mask the true nature of a human being. Your true colors shine through eventually.

My father epitomized the above quote. He didn’t always succeed. He dealt with various demons in his life, and lost many battles with them. His health was ailing him as he got older, and yet he rarely let you see him sweat. I didn’t even know the full extent to how real his life was until I was 18. He led by example. He told me he never did drugs or drank alcohol. I knew he was a college graduate, but he got his degree when he was older. He supported me, and set the bar for me to exceed. Once I found out about the trials and tribulations he went through in his life, it made me respect him even more. He didn’t want to discuss his mistakes because he didn’t want to seem flawed. Instead, he wanted me to see him as a success and be better. He passed away before I could ever articulate this, but he is even more of a success in my eyes. He overcame odds, and although he struggled, he stood strong till the end. I hope in my life that I can be half the man he was, and make him proud. That was my model for a man. A great man and role model, whom I’m very blessed to have in my life.

I will always feel like I can be in a better position financially and career wise. I’ve failed my family before. I’ve faltered on responsibilities before. No one is perfect, but I do my best to meet challenges head on, accept the consequences, assume responsibility, and mentor other men younger or in a position less fortunate than me. That’s my idea of what a man, and society, ultimately measures him against.

Jeff J is the host of the videogame and technology show Gamer’s Life , That ADHDShow Podcast and the SBMail digital advice column. Whether it’s behind the scenes or in front of the screen, Jeff strives to entertain, educate and interact with audiences of all sizes and demographics. Jeff has fun being him, as we all should!

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