It’s all too often we tell our young boys to “man up” or to “be a man” when things aren’t going their way. While this isn’t intended to be detrimental, statements like these can encourage inequality and a mindset that is less inclusive and equitable than intended. Instead of telling children to “man up”, fathers should demonstrate what being a real man means to their children.
By a “real man”, I don’t mean the macho, chauvinistic definition that typically accompanies this phrase. To me at least, a real man is an active, engaged father, and a strong, affectionate partner at home. Real men don’t ogle women or cat-call. Real men might be gym rats to stay active and fit, but aren’t the bodybuilding toughs the phrase may normally cover. I’m teaching my twin sons this distinction by being a role model for them. It’s really more about being a good person and showing them who I want them to become, how they should handle tough situations, and how to resolve conflict.
I also want them to be independent, confident, and adventurous. Men shouldn’t be afraid to try new things, and should learn from them. I want them to stand up for what they believe in but also have non-violent methods of resolving issues. I hope that the way I’m showing them this path helps them build character and find satisfaction in life. These are the ways I’m showing them how real men act and behave in the hopes that they turn out this way.
Real men aren’t afraid to show affection
Aside from bro-hugs, most men are pretty afraid to show affection, especially in public. My dad and I barely even handshake most times. Our mixed Scandinavian / British Isles / Northern European ancestry means we are essentially robots when it comes to affection. It took me a long time to get comfortable hugging my male friends and leaning in for cheek kisses with female ones. I’m showing my boys that affection is totally normal and healthy. Every morning and night I give them a kiss and tell them I love them.
Real men can resolve conflict responsibly
You don’t need to throw down a fist-fight every time you disagree with someone. Mature men can resolve disagreements through conversation, or by agreeing to disagree. Sometimes a game of rock, paper, scissors is the only way. I’m showing my boys that they can freely disagree with others, but not to let things fester and build up and to move beyond arguments to solutions.
Real men are patient and calm
With twins entering toddlerhood, it’s easy to get aggregated easily and quickly at the drop off a hat. What is hard, but worthwhile, is taking a calm, measured approach and considering options before taking one. By being patient, not only is a better reaction often the result, but I’m often better able to find the humor in situations. When one or both of the boys throws a tantrum at dinner, being patient and waiting for them to stop usually results in a more calm and peaceful family meal and often the tantrum ends with cute or funny behavior.
Real men are good partners at home
Partnership, true partnership, is the key to a happy and healthy marriage and parenting. Especially with twins, success can only be found with an even division of labor. Countless are the nights when I have wanted to do nothing more than sit on the couch and veg out after putting the boys to bed. However, I know that washing the dishes and helping to keep the house clean set examples for the boys that I want them to emulate later. Seeing responsibility and shared duties from both parents makes them more likely to not only share duties in their lives, but to be more equitable as well.
Real men stand up for themselves and their beliefs
Yes, it’s important to know how to disagree and move on, but standing up for what you believe in and what you feel is right is just as critical. Real men hold their convictions strongly and are willing to defend them when challenged. For me, it’s standing up for politeness and etiquette. I will push back on those who cut lines or are rude to others. I will absolutely stand up for those in need when I see sexist, ageist, or racist behaviors. These are the convictions I want to see the boys emulate and so I will fight hard for them, especially when they are around.
Real men respect nature and animals
This may seem like a no-brainer but I have often seen “manly men” treat nature and natural things poorly. To me, it begins with treating nature with the respect I want to be shown. This includes visits to zoos and aquariums to learn about nature’s inhabitants, as well as being immersed in nature and treating it well on hikes. When they are old enough, we will camp too. I believe this respect builds a healthy relationship with the earth and encourages environmentalism from not lowering all the way up to finding ways to preserve and enhance it.
Real men are feminists
Not only do good men and fathers treat women with respect, they encourage equality and equity in everything they do day to day. I do my best to build an equitable environment at home as well as in the office through work with women’s groups at my company and outside. I not only believe in the mission of these groups, but also feel strongly that by participating, I show a good role model for my boys. Real men encourage everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, age, or background to have a place at the table and have their voices heard because they know more diverse voices result in a stronger and more powerful message.
Real men are independent and confident
Confidence is different than arrogance or stubbornness. Real men know what they know, aren’t afraid to admit what they don’t, and know what values they believe in. They are also independent in their beliefs and actions. They form their own opinions based on knowledge and fact, not what someone else tells them. They can entertain themselves and keep themselves busy. They have their own hobbies and passions too.
Real men are adventurous
They aren’t afraid to try new things and different experiences. They don’t turn down exotic food and enjoy traveling. I take the boys all over, from hikes to breweries, even to Norway to cultivate the travel and adventure bug in them. Adventure fan be found close to home too though. Real men are willing to try new things to broaden their horizons and increase the diversity of their experiences and knowledge.
Real men are active fathers
They are engaged and present with their children. Of course not all men become fathers, but those that do know that they need to be there for their children and not just on the periphery. Putting down the phone and turning off the TV are just the start. Good fathers engage their children and are a strong and positive presence in their lives. Men mostly learn how to be fathers from their own, so setting a good example for my boys is my main concern.
I want my boys to grow up into “real men”. Unlike the definition of a real man from the past, this now means growing into a passionate, active, and caring man rather than a muscle head or guy’s guy. Real men are strong not necessarily in their biceps, but in the strength of their convictions and principles. They are good husbands and fathers and teach their children to be real good men as well. Shaping them to be real men in this vein is how I look at being a father.