What is a Man?

 

All too often, some of the most critical aspects of our lives require absolutely no formal training — marriage and parenting, for example. You do not have to take a class to become a parent or even to marry someone, even though these are both lifelong commitments. No formal training is required for these monumental tasks, and unfortunately many of us do not even seek out information that would be beneficial to us. The impact of these decisions will be significantly felt by all participants and will affect their overall quality of life for years to come.

If a “Man University” existed, the class that would be taught to qualify a male for marriage, parenting, and family life in general would be called Manhood 101. I can hear every woman who is reading this book breathe a deep sigh of relief as she vigorously rubs her hands together in anticipation! And that’s simply because for far too long, women have had to bear the infirmities of grown males who never matriculated into manhood. (I’ll explain the “grown male” concept in greater detail as we go.) For now, let me briefly talk about the word matriculate and why I constantly use it in describing the process that a male goes through in maturing into his manhood.

Merriam-Webster’s definition for matriculate is “to enroll as a member of a body and especially of a college or university.” To enroll in anything is a choice. And a male has to choose to enroll in the body of manhood, which will in turn mature him into a Man. Additionally, this book will also serve as a metaphorical university aimed at providing a foundation for manhood. So when I say “matriculate into manhood,” I’m referring to the choice we all, as males, make to dedicate ourselves to earning the title of “Man.” I want to stress here that we have to earn the title, not just have it freely given to us because we reach a certain age.

Now, let’s take a hypothetical stroll on the campus of “Man University.” Let’s pretend for a moment that I have been appointed as the president of this institution of higher learning and that I am also the professor for the Manhood 101 course. In university terms, this course would not be considered an elective. This indeed would be a required course for both grown males and Men alike.

I would begin my first lecture by explaining to the class that it is our mission here at Man U to turn males into Men — to elevate Men to their highest degree of manhood — and if women were to audit this class, to teach them how to readily identify a Man in order to avoid dating or marrying merely a grown male. Our very first Manhood 101 lecture would cover information that can be found within the biblical story of Jesus Christ. To drive home the point, I would set up my projector and drop the screen down so that the students could see Christ modeling the example that all Men should mirror: service over self.

Paul the apostle once identified Jesus as the ultimate example of servant leadership.1 Far be it from me to disagree with the apostle on that. Christ is the embodiment of God, or you might say, “God in the flesh.” His life clearly reminds me that we were destined to embody the same qualities and purpose when we were created. In fact, Christ is my daily standard and the mechanism that steadies my course.

The First Male

I’m further reminded of my shortcomings and my susceptibility to them as I examine the Bible’s story of Adam in the Garden of Eden.2 God had given Adam explicit instructions that specifically explained which trees he could eat from and which ones he couldn’t. Many people see Eve’s offering of the fruit to Adam as unfortunate and blame her for Adam’s failure. I am not one of those people. I deeply believe that Adam couldn’t clearly see who he was as a man without the fruit, so he allowed his flesh to indulge. While he accepted it from Eve, I can imagine he did so because he was looking for something or someone to serve as his scapegoat in order to feed his need. While this may have been Adam’s problem, it has become problematic throughout the history of mankind.

As I alluded to earlier, many people have drawn the conclusion from the text that the woman, in this case, Eve, is the “weaker vessel,” or simply weaker than her counterpart, her husband, Adam.3 It has been my observation that women generally are emotional first. The many women I have encountered in more than a half century of life make me convinced this is accurate. These women include my mother, my grandmother (may she rest in peace), my wife, and my daughter—to name just a few. But again, that’s generally speaking. Men, generally speaking, are physical first. (We will certainly explore the potential for peril or peace in these differences later.) All that being considered, a Man must demonstrate that he is the “stronger vessel” by resisting anything that would lead him to become overemotional or inappropriately physical. A Man must make decisions out of an accumulation of facts and a logical application of them.

As previously promised, let’s cover the difference between being a Man and being a male.

My son, in these years of his adolescence, often finds himself asking his mom for anything and everything he could otherwise get for himself. She and I could be sitting in close proximity to one another, but he always makes a beeline for my wife. “Mom, can you get me some grapes?” “Mom, can you get me something to drink?” “Mom, Mom, Mom…” Why is that? Simple! He knows she will serve him, no matter the request. My son, despite my daily example of manhood, is in the midst of maleness. That’s acceptable right now because he’s a boy who lacks the full development of the prefrontal cortex a male typically possesses. The prefrontal cortex is the region of the brain used for complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderation of social behavior.

The book of 1 Corinthians reminds us,

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. —4

The ways of grown males are usually those of a child, and children constantly want to be served. My son knows I would have him do things for himself whenever possible, not because I don’t love him or because I don’t serve him as well. I do love him; however, my job is to get him to learn how to serve himself as he prepares to become a godly servant who ultimately begins to serve others.

With anything we want to become good at, we have to be diligent about doing the appropriate amount of “reps” (practice). In other words, my job is to make sure he gets practice at being self-sufficient. I often say, “When we enable a boy, we disable a Man.” As his manhood drill instructor, I am responsible, further, to keep drilling home the ways of a Man so that when he is no longer an adolescent, he will be prepared to matriculate into manhood. However, it is vitally important for him to complete his boyhood first. Completing his boyhood allows him to elevate his mind and spirit in a timely fashion.

When we enable a boy, we disable a Man.

MOTH to a Flame

Boys who come from an environment that would like them to be responsible enough and strong enough to be a Man are often urged to act like one without the necessary skill sets to be one. They sometimes come from backgrounds where the father is missing or inactive in the home, and a Man supplement is needed. The pressure to act like a Man can cause the kind of trauma to a boy that scars him and scares him out of ever getting prepared to be a Man.

When a boy is told he is the “Man of the house” (or MOTH), simply because no other males are present, it is often confusing and frustrating. Many young males in my neighborhood who had absent fathers were given the MOTH title because no other male was present, and many of them never recovered from it. Think about how traumatizing it was for them to be given a title and expectations that they did not possess the skill sets to fulfill. As the MOTH, devoid of the power to make any key decisions about the direction of the household or the tools to formulate them, and frequently chastised by their female parent, many of my friends were left feeling powerless in the place they called home, often viewing the woman of the house as someone they would be in battle with and not in partnership with.

This is a common phenomenon that rarely gets examined. The MOTH is assigned to a house that will burn him due to the flames — the fires that often flare up in unbalanced households. His mother has dubbed him a “Man” but will shame him for not performing like one in the hopes that it will activate him to become one. (Rarely does it ever happen.) It leaves many of our brothers feeling as though they will never be able to live up to the title of “Man” because no one ever explained that manhood isn’t an age or a title that someone gives you to fill a void; rather, it is a collection of skill sets and a dedication to service.

When boys are forced to abandon their boyhood because they’ve been told to “act like a Man,” they simply become actors, pretenders, in the ways of manhood. And just as a gentle reminder, this “acting” usually happens when a mother who has no Man in the home needs to have a functioning male helper to contribute to the inner workings of the house. Some moms think that if they give their son the title of Man, it will magically activate it. This is how boyhood gets stolen from young boys trying to become the Men who are missing from their families. One can compile a long list of pop singers, athletes, actors, and high-profile people in general who were forced to abandon their boyhood to “act like a man” or be the MOTH. The effects are catastrophic and usually irreversible.

What is a Man?

We now come to the cream of the crop. Man! A grown male and a Man are polar opposites. They are like magnets with the same pole that repel and oppose each other. A male who is grown is stuck in the mentality of a boy and generally looks to be served. A Man, simply put, is a male who generally looks to be of service. Let’s pause for a minute and let that sink in. A male seeks to be served; a Man seeks to be of service. These two entities could not be more opposite. A Man is the “industry standard” of males. He is the standard-bearer who covers every woman and child in his life. Notice that I didn’t state that he covers only his woman and his children. A Man is a walking “tree” that provides proper cover from all of the elements in the world that bring harm to his village or his tribe. His daily mission is to choose service over self and deny his flesh that is looking to derail and betray him. Manhood is not finite. There are levels to it.

Manhood is like a martial art. Even when you’ve learned to like your manhood, there are higher and higher degrees of it that you should seek to achieve. In martial arts, most people are trying to achieve the rank of a black belt. However, the black belt is not the destination. It simply becomes a small portion of the journey. There are first-degree black belts, second-degree, third-degree, and so on. There are even grand masters. Many males give up on the practice of manhood because the pursuit of it, much like a martial art, is endless. Becoming a Man is the expectation of every male who is ever born! Unfortunately, some never get the information necessary to achieve Man status, while many never actually apply the information they do receive.

A male seeks to be served; a Man seeks to be of service.

Watch the video:

Dondré in conversation with actor Will Smith on his YouTube channel Male Vs. Man.

 

1. See Philippians 2:5–11.
2. Read Genesis 3 for the whole story.
3. The phrase “weaker vessel” comes from 1 Peter 3:7 in the classic translation of the Bible, the King James Version, as well as in a few other modern translations. You won’t actually see it in the Adam and Eve story in Genesis.
4. 1 Corinthians 13:11.

Excerpted with permission from Male vs. Man: How to Honor Women, Teach Children, and Elevate Men to Change the World by Dondré Whitfield, copyright Dondré Whitfield.

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Your Turn

In what ways have you been the “grown male” in your life? In what ways do you feel you have matriculated into true Biblical manhood, and what have been the challenges? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

 

Dondré Whitfield

Veteran actor Dondré Whitfield is a three-time Emmy and NAACP Image award nominee. He has appeared with such celebrated actors as John Travolta, Helen Mirren, David Oyelowo, Michael B. Jordan and Kevin Hart among many others. Off-camera, Whitfield is passionate about helping address the challenges and pressures of masculine identity in the 21st century. He co-created The Manhood Tour, a global movement committed to awakening the consciousness of men, giving them the keys to effective and impactful leadership, and teaching them how to tap into their talents and live to the highest degree. He has traveled throughout the country speaking on behalf of the movement, inspiring youth to overcome distractions and modeling for young men and peers the concept of servant leadership and what it truly means to “be a man.”

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