Better Manhood: Identity – Knowing Who You Are and Whose You Are

I’m in the early stages of a series that I hope begins to change the optics of manhood and masculinity today. In the prior posts, Time for a Change, The Secrets to Becoming a Real (Godly) Man, and Start Being a R-E-A-L Man Here, I suggested the need to develop a better roadmap for becoming a man. In this next post, I will provide what I believe is the starting line on the roadmap to manhood begins by understanding your identity. I follow it with one about discovering your purpose, then unpack other points of the roadmap throughout the series. 

Why a Roadmap for Manhood?

As Simon Sinek would say, let’s start with the “why” for the roadmap. It’s simple. We need more men to become better men. 

Throughout history, males have misused their masculinity. Even today, it appears many guys have “gone off the road” because they don’t understand or are confused about manliness. Some examples include abandoning responsibilities, engaging in toxic relationships, or neglecting self-care and personal development. Others engage in excessive drug or alcohol use, or criminal activity.

In addition, we grapple with the idea of manhood from both a social and political lens. The current norms and expectations for manhood often cause confusion. For example, traditional views of masculinity often prioritize toughness, strength, and dominance, which can lead men to believe that expressing vulnerability or seeking help is a sign of weakness. This can prevent them from seeking help or support when they need it and lead to an increased risk of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

It’s important for men to understand that there is no one right way to be a man and that seeking help and support when needed is a sign of strength, not weakness. But I do believe the world needs better role models and guidelines for proper manhood. 

Let’s go to the starting point for better manhood: your identity as a man.  

What Exactly is a Man?

Whenever someone tries to define maleness or masculinity, people quickly assume being a man is defined by one’s gender and one’s genitals and what one chooses to do with said parts. Some say being a man means being aggressive, loud, violent, and dominant. Some emphasize the performative aspect of being a man. Others want men to be less manly, while some suggest we need tougher men.

There’s just a lot of confusion about what it means to be a man so let’s look at some definitions.

In a post titled, A Good (Definition of) Man Is Hard to Find: How We Define Manhood and Masculinity, Chase Replogle, author of the book, The 5 Masculine Instincts, offers three preliminary definitions that help reestablish what it means to be a man: 

  • Male: “a male person: a man or a boy”
  • Masculinity: “qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of males.”
  • Man: “An adult male person; a grown-up male person.”

My summation of those definitions is that when a male learns to apply his masculine attributes and experiences for good, he becomes a mature man who helps our world operate properly.  

Who Taught You to be a Man?

This is an interesting question to ponder. Your mother or father likely told you that you were a boy or a male at some point when you were young. 

But who taught you to be a man? 

Most of us had good role models who helped shape us into men today. Maybe it was your dad, uncle, grandfather, coach, pastor, or youth group leader. Maybe it was a neighbor, scoutmaster, boss, teacher, or mentor. If your mother taught you about proper manhood…YAY, mom! Likely, it was a combination of several of them.

But some of you may really hate this question because it brings back bad memories or pain and disappointment. Many males had no one to teach them what it means to be a man. Dad was absent from their life, either physically because he worked too much, or emotionally even when he was present in the house. Many guys grew up in a single-parent home since their dad left their mom to fend for herself. Too many guys had no role models.

Some of you may have had your identity destroyed by someone who berated you or planted lies in your head. “You’re not good enough.” or “You’re not qualified for that. You’ll never be accepted.” Hearing “You’ll never change. That’s just how you are!” may have destroyed your identity altogether. So you model yourself after celebrities, athletes, or actors. Or maybe follow wealthy gang leaders, pimps, and drug dealers. All are bad role models.  

So we need good role models to help younger guys become mature men.

Mature Man or Immature Male?

Much has been written about how boys and men are struggling in America. A number of books from Warren Farrell’s The Boy Crisis to Kay Hymowitz’s Manning Up cover much of the ground. But a new book by Richard Reeves, Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It provides recent data on male underperformance that’s not present in today’s public discourse about manhood and masculinity. 

Reeves, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, an established center-left think tank, refers to numerous studies that show how men are falling behind. I won’t bore you with all the statistics but he proposes reforms that help educate and train boys and men to close the gap. He also contends that men need to play a more active role as fathers. 

I agree with many of Reeves’ recommendations but strongly disagree with his idea that we live in a world where women don’t need men. His quote, “These policies are intended to support the development of a new model of fatherhood, suited to a world where mothers don’t need men, but children still need their dads,” is just wrong. 

We need more men in the lives of young males, not less. These are mature men who help males know who they are and how to use their masculinity for good. 

Understanding Who You Are

Knowing your identity as a man is important for several reasons. It helps you understand who you are, what you believe in, and what is important to you. Identity gives you confidence, helps your self-esteem, and increases your awareness of others. This helps your self-awareness and provides a sense of direction and purpose in life. It can help you make decisions that align with your values and goals. It can also help you form strong relationships and communicate effectively with others.

For men, understanding one’s identity shapes their beliefs and attitudes about masculinity, relationships, and what it means to be a man.

But many men believe that their worth is measured by how much money they make, how successful they are in their careers, and what achievements they have under their belt. These become a source of pride and satisfaction, and often make up a significant part of their identity. However, this focus on work and accomplishments often leads to stress and burnout, which takes a toll on their mental and physical health. They may also sacrifice personal relationships and ignore their own needs, leading to feelings of loneliness and emptiness.

Knowing Whose You Are

Understanding Whose you are, as a child of God, is even more important. You are loved by God for who you are. You are also forgiven through the grace of Jesus’ death on the cross.

Scripture informs that God created humans in His own image; male and female (Genesis 1:27). It reminds us that we were fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and that anyone who believes in Him, also becomes a child of God (John 1:12). Most importantly, Scripture tells us that we are so loved that we were bought with a price when Jesus died for our sins (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23, John 3:16). 

Mature manhood begins by understanding your identity. Knowing who you are as a man and Whose you are as a child of God, help develops maturity. It also helps you learn to love yourself and how to love others, regardless of who they are and what they do in their humanness.

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GodBuddy Focus

Despite what some people may say, masculinity is not a “zero-sum” game. Mature masculinity overlaps with and is complementary to strong femininity. It recognizes and values the different strengths and perspectives of each gender. It acknowledges and respects the importance of masculine and feminine traits.

Mature men understand that males and females are capable of exhibiting both masculine and feminine traits. They also know that when these traits are in balance, they have healthier and more harmonious relationships. When a man is in balance, he is mature and everyone wins; men, women –and especially children.

I also believe mature men become godly men by having deeper, more authentic friendships with other men. These are men who jointly desire to become more like Jesus, the ultimate role model for manhood. 

For discussion:

  • Were there aspects of the definitions for Male, Masculinity, and Man that surprised you? Why or why not? 
  • Who taught you to become a man?
  • What does it mean to be a mature secular man? What does it mean to be a mature biblical man? 

Feel free to comment below and forward this post to someone who may need it. Discuss this topic with a GodBuddy. And watch for my next post in two weeks.

[Feature Image by Emilian Robert Vicol from Pixabay]

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2 Responses

  1. It is precisely all these different areas of male identity issues – which are brought up in this truly excellent and comprehensive contribution – which, taken as a whole, constitute the one great unfinished – one might almost say traumatic – issue of my entire life: that of the emotionally absent father, and that of the absent male role model (especially during my adolescence).

    Despite my struggle for decades now, first of all to develop my own viable identity in order to then – in a second step – perceive myself as a man and to be able to define myself as such, I unfortunately have little advice to offer to other men, except perhaps my realization that I consider a male role model that actually exists and is tangible on a daily basis to be essential to be able to successfully master this process of self-discovery.

    This role model, which can be seen and experienced in everyday life, should be present from the time a boy reaches puberty at the latest, because what is not achieved during these formative years can create a lifelong deficit, even an inner vacuum, which not only can lead to identity problems, but also to not being able to develop a sustainable way of life.

    What has allowed me to develop a self-image of myself as a man just now – at an advanced age – was a conscious complete turning away from all external influences that played into this topic a few years ago.

    Instead of continuing to look outside for answers or help for my identity problem, an intensive, repeated listening to my inner voice, to my real needs, and to my body feeling, has me now – at 57 years – so far to come to myself that I am now actually able to speak of myself as a man. And not just as a man, I would even say a manly man.

    What I want to say is that pop stars, athletes or politicians are false gods that boys should not follow in their search for their own identity as a man, just as the image of men spread in the mass media in general. If there is no real role model in one’s own life, the only thing that helps is to reflect on oneself, because what many other people want to tell you about how they think you should be, feel and behave as a man is usually nothing more than manipulative.

    As a child of the baby boomer generation, whose father hid his emotional absence behind the then-fashionable catchphrase “anti-authoritarian upbringing,” this resulting lack of stability actually caused massive problems in my life. How grateful and happy I am now that I’ve managed to establish solid contact with myself as a man.

    How being a man is then actually defined in terms of one’s own behavior is secondary in my view. What counts is finding yourself and being able to live with what you find inside. Civilizing one’s own male attributes, which may be excessive in some areas, would then be the next step to which one must devote oneself in one’s inner work.

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful reply Bartolomeu. I am so glad to you are on the better side of the trauma of an absent father and absent male role models. Identity is important for men and essential to the self-discovery to your image and well-being as a man, The good news is you learned to turn away from external influences and are now able to speak of yourself as a mature man. You will be a great role model for younger guys who struggle the same.

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