10 Guiding “Manhood” Principles

IMG_2128.JPGIt’s just a few months away now until our son Dylan gets Bar Mitzvahed. My wife and I are veterans of the process, having proudly seen our daughter Rebecca do a masterful job for her Bat Mitzvah back in May 2012. Similar to what our Rabbi asked Rebecca during the introductory Bat Mitzvah preparation consultation for the family, the same question was again posed to our son. “What does it mean to you to become a Bar Mitzvah?” To no surprise, the way most 12 year old Jewish boys respond , Dylan said it is the day that “I become a man.” Oy Vey. His answer got me thinking. What have I instilled in my son during the first 12 years of his life that will eventually prepare him for “manhood”? I hesitate to use the word manhood as society apparently frowns upon the characterization of a particular gender being associated with a certain trait, activity or demeanor. So not to offend those with gender sensitivities, I would say these guiding principles for my son can easily be shared with any child no matter what stage of life he or she is in. I view these principles as a reeducation of our youth that seems to have lost its way with certain values, work ethic and conduct.
1. Make sure you never throw the first punch, but be sure to throw the last No one should ever lay a hand on another person to resolve their differences. However, once that line is crossed, the last thing I want Dylan to do is to just walk away. In school, kids are encouraged to report physical confrontations to a teacher right away. I tell Dylan to hit the kid back first, then find the teacher to report it. Win or lose, nothing helps a kid’s self confidence more than standing up for himself.
2. Never welch on a bet
Don’t encourage your kids to gamble. Its a bad habit that leads to bad outcomes. Nevertheless, I like to remind Dylan that if he chooses to make a bet with someone, he better have the means to pay if he loses. Welching on a bet is breaking your word. There is nothing more sacred than a person’s word and once broken, it can never be repaired.
3. Don’t be embarrassed to say “I love you”
It’s a requirement in our house when he leaves the house, leaves the car and before he goes to sleep. If your son can’t learn to say I love you to his parents, who is he ever going to be able to say “I love you” to?
4. Be on time for wherever you are suppose to be
Tardiness isn’t funny. Its rude, inconsiderate and definitely a sign of immaturity. I always tell Dylan, don’t keep anyone waiting for you. Want to be a man? Then be where you are suppose to be when you say you are going to be there.
5. Look at a person in the eye when you talk to someone – One of the hardest things for anyone to do is to look at a person square in the eye when talking. Distractions, uneasiness, lack of interest all cause kids and more than a fair share of adults to have trouble with eye to eye contact during conversation. Dylan has learned that the best way to trust someone’s words is through their eyes. And for him to be trusted by others in life, the same will be required of him.
6. Always give a firm handshake
Did he give you the dead fish Dylan? Yeah Dad, he did. Thats terrible! What’s that you say? Its the handshake from that person that feels like you could actually detach their hand from their wrist and walk away with it if you chose. Dylan has learned to appreciate what a handshake actually means and why it is so important. It demonstrates attentiveness, respect, enthusiasm and most importantly, confidence. For those of you that subscribe to the “elbow bump” instead of a handshake out of fear for germs, I really don’t know what to tell you. Oh wait, yes I do. Invest in hand sanitizers!
7. Not everyone wins a trophy
There was nothing that I disliked doing more as a coach for my son’s baseball team than giving participation trophies. Its one of the worst messages a kid can receive. Success in life comes through failure and perseverance, not by rewarding mediocrity. One of my proudest moments for Dylan was when he made his school basketball team in 5th grade, a year after failing to make the team. The coach never gave him a 4th grade “thanks for trying out” trophy. Do they even have those?
8. The more difficult choice is usually the right one
Whether its including an unpopular kid in a group activity or keeping a plan with a friend instead of opting for something for more fun, Dylan knows that his actions eventually come full circle. The more you have to rationalize your choice with yourself or others, the more likely it is the wrong one. Nothing symbolizes “manhood” more than the choices one makes.
9. Never make excuses
Dylan’s favorites expression is “Excuses are like ….holes, everyone has one”. He knows thats its okay to make mistakes and not be flawless. But no one, including me, wants to hear excuses for failure. If you have excuses, it means you don’t have a plan for making things better. Men have plans and children have excuses.
10. You are no better or worse than anyone else
It is really the simplest principle of all. It doesn’t matter how much money a person has, what religion they practice, what physical advantages they might have, what their sexuality might be or what the color of their skin is. Dylan has come to realize at early age in life that not everyone he comes across will have his respect, but everyone has an equal chance of earning it.