Writing stories to pass values from one generation to the next

The Journey: What Is a Real Man?

What is a real man?

The Journey: What Is a Real Man?

What is a real man? It’s a journey I have taken–am still taking–with both of my boys. Years ago, I taught a couple of classes of seventh-grade boys and took them through the journey, as well. Most of them can still recite the four principles of a real man that I taught them. I made sure of that before our epic, double-elimination paper football tournament during finals week. So what is a real man?

  • Is a real man a cowboy, a loner with no one to answer to but himself?
  • Is a real man the one who does whatever it takes to make it to the top of his profession?
  • Can a real man ever, ever wear skinny jeans and drink a latte?
  • Is a real man one who gains fame or power?
  • Does a real man have to have grease under his fingernails?
  • Are there other, more legitimate answers to the question of what is a real man?

In writing the Coach Dave series, some of my characters came face to face with the question, too. What is a real man? As it so often happens in real life, it wasn’t the young teenagers asking the question–though one of them sparked the conversation–as much as it was their fathers asking it. Their sons’ impending physical manhood spurred the greater discussion among the dads.

I remember having a conversation another baseball coach whose young teenage son had begun to ask difficult questions. Like many men, he felt ill-equipped to help his son. This coach told me that he was having to engage and to study to keep up in their ongoing conversation. That’s what happens to so many dads–the ones who stick around long enough to get to the teenage years. Very few made it to parenthood with a clear path to manhood. So when their sons begin to ask the “What is a real man?” question in whatever form it takes, they begin to scramble like the Southburg dads.

Check out the excerpt below from Coach Dave Season Four: Travel Ball, due out around the first of April 2017.

What is a real man?Coach Dave and his players are back, playing this time as a thirteen-year-old travel team. Rooster, Dean, Charlie, Brad, and the other dads are back, too, in their most crucial roles yet, laying out a pathway to manhood for the Scarlet Knights. Throw in new competition, a mystery scout, and the trouble brewing in rival Coach Fletcher Brandt’s household, and the team is in for an eventful summer.

What Every Boy Wants

On Monday night at our kitchen table, while Rob and his teammates were teaching baseball skills to a group of nine-year-olds at the park, Whitney Brandt came to see Kate. She asked me to stay in the kitchen with them for a while since much of what she needed to say involved Hunter, and she wanted a man’s perspective.

“I do not want a divorce. A divorce doesn’t do any of us any good, especially Hunter. Fletcher’s dad and his step-dad are the biggest reasons he is the way he is today. They chose their careers over Fletcher, and even though he doesn’t like to talk about it, he still feels the sting of playing second fiddle. His real dad just bailed when Fletcher was really young. Then, his step-dad drove Fletcher too hard when he was playing ball, but then he just up and left him and his mother, too. I don’t want Hunter to end up like either one of them down the road. As good a kid as he is, it could happen because Fletcher was once very much like Hunter, believe it or not.”

Whitney raised her coffee cup to her lips and then retuned it to the table without taking a sip. “I love my husband very much, but he’s in a deep hole with this baseball obsession. I can’t get him to see what he’s doing to us, what he’s doing to Hunter. I’m desperate. I have even sent text messages to Fletcher’s real dad to try to get him to talk some sense into him. I’ve never even met the man, and he doesn’t answer my texts, but…” She trailed off but took a deep breath and continued. “Fletcher hasn’t spoken to him in probably fifteen years. His name and phone number are written on the inside front cover of Fletcher’s little baseball notebook, though. It’s like all of his success coaching youth baseball is somehow going to transmit through a handwritten phone number and make his dad proud of him.”

“That makes sense,” I mumbled to myself.

“What?” Whitney asked.

“Every boy wants his dad to be proud of him, to know that he has what it takes to be a man. It doesn’t go away at some magical age of adulthood, either. It’s one of the things I’m learning from this manhood group that Charlie Jones is leading the boys through. The dads are learning to teach our boys what it means to become a man. I’ll be honest, though, not many of us could define manhood when we first started.” I felt a twinge of compassion toward Fletcher Brandt.

How Would You Answer the Question

I’ll tell you how I answered the question in my next post. I’ll reveal more about how the dads in Coach Dave Season Four: Travel Ball answered the question as the publication date nears. First, though, I would be interested to know how you answer the question.

What is a real man?

About Al Ainsworth

Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell. Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel, Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and the Coach Dave series. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.

What do you think?