“A real man is a man who is real.” Gordon Dalbey
The authentic man defines the true modern man. There are 5 things the authentic man knows, but I didn’t know any of them when I was younger.
I remember being in high school, believing I had to wear the right clothes, be good at manly sports, date the popular girls, and drive a sweet car to fit in. After I checked the boxes, I still didn’t fit in.
I lacked confidence, so in college I started working out. I got muscular and ripped. People started noticing me, and it felt great. But despite my physical strength gains, I still lacked strength in myself.
Somehow, and maybe subconsciously, I believed my identity as a man could be achieved by focusing on what it looks like to be man. If I could achieve a manly appearance, and do all of the things a man does, then I could be a man by everyone’s standards. Then I would see myself as a man.
But I didn’t.
The biggest lie I believed was that I had to do it all alone. Life throws curve balls, hurdles, and addictions. It’s too much for one guy to handle by himself. Alone one night, I broke, or more aptly, exploded. There was a lot of pent-up bitterness, hiddenness, and hurt. I’d spent so much time focusing on the outside, I never paid attention to the bile growing within. I lurched it all on a God I didn’t know. After it all came out in a spewing rage, a peace came over me, and for the first time, I could listen and hear.
When I accepted I couldn’t handle this life alone, for the first time I was real and honest, and in that moment of authenticity, I opened a space where I could join others. Of course it didn’t happen automatically, and it didn’t happen right away.
In college, I stumbled across a campus ministry. I started attending the meetings and became involved because I had questions. What I found was a group of upperclassmen who wanted to take me under their wings. It was awkward because I didn’t comprehend their acceptance. It was new and I rejected it at first. Was there a catch? Why did these upper-class leaders who epitomized modern men want to invest in me?
One day, we were playing ultimate frisbee. At the end of the game, we all started heading to our cars to get something to eat. I realized my keys fell out while playing. I told them I’d catch them later, knowing it might take an hour or two to search the field and find them. But Tim rallied everyone back together. Arm-length apart a big group of guys walked the field in a line and found the keys in 5 minutes. I had to turn away from everyone. I was overcome. I had never experienced a group of men rallying together to help. It was powerful, and I’ll admit, emotional.
One of my favorite pictures is Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal. It features 5 Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the US flag on a mountain in Iwo Jima during World War II. It’s iconic, and I believe it touches a deep-seated truth resting, or even hidden, within every man.
One look at that flag and you realize any guy with average strength could have set up shop on a clear, perfect day by himself. In fact, the first time the flag was raised, it only required one man and an assistant. It was a small flag, though. A small flag just wouldn’t do. A big flag makes a statement; it can be seen miles away. In the midst of chaos and uncertainty, it took a group of men to raise a big flag and make that kind of statement.
Do you want to be known? Do you want to make an impact that will be seen and heard for miles? It takes war-torn men coming together, admitting they have a need, and helping each other to be the men they are called to be. When was the last time you heard a guy say to another, “I need you”? Authenticity allows us to accept the fact we need others, and with their help, we claim the small victories along the way. Together we celebrate them. In essence, we set up a flag indicating we’ve taken the high ground.
When I was in high school, I focused too much on outside appearance and appealed to an ego that wanted to save face. But in college, I surrendered that cause. With the help of God and men I began seeing my authentic self. What makes an authentic man?
5 Things The Authentic Man Knows
1. An authentic man knows who he is: Part of knowing who you are, is knowing whose you are. Last weekend, at a men’s retreat, we were asked to list the full names of our father, our grandfather, great-grandfather, etc. It was sobering. I didn’t know my great grandfather’s first name much less full name. You are not just a product of yourself. You were formed by many generations before you. How can you know yourself, if you don’t know what stock you have come from? Even if you come from a background you may not be proud of, there are still talents and gifts you can take hold of. How you use them, is up to you.
2. An authentic man knows how he feels: When you lack confidence in yourself, you won’t listen to your gut. You’ll mistrust yourself and your emotions. The modern man knows when to step away, and understands the benefits of spending time alone and in prayer. People feel safe with him because he conveys how he feels out of strength, not weakness. If he doesn’t feel a good gut reaction to a decision, he doesn’t make it. He trusts his instincts.
3. An authentic man knows what he can and cannot do: He understands his talents and his limitations. He’s not afraid to objectively analyze himself, even assessing with a SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats) analysis. With a willingness to be vulnerable, he doesn’t shy away from his shortcomings either. He understands the power of delegation, and that also makes him a leader.
4. An authentic man knows his worth: Shame cannot hide behind vulnerability, so it cannot diminish a modern man’s self-worth. Transparency doesn’t make a man weak, it frees him to understand his true worth. He doesn’t settle for less, and he doesn’t have time for settling. He has a long-term, visionary focus and won’t let present circumstances distract him or keep him from his calling.
5. An authentic man knows he needs someone at his 6: What does “Got Your 6” mean? In the military, if you’re facing forward, that’s 12:00. 6 is what lies behind. The modern man knows he needs a brother to help protect him from what he can’t see. The blind spots, any place vulnerable an authentic man may have uncovered? It’s guarded. “No man left behind.”
It’s tough to identify authentic men because most of us haven’t gotten the chance to spend time with one. Recently, Michael Egan (known as “The Wine Detective”) sent a master fraudster to prison for selling pricy counterfeit wine bottles. He’s one of the few people who can spot high quality replicas. How? According to him, “My colleagues and I were in the great position of looking at very large collections, which had always remained in the same cellar since they were bought, so we had an idea what the real bottles should look like.” In other words, he had seen and studied the real thing.
We all need a chance to be around and know authentic men, and most often, the first one we encounter is our father. It’s hard to pick out a counterfeit man if you’ve had an absent father, whether emotionally or physically. I had the chance to hear some experts talk about sex trafficking. 70% of exploited children and teens come from foster care. Why? Because they meet a man who offers hope, and at face-value appears to be a good man. They don’t have the real thing in their lives to help them recognize the fraudulent.
Even if you haven’t had a father present in your life, there is still a greater father you can turn towards. When I first went to the campus ministry my freshman year of college, I heard a guy pray to God as “Daddy.” I’d never heard that before, but I discovered it’s true. Jesus taught his disciples to pray to Abba which is equivalent to “daddy.” It denotes relationship. Don’t pray to a distant god, pray to a daddy who wants relationship with you, and also happens to be the creator of the universe.