Posted October 26, 2009:
What Is a Man?

by Bill Ryan.

What does it mean to be a man? I was trying to find a definitive answer, something to put down in black and white, in concrete terms, but I couldn’t. Men I know who seem to have come to terms with their manhood tend to witness to it more by their actions than by their words.

Hugh O’Brien, who visits Madonna House from time to time, gave me a key to the solution. Hugh looks as though he’s in his seventies, but acts like he’s in his forties. He has the openness and resilience of someone younger than he really is.

Unmarried and unattached to land or lodging, Hugh is free to roam the globe, and he does just that, moving from place to place, volunteering with various organizations and communities, such as Habitat, with whom he helps build houses for the poor. (That’s the same organization that ex-U.S. president Jimmy Carter volunteers for.)

This is Hugh’s way of being a man—of nurturing, protecting, sheltering, serving.

Perhaps you’ve met him—in Ireland, his home country, or more likely in Australia, Missouri, Alaska, Africa, the Yukon.

Hugh is a thinker and doer more than a talker. If an important question is put to him, a question in which he must come down on one side or the other, he tends to screw up his face and rub his chin, saying, "Aach no, I don’t know… Maybe it ‘tis. … And then again, maybe it ‘tisn’t."

When Hugh last visited, he called me aside saying, "Let me show you something."

Pulling out a worn piece of paper, he unfolded it and gave it to me to read. On it in careful handwriting were words that began "A man is …"

I asked Hugh if he had written it. "Aach, no!" he said with a wave of his hand and then explained.

When he was working at a construction site in Mexico, a fellow volunteer, whose mother tongue was Spanish, had taken a liking to him and wanted to share his thoughts with him.

So the man had written on this piece of paper, in English (perhaps with the aid of a dictionary) his ideas about manhood.

Who was this man? A campasino or a high-born caballero? Had he copied the thoughts from a book in Spanish or composed them himself?

Hugh had no idea. But he found on this paper some important ideas expressed in a way he himself could never put into words.

I made a copy of those words when Hugh was here, smoothed the English a little, and I am happy to share them with you.

A man is not just a male, a member of the masculine sex. A man is an individual, someone different from everyone else.

A man is a person, someone worthy, responsible, conscious of his actions.

A man is a creator of something—a business, a stand, a way of life.

A man is a visionary, someone who dares to let his spirit soar and dream of something big….

A man is an organizer, someone who makes a plan and follows it, no matter how the circumstances may vary.

A man is self-disciplined. He sees the need to adopt a strategy based on solid principles and he chooses to follow that discipline, willingly and always.

A man is both prudent and courageous. He will risk doing things …. He knows what has to be done and when and how. He knows what has to be said and says it.

A man is both humble and honest. He knows how to say, "I made a mistake" and he resolves not to repeat the same error.

A man is both quiet and persevering. When he falls, he picks himself up without complaining and without making excuses for his failure.

A man is both courteous and protective. He respects and honors each person he meets. He does not allow himself or others to insult a woman, to mock the young, to ignore the old, to abuse the weak, or to tell lies to the ingenuous.

A man is both wise and loving. He understands that work is not so much a necessity as a privilege. He knows that life is not only for personal pleasure but is also an opportunity to serve others. He sees his life and labor as a chance to "make something" rightfully done.

A man is spiritually alert. He avoids using his knowledge or strength to take advantage of the ignorance and weaknesses of others.

A man seeks instead "the pearl of great price," the spiritual riches of God. He knows that on a day when he least expects it, a voice will say, "this very night you are to die. And for whom, now, are your earthly possessions?"

A man is a person of prayer, someone who knows God as lover, as friend, as the source of all serenity, all courage, all wisdom. He can thank him properly for the foresight of yesterday, the faith in tomorrow, the firmness of the present day.

The world needs men of such magnitude and strength.

—Excerpted and adapted from Restoration, February 1993.


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