I have a friend who grew up on a Midwest farm; I'l call him Gene. As a young boy, Gene and his father were visiting their neighbor’s farm, and my friend wandered by himself into the barn. He accidentally knocked over an unlit kerosene lamp.
When the neighbor found the broken lamp, Gene said he didn’t know how it happened.
The neighbor believed him – because Gene’s father had such a strong reputation for honesty. On their way home, the father asked. “Did you break the lantern?” and Gene said yes. So they made a U-turn and went back to the neighbor’s place.
I still get teary eyed about this – we drove up as our neighbor, John, was just going into the house. There was no way I was going to get out of the car.
My dad said, “My son wants to tell you something.”
I said “I’m sorry, John. I broke your lantern.”
To this day, what I remember about this experience is John leaning down, looking through the open car door at me. I’m looking down and crying.
And John said, “Well, by God, it takes a real man to admit that he lied.” He didn’t say another word. My dad got back in the car.
My dad didn’t say another word. We drove home. We went and slopped the hogs and milked the cows.
"By God, it takes a real man to admit that he lied,” and somehow I felt like I was, that I was a good person. That I was willing to admit that I had screwed up. It was like this coming of age thing.
Like being accepted into manhood. Accepted into the company of these honest men.
We, our sons and every boy need to be welcomed into the company of men with integrity and respect. That need becomes more vivid when we have children of our own and imagine our sons (or our daughters) battling with our culture’s male gender straightjacket and its narrow ideas about manhood.
We need to be their example -- men courageously sharing our integrity and respect. Ironically, our daughters can help us learn how. As another father friend once told me:
I think that if girls can have that kind of emotional, honest, soft kind of relationship with their fathers, it could go a long way to changing things for the better for men and boys.
What's your experience entering or belonging to the Company of Men? Share your story and thoughts in the comments below.