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To be a man

This is something I wrote for my sons, as I watch them growing up. I try to be a good father; I don’t know that I succeed. They’re getting older, and I worry that somehow I’ve not armed them properly for being men – real men, not people pretending to live their lives.

I don’t know if it’s “high art” or anything – it’s literally something I wrote down in about ten minutes, like it was burning a hole in my hand – but it’s there.

When you are willing to give
  The freedom that you yourself desire
When you allow yourself the lighting
  Of someone else's fire
When you can serve as light and love
  In situations dire
You'll be a man to men, my son.

When you can speak the truth to lies,
  No matter how it hurts
When you can reach the wounded, 
  Despite your lack of words
When you can hold your honor,
  When the one you're with defers
You'll be a man to men, my son.

When you can call upon the Name
  With no shame within your heart
When you can live unrecognized
  Even when you've done your part
When you can give yourself in love
  With everything you are
You'll be a man to men, my son.

When you can hear the words you say
  With someone else's ears
When you can see with clarity
  Despite a wall of tears
When you can brave a challenge
  No matter what your fears
You'll be a man to men, my son.

There’s an obvious (and publicly admitted) tie to Rudyard Kipling’s “If,” which my mother made me memorize as a boy during my own struggles with maturity. I reread If after transcribing it (thus making this a self-referential posting); Kipling’s better than I. But my words aren’t his, nor his mine.

In the end, I wrote it because it’s my offering to my sons, my investment – I care enough not just to quote Kipling (although there’s nothing wrong with that; Kipling’s a fine author, and If is worthy reading) but to have my own words and meaning to give to them.

It’s like a handmade card, I guess, or a child’s ashtray made at school; I don’t smoke, but an ashtray made by my sons for me would be displayed among my most prized possessions, because it was their hands and their intent that created it and gave it merit.

This is my ashtray to you, my beloved children.