Will You Teach Me How to Be a Man?

When I was 3 my old man taught me how to skate. I think it was the same year I learned how to throw a baseball and football and throw a punch, but hockey is what’s stuck in my mind as my first athletic skill because with skating and puck-handling I was also shown how a man can handle pain.

I grew up in a college town nestled within Vancouver, BC. A five-walk from our townhouse was an ice rink where my dad would play some pretty competitive beer league hockey. ‘Twas an old rink when we lived there. It had cage fastened above the boards instead of the glass that you see in modern rinks. The asbestos that covered the ceiling of the building mixed with the temperature and the sweat of the players and the smell that ice shouldn’t have, but does, made for an oddly inviting scent. And then there was the shape.

If you’ve never seen an ice rink before the boards usually encase the entire ice surface; that wasn’t so with this particular ice rink. Some ingenious architects made a rectangle ice surface, so where the boards would curve and round, the ice would extend beyond their borders forming a small surface outside of the actual rink. This extra ice was tiny, but so was I, and so it was enough of a space for me to learn to skate. While my old man played hockey I’d bring my skates and watch while skating and stick handling with my mini puck and my mini stick.

On one specific day early in my skating career when we were at the rink, I, skating alone in that corner while my old man played in a game, when my pop broke his nose. Today, my dad’s nose twists and curves like a water slide from being broken a half dozen times, and so far as I know this was the last time. I was 3 or 4, and while I don’t remember how it happened I do remember the image; I think you could see bone and there was plenty of blood gushing down his face, yet there he stood calmly on the bench talking to his friends and to his wee little son as if nothing had happened.

It had to be painful, but he didn’t show a thing; not a wince nor a flinch. That, in my little mind, was toughness. I didn’t walk away thinking that a man should bottle his emotions or act like a stone, but that he has a choice when it comes to what he shows the world and what he doesn’t, he can show his pain or he cannot, the choice is entirely his if he has the toughness and the discipline to do so. My old man chose not to show his pain, and years later when I entered the ring to fight other human beings, I made the same choice.

As my opponent was huffing and puffing and wincing and flinching, I showed nothing. Though the pain was there and a part of me wanted to quit I showed nothing because if I did it would give him energy and hope and me an excuse to quit before I’d completed my mission, just like my dad probably wanted to save his son from the fear and dread of seeing his dad in pain.

Toughness isn’t the absence of fear or pain, that’s stupidity and there’s a disease that leads you to feel no pain. Toughness is taking control of either and making it yours, often using it to your benefit. As boys or young men or grown men who still act like they’re boys we need to hear this. We need to know what toughness is because a man who doesn’t have toughness – and all toughness is mental – can’t call himself a man or be a leader, a role model to his son. Thankfully I was taught this lesson very young and it’s stuck with me forever.

One thing to keep in mind, there’s a king in every crowd. That is, there’s always someone watching you, so act like it. Act like God’s eyes are always on you, or your son’s or daughter’s or wife’s. Act like there’s always a boss watching how hard you’re working or what time you stroll into work. They say never judge, but we’re always being judged, it’s unavoidable, so act accordingly.

A year or so later my old man taught me another lesson.

I was 4, possibly 5, and friends with an older kid in my neighborhood. In his heart he was a good kid, but he had a few issues. For one, he lied like a rug and to everyone, you never knew what was true and what was a part of his imagination. Secondly, he’d pick on me from time to time. He’d push me around, using his size and 3 years on me to his advantage.

One day while my old man and I were playing hockey in the basement I told him about the kid who’d pick on me. What happened next was one of the most important moments a father can share with his son, not for bonding purposes, but because it will shape who that boy is and what he accomplishes in life. His advice was simple: fight back. Stand up and beat back the bully. His words: You know, Chad, sometimes you have to stand up for yourself and fight. If this kid pushes you around I want you to fight back. 

I can still feel the smile on my face when he told me to stand up for myself. If my dad never told me to stand up for myself, and I never did stand up for myself, I’d spend my entire life as a victim – and the world doesn’t need another victim, we’re riddled with victims, what we need is leaders. Had I not been taught this lesson I’d accept that a pushover and a victim was just who I am because I’d never know anything else.

As boys it’s important that we know that we can stand up and fight back so as men we do stand up and fight back when things matter most, usually fighting for others not just ourselves. The key word is fight. Ladies, you may not understand how important this is, but a boy needs to get in a fight every now and then to prove to himself that he can endure, that he’s to be respected, and to find that respect he should have for himself. And yes, I mean a physical fight. He needs to hit and be hit to know that he can withstand and that he’s powerful, more powerful than he initially realized.

Many, maybe even most, boys don’t get this advice. They aren’t taught how to throw a punch or when to throw one or how to walk onto a playground and pick the biggest bully and use him to make an example, even if that example is to show that you have courage and aren’t one to be pushed around getting your ass kicked in the process. But every boy needs this.

So my dad told me I could fight back and beaming with pride the next day I went out to play with my older pal, this time though he was being nice, sadly I didn’t let that stop my moment to stand up for myself. We were playing in the conjoined backyard of the family housing property we lived in when I grabbed the kid. My old man was upstairs when he heard me yell, Hey Dad! As he peeked out of the window I yelled again, Watch this!

Drawing back my right hand with my left hand grasping this poor kid’s shirt I walloped him right in the kisser. He was down, but not for long. When he got up he had tears streaming down his eyes, half surprised and half hurt, he ran home screaming his mommy’s name never to bully me again.

The moral of the story, aside from the fact that boys need to learn how to stand up for themselves, is to be very specific as to when you tell your sons to defend themselves. I took the advice but used it at the wrong time. Oh well, lesson learned, and as a result I lived my life not as a bully or a victim, but as a leader who knew both sides of the coin.

Growing up my dad was always my coach. He’d coach me in hockey and baseball and once in a while in soccer. He took an interest and he taught me not just about the sports, but how sports can teach you how to be a man. As a side note, every boy should be involved in sports in some capacity. Competition, and not this “everyone’s a winner bullshit”, is vital to succeeding in life, as is discipline. And it’s through sport that I learned discipline, without it I wouldn’t be doing what I do today, which is exactly what I want to be doing.

It was a hot day on the baseball diamond. My dad was one of a few coaches and I was having a solid season – I was only about 8 but solid seasons could still be had. I was playing short stop, and not to boast but I was one of the better fielders and batters and was a captain on the team, a leader. On this one day, however, I learned what a leader truly was, and yes, my dad taught the lesson.

Standing in the short stop position and being a boneheaded kid I saw one of the other kids on the team scratching his balls. Seeing this as my opportunity to get some laughs I yelled out, Hey, stop scratching your balls and play the game!

It was a success, kind of. As laughter spread across the diamond and a smile came across my face I caught a look at my dad who had a completely different expression on his face. He subbed me off immediately, sat me down, and told me something that I needed to hear, and something that stuck with me every day since.

You’re a leader on this team. You yelling that out at him wasn’t how a leader acts, that’s how a bully acts. That’s how a coward acts, do you understand me? Now go out right now and apologize to him. Lift people up, Chad, don’t ever tear them down.

Here’s how I see a true leader, and it’s largely shaped by the lessons my pop taught me growing up:

A leader isn’t the popular kid in high school who sits with his popular friends surrounded by babes and yes men who’ll do whatever he says. The true leader may be the popular kid, but that’s not who he’s sitting with. He notices the kid in the corner of the cafeteria who sits alone everyday. He walks over and sits next to him. He befriends him. He lifts him up. That’s what a true leader is and that’s how we have to raise our sons.

As time went on and I got older the lessons didn’t cease. Whether it’s from his example or his words, I’m constantly learning how to be a man from my old man.

My lessons in manhood weren’t – and aren’t – relegated to being taught by my dad. I’ve learned how to be a man from books, actually, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a man from books. I’ve learned about manhood through articles on the internet and through friends and other people in my life, namely my mom.

The point is that manhood isn’t a right. I wasn’t born knowing how to be a man or what that entails. It is, and has been, a lifelong series of lessons filled with failures and loss but also triumph and victory. You don’t become a man the moment your balls drop, manhood is often thrust upon us and it’s how we react that determines the kind of man we are and it’s the lessons we learn in life from our parents, friends and foes and books and articles that will aid us in realizing our place in this world as a man and a warrior.

And so, this site is here not merely to tell you stories about manhood or show you how to build your strongest, toughest, healthiest body, but to define what masculinity is and to in some small way bring to light the lessons you and I are going to need to learn on our road to manhood, a road that will never end.