What is the making of a man?
Some say it’s how he handles this news:
"Well, I think I may be pregnant."
Childbirth: It's the thing that will forever mark the difference between men and women. There’s no point denying it - she carries the baby, he does not. But of course, ‘he’ has a part to play – a very important part. So the question becomes, how well will he play it?
"When I told him, he immediately asked, 'is it mine?' "
Ouch. This story begins with a woman I know who found out the hard way the guy she was with wasn't ready to play the part of father. Nor, it seemed, was he ready for the role of responsible adult.
He had no grounds to believe the child came from another man; she was faithful. She was in love. She was as alarmed by the news as he was.
"I didn’t believe we were going to keep the baby,” she said.
“I found out, and told him because I thought that was what was right. I didn’t think I should make a decision about it on my own.
“But when he reacted the way he did, I couldn’t believe it. I was so, so hurt. I felt utterly abandoned. This was a situation that belonged to us both. A fact he seemed unable to accept. I was left thinking, ‘are you the right man for me?’ "
She soon found her answer. For that, and other reasons, he was not the right man for her. Their relationship was doomed because their values were different. But I have since heard this fellow gave a repeat performance to another woman.
“I’m pregnant,” she said. “It’s not mine,” he replied.
Was he not the right man for her as well? Perhaps. Though the wrongness here isn’t partner selection – it’s responsibility rejection. And that means he’s probably not only not ‘the right man’, but not a ‘man’ at all.
I believe it’s healthy to think of ‘manhood’ and ‘womanhood’ as things to be earned – descriptors linked to the umbrella term ‘adulthood’. Some people age, other people ‘grow up’. The difference between the two is a consciousness of personal development – maturation – applicable to those in the latter category. These people accept there are consequences for their actions, and that they are responsible for said consequences.
The lad we’ve been considering seems incapable of taking responsibility for one of the most fundamental consequences of human behaviour. He seems happy enough to participate in the fun bits, but come crunch time, he’s ball in bag and leaving.
Contrast that to the story of another man. A ‘real man’, if you like. He was young, and she was too, and they were both in love. She came to him one day with the news she’d been agonizing over - news that neither of them wanted, or expected. She thought, and their friends thought, that he would flip out. After all, he was a party boy, she was a party girl; they were both kids, not ready for kids of their own.
“It’s going to end badly,” someone said. “She’ll be left barefoot and pregnant.”
“He’s going to do a runner. There’s no way this will work out.”
But it did. He surprised them all. News that could have brought about ruin wound up spurring something pretty wonderful. They worked through a plan together. They figured out their future as best they could. They made it work. Both of them grew up fast. His transformation was especially profound. A boy one day, a man the next.
But it shouldn’t take the threat of creation to kick-start someone’s journey along the path to adulthood. That should begin regardless. For some people will never have children, some people cannot – that shouldn’t mean they’re locked in a place of permanent underdevelopment.
The problem is there used to be more pronounced phases of personal progress. Rites of passage were well defined. You were an infant, then a child, then a teenager, then an adult. Now, you can easily pass into the awkward category of ‘youth’, with all its ambiguity, only to one day find out you’ve wound up an ‘adult’, with all its expectations – expectations you’ve no idea how to meet, because no-one showed you how.
How do we address this in our modern world? How do we promote the idea that adulthood should be earned, not merely arrived at? How do we help young girls and boys grow into men and women without forcing them into terrifying sink-or-swim situations?
Tell me, what do you think? Do you consider yourself to be ‘grown-up’? How did you get there? Or, why are you still waiting?