With the word police working overtime the last few years, I have tried to understand the perspective of people who feel truly violated and debilitated by words and phrases. I stopped trying to explain connotation and denotation to the card-carrying members of the language patrol a while back. Sure, I rolled my eyes at the whole “Ban Bossy” fiasco led by Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, but I never bothered with an actual post about the inherent dangers in demanding a unified script for all humanity.
Because this time, they came after me.
Recently, a number of friends joined the mission against telling boys to “be a man.” For my pals, the expression was interpreted as a way to teach young lads to be insensitive, slothful jerks.
As though that is what being a man is truly about.
I have used the expression “be a man” with my sons countless times. I do not use it when they are crying, hurt, or showing sensitivity. I use it when I want them to fight a little harder, dig a little deeper, or demonstrate the courage of their convictions.
But what are we telling boys when there are actual campaigns AGAINST being a man?
This week, my late father-in-law, Daniel Walsh, will be inducted into the Mt. Carmel Hall of Fame. The remarkable Chicago high school has produced celebrated writers, heads of business, professional athletes, and politicians. Within its corridors hangs a sign:
“You come to Carmel as a boy. If you care to struggle and work at it, you will leave as a man.”
Dan knew struggle. When he was just 5, he lost his own father. While his brothers pursued careers as firemen, Dan toiled away at his schooling, eventually securing a law degree from DePaul University in the midst of raising seven kids.
And no matter what was going on or how much he had on his plate, he always handled the 3 a.m. feedings.
Because that was how he defined “being a man.”
As an attorney for 35 years with the same company, Dan showed up every day, believing that you honor your commitments. Yet he insisted on making it home for his kids’ games, recitals, and school events. He would race from field to field, putting in a few minutes at each game so his children knew he was there. Because he loved them.
As that was how Dan defined “being a man.”
When a son’s friend faced a difficult situation at home, Dan invited the young man to live with his wife and children. The teen stayed with the Walsh family a year, and Dan ultimately helped him receive an appointment to West Point. That young man is now a colonel in the U.S. Army.
Because Dan did what he thought a man should do.
When his beloved wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, he saw her fight as a shared one. He engaged an army of support for Rita and never once did he stop holding her hand.
That, above all, was how Dan defined “being a man.”
I thank Mt. Carmel High School for honoring this wonderful gentleman who lived a life of faith and service. I also suggest the school be on the lookout for Daniel, Jack, and Joey. My kids are definitely a handful, but I trust them to their good work in producing honorable and decent men.
Men like Dan.