50 Life Lessons To Help My Son Become a Man

Written by Alex on October 5, 2011 - 4 Comments

There are some who say men are in trouble.  One person who says that is William J. Bennett, the former Secretary of Education, former National Drug Czar, and conservative pundit.


Now, I’m not here to debate politics.  Bennett has his views and I have mine.  Often I disagree with him and think he’s just a fat, small-minded guy with a big mouth.


But, regardless of politics, Bennett, in his article, argues that men are falling behind and becoming increasingly irrelevant.  http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/04/opinion/bennett-men-in-trouble/.  And, he offers some statistics to make his point.  The statistics (as is the case with all statistics) are open to interpretation, and, in the past, I might scoff at Bennett’s argument as the grumblings of a conservative White guy who has nothing better to do than tell other people how to live their lives.  But I think even opponents of Bennett would say there is some “there” there.


However, far from throwing in the towel, he argues that we need to redouble our efforts to raise “men” (as opposed to man-boys who play video games and have bromances).  Now, look, I’m a man, and I’m not opposed to video games or bromances.  I think retaining a little bit of your inner Peter Pan is a good thing.


At the same time, there is something to be said for the idea that men should be “men” in the best sense of the word “men” (as opposed to, say, Charlie Sheen).  If nothing else, we need someone new to play James Bond each generation.


How do you teach boys to become men?


Well, one way is you leave them alone completely and let nature take its course.  After puberty, a boy is a “man.”  He may not act like one, but he is one.


Another way is you could Bar Mitzvah every boy everywhere.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Jewish tradition, the Bar Mitzvah is when Jewish boys are called in front of the congregation to read from the Torah.  Upon completing this task, the boy is considered a man, and from that point forward he is expected to act accordingly.  For Jewish men this means, worrying obsessively about everything, going to therapy, and not calling your mother enough times to satisfy her.


Yet a third way would be to have some sort of competition.  Sure, why not?  We love contests and competitions in the U.S.  We could have Simon Cowell host it.  It would be called “American Man” and boys from around the country would compete by singing and dancing. And, the winner would be declared “America’s Man.”  He would then celebrate his victory by getting caught in a hotel room with illicit drugs and a woman who wasn’t his girlfriend or wife, and . . . yeah, you’re right.  Bad idea.


So, how do we do it?  How do we turn boys into men?


As is typical of naysayers and social critics, Bennett is long on criticisms and short on answers.  His response on how to turn boys into men is a general prescription:   ”For boys to become men, they need to be guided through advice, habit, instruction, example and correction . . . .  We need to respond to this culture that sends confusing signals to young men, a culture that is agnostic about what it wants men to be, with a clear and achievable notion of manhood.”


But, can’t we go a step further?  Can’t we get a little more detailed?  I’m not just asking this as an academic question.  I have a vested interest.  My wife and I just had a son 6 weeks ago.  His name is Ivan.  All of a sudden, the concept of “raising a man” is very real to me.  All of a sudden, I feel the responsibility to help provide young men – particularly Ivan – with a real sense of “manhood” in the best sense of that word.


In order to do that, I’ve put together a list of lessons I want to impart upon Ivan to help him become a “man” in the best sense of that word.  You’re welcome to borrow them if you’d like:


Here then are 50 LESSONS TO MAKE MY SON A MAN:


1.  Women judge you by how you act towards and treat your mother.  Conveniently for you, your mother is awesome.  So, treating her well should be easy for you.  Also, she’s my wife, so if you screw this up, you’re in trouble.

2.  Women also judge you by your confidence, your shoes, your belt, the cleanliness of your clothes, your shoulders, your abs, and your job – in that order.  Act accordingly if you want to have female companionship.

3.  On the first date, you pay.  It’s the right thing to do.  Besides, if you don’t, you’ll never get lucky (and you’ll certainly never get lucky on a regular basis)

4.  Remember that women don’t want you to act like a know-it-all, but they would really like to believe that you know it all.  Your wife or girlfriend will never love you so much as when you just do what has to be done without announcing how smart you are before or after you do it.

5.  Learn how to cook something, sew on a button, and use an iron.  It’s not “effeminate.”  It will save you money, and that first time that really hot chick stays over, she will go absolutely batshit crazy for you if she sees you do any of these three things.

6.  Learn how to use tools properly.  At a minimum, you need to have a set of screwdrivers, a set of pliers, a set of socket wrenches, an Allen wrench and a hammer, all of which you can and do use.  You can have mine.  I have no idea what they do, how to use them or why on earth someone ever gave them to me.

7.  Always keep your eye on the ball.  In sports, “the ball” is the ball.  At work, “the ball” is the task at hand.  In relationships, “the ball” is whatever your wife or girlfriend says it is, even if keeping your eye on it is counter-intuitive, illogical, absurd or just downright contrary to physics.

8.  If someone promises you something “too good to be true” — it is.  If you give that person money for that thing, you deserve to have your money taken.  If you allow someone else to be taken in by this fraudulent charlatan you have not done all that you could do as a good citizen.

9.  You are not too big to fail.  The government will never give you a bailout.  Accordingly, make sure you have a savings account and pay your bills on time.

10.  Not paying your bills because “you don’t feel like it” is childish.  Contesting your bills because you think some corporate bloodsucker is trying to get one over on you is your obligation.

10. Money is important.  Very important.  But people, animals, the environment, your mental, emotional and physical health are more important.  Remember that.

11.  At the same time – do not think you can go to Vegas to play poker and offer up a small animal (such as an otter or a Guinea Pig) in lieu of putting money in the pot.  I’m talking intangible value here.  So smarten up and stop trying to be cute.

12.  Social justice is important.  Stand up for what’s right, even if it’s unpopular.  Stand with the people who are speaking out for justice.  But, remember the White kids with dreadlocks who smell like homeless people even though they live with their parents in a mansion in Connecticut – they’re not protesting against “injustice.”  They’re just bored, and they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Also, their parents have money for fancy lawyers and bail.  And, I don’t.  So, don’t make your bed with them.

13.  Look out for the guy at work who’s nice to everyone all the time.  He’s the one who stabs everyone in the back.

14.  Look out for the guy at work who never says anything to anyone.  He’s the guy who goes postal.

15.  Look out for the woman at work who’s hot and flirty.  She will lead you down the road to getting fired, divorced and full of std’s.

16.  Honor your parents.  Especially me.  Well, no, especially your mother.  With me, just make sure that you treat me with respect and love, and remember that when shit goes exactly like I said it would, you give me credit.

17.  Treat everyone with at least as much respect and dignity as you’d want them to give to you.  If they’re female, or very old, very young, sick, disabled or have paws, gills, or wings, treat them even better than you’d want to be treated.  You’re a man.  No matter what anyone says, you’re job is to protect the tribe and the cave.

18. Maintain your composure at all times.  A real man keeps his cool (except if a crime is being committed, in which case you do what you gotta do).

19. Remember, this world doesn’t belong to you.  I borrowed it from you, and you’re borrowing it from your kids.  So, remember, you have to give it back in at least as good a condition as you got it, if not better.

20.  Remember, too, that education is cool, knowledge is power, and learning is a life-long pursuit.  Don’t be a dummy.  Read, read, read and read some more.  Write some too.  And, for pete’s sake, learn some math and physics.  If you don’t, the Chinese are sure to take over the world.

21.  Stay healthy.  Eat well.  Workout.  Using a Wii is not a workout.

22.  Don’t keep company with “toxic” people.  They will drag you down.  I don’t care how nice her ass is, how big her boobs are or how hot she is.  If you have to have sex with her once – “just because” — don’t tell me about it and don’t complain when she steals shit from you or gets you beaten up by her ex or current boyfriend.

23.  If you have a hangover, it means you deserve it.  I hope the fun was worth it.

24.  That said, make sure that before you go to bed, you drink a lot of water and take an aspirin.  And, be smart, if you have the spins, put your foot against the wall and put a trash can by the side of the bed.

25.  Don’t do drugs.   (I’m your father, what the hell else did you expect me to say on this topic?)

26.  Definitely don’t sell drugs.  This isn’t because I’m your father.  This is because I (and you) are law-abiding citizens.  You think the law is unjust, work to change it.  Until then, obey the law and keep yourself out of jail.  Besides, contributing to other people’s drug habits is not what we do.

27.  God doesn’t care about or get involved with sports.  If your team loses, it’s because they sucked or they simply got outplayed.

28.  The players on “your team” can’t hear you.  They’re on television.  Stop screaming and carrying on like you’re the coach.

29.  That said, I’ve found that sitting on the floor does seem to improve the performance of the Giants.  As for the Mets, well, I’d tell you to root for the Yankees but it’d give your grandfather (an age-old Brooklyn Dodgers fan) a heart attack.

30.  Just because you’re Black, doesn’t make you a gangsta.  And, just because you’re Jewish doesn’t make you Woody Allen.  You be you.  Anyone who has something to say on the matter can go f*ck themselves (Unless it’s your mother or me, in which case you better listen up).

31.  Remember always how fortunate you are.  You were born in New York City, in the United States in the 21st Century.  This means virtually anything is possible for you.  Given this, I suggest picking an “anything” that is highly remunerative.

32.  At the same time, remember that you are both Black and Jewish.  This means that in the not-too-distant past, you would have been prohibited from doing much that you wanted to do.  Given this, you have a duty to speak up when someone is getting the shaft simply because of their race or ethnicity.

33.  By the way, being an American isn’t license to be a cocky jerkoff to people who are from other countries.  Learn a couple of languages and travel the world.  You’ll be amazed by what you see and learn.  Also, you’ll drink amazing wine and have amazing sex.

34.  When it comes time to choose a career, do what you love.  By the way, “what you love” is not living with your parents, sleeping late, masturbating constantly and/or getting high.  “What you love” is a pursuit that engages you fully in a mentally, emotionally, and physically challenging way and involves you having your own house or apartment.

35.  Remember that the single most important thing you can do to get ahead in life is to listen.  Hey, are you listening to me?  I said, “listen.”  Don’t talk.  Listen.  If you listen more than you talk, you will be amazed at what happens.  And, I guarantee there will be women who will have sex with you just because of this.  Also, people who talk all the time and don’t listen are insufferable.

36.  It’s okay to have sex with a lot of women.  Just make sure that they’re having sex with you too. It should be consensual, fun and not because you tricked them into it.  If they tricked you into it, well . . . you’re a man, take it like a man (just wear a condom . . . over your whole body).

37.  Don’t “kiss and tell.”  James Bond never talks about his conquests.  Neither do you.

38.  Make sure you have pets at least at one point in your life, and make sure you take care of them well.  As Chief Seattle said: “What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.”

39.  At some point, make sure you drive a convertible down US 1 and down the Pacific Coast Highway with the top down.

40.  Some people say, “don’t sweat the small stuff.  And, it’s all small stuff.”  I don’t know.  They’re probably right.  All I’ll say is: try not to worry too much.  If it’s not going  to kill you, cripple you or irreversibly hurt someone else, it’s probably something you don’t have to worry about too much.

41.  With respect to religion: I’ve found that it’s something that evolves constantly through the course of your life.  Your mother and I will give you a background, then you’re on your own to decide.  But one thing’s for sure – don’t tell other people what to believe.  That’s for them to decide (by the way, the same goes true for politics and pretty much everything else).

42. That said, I highly recommend reading the Bible.  Even if you don’t believe one word of what’s in there, it’s one of the most important pieces of literature of all-time.

43.  I also recommend Shakespeare.  Frankly, I don’t have much patience for him.  But, he’s everywhere, and he’s not going away.  And, his stories are timeless illustrations of the human condition.  If nothing else, read the Cliff Notes.

44.  Make sure you watch Casablanca – a lot.  You see Bogey.  Tortured.  Ambivalent.  Cynical, though still feeling and caring inside.  And, really well-dressed.  That’s a man.  Be like Bogey, but without the smoking and the hair-piece.

45.  Give to charity — time, money, “gently used” clothes or household stuff.  You’re part of the human race.  There’s no better way to participate in that race than to give to those in need.

46.  By the way, “giving it” to a woman is not “giving” to those in need.  That’s just being crass and boorish.  On the other hand, well-performed oral sex is an act of charity.  And, if you’re on the receiving end, remember to be gracious and to thank the charitable donor.

47.  Be prompt.  Being late is a sign of disrespect.  Other people’s time is just as important as yours.  At the same time, it works vice-versa.  If someone keeps you waiting, they better have a really good reason.  That she’s “smoking hot,” is a “reason” though not a “really good  reason.”  In that instance, it’s your call.

48.  Eat plenty of fiber.  Constipation is worse than celibacy.  If you don’t believe me, try going 6 months without taking a poop.  (FYI, just by way of reminder, at your current age of 6 weeks, you poop approximately 3 million times a day, so I think if you couldn’t poop for 6 months it would really bother you).

49.  Call your mother.  Trust me on this one.

50.  Finally, and most importantly, just have as much fun as possible (as long as it’s legal) and don’t do anything stupid.  If you do those 2 things, it’s all gonna work out.  As long as you call your mother regularly and do everything else I told you to do.





Ivan and me sitting on the couch as I impart some "life lessons"

4 Comments on “50 Life Lessons To Help My Son Become a Man”

  • aidaJanuary 27, 2015 pm31 2:29 pmReply

    God bless you for writing this article. I will definetely use some ideas, unfortunately as a mother. My heart goes out to these lonesome boys without a male model especially their father.

    • AlexFebruary 2, 2015 pm28 8:10 pmReply

      Thanks. And, yes, boys definitely need role models.

  • ChrisOctober 28, 2015 am31 12:31 amReply

    Fine work on the list Alex. My son turned 3 on OCT 25th. I am an Army Ranger who has had to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and I have had to stand up for those that could not stand for themselves…there is an uncertain future out there but as long as there are strong fathers, our sons will be great.

    • AlexOctober 28, 2015 am31 12:40 amReply

      Thanks so much for writing! And, thank you for your service. I’m so glad that what I wrote resonated with you. I very much hope that you are able to be home with your family. All the best to you and your family.

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