In the latest episode of Fatherhood Wide Open with father and blogger Adam Rust we discuss the idea; Does Fatherhood Make Us Better Men? I posed this question after reading his article in response to a Time story about couples purposefully choosing to abandon parenthood, opting instead to luxuriate in the carefree waters of a D.I.N.K. lifestyle – Dual Income No Kids.
Yet listening to the conversation I realized that much of our talk centered on a more fundamental thought; How MARRIAGE make us better men. In retrospect, that may have been the better question to ask.
I born into this world unmarried, remained so until I was twenty-eight; divorced at thirty-four, and was unmarried again for five years before a long-term relationship that will lead to my second marriage soon. I say all this because that swag of experience gives me unique credentials for weighing in on the question of whether marriage makes men better.
From the onset I must admit something few people know. I was never a very good single guy. When I look at the single me and compare that against the relationship me – I’ve always liked myself better as a committed man. That’s because I wasn’t always the nicest single guy; that side of me was painfully insecure, often immoral, and routinely willing to satisfy my own needs at other’s expense. And if most of my counterparts were totally honest I believe those men would come to similar conclusions.
Furthermore, when I consider the moments in my life I would give anything to replay, those times I would gladly blot from my memory and chisel from my conscience – each occurred when I was ‘single’. Minus the accountability of relationships and marriage, I was free to act in whatever way necessary to please my emotional and physical needs, all others be damned. And while I would like to blame my youth for this; the reality is those moments I’m most embarrassed over all happened after I was into my thirties, divorced, and the father of two children. Fatherhood by itself isn’t a sufficient measurement for how good of men we are or aren’t. Being a father doesn’t necessarily make us better men, just ask the children of any deadbeat dad.
When we look at the characteristics that make up a ‘good man’ they would include qualities such as honesty, compassion, sacrifice, forgiveness, and commitment. Yet these traits that don’t come naturally for most of us, especially men. While we may agree these qualities are lacking in many of today’s brothers, friends, and coworkers, we are unable to reach a consensus about how someone obtains such lofty virtues. Because as parents will quickly attest we aren’t born with them.
But like any skill, such as playing the piano or writing a best selling novel, these qualities are only honed on the whetstone of experience. They are forged in the crucible of living. In other words, we learn to be honest, compassionate, selfless, and trustworthy within the experiences – and more specifically within the relationships – that most demand those qualities from us.
A strong leader only becomes so when he or she leads others, a loving husband can only grow to be so through the demands of marriage, the tenderness of a father can only be cultivated through the needs of his children. The noble qualities of manhood aren’t settled by genetics or luck; we are molded into them by our experiences and relationships.
As I reconsider those qualities that make up a ‘good man’; what easier place might one learn compassion, commitment, and sacrifice than through meeting the expectations of his wife? How better would a young man understand the necessity of communication and the importance of fidelity than from a spouse seeking both of him? How else might a cocksure twenty something cultivate the subtle traits of compassion and selflessness than living out the promises made in his wedding vows? Does a man learn the high art of forgiveness through a relationship with coworkers and buddies – or the one with his wife? It’s for these reasons that marriage is so essential to the development of manhood because it is the most powerful means for bringing out the very best in him.
Personal experience and observation lead me to believe that marriage is essential for helping men to become better men; and without it we never fully grow into our ideal selves, but instead remain stunted and a mere shadow of something far greater.
A marriage that is honorable, gracious, and loving brings out the very best in men as nothing else remotely can. This is a reality few of us care to admit. We don’t want to confess that men need the substance and accountability marriage provides, and without it we end up living only for ourselves, all others be damned. In such cases, no man can grow to realize his true potential. In my talks with others, those men I admire and respect most, I have yet to meet one who doesn’t gladly credit his marriage, and more particularly his wife, for molding him into the man he could have never been otherwise.