Men Have to do Better

Recently I saw a news story that made my heart ache, my intellect question reason, and made me wonder if the “man code” I try to live by held any value in today’s world. It was the first time in a long time I felt powerless, and I didn’t like it one bit.

The story was about a 12-year-old boy named Andre who left his puppy outside an animal shelter. Accompanying the puppy in a box was a stuffed animal and an incredibly touching and gut-wrenching letter published by CNN.

Andre’s selfless act was to leave his puppy to spare the dog the wrath of Andre’s abusive father. Andre’s final words on the note were “I left him a stuffed animal so he won’t forget me.” Heartbreaking to say the least, but hopefully thought-provoking as well.

So many things swirled around in my head, but the first thought was how amazing that a young man such as Andre exists in our world. Unfortunately, my next thought was how disgusted I was with Andre’s father, and how Andre was deserving of a father worthy of this selflessness and bravery.

The worldwide outpouring for the plight of Andre’s puppy was incredible, but my feelings turned to “what about Andre?” What was going to happen to this young man, who in this one act appears to live by the man code many parents hope their boys embrace? Sadly, the type of man code Andre’s father did not embrace.

The simple truth is that Andre is more a man than his father, or for that matter, more a man than far too many of us. And when I say “man,” yes, I am talking about chivalry, the goodness of decent fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, and male friends we are blessed to have in our lives. Or the noble gesture of a young man who only wanted to protect the puppy he loved with all his heart.

Andre chose to save his puppy from the pain and misery that Andre was going to continue to endure. He chose to give this little dog the chance at a good home, something Andre had never known. At 12 years old, Andre chose to live by a man code very few at that age understand.

So, what do I mean by a man code? Now, before any discussions of this article devolve into fears of toxic masculinity, stop. Like some of you, my mother and father tried to raise their children to be “sheepdogs,” which means to be protectors and servants, to think of others before ourselves. To put it another way, to embrace the positive nature of my masculinity and try to make a positive difference in the world.

There are bad people in this world, men and women. And yes, there are men that are toxic to our society, but there are also toxic women. Each sex has positive characteristics that when brought together strengthens our society. A man code should guide us to think beyond our own selfishness, to not only think of ourselves.

My father (as did my mother) taught me a man code comprised of eight simple words: respect, charity, strength, humility, gratitude, grace, integrity, and service. He did not do this by lecturing me on these qualities, but he led by example. He demonstrated the strength of these qualities with his deeds. I am afraid to say that far too many men have lost sight of the positive virtues that make us “good men,” while others attack the aforementioned virtues as indicators of toxic masculinity.

I also want to stress that these eight principles are not exclusive to men, as women possess these same values. But I also want to be blunt. These traits appear too rare in our world today. Don’t believe me? Use your favorite search engine and type in the words ‘man code.’ What will come back is a list of codes designed by and for selfish narcissists. A code lacking integrity and respect, especially respect for women.

I hope more young men like Andre emerge, and that this next generation embraces a ‘man code’ that helps them with the transition from boyhood to manhood. A code that helps to shape a man with honor and something to be proud of.

I am neither a saint nor a puritan, nor am I perfect, and my personal failures far outweigh my accomplishments. Like Caesar, I wish I could have someone like an auriga walking beside me every day whispering in my ear, “Memento Mori” (“remember you are mortal”), or the modern interpretation “Remember, you are only man.” But that is just not feasible.

For now, I will have to fall back on the lessons my parents tried to instill in me and learn from the example demonstrated by Andre’s deeds. Whether we use the quote from the Merchant of Venice “How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world,” or use its updated iteration from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, “So shines a good deed in a weary world,” let us hope the deeds of Andre become the foundation of the man code we hope the young men in our society follow.

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