On Becoming a Man: words from a father

Ten years ago, when our nephew, “L,” was about to turn 13, his parents asked all the men in the family to send him their words of wisdom on the topic of “becoming a man,” as L entered that pre-adulthood time of life that is adolescence.

This same nephew will graduate from college this month, and as we prepare to celebrate that milestone with the kind, strong, confident young man that he has become, the words that his Uncle Rich offered ten years ago have been much on my mind.

So in honor of Father’s Day, and with his permission, I am going to let father and uncle Rich Sutliff do the talking, by simply sharing his 2005 letter, below.

Dear L.,

Happy 13th birthday! And congratulations on climbing the South Sister. That’s quite an achievement —one you should be really proud of. I’m sure you’ll remember that climb the rest of your life.

About this becoming a man thing, I don’t have any special, secret knowledge about what it is to be a man. I’ve lived a pretty long time, and I guess I’m still learning about it myself. I know that fathers have written whole books for their sons, trying to explain what it’s all about. I can say for sure, though, that it’s GREAT BEING A MAN. It’s what all of us guys have been given, and it’s both a joy and a responsibility for each of us to figure out and to make the best use of.

For me, that means that you always need to respect your developing body as it goes through all the changes it needs to as you become a man. A man’s body is a wonderful creation. Keep yours healthy and strong; it will be with you a long time and you want to be able to rely on it. It’s your friend. Take good care of it. Remember that it’s neither a tool nor a weapon. It’s not a machine of any kind: it’s far more special than that.

It also means developing your mind along with your body. Keep learning new things all the time. Learning is like filling a well with water, so you’ll have plenty to draw on as you go through life. Eventually, your body will slow down; it’s supposed to. But your mind will always keep growing.

Learn especially to have reverence and respect for all living things—everything in Nature and all human beings. It may be that one of our jobs as men is to care for and protect what is fragile—plants, animals, people who need our help to survive.

One of the most important things I can tell you, L., and this is often one of the hardest things for a man to do, is that you need to learn to listen to your heart, to your feelings, and to what others might share with you about their own. A lot of people think that being a man is just about muscles, strength, and physical courage—all that macho stuff. I’ve found that it takes much more courage to listen quietly and carefully to what someone else is telling you about how they feel than it is to fight in all kinds of battles and to meet all kinds of physical challenges. Unfortunately, we men are often not very good at listening with our hearts, either to ourselves, or to others.

Finally, I know you probably won’t be able to understand all of this now. That’s okay; don’t worry about it. As you keep growing into manhood, I think some of what I’ve said will begin to make a little more sense. Meanwhile, WELCOME INTO THE COMMUNITY OF MEN. Good luck, God bless you, and be kind to yourself as you’re figuring out on your own the kind of man YOU want to be.

I’ll be around if you need me.


Your Uncle Rich