I was raised by a single mom. She was an incredibly resourceful woman. She grew her own fruits and veggies in her garden and was famous for her homemade “cough tea” which knocked out a cold in no time. But, one of the things that she always was on the lookout for were positive male role models for me. She would look everywhere for them. At church, in my sports, even among my friend’s dads. She looked for years and she never found one. So the question became, where are all of the great men at?
As I’ve gotten older I have become more and more curious about where these great men are. I grew up without my dad, so the models I had mostly came from TV and movies. The archetypes for manliness seemed to be centered around Homer Simpson’s extreme adequacy, James Bond’s suave, ladykiller approach, or Bill Cosby’s perfect dad impersonation, and we all know how that ended up. None of those really helped show me the man I wanted to be. So if movies and TV shows aren’t going to provide the templates where else do we look?
This search has continued as I myself have become a father. I now have 6 & 7 year old boys, so now it’s them who need healthy male role models and not just me. But I don’t want to go on a years-long search that bears no fruit like my mom did. What I’ve had to realize is that the positive male role model isn’t a superhero or larger than life figure. The truth is, there are positive male role models everywhere, we just have to know what to look for.
For the past two years now, I’ve hosted a weekly conversation with dads. It started out in person, but you may have noticed we went through a pandemic, so it has been on Zoom since March of 2020. This group has shown me again and again what it truly means to be a positive male role model. It might surprise you what it actually looks like. These men come from different upbringings, social class and have different personal philosophies. But they all have two things in common: they are dad and they are great men. Here are the three things that make them great men.
They are all life long learners. There is a responsibility that comes with being in a position of power, whether that’s at home, at work , or in your community. Whatever role that you have as a man, people will look at you as an example whether you realize it or not. So one of the most powerful things that you can do is let people know through your actions that the learning never stops. This shows that they’re willing to listen to others, to admit that they don’t know it all, and set an amazing example of putting process over the outcome. A great man truly knows that even if you get an outcome you weren’t hoping for, you will always have the opportunity to learn. When you know that, and the people around you see that in you, everybody then is allowed to make mistakes and keep trying. That’s empowering.
They are all willing to make mistakes. One of the toughest challenges that men face in life today is the perception that mistakes make men weaker. That making a mistake will erode the confidence that other people have in them. Great men know that never making a mistake means that you are never trying hard enough to put yourself at risk. Great men take risks. They get things wrong. But they don’t let that stop them. In fact great men know that in order to achieve that greatness many mistakes have to be made. They are willing to put yourself in a vulnerable place, whether that’s looking silly in front of their kids, suggesting something at work, or admitting when you’re wrong. Those things don’t make you weaker, they make you infinite and abundant.
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They are all decisive in their actions. This idea can cause some men trouble, so I want to be very clear about how this looks. This does not mean that you only think of yourself when making a decision. A great man thinks of others, takes their ideas into account, and then ultimately does what’s best for himself. When a man is truly able to continue to learn and make mistakes, they know that being decisive only produces great things. It will produce a positive outcome or a learning opportunity. A great role model does not need to be self sacrificing, just self aware and decisive.
What these men don’t actually know is how much of an impact they have had on me as a man. They have provided me with retroactive fathering. Their examples, their advice and perspective have helped me grow as a father, leader and as a man. This group of dads is mixed between married men and co-parenting men. But it has never been a place to complain or bemoan the women of our lives. In fact, we find many similarities between married and co-parenting life on a regular basis.
As a single dad, I don’t have a live-in partner to model how to treat a woman for my boys. But these conversations have shown me that when I am able to continue learning, making mistakes and be decisive, my boys are learning a lot from me. And those lessons have also taught me what it means to show up as my best self as a co-parent, and I know my boys are watching that too.
The men in the world doing these things aren’t wearing capes and they aren’t defeating super villains. They’re living their lives day by day, just like you and me. They aren’t beating their chests or trying to tell the world how amazing they are, because the truth is they know that they are just ordinary men. There’s not a desire to be perfect, they truly want to keep growing. So, we don’t need to find Superman to look up to. We just need to appreciate the great men who are doing these three things, and the search will be over.
Jay Skibbens is a co-parent of two amazing sons. His co-parent coaching program is built on the idea that freedom and peace are found through the choices we make every day. Find him on Instagram @jayskibbens to learn more about 1:1 and group coaching.