What does it mean to be a man? The conclusion we come to may depend on who we ask. The world around us sends an ever-changing message on what manhood is. Not many years ago that message was based on grit, toughness and persistence. Clint Eastwood, Rocky Balboa and the generals of World War II were held up as 'real men'.
Now that image of manhood is considered cliche and old fashioned. The world's next attempt to define manhood pointed to the extremely successful-- the Bill Gates' of society who have every want satisfied with money to spare. Just as non-butch young men struggled with the previous definition of manhood, many in the rising generation have become discouraged by worldly pressures to provide an unrealistic level of income for themselves or their families.
Yet modern man, in the world's view, has evolved beyond the role of provider to something much less responsible. Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained it this way:
Some act as if man's highest goal should be his own pleasure. Permissive social mores have 'let men off the hook' as it were, so that many think it acceptable to father children out of wedlock and cohabit rather than marry. Dodging commitments is considered smart, but sacrificing for the good of others, naive.
The elusive, constantly changing messages of what the world calls manhood miss the target entirely and seek only to toss men 'to and fro with every wind of doctrine', as it were. These definitions attempt to restrict men to the selfish impulses of their carnal natures-- the very natures which stand in opposition to God (see Mosiah 3:19, Jeremiah 17:5, D&C 3:7, Moses 1:10).
So we're left again to ask what it means to be a man. The gospel of Jesus Christ provides a firm foundation upon which men can build their identity as men.
The scriptures teach that men are made in the image of God-- literal sons of God, eternal in nature and the focal point of God's glory. Men are called to be stewards over the whole earth and trusted to care for our sisters, daughters of the Most High. Every man has within himself the potential to be like our Heavenly Father, heirs of all He has and able to overcome every obstacle that may fall into our path. Real men, the gospel teaches, are mature, cheerful people who respond to the call to preside and provide.
Modern prophets also show the way to be a man. Elder Christofferson said, 'It is a wonderful aspiration for a boy to become a man--strong and capable; someone who can build and create things, run things; someone who makes a difference in the world.' Citing the proclamation on the family, he continued, 'In large measure, true manhood is defined in our relationship to women'. Real men honor marital vows with complete fidelity, help rear their children, preside with in love and righteousness and take responsibility to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.
Elder Christofferson had a few more things to say about manhood:
Integrity is fundamental to being men. Integrity means being truthful, but it also means accepting responsibility and honoring commitments and covenants... A man of integrity will honestly face and correct his mistakes... True manhood is not always measured by the fruits of one's labors but by the labors themselves-- by one's striving. Though he will make some sacrifices and deny himself some pleasures in the course of honoring his commitments, the true man leads a rewarding life. He gives much, but he receives more, and he lives content in the approval of his Heavenly Father. The life of true manhood is the good life.
President Kimball once quoted U.S. President J. Edgar Hoover's answer to what makes a real man:
There are many things, but perhaps the inner voice he listened to as a young boy was most important of all. That voice we call conscience, and it directs one’s thoughts. What one thinks may find expression in actions. Since repeated actions form habits, the thoughts you are thinking and the things you are doing at this moment tend to reveal the kind of a man you will be.
Were I asked what a boy needs to do today in order to be a man worthy of the name tomorrow, I would say: Never lie and never cheat. A liar is a weakling. A cheat is both a weakling and a thief. In finding the courage to honor truth in all things, you are on the way to self-mastery.
Work hard. Your mind is a storehouse and you stock the shelves. Stock them with quality goods. Remember that the habits of work and study you form today are the ones you will live with tomorrow.
Have fun. Play active games which require stamina and sportsmanship. Abide by the rules yourself. Demand that others do likewise.
Honor your Creator. God is the source of all good. The ideals on which the nation is founded stem from him who is the author of Liberty. You can express appreciation for your priceless heritage best by living according to the code of ‘Duty, Honor, Country, and God.’
If you do these, and in all things do your best, the mind and heart and soul you develop will one day be those of a real man.
These are the ideals of manhood: integrity, kindness, strength, honor and duty.
declared, 'Behold the man!' As Elder Christofferson taught, Christ showed us the way to be men by rejecting temptation, by obedience, by forsaking completely the 'natural man', by service, by fearless opposition to evil and error and by standing firm in defending sacred things and raising a warning voice.
As once Lehi called upon his sons to awake and rise from the dust and be men, so the prophets of today have called upon the men of our generation to 'step up'. President Monson has reminded us that we are not spectators. Elder Bednar counseled that when men 'neglect to do what is necessary to qualify for priesthood power' their efforts are 'unnaceptable to the Lord'. Elder Uchtdorf called upon men to put into practice dormant doctrines-- those that lie in our hears yet unapplied in our lives-- to qualify ourselves as husbands, fathers and sons.
Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and soul and mind and strength
To serve the King of Kings.
Rise up, O men of God,
In one united throng.
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And end the night of wrong.
Rise up, O men of God!
Tread where his feet have trod.
As brothers of the Son of Man,
Rise up, O men of God!