The best way to train the young is to train yourself at the same time; not to admonish them, but to be seen never doing that of which you would admonish them.
Being an intentional role model has taught me that I must be an intentional man: it is my own responsibility to live with a purpose and strive to perfect my character by sharpening my sensitivity to a code of honor and courage. To do this, I’ve learned that I need to have role models for myself. For examples of role models, I look to people like my own father, older Marines I served with, and almost anybody who has a story of overcoming mountainous obstacles to achieve success. As an elected official, I read books about great statesmen from times past and try to learn about their styles so that I too may one day become more effective at building consensus around issues.
I’d like to think that becoming a first-time father at the age of 34 has given me a leg up on fatherhood that I wouldn’t have had if my first child had been born in my early 20’s. Looking back at my early 20’s, I can definitely say that I was a well-rounded young man with the right priorities, having served in the Marine Corps and gone to college etc., but regardless of my life experiences, there was a certain maturity I still lacked. I felt like I was always in a race to become the man I wanted to be and was always running four or five years behind. The reason for this is because my role models were older than I was and I compared myself to them without taking into account the years they took to become who they were. I imitated and emulated men that I thought I’d like to be like (to one degree or another), but it wasn’t until my son was born that I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for the value that sound role models have. This new reality was that I had to be the role model; I had to model my behavior for someone to imitate. The game had changed, as they say.
On October 28, 2015, I became one of the two most important persons in a baby boy’s life. Whether I liked it or not, I knew that baby boy was going to look to me for answers, comfort, assurance, and instruction. Realizing this, I faced the same decision that all men with children have had to face since the beginning of time, and rather than shirking my responsibility, I decided to own it. I was (and still am) committed to taking my responsibility of fatherhood to the highest calling by becoming a model of manliness for my son to follow as he grows and makes decisions that will ultimately shape his own identity and character. Since the day my son was born, I’ve not only learned that this is easier said than done, but also, that so much of his future and the future of everything he will ever become apart of depends on the example I leave for him today.
To be perfectly truthful, accepting this reality wasn’t the hardest thing for me. After all, I was once a kid and I remember growing up and wanting to be like other older kids. I think we can all look back on our lives and remember imitating someone we thought was really great by saying things the way they said them or trying to comb our hair or dress in the same style they did. I remember these people from my life, and it wasn’t a stretch to figure out that my son would find people whose attributes he would want to mimic as well. Some people make a sincere effort to echo the attributes of successful people or people with good personalities. I knew when I joined the Marine Corps at the age of 17 that by the time my four years was up I would fall in with those who barley survived or those who thrived so I made a targeted effort to mirror a few of my senior Marines whose examples I thought would make me successful in the military. Among other things, I began to mimic their phrases and the way they talked, I worked to keep up with them on runs, and I even read the same books they read. What made the real difference for me however, wasn’t just doing what they did so much as it was doing things the way they did them and for the same reason. For example, just as important as following their example and knowing how to run fast was the deeper lesson in knowing why we should. I learned that a good role model doesn’t keep you guessing about why they do things a certain way: they act with purpose and attribute meaning to what they do and how and why they do it. Having role models in my life who not only teach me the ‘what’ and ‘how’ but also the ‘why’ has allowed me to grow beyond the short sightedness of what would’ve otherwise just been a material impersonation.
Purposefully setting an example has changed me. There’s no doubt about it. Knowing that a model is something that has to be seen and observed, I decided there were things that I thought would be important for my son to see me doing. These days I’m careful to block off time to read so that he sees me reading, and consequently, I’ve read far more books this year than in the previous three years combined. I make an effort to live neater and tidier than I did before because I realized how important it is that my son sees that a man keeps a neat and clean workspace, bedroom, house, etc. I also don’t dress down as much. Not that there’s anything wrong with wearing jeans (and there isn’t: my favorite pair of jeans has legit holes in them that weren’t there when I bought them), but I put more attention to detail in the clothes I wear so that I look the part of a man living life with intent.
Even more importantly (for both my son and I) is how I’ve changed my behavior when dealing with others or working through difficult situations at work. Because I want to show him how to be compassionate, I’ve had to start showing more compassion with him and others. I want my son to learn how a man should treat a women and how to love his wife and children, and that alone is just one motivation for me to demonstrate those things as a husband, a father, and his role model.
At the end of the day, my goal is to not just raise a boy, but to raise a man. Striving to be a great role model, as it turns out, has made me a better man as well.
“Waste no time in arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
Originally published by Paul Curtman on Illustrated Dad.