Ever since I was young, I always thought you were a fine enough gentleman. I admired the way you dressed, from your perfectly ironed button-downs and your pleated slacks and your deep blue jeans to your extensive collection of shoes: brogues, wingtips, cap toes, and loafers. You can flawlessly play several instruments, whether harmonica, flute, clarinet, or drums. I always make sure to listen when you pluck and strum to Eagles and Randy Travis. I stop whatever I’m doing to appreciate the sound the piano makes when you write your songs. And I always make it a point to imitate you when you sing Pomeranz, Manilow, Nat King Cole, or Sinatra—not out of mockery, but out of idolatry and reverence.
Ever since I was young, I looked up to you as a symbol of a refined man. You have your toolbox and you know your way around your tools. You know how to fix anything broken in the house. Busted fuse box? Check. Broken plumbing? Check. Electric service cut off? It’s been taken care of.
So ever since I was young, you were the man I thought I always wanted to be.
But just when I was starting to be a man—on my tenth year—you were gone, since cancer took you away from me.
And so after thirteen years, I write these words to you so that, a man to a fellow man, you can see where I have been and where I am heading.
I should have asked you how to shave my face. I probably would have saved myself from the bloody nick I had moments before the prom. I should’ve asked you to teach me play the guitar. That way, I could’ve saved myself time sitting at the computer trying to learn “Sweet Child O’ Mine” string by string, fret by fret, and chord by chord from YouTube. I should’ve asked you how it is to pursue a girl you like. You should’ve been there when I needed help seeking for answers on how to kiss a woman. Should it be wet? Sipping? Smoochlike? And you should’ve been there to tell me how to handle my first real broken heart. I hope you made me understand what being a real man is to you.
I wish you were here so I could show that I’ve been a man and told myself the words you did not:
Trim the long hairs and shave in one direction.
Play the chords as you play your Game Boy: with all your soul connecting to the strings and all your feelings to the pickings.
Never test the waters when courting the girl you like—jump into it willingly and consciously, but make sure you will not lose your life.
There is no best way to kiss a girl, but the best time is when you marry her.
Allow your God to mend your broken heart because it is He who can make it anew.
Being a man is not just about the clothes, the shoes, or the instruments. It isn’t about note-taking or imitating. Neither is it just about the toolbox, the tools, nor the repairs. Being a man is not just about wanting to be a man. It’s not just about the way you shave, strum, pursue a girl, or kiss a woman.
But being a man is about passion, integrity, conviction, and excellence. Being a man is about learning, discovering, erring, and trying again. Being a man is about life, love, loss, and living again. Being a man is being a man despite the absence of another. It is being able to wait in patience and persistence. Being a man is being able to love. It is being able to give and forgive.
And lastly, being a man is standing with unwavering faith, with the knowledge that you are not just like another: that you are your own man.