A grandfathers wisdom…

How to Be A Real Man

A 2021 Guide to Being the Best Man You Can Be

James Heaton

                This is the guide for being the best man you can be in the present day. Times have changed! Its not 1940 anymore. We as humanity are evolving, at least some of us are. Growing up in the 1970s I didn’t learn how to be man from my father. He was a stern ex-Marine who grew up in the 1950s, his father was a machinist in a Textile Mill in South Carolina. I was taught men didn’t cry and men got up early, went to work, got dirty, got callouses on their hands, came home, and ate all their wife’s dinner and then fell asleep watching tv while the women cleaned the kitchen. That was the way it was done, and it was the right way. Men didn’t dance around and act a fool; they were serious and always tucked their shirts in and wore a belt. I grew up with this prime example of masculinity, but it was my mother’s father that taught me how to really be a man. My father just showed me the things men do, not how to be a man.

                I’m named after both my grandfathers. My first name is James after my mothers’ father, James A. Lee. He was born in a time when men were the alpha part of the family. Men ran the household, made the money, and took care of their family. It was a time when men and women were not equal. What?! There was a time when men and women weren’t considered equal? Yep, we had an entire period in history when women couldn’t vote, couldn’t have certain jobs, couldn’t wear pants, couldn’t talk in church and many other demeaning things. It’s a different time now, we have a new order of thinking and understanding.

                So how are men different now? That’s a great question. First off, that sexist talk is out. Real men don’t need to feel superior to women. We don’t need to feel superior to anyone, why would we? Aren’t we all after the same goals and headed in the same direction? Don’t we all just want to live life and be happy? So why the need to be superior to anyone?

A grandfathers wisdom…

                One of the first things my grandfather taught me, was to be who you are. I was a weird kid; I can see that now. But he saw it too, and he loved me for who I am, not what I could one day be. I can remember in kindergarten I was totally enamored with Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman. I watched that show and I loved how strong she was. I loved the idea of a woman beating up Nazis and seeing the look on the men’s faces when they had been beaten by a woman. There was a Wonder Woman doll at Kmart that came with both outfits, the Stars and Stripes outfit and the Diana Prince outfit. I wanted that doll, I wanted to play with it. I was a five-year-old boy, I didn’t know the difference between boy toys and girl toys, nor should I. Well, he bought me that doll, and he put it in the trunk of his car. He told me to come outside, and he opened the trunk, and I was so happy when he opened the bag. I played with that doll, and I had her team up with my Batman and Robin dolls and they fought GI Joe and saved the world. My dad wasn’t happy, it was a girl’s toy according to him. But my grandfather let me be me. He helped me be me by letting me play the way I wanted too without making me feel insecure.

                But I had lots of other toys too. My attention went from The Lone Ranger to Star Wars, to Battlestar Galactica to Dracula. I loved characters and I had a vivid imagination. My happy place was curled up in my bean bag watching Saturday morning cartoons with an endless supply of cereal. But it wasn’t always play time. On the weekends I helped my dad do chores and projects. My primary job was flashlight holder. I watched my dad fix everything from behind the flashlight. I learned how to fix things from watching and mimicking my dad. I tore apart everything and tried to put it back together, not always succeeding. My dad gave me my own tools, and that was a good step. Men should know how to fix things, but so should women. Everyone should know how to put things together and fix things around their house. They should also know when its time to call a professional to fix the things that you thought you could fix on your own. My grandfather taught me that there was never any shame in calling a professional. It just meant that you had not focused on learning a specific thing, but that was ok.

                I have two daughter and a son. I taught my daughter how to do things, how tools worked and how to fix things themselves but the best thing I taught them was to how to look for reputable professionals who could handle what they couldn’t and how to not be taken advantage of. A real man is honest, and sincere. He doesn’t take advantage of people who might not be as knowledgeable about things as he is. Garages have a reputation for telling a helpless woman one price for a service and another price for a man. That’s wrong, and its obvious that its wrong. Be a good person to everyone, give a fair price for parts and service and always do your best.

                My grandfather started a business with me. Worst mistake he ever made. I do not know what he was thinking, but he lost money and I felt horrible. But he taught me how to run a good business. And sometimes I think he was so smart that he was okay with losing money so I could learn how to be a good person. He taught me about management, how to treat your employees and that you should never sell an inferior product. He never tried to force me to stay with a failing business, he taught me to accept defeat graciously and move on.  He taught me to learn from my mistakes.

                I never heard my grandfather say a curse word or degrade someone racially. He believed everyone was equal and should be treated as such. And that’s the way a real man treats people. He always told me to treat others the way I wanted to be treated. Growing up in the South as a white man, I was exposed to racism from birth. When my grandfather heard a white man call a black man a racial name, he would always tell me that we don’t do that. We don’t condemn a man for the color of his skin, he believed that God made everyone, and everyone was a child of God. I appreciated that, although I did become an Atheist after he died. But I still respected his beliefs and his mindset. He was a preacher by trade and he focused on the good parts of the Bible, every part that was about love.

                I was awfully close to my mother as a child, most of the time my dad simply scared me. He always seemed angry or irritated. When he would fight with my mother, I always tried to stand up for her, even if it made my father angrier. So, my dad taught me how not to treat women. I learned that part from my grandfather. He taught me that your partner was part of your team. You did things together. He always made my grandmothers happiness his priority. I learned to love another person by watching him. He treated her like she was his entire world, it amazed me. He never raised his voice at her but if he got upset, he excused himself and walked around the block. He taught me that speaking in anger was a weakness. A real man composes himself and gathers his thought. Speaking in anger showed your weak side and the goal was to be strong. He taught me to communicate. You learn more from listening than talking.

                I never saw my grandfather break down, he was always composed and in control. But I never saw him cry, even when his mother died. But he told me crying was okay and that it was natural. I have cried to my wife when I’ve been upset, and I don’t think it makes me any less of a man. If anything, we need to recognize that we have actual emotions. We need to keep our emotions in check, but we need to accept them and let them exist. Extreme emotions can control us and that is never helpful. Following your heart and helping others is a way to control your emotions. By that, I mean when you feel an emotion you need to think of the most helpful way to share that. If you feel compassion toward a person, think of how you can truly help them. Don’t just look at someone suffering and say, bless your heart. That isn’t helpful. But understand that we can’t help everyone, and we can hurt ourselves by constantly trying to fix other people’s problems.

                A real man sees those around him, he feels compassion for those in need and if he is able, he helps them. As a father, I am very guilty of always trying to fix my kids problems. So much that I must stop, pull back and let them handle their own problems. And my grandfather taught me that too. It was a painful lesson, there was a time before he died when I was very broken. I was going through a nasty divorce and I had to start from scratch. He got to a place where he didn’t offer me help, he left me to find a solution. I know now that it must have hurt him to have to do that. But it was for the best, it was a way for me to grow up and find a solution to my problem, no matter how hard life was. But during that time, he took care of my kids when I couldn’t, so in his way he was helping me. He knew that my children were the most important thing to me, and he gave them what I couldn’t.  A real man is there to help, but the help he offers may not be what you want, but it is what you need. A real man knows the difference.

                My grandfathers were two vastly different men. They came from different lives and background. Each of them suffered growing up in poverty and had to help with their siblings. My paternal grandfather was a fighter, he solved his problems with his fist. He was always ready to jump in and start punching. But my maternal grandfather was quicker to sit you down and talk about your problems and why you felt the need to fight. He looked deeper into a person’s heart and he truly lived life with a heart of gold. I think one of my issues with religion is that I only met one person in my life who acted like they read the story of Jesus. My grandfather tried in every way to be a good-hearted man. Now some guys would favor the rough and tough fighter for a grandfather. But I knew as a child that loving people was right and that everyone deserved understanding and a chance.

                I was raised in a religious household; I was taught that men married women and went to church. But I was different, I had the mind and soul of an artist. I was a gifted child, I excelled in fine art. I studied privately for years, then went on to graduate from The Governors School for the Arts and I attended the Fine Arts Center in my town. I got a full ride to a fancy art school in Savannah Georgia. But along the way I realized that there are a lot of gay people in the arts. I was taught that being gay was wrong. A real man would never lower themselves to being gay. So, I asked my grandfather about it. He told me that he didn’t personally feel the need to be gay, he was content with loving my grandmother. But he said, those people have a right to be who they are. Its their lives and none of your business. He told me I should be their friend and show them that not everyone is a hateful person. And I did just that. I got to know all the students from my school that were gay. I shut down the negative thoughts and opened my mind to accepting everyone.

                A real man doesn’t judge others. Do you pay their taxes, buy their food, pay their rent? Even if you did you still don’t have the right to judge them. My grandfather always asked, are you being forced to do the things they do? No? Then mind your own business. But I took it one step further. I felt that the way they were treated was wrong, and a real man points out injustice when he sees it happening. Because my grandfather always taught me that if you aren’t helping someone are you hurting them by being quiet. So, I vowed never to be quiet. I always called people out for bigotry. Afterall its what my grandfather would have done. I had a Christian teach me to love and accept the LGBT community. Afterall its what Jesus would have done.

                That man shaped my entire world, without me even knowing that he was doing it. He was there to guide me because that’s what a real man does. He guides those in need, teaches them to think for themselves and to consider other peoples lives. Whenever I would come to see him, he always muted the television and focused on me. I was that important to him and believe me he loved his baseball. If he was focused on me and not the game, I knew I was important.

                My grandfather died of cancer in 2004. It crushed me. It was the most painful thing I had ever felt. And I was angry, so angry. He lived his entire life being a loving, caring, and dedicated man. I felt that God had done him an injustice by letting him die in pain. My grandfather deserved to die in his sleep, with no discomfort and no suffering. I know that my grandfather would probably be upset, but I no longer wanted any part of God. I left that life behind and moved on. But I stayed with my grandmother, moved in, and took care of her. He would have wanted that. For the rest of her life nobody could ever compare to her husband. He was larger than life to both of us. We would spend hours talking about him and enjoying his memory. And that is how he preserved his legacy. He changed everyone he ever met, just by being kind and true.

                But daily, I find myself asking, what would my grandfather do in this situation? One day my children will have children and I will be a grandfather. I’ve been preparing for it my whole life. I can’t wait for the day that I can give all his knowledge to those children. His love and his actions changed me as a man, not by force but by example. He showed me an alternative to the toxic, misogynistic life that I could have chosen. He showed me that everyone deserves respect and a chance. We are no greater and no lesser than any man or woman. Everyone has a right to be happy, and to live their best life. He taught me how to think for myself and fix my problems, but also how to ask others for help. He showed me that love has no gender, no color, and no excuse. If you love someone, show them by respecting them. Communication is so much more powerful than a closed fist, and if you can’t make your point with poise and dignity then you need to move on.  A real man is blind to hate, he doesn’t see the outside of a person but instead sees the good in everyone.

                A real man stops and sees himself in other people’s shoes and imagines what it must feel like to be them. Then he knows the best way to help by listening to what they have to say. Today people want to be heard, they want their voices to matter. Toxic masculinity has no place in the future. No one is trying to convert you to their cause, and if they are, then just listen to what they have to say and either join them or say thank you but I’m happy with my choices. A real man chose’s to be a light in other peoples lives, never the darkness.  I am thankful everyday that my grandfather took the time out of his life and taught me how to be a real man.

                So, when you walk out into the world, see those around you. Acknowledge their right to exist. Acknowledge your right to happiness. Be strong for your family, and when you can’t be strong share your heart with those you love. Its okay to let someone carry you. Never belittle others because it just shows how weak you really are. And if you can, change somebody’s world with a little love and understanding. That’s what a real man does.

Copyright 2021 © James Heaton All rights reserved. Do not post without permission.


One thought on “A grandfathers wisdom…

  1. This is a great personal essay; it sure got my emotions going, albeit mostly frustration.

    Even in this day and age, there remains a mentality out there, albeit perhaps subconsciously: Men can take care of themselves against sexual perpetrators, and boys are basically little men. Perhaps it’s the same mentality that might explain why the book Childhood Disrupted was only able to include one man among its six interviewed adult subjects, there being such a small pool of ACE-traumatized men who are also willing to formally tell his own story of chronic childhood abuse and significant ACE trauma. Even with anonymity, apparently many men would prefer not to ‘complain’ to some stranger/author about his torturous childhood, as that’s what ‘real men’ do.
    I’ve noticed over many years of Canadian news-media consumption that when the victims are girls their gender is readily reported as such; however, when they’re boys, they’re usually referred to gender-neutrally as children. It’s as though, as a news product made to sell the best, the child victims being female is somehow more shocking than if male. Also, I’ve heard and read news-media references to a 19-year-old female victim as a ‘girl’, while (in an unrelated case) a 17-year-old male perpetrator was described as a ‘man’.

    The author of The Highly Sensitive Man (2019, Tom Falkenstein) writes at the beginning of Chapter 1: “You only have to open a magazine or newspaper, turn on your TV, or open your browser to discover an ever-growing interest in stories about being a father, being a man, or how to balance a career with a family. Many of these articles have started talking about an apparent ‘crisis of masculinity.’ The headlines for these articles attempt to address male identity, but often fall into the trap of sounding ironic and sometimes even sarcastic and critical: ‘Men in Crisis: Time to Pull Yourselves Together,’ ‘The Weaker Sex,’ ‘Crisis in Masculinity: Who is the Stronger Sex?’ and ‘Search for Identity: Super-Dads or Vain Peacocks’ are just a few examples. They all seem to agree to some extent that there is a crisis. But reading these articles one gets the impression that no one really knows how to even start dealing with the problem, let alone what a solution to it might look like. One also gets the impression from these articles that we need to keep any genuine sympathy for these ‘poor men’ in check: the patriarchy is still just too dominant to allow ourselves that luxury. … ”

    Perhaps what makes me most concerned about a lack of societal/institutional attention on men’s concerns/mental health is that by not properly addressing (other than demonization via news/social/entertainment media) what generally creates abusive men, for example, their abused sons and/or daughters can go on to abuse their own children — and so the tragic, painful cycle may continue.


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