What does it mean to be a “man”

I recently wrote an essay about what I think a man of a virtue should strive for. My Dad inspired me to write it.

This X-mas he turned 60. We make a joke that Koreans celebrate only 1st birthday and 60th. My Dad didn’t celebrate the anniversary. Instead of writing him a gift-card I am writing this essay.

My Dad taught me what it means to be a man.

Every boy is searching for his own way of becoming a man. I learned a lot by observing my Dad. He never gave me the long lectures and pep-talks on the topics like what it means to be a real man. He never spent much time with me to share his life philosophy.

He embodied it.

Here are the 8 things that my Dad taught me:

1. He taught me about Respect.

When I arrived in South Korea I was surprised with the way men treat each other here. 1 year of age difference is enough to make a huge distance of power and consequently define the behavior and attitude.

The status quo of the culture here reminds me of that old beardy anecdote with Napoleon. There was one aristocrat that was very tall and used to hang around with Napoleon. He is purported to have said to him: “You see. I am taller than you,” with an intention to pique the emperor.

Napoleon replied: “You are not taller than me. You are longer.”

This is the way I feel in Korea. Why on Earth am I supposed to respect another dude just because he just happened to rock up to this planet slightly earlier than me?

My Dad taught me something that I have very hard time to explain to Koreans. He once said:

In this world, a man doesn’t respect another man for nothing. Respect has to be earned.

2. He taught me the virtue of Silence

My Dad is an introvert. I am an extrovert. This is partly the reason why we have not talked a lot all these years. Of course, I wish we spent more quality time together but thinking in the retrospective his conversation-avoiding nature became a life-long lesson for me.

My Dad has embodied the personal philosophy that a real man never babbles too much. A real man is reserved and lets his results speak for him. My Dad told me:

A man’s worth is the weight of his word.

It became my philosophy as well. Throughout my life, I had to work with many men that are as empty as their talks. They stated their high ambitions, oftentimes publicly, and didn’t change a shade when they failed to deliver. For obvious reasons, our collaboration was never fruitful. My Dad taught me that the integrity is the primary quality to look for in a business partner.

I do talk a lot. Maybe at times too much. I always had the mastering of language hanging in front of me as a personal objective, and now, in the face of new challenge of mastering writing, I have to spit out 3000+ words every single day which for the most part, thanks to the writing itself, I spend in silence luckily fulfilling my urge to talk. I do talk a lot but I never disavow from what I have claimed. If I said I will take care of it, you may be well damn sure the shit gets done. Thanks for teaching me that, Dad.

3. He taught me how to take responsibility

I was recently asked on Quora: “What is the reason why many people do not accomplish high achievements?”

This is my answer:
They don’t take 100% responsibility.

This is a very simple but extremely liberating truth that I inherited from my father:

If you want to see something done, go and do it yourself”.

Some people don’t understand it. Some people resist to understand it. Some people understand but scared by it. Maybe those are three phases before one starts to taking 100% responsibility and by 100% responsibility I mean the responsibility-mindset in its all-embracing totality. Let me give you some examples:

  • If I fight with my girlfriend, it is my fault. A woman is just a mirror. She is projecting my own bullshit to me.
  • If I got betrayed, it is my fault. I was naive, stupid and immature to see what is coming and trusting someone who doesn’t deserve my trust.
  • If I got cold, it is not the external virus to blame. It was my responsibility to keep my immune system bulletproof.
  • If people wrong me, it is a signal, a red flag— something is wrong, my relationships are not working so it means that something inside me is not working.

And so on, and so forth. You get the point.

One doesn’t have to take a full load of responsibility at one go. Responsibility is like weightlifting. It is better to adapt slowly expanding the area of responsibilities but the end game should be always in mind — being a master of your ship, responsible, relentless and non-apologetic.

4. He taught me a very simple life philosophy

Dad once told me:

“There are not that many things that a virtuous man should know in life. Take care of your family. Don’t do evil. Do your job and do it well.”

The simplicity of it struck me. When I started to think about it I realized that this is exactly how my Dad lived all his life.

When I start to notice that the habit to overcomplicate things hides my Northern Star in the mist of excessive thinking and hinders my navigation in the sea of life I get my Dad’s sextant that never fails: “Family. Virtue. Mission.

5. He taught me about women

Once I called my Dad after the fight with my girlfriend and I told him: “Dad! She is impossible. I don’t understand her!

My Dad replied:

We don’t need to understand women. We just have to love them and take care of them. That’s all.

I heard him. I struggle but I deploy. Every time I have a problem in my relationship and there is a part of me that wants to explode I hear the voice of my Dad: “Calm down. You look silly. She is just a woman.

6. He gifted me a strong model of a family

This is what I learned from watching my Dad for years — the best thing that a man can do for his kids is to love their mother.

My Mom always says: “Your Dad is an epitome of a perfect Family Man. He was always brilliant as a husband. He fostered a quality of provider inside himself and this is just the way he is. Whenever I needed anything for you and your brother. Click! (she snaps her fingers) It magically appeared at home on the other day. Life is long. Through many years I understand it better than ever — he was always a perfect man for me.

I am not married but I will be one day. And thanks to Dad I am not a man who needs to find an external model of the family to build his own like my Dad once was. I know what a good family is. I know it thanks to you, Dad.

7. He taught me the Selfless Service.

Let me tell you what I mean by selfless service. My Dad is a seismologist. Well, he is shaking buildings in order to make them more earthquake resistant. He got this job when he was 25. During his long 35 years old career he never changed his job and also he never took a vacation. Never.

Now, my Dad is 60 and he complained once to me: “When I was younger I used to work 15 hours a day 7 days a week. I am getting old, getting tired.” He is saying it still working 8–10 hours with weekends working at home. I am not sure if I will ever come close to this inhuman productivity.

Every time I meet a youngster who whines about how hard the life is I want to slap his overfed cheeky face. Sometimes, I slap my face too.

All of the hard work that he still puts in up to this day was for the sake of the family. He worked hard so that my Mom could stay at home and raise me and my brother. She did her part of sacrifice too, she was a bright doctor with a brilliant career ahead but she chose to dedicate all of her time to her children. I learned that there is one thing in the world that could be a measure of Love — this is Selfless Service.

8. He taught me how to be a giver

As I was growing up I was watching my Dad walking calm through the storms of life. I saw that no matter how hard the times were he always found the ways to help others. People betrayed him, people turned away from him, people didn’t appreciate his efforts — he helped them still.

Being a giver is a trait that was probably engraved in my genes. I learned how to serve people. I learned how to be a true friend choosing the resource of a person I hold dear over my own anytime hands down.

My Dad taught me what is real generosity.

  • Whenever someone did a good job for him the reward was higher than any expectations.
  • When the choice was between giving away time for doing the thing himself and giving away money for a speedy quality service, my Dad always chose the latter. He always said:

Good work should always be rewarded.

  • When there was a need in expense for a group of people where there was presumably collective responsibility but everyone was shying away shaking and holding their wallets close to the heart my Dad always stepped up and resolved the problem at the cost of his own resources.

Not being a greedy ass drooling over the cash like everyone else around — that’s what my Dad taught me.

Final words

My Dad and Mom

Thank you for everything, Father. You are the role-model every son can only dream of. You are a man of the level I hope I will be able to get close to someday.

I love you. I am looking up to you. I am sorry for not being around. Please, take a good care of yourself.

Your Son.



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