The term “real men” is a popular one to bounce around, but the definition of a real man varies from culture to culture, even in the same country. Too many people equate true manhood with being rough and tough, liking freedom, doing as he pleases, and even being immoral. The Mormons have a different idea of what true manhood means.
In 2006, D. Todd Christofferson gave a talk in General Conference, a semi-annual international conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on the subject of true manhood. He said:
“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.” D. Todd Christofferson, “Let Us Be Men,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 46–48
Elder Christofferson told the story of his mother, who had a dangerous surgery that caused her great pain when she used her arms for quite some time afterwards. One day his father took her to a shop and asked the shopkeeper to demonstrate a new machine that ironed clothing. It utilized peddles operated by the leg, not the hands. She was shocked when he purchased it and paid cash. She was extremely worried because it was very expensive and she was concerned about how they were going to manage after having spent so much. He eventually admitted that he knew what she had tried to hide—that when ironing, she had to go into the bedroom and cry until the pain subsided, and so he had quietly gone without lunch for a year to save the money for the machine.
Elder Christofferson said that this was a true man—one who took care of his family even when it meant great sacrifice. A man makes his family and his responsibilities to God his priority in life, and everything else is secondary. This means that while his peers may be out playing, he may find himself hard at work during the day, and then come home to chores, helping his wife with her responsibilities, and playing with his children. For a real man, one who honors his role as a servant of God, this is not a hardship, even if it is sometimes tiring or frustrating.
Mormons are old-fashioned in some aspects of gender—meaning they stay with what God taught us men and women should be. The Family: A Proclamation to the World says of a man’s role:
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.
Notice that it says men and women help each other in their duties. This means a Mormon man will often be found washing the dishes or changing the diapers, even though it might be primarily the wife’s role. A real man isn’t embarrassed to be found doing this, nor does he feel that a long day at the office protects him from the responsibilities of the home, because he knows a mother is putting in a much longer day than he is. Parenting is a two-person job.
Men who have doubts about his role as a real man is counseled, Elder Christofferson says, to turn to the Book of Mormon for advice. When Jesus Christ visited these people, he asked
Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am (3 Nephi 27:27). This scripture tells us that a man who wants to understand his role in life should look at the Savior to see what sort of man He was. We know from many stories told us in the Bible that Jesus Christ was very respectful of women. He included many women among His friends and followers. He respected their ability to learn and He taught them individually. He didn’t save all the learning for the men, as we see in the story of Mary and Martha. This example shows us that a man should respect his wife’s intelligence and treat her as an important person, his equal, just as Jesus treated the women in his world as equals.
Jesus refused to allow his apostles to send children away who had come to see Him. Even though he’d worked a very long day and was tired, he put aside his need for rest and spent meaningful time with children, teaching them and building a relationship with them. His example tells fathers and other men what their attitude toward children should be. Although Jesus did not have children of His own, He demonstrated that a man’s children should be a priority, no matter how busy or tired they might be. He also demonstrated the responsibility to teach children the gospel.
Throughout the scriptures, Jesus is shown to be kind and gentle, not afraid to cry or to show compassion. At the same time, he had the courage to stand for the right against everyone, regardless of the cost to himself. He stood up for the downtrodden and those rejected by the world. He served those who were good and those who were “bad.” He defended the gospel without hesitation and refused to water it down to be politically correct or in tune with the times.
Elder Christofferson’s title comes from a Book of Mormon scripture that says, in part, “arise from the dust, my sons, and be men (2 Nephi 2:21).” To learn more about what it means to be a Mormon man watch the video below.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.