One of the newest trends in men’s grooming is premium shaving gear. This includes all sorts of oils, different shaving cream styles, suggested variations in shaving ritual, and assorted styles of razors. Most of these products are marketed with the basic premise that they are part of rediscovering manhood or some aspect of being a man that is authentically male. A few weeks ago, I came across an old safety razor at an antique sale, and having read all sorts of material on how they were more of a Mercedes shaving experience compared to my Pinto experience with the disposable razor, I invested $3 on a 60-year old shaver. After thoroughly researching the technique involved, I made my first few attempts at grooming with my antique razor. Incidentally, I also learned all about the proper use of a styptic pencil. For those unfamiliar with the styptic pencil, it is used to staunch blood flow for minor cuts and nicks. I also learned that the reason that multi-bladed modern razors exist is because shaving with a safety razor is difficult, more time consuming, and potentially much harder on your face. The other thing I discovered is that shaving with an antique razor, the way my grandfather probably did, didn’t make me feel more manly. I didn’t feel like I had discovered some secret to manhood. Really, all of the mystique of the experience seems to be a little overstated. Perhaps I am doing it wrong. Perhaps when I have completed the hazing period and have the scars to prove it, then I will understand. More likely, I suspect that the ads are attempting to tap into a deep-seated need in our culture. Many men are searching for a definition of manhood because they aren’t certain as to what it really means to be a man. They don’t have a clear definition or standard by which to measure themselves, and as a result, they struggle with a core component of their identity. We live in a culture that is uncomfortable with manhood and where fathers being estranged from their sons is increasingly common. Boys learn to be men by watching their fathers. They observe, imitate, and learn. Without a father who models manhood, many young men grow up with no real concept of what it means to be a man. Such young men must teach themselves about manhood. Self-taught men often grow up with learning about manhood from pop culture, peers, or not at all. Many live with a need, whether it is conscious or not, to be validated as a man or find manhood standards to live up to. These often materialize as success at work, sexual dominance, or even being the opposite of their own dads. They need not be so overt, as some men live out this need by simply swallowing it or drifting in their life course.
Ultimately, if you ask most males what it means to be a man you will get a hodgepodge of activities that men associate with manhood and even some isolated values that are associated with male identity. What is far less common is a clear definition of the foundational values or focus of manhood and from where they are derived. This results in some perplexing behaviors that are labeled “being a man” that are likely far from a complete male identity.
There is an obvious opening question to further discussion about manhood: How do we know what it means to be a man? Where does this standard come from? I’d suggest that any conversation should begin with Genesis. The creation of man gives us a hint as to what he was supposed to be.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…Genesis 1:26
In Genesis 5:3, after the fall of man into sin, Adam has a son. Interestingly, the text says that Adam’s son was in Adam’s likeness. The reason for this shift is that man is now sinful. Instead of being as we were created to be, we are fallen. All people fall short of what they were meant to be. However, in Jesus we see the perfect representation of God and man without sin. In Him, we see what we were meant to be. Men may wander, chasing after images of manhood that fall well short of the ideal, because in Adam, we are fallen. In Christ, we can be what we were created to be. In fact, Paul writes that those who are in Christ are new creations. They become new for the purpose of imitating Christ. We can rediscover manhood in Him. The beginning of recovering real manhood is recognizing that He is the perfect model for us to emulate.