Boys turn into men. The source material for men is easy to see playing outside in the sandbox. If a boy does not become a good man, is he not a man? Does he remain a boy? Boys are younger, men are older; younger people are inexperienced, older people are more experienced. Experience comes through time; time and experience turn boys into men. There is the saying that wisdom comes with age but sometimes age comes alone, so clearly not all men are good men. There are plenty of old fools, but are they boys or foolish men?
When I read Christian materials on being a man, writers talk about immature men as boys who refuse to grow up. Apt as the metaphor is, at some point a boy becomes a man because he ceases to be a child. If childhood ends and adult responsibilities begin with maturity and not with age, then the proverbial forty-year-old man living in his mother’s basement should go to juvenile hall and not to prison for murder. If you let him remain a boy, then perhaps he will write off manhood and go play with full freedom of conscience in places that accept him as over eighteen. Why not? Boys cannot control the fact of their boyhood: it is what they are!
Boys transform physically, morally, and spiritually into men through processes that they cannot control. Although they cannot control the processes that change them, they can control themselves as they change. In that they show manly maturity. Some societies have rites of passage to mark that boys have completely become men, and a great deal of manhood is built in society with men. Biology does not determine everything. Even so, boys who fail to become men cease to be accepted as boys. Whether societal rot or radical feminism or bad parenting or a host of other things are to blame, we have to call men either good or bad, not boys.
Men can be good or bad by morality or by maturity. If Dr. Frankenstein combined Mr. Darcy and Adolph Hitler for us in one body, we would have a gentlemanly and socially mature but thoroughly evil man. Conversely, a boy coddled by his parents well into his twenties may shudder at the thought of murder but know nothing of how to initiate a proper relationship with a woman. Both kinds of men are bad, whether evil or immature; both kinds of men cause real pain in real life. Speaking for myself, I will concede my own immaturity, but I will rend you limb from limb if you call me a boy.
I am not myself a good man, but I am nonetheless a man; my identity as a man increases the gravity of my own evil or immaturity. That said, repentance will not come with a truckload of sniveling apologies, though I may have to make many manful ones. I repent as a man by becoming the better man that I can be, not fighting as a boy to become the man I am not. Boys don’t have to grow up right away, so why should man-boys try to do the same? As for a man, if he offends a woman, he might let her slap him; a good slap might help a bad man become a good man. Though he might stand humiliation, even a repentant man will not stand to be insulted.
This is not about laughably fragile self-esteem: it is about quiet and palpable truth. Men want respect even if they do not deserve it, perhaps especially when they do not deserve it. Magnanimity is the province of the victor, taken from the vanquished. Christ as the Second Adam (or the Second First Man) condescended in the Incarnation to respect the fragile state of bad men and speak to us as we are, where we are. The crucifixion is from the greatest victor’s proudest magnanimity; though humbly sacrificing himself, Christ expected to receive back all that he gave, and then some: us. He denounced the teachers of the law as men and greeted tax collectors as men. Let us follow his example: if we have to denounce men as dogs, at least do not call them puppies. Let’s call men good or bad and leave the boys in the sandbox.