Teaching a class entitled “Bringing Our Boys Through the Second Decade,” I’ve been thinking a lot about what manhood is. No one puts it into focus like Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL player, minister and coach.

He begins by saying that manhood in America is based on three myths: that manhood equals success on the ball field; in the bedroom; or in the billfold. In other words, we mistakenly think manhood is based on success in athletics, sexual conquest or financial gain. Mr. Ehrmann says that boys hear over and over again that, to be a real man, they need to distinguish themselves in these three ways.

Instead Ehrmann suggests, for a guy to build a worthwhile life, to feel successful, he needs to focus on relationships. Can he give love and receive love? What caliber of son is he? a father? a husband? a friend? Secondly, Mr. Ehrmann suggests that to feel successful, a guy needs to enlist himself in a meaningful cause. It is imperative that a guy does his part to make the world a better place.

Being the athlete that he is, Mr. Ehrmann offers that being part of a team is a great way to accomplish both of these, relationships and working toward a good cause. Teams provide a sense of purpose, shared goals and objectives; they require work ethic and so gain a guy respect, dignity and trust. I wonder if we can expand our definition of “team” to include work groups, rock and roll bands, robotic teams, mission groups, Habitat for Humanity building groups, etc.

Finally, Ehrmann says the three most destructive words to boys are: BE A MAN. These words invite boys to cut off their feelings and to enter into the three myths of masculinity. Instead, how about we urge our guy to be in meaningful relationships and to embrace his cause to better the world. That way our sons can take their places among teams of men who’ll give us all a finer planet.