Boys – and Men – Need an Actual Role Model

Which brand of masculinity would you like your son to grow up with? Every parent of a male child now faces that important question.

What constitutes success for your little boy? What are your fondest hopes for him? Do they center on material prosperity — a career, a nice home, wealth? Would you like your son to achieve fame or notoriety or athletic prowess? Or does your dream for him center around the inner, more intellectual and spiritual virtues you want your son to evince? 

All of these hopes and dreams for our sons take place today in the context of a crisis of manhood, in which our society tries to figure out what a man must be. In the past, the decision seemed simpler: train your boys to adapt to the standard male role, the traditional mode of maleness. You know the recipe – mastery of the world, the ideal of physical strength, a ready capacity for violence.

No more.

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We have now entered a period of human history where those models of manhood no longer have as much use as they might have in the past. In peacetime, the warlike aggression males have traditionally exemplified is not only superfluous, it is antisocial, dangerous, maladapted. In a postindustrial time of rapid technological and intellectual advances, men adapted or socialized to view physical strength as a virtue seem quaintly suited for an antiquated time. 

As a result, many boys and men have a crisis of identity on their hands and in their hearts. They’re asking themselves: Who am I? Does society even value what I can contribute? Where is my true self? What kind of manhood can I aspire to? 

So here’s the question: can you think of a role model for a modern image of masculinity, someone you would recommend as an example to your boy besides his father, someone he could emulate?

Boys actively and naturally seek a role model, someone they can look up to and whose footsteps they can strive to follow in life. Often that role model is the father, but every good father recognizes the need for a positive, aspirational influence beyond his own.

The Baha’i Faith offers the world a remarkable role model: Abdu’l-Baha.


The son of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, Abdu’l-Baha suffered tremendously as a boy, only to grow into a world-renowned teacher of love, peace, and unity. He spent much of his early life in exile and in prison because of Baha’u’llah’s imprisonment; and his release in 1908 allowed him to travel the world spreading the Baha’i message of unity, love, and oneness. Abdu’l-Baha served the poor, the hungry, the ill and the unfortunate throughout his life; and ultimately the British Empire knighted him for his selfless service to others. 

In Abdu’l-Baha’s travels to Europe and North America, he became world-renowned and beloved as a powerful advocate for peace, world governance, demilitarization, racial unity, the harmony of science and religion, and the emancipation of women. He stood up for others. He truly served all humanity.

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Abdu’l-Baha encouraged everyone, males and females, to focus their lives on serving others:

How noble and excellent is man, if he only attain to that state for which he was designed. And how mean and contemptible, if he close his eyes to the public weal, and spend his precious capacities on personal and selfish ends. The greatest happiness lies in the happiness of others. 

Exalt your thoughts. Reflect over all your affairs. Magnify your endeavours. Enlarge the circle of your ideals. Open the wings of spiritual wisdom. Let your hope be the accomplishment of most great deeds the results of which may immortalize your names.

That advice — to accomplish truly great deeds by devoting your life to the happiness and welfare of others — exemplifies what it means to be a Baha’i. Abdu’l-Baha summarized his advice in this passage from his book Some Answered Questions:

Then it is clear that the honour and exaltation of man cannot reside solely in material delights and earthly benefits. This material felicity is wholly secondary, while the exaltation of man resides primarily in such virtues and attainments as are the adornments of the human reality. These consist in divine blessings, heavenly bounties, heartfelt emotions, the love and knowledge of God, the education of the people, the perceptions of the mind, and the discoveries of science. They consist in justice and equity, truthfulness and benevolence, inner courage and innate humanity, safeguarding the rights of others and preserving the sanctity of covenants and agreements. They consist in rectitude of conduct in all circumstances, love of truth under all conditions, self-abnegation for the good of all people, kindness and compassion for all nations, obedience to the teachings of God, service to the heavenly Kingdom, guidance for all mankind, and education for all races and nations. This is the felicity of the human world! This is the exaltation of man in the contingent realm! This is eternal life and heavenly honour! 

These noble goals, ideals, and achievements, so exalted and admirable, can truly inspire every child and each adult. So rather than leaving your sons and daughters at the mercy of the modern media and its morally and spiritually dubious role models, feel free to introduce them to the life, the example, and the writings of Abdu’l-Baha.

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