The short answer? It depends on the mother.
For some, there's a single defining moment. For others, it's a complex mix of the physical, numerical, financial, and nonsensical, such as:
• When he turns 18.
• When his beard grows in.
• When he faces adversity and fights his way back.
• When he turns 21.
• When he goes off to war.
• When he graduates from college.
• When he gets a full-time job.
• When he becomes a father.
• When he asks his mother how she is and listens to her answer.
• When he picks up the check at dinner.
• When he stops wearing basketball shorts to do anything other than to play basketball.
• When he no longer wants to save money to buy videogames, but to buy appliances.
• When he owns more than one tie and knows how to tie it.
• When he wakes before noon on the weekends.
• When he vacuums.
Of course, there are mothers who will never see their boys as men, just as there are boys who never want to grow up -- who don't understand the fine line between being childish and maintaining a child-like quality. One is sexy, the other, not so much.
My boys are becoming men. I know because I see them transforming every day. But it's not just their physical appearance that tells me so, though at times, the changes have been startling -- for years I swore they went to bed looking one way and woke up looking another; nor is it their literal ages, which I still have trouble believing.
No, it's more than that.
Some people say monetary success is a measure of a man. It is a measure, but not of manhood. I've known men who were incredibly wealthy financially, and terribly poor, emotionally.
As for fatherhood? Any boy who is not sterile can become a father. It doesn't make him a man, it just makes him horny. He can have 20 kids and still be a boy in his mother's eyes -- in his partner's eyes too, for that matter. How he fathers, however, speaks volumes about his manhood -- his maturity.
And what about age? Is it a mark of maturity? Of manhood?
Nah. There's no magic to the numbers. You don't become a man by virtue of turning 21. No new knowledge is bestowed upon you then by the gods. You're just legal, which means you can get into big trouble if you act like a boy.
No, it's more than that.
For me, a boy becomes a man when he lets himself fall in love. It says he's ready and willing to discover who he really is, to take risks; to care for someone other than himself. And when a man loves with kindness and respect for his partner and himself, it means (hopefully) that as a mother, we did something right -- that he learned by osmosis when he was just a boy, even when he stopped holding our hand in public.
And then, even then, when we see our sons as men, sometimes, we still secretly see them as our little boys. Because we want to. Not because they are.
Join me next Monday for another installment of The Pre-Empt Chronicles, as I transition from full house to empty nest.