On being a mensch

To my 18 year old son, as you prepare to graduate from high school and head out into the world:  I’m so proud of you, and I’m confident that you’ve already learned most of what I’m writing here.  You already excel at many of these things!  But as a momma I find myself wanting just once more to summarize some of the core things I hope for you as a man.


  • Be more of a gentleman than you need to be. Open doors for people. Smile at little children. Offer to carry things. And then carry them.
  • Say thanks to people who do things for you.  The guy with the broom at the movie theater. Your chemistry teacher. Anyone who cooks for you.  Don’t assume that because someone’s ‘just doing their job’ that you don’t need to thank them.  A thank you is always appropriate.
  • Remember that willingness to try a thing often becomes the ability to do a thing. The more you can learn to do yourself, the more money you’ll keep in your own pocket, and the less dependent you’ll be on the grace and schedules of others. Jump in and try things.
  • Better 5 minutes early than 30 seconds late. You show respect to people by being on time.   This is especially crucial with bosses and professors.  It doesn’t hurt with girls either.
  • If you wouldn’t say something to a person’s face, don’t say it behind his back.
  • Don’t complain.  It makes you look like a wimp, and bosses remember it.
  • Don’t endlessly hunt the newest and the greatest.  Purchase judiciously and infrequently.  And if you don’t have the bucks, don’t buy. Debt steals future freedom.
  • Always be willing to consider the possibility that you might be wrong.  And when you are, don’t make excuses or sweep it under the rug.   Take a deep breath and apologize.  Even if you weren’t the only one at fault, an apology makes it obvious you care about the people involved.
  • Be a person who notices what needs doing, and steps in without being asked. Especially if the job is an unpleasant one. Some days to be a hero all you have to do is pick up a plunger and go do battle.  People remember heroes.
  • Be willing to give that extra 10%.  Sometimes it is an extra dose of grace for a person who doesn’t deserve it. Sometimes it is an extra half an hour of polish put on a school essay or a work project.   People notice people who go above and beyond.  Nowhere is that more important than in relationships.
  • Speaking of relationships, look for a girl who loves her daddy, and whose family you genuinely like.  The more you have in common, the better.  Faith in God is essential. But cookie-cutter thinking isn’t.  A discerning woman who occasionally disagrees with you can be a blessing.   You’ll need someone wise enough and brave enough to gently speak up when you’re getting off-course in life.  Because you will sometimes.
  • You’ll stay on course best by loving God first, best, and always.  I’m so glad that you have already learned this well!  Look to God for guidance and power every day.  He’s going to teach you way more than I ever can.  May God bring you every blessing in life!


I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Eph 3: 16-21)

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  1. Beautiful, Mary. You have said it so well. I know your son is well-equipped to face life! Good luck to him, as he moves into a new world!

  2. Great list, with usefull reminders for everyone! I’m curious though, why do you use the word Mensch? Here in the Netherlands I know that as the German word for “person” or “human”, why do you use the German word? (I think it’s cool, more Americans should use a little foreign language every know and then. It shows they realise the world is bigger than the USA.)

    • It’s a good word, isn’t it, Nic? Not sure if I learned it in German class in high school and college, or in life since then…

      • fabienne says:

        Mensch is not only German but Yiddish. We Jews use it all the time when we refer to someone with a good heart and dignity…

  3. How Beautiful and true! – I have already cut this out for my nine year old boy for his graduation – makes me kinda sad to know how fast they do grow up – Thanks Mary

  4. I needed this today as I end a school week that both my 8 year old and I have struggled through, both of us at odds and my frustration that he’s not stepping up and paying attention in his classroom, instead choosing to act silly and come up with excuses as to why he’s unable to complete work and focus. What you’ve written will allow me to step back from the struggle and discuss with him the larger picture vs the little battles we are facing…because in the end, its the man he’ll become that is important. Thanks for these sage words.

  5. Love it, Mary! I will share these with my young men.

  6. Mary – these are fabulous words! Such wisdom…

  7. Such wonderful words full of wisdom and truth! I love it! I’ll have to remember this “speech”! 😉

  8. Kate in NY says:

    A “mensch” is a Yiddish term used to describe an all-around good human being. Funny, Mary, to see you using an expression I associate with my beloved Jewish grandparents! Maybe all that time you’ve spent in New York lately is rubbing off on you! 🙂


    • Hey, how cool, I didn’t know Mensch had a Yiddish meaning also. All-around good human being, I like that.

  9. That is the most wonderful gift that a parent can give to a child is good godly wisdom and this post says it all!! Fabulous

  10. rjbowlin says:

    Oh….So close.
    I was with you until the end. The religion thing can be left behind. People do need community though. Working together to make the world a better place. Otherwise great list!

    • Hi rj,
      I am glad we agree on so many points. I wish that the one point on which we disagree wasn’t the one that I find most essential to peace and happiness. Nevertheless I thank you for sharing your viewpoint here.
      Wishing you every good thing in life,

  11. What?! Mary reads MY blog??? Thank you for the sweet comment. It totally made my day as you were my first blog “crush” and I’m learning from you post by post.

    I love your list…and I learned a new word too! Yep, I had to click on the link to see what a mensch was.

    Today is our big day and I’m sooo excited for her. I’m also glad I have 8 to go, though, and I’m nowhere near finished yet.

  12. Extremely well said.

  13. Oh Mary! I think that this may be my most favorite post of yours, ever. I’m sure that you have raised a fine young man!

  14. Sylvia says:

    Should a man exclude a woman from consideration as a mate if she hates her father because he abused her? Does that make him a mensch?

    • That’s not my meaning at all, sorry!

      I do think that a girl blessed with a lovable/loving dad is going to be ‘easier’ to live with 🙂 because she will probably find it easier to trust and treasure her husband.

      Honest disclaimer here, tho: my dh did NOT get an easy person and he loves me anyway! Everybody’s got issues. If you’re hunting for a spouse with NO ‘junk in the trunk’ you will be searching a loooong time! And if you automatically exclude a possible spouse because of a past that they had no control over, you might be missing a wonderful soul mate.

      I hope my kids will be grace-filled as they seek mates, that they will take the time to get to know a possible spouse really well, and listen to the impressions and advice of people who have their best interests at heart.

      But in the end, it comes down to using both your head and your heart to make the wisest choice possible, committing whole-heartedly to the person you’ve chosen no matter what, and trusting that God will bless and grow that relationship in the grace and love that only comes from Him.

  15. Beautifully said! All young men and women should hear these kind of words as a blessing before they head out into the world. Thank you for phrasing some thoughts that we can all use with our children as they ‘leave the nest’

  16. Great list – thanks for sharing it!

  17. What a wonderful, wonderful post. I am tucking this away to teach to my own children.

  18. Beautiful post. In my family/culture/religion I think the highest complement is to say “he’s a real mensch.” Even as a child I knew that this word had a certain substance to it.

  19. I don’t know the word “mensch” but wow, that’s an excellent post. A lot of it applies to women too. I hope you don’t mind if I copy & save that. I need many of those reminders around me on a daily basis as I try to be a better person and while I’m raising two little ones. I hope to raise my new baby boy by all the same values… and my daughter by many of them. Thank you for sharing.

    I’ve been reading your blog off an on for years. From what I read here your children seem to be such sweet, mild mannered, thoughtful, kind people. Even your teenagers. I see so many teenagers (even from “good, Christian” families) around me with terrible attitudes, who are allowed to treat their parents badly. But the way you & your husband seem to raise your family gives me hope that teenagers *can* be sweet, kind people even while they’re going through difficult years and changes growing up. I have a toddler daughter and a baby boy on the way but I’m already worried about raising them well with good, Christian values, especially in this day and age. Thank you and your husband for being great examples on raising a nice, Christian family! It’s not seen very often.