What is a Gentleman?

by Nic Kovatch
As I often times do with words, I would like to break down the word “gentleman” and look at the true meaning behind it.  With this word I went with the basics, a gentle-man.  So how is it that over the course of human history, in the English speaking world, we came to associate the word gentle with a man?  Often times I here that gentle is a “pansy” word, or one that is more effeminate than manly.  Through my experiences however, I have to come to find that the word ‘gentle’ is rather more manly than most people give it credit.

I once attended a retreat where it the theme was “Go Gently.”  I spent a good amount of time reflecting on what this meant.  I thought of the famous phrase “walk softly, but carry a big stick.”  Here are some words associated with gently: softly, gracefully, easy, and so on.  The idea is that to be gentle to a degree is to be weak. However, I propose that gentleness is not weakness.  Rather, it is simply power restrained (namely out of love).

We use the term gentle giant, but why is the giant gentle?  It is because he has concern and care for that which he holds.  The giant I often think of is the Incredible Hulk.  He is one of the examples of manliness for me.  The Hulk is somebody that has almost limitless strength or power residing in his body, yet he can respond with tenderness to Betsy, the woman he loves.  Hulk could destroy Betsy if he so wished, or he could obliterate almost anything, but you can tell that there is something that stays his hand.  This something is love, the purpose of being gentle.

Another example of gentleness, power restrained, comes from my own childhood.  This is when my brother and I were in middle school.  My brother often times had trouble with his temper, and was throwing a tantrum at the time.  It was a little bit worse than normal, considering he was starting to break things in the house.  I do not know why he was so angry, but my brother was out of control.  So my dad, the man that he is, wraps my brother up in his arms.  He simply stands there holding my brother, as my brother struggles against my dad with all his might.  My dad had the power to crush my brother, to make him stop breaking things, through the sheer strength of his will.  However, my dad choose to love my brother…holding him, restraining my brother’s power because it was being destructive.  My dad held him, loving all the while, but knowing that my brother was not doing what was good for anyone.  Eventually my brother calmed down and my dad let him go.  It was amazing growing up and seeing that power, to hold somebody and not hurt them has always stuck with me.

The nature of what it is to be gentle then is explicitly tied into being a man, knowing when to use that power, and when to restrain it.  That is why both C. S. Lewis and I looked up to Lancelot as one of the greatest gentleman.  He was the fiercest warrior, no knight wanted to meet him in battle, and yet he was the most gentle man in court, almost to the point of being dainty.  Lancelot was a man who knew what it was to be fierce in battle and gentle in front of the right people.  So I hope that the men (and women) who read this article encourage yourselves and other men back to true gentleman.  The true mark of man is the actions that he engages.  So restrain your power when it is required, and let your fierceness out to combat the evil when that evil seeks to destroy that which is beautiful and lovely.


Nic Kovatch is currently a high school Theology Teacher that graduated from the Echo program at Notre Dame.  He lives in Bl. Frederic Ozanam House in Indianapolis, and grew up in South Bend, IN.  He recently became engaged to Jamie Willhelm, and is a parishioner at St. Johns Catholic Church downtown.  



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