I'm going to have to start a directory of great essays on what it means to be a man, but for the moment go read "Wimps and Barbarians" by Terrence O. Moore. (I had read it previously, but was reminded of it again by achilles.)
For more than a decade I have been in a position to see young men in the making. As a Marine, college professor, and now principal of a K-12 charter school, I have deliberately tried to figure out whether the nation through its most important institutions of moral instruction—its families and schools—is turning boys into responsible young men. Young women, always the natural judges of the male character, say emphatically "No." In my experience, many young women are upset, but not about an elusive Prince Charming or even the shortage of "cute guys" around. Rather, they have very specific complaints against how they have been treated in shopping malls or on college campuses by immature and uncouth males, and even more pointed complaints against their boyfriends or other male acquaintances who fail to protect them. At times, they appear desperately hopeless. They say matter-of-factly that the males around them do not know how to act like either men or gentlemen. It appears to them that, except for a few lucky members of their sex, most women today must choose between males who are whiny, incapable of making decisions, and in general of "acting like men," or those who treat women roughly and are unreliable, unmannerly, and usually stupid.It's long, but you'll enjoy the whole thing. Mr. Moore concisely expresses many of the conclusions I've come to myself as I've grown up and he sets a high bar to strive for.
I'm not sure there was ever a golden age of manliness... I suspect there have always been both wimps and barbarians. If it appears to us today that males of the past were superior to males of the present it's probably because history is written by the winners.