Having written last about play, it makes sense to spend time exploring men and work. In a nutshell, real men work. A real man finds something to set his hands to and labors at it with might and main. He is not, as a rule, idle. Depending on his time, talents and abilities he might find many things to work at for different reasons, but the crucial thing is he will find a meaningful, profitable and enjoyable vocation and apply himself to it. All of that sounds simple enough and it ought to be. But the truth is that in a fallen world nothing is simple, so it is necessary to unpack this a bit more.
Let’s start by asking the obvious question: “why should a man work?” The answers could easily fill a book, so I will focus on the three most important. First, a man works because he has a mandate from God. When God made Adam, He gave him two specific commands. First: fill the world, be fruitful and multiply. In other words, marry and have children. If anyone does not know this is work (delightful as it may be) he is not married and does not have children. Second: take dominion over the world, rule the beasts of the earth, the birds of the air, and the creatures in the sea. God made man to be a steward; not a tyrant, but a manager over His creation, to care for it and every creature in it. Eden was paradise, but it was not a place of leisure. So Adam got to work, tending the garden and naming the animals. In the fullness of time he received a wife and children. All this labor was part of God’s work of creation and He proclaimed it “very good”. It is significant to note that, when the Lord punished Adam and Eve after the fall, Adam’s punishment was not the creation of labor, but the addition of pain to his labor.
Now, God is not a cosmic slave driver ordering men to work for the sake of watching them sweat. He gave man this mandate because work ennobles man, which leads into the second reason that men work. Work is a blessing. Man was created with a desire to work; it is part of his nature and gives meaning to his life. There is something about labor deeply fulfilling to a man, a satisfaction that comes when he expends effort to achieve a goal. All men want their lives to mean something, to leave a mark be it ever so small on the world around them, something that they can point to and say, “I did that.” Unlimited leisure is not fulfilling. A real man chafes when there is nothing for him to do for long periods of time. My father-in-law was a physician and surgeon and worked until the day he died at the age of 80. He commented frequently on the number of men he saw who retired at 65 and died within a year. Without work, men lack an important component in their lives, one that makes life worth living.
The third reason men work is to provide livelihoods for themselves and their families. Work enables a man to feed, clothe and house his family. A real man is, by nature, the primary breadwinner. The sad economic truth for many families is that both husband and wife must work outside of the home, leaving the raising of their children to strangers (which is a topic for another post). But a man does not intentionally put his wife in that position. If a wife works outside the home it should be because she wants to, not because she has to.
Putting it bluntly, a man does not sponge off his wife, his parents, his in-laws, his friends, or anyone else, not even the government. He is not still living in his parent’s basement when he is 30 searching for himself. He does not willingly accept handouts except in dire need. By the way, he also does not envy and protest the prosperity of others. Instead, trusting in divine providence to direct his steps, he seeks a vocation that will enable him to prosper to the extent of his ability and then gets to work.
As always, there are caveats. This is not a critique of those men who are willing and able to work, but cannot find employment. There are times when a man wants to work but no one will employ him. Even then, though, he is not idle. He finds employment around the house, helping with dishes, laundry and chores while he is at work trying to find a job. When he cannot find work in his chosen vocation, he takes what comes to hand until he can return to the work he loves. A real man would rather work at McDonald’s, if it will support his family, than take unemployment.
Nor should anything above be interpreted to mean women are only meant to be barefoot, pregnant and chained to the stove. Women are fully as competent to work outside the home as men. But when it comes to the vocation of making a home, women are vastly superior to men. Just as men are purpose built to build and plow, women are purpose built to take what he has built and refine it. To borrow from an old cliche, a man might build a house, but it takes a woman to make it a home. If a married woman chooses to seek employment outside of the home, it is between her and her husband. The main point here is that a woman is not forced into salaried employment because her husband is indolent.
Some readers may protest, saying there are men who are physically disabled to the point of being incapable of work. But consider Stephen Hawking. Few men are more physically disabled than he, but few have contributed more to our understanding of the universe. While no one could claim that every physically disabled man is a Stephen Hawking, it must be acknowledged that even the disabled may find a way to work and provide for themselves, and we are blessed to live in a time when they are encouraged to do so. When individuals are truly incapable of work, then it is up to the rest of us to make provision for them, but they should be the exception, not the rule.
So then, you men, if you be men, set your hands to the plow and do not look back. Take time to play but do not begrudge the time when you return to whatever vocation puts bread on your table and clothes on your back. As Elbert Hubble said, “If you work for a man, in heavens name work for him! If he pays you wages that supply you your bread and butter, work for him, speak well of him, think well of him, stand by him and stand by the institution he represents. I think if I worked for a man I would work for him. I would not work for him a part of the time, and the rest of the time work against him. I would give an undivided service or none. If put to the pinch, an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.”
Or consider the story of the masons: Three stonemasons were working in a quarry when a stranger wandered by. The first stonemason was toting rocks to a pile near a wall. “What are you doing?” said the stranger.
“Can’t you see that I’m carrying rocks?”
The stranger asked the second laborer, “What are you doing?”
“I’m building a wall,” he replied.
A few steps away, the stranger came upon a third mason. “What are you doing?” he asked. This worker smiled. “I’m building a cathedral to the glory of God!”
Let us work with glad hearts, grateful for the meaningful gift of labor, providing for our loved ones, and never losing site of the cathedral we are building.