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Back to work…

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.

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Real manhood is not all solemnity, hard work and standing against the world. Real men play, and sometimes they play hard. Real men are, at least they should be, rough and tumble. If you want proof, look at little boys before they have been corrupted by our hyper-feminized public school system. They are the raw material, the stuff from which the final product will be made. They wrestle, hit each other, insult each other, run for no good reason and throw stuff for no good reason. They play with mud, rocks, sticks, fire, knives, and anything dangerous that they can get their hands on. Boys like to build and break things; the bigger the building, the better the breaking. They get dirty, muddy, bloody and bruised, step on each other, get offended, fight, make up, and have a good time doing it. They might have short fuses, but they also have short memories.

Boys love to compete. There will always be a goal, a quest for a hero to achieve. There will be good guys and bad guys, cops and robbers, Cowboys and Indians, Steelers vs. Cowboys, Rangers vs. Yankees, Americans vs. commies – opposing sides about which each will say the other is in the wrong. They will use plastic replicas, sticks, and even fingers as pretend weapons and the more boys involved in the play, the more imaginary blood will be spilled and the higher the imaginary body-count.

Contrary to the politically correct establishment, these are all healthy traits that should be encouraged and indulged as often as practicable. It is critical that boys be allowed to play like boys. Play is not solemn, but it is serious. To paraphrase Lewis, boyhood play is the serious work of manhood.

There are many reasons why the play of boys is important, but I will focus on the most vital. First, it is through play that boys begin to discover what they are good at. They identify and begin to develop their physical, intellectual, emotional, and psychological gifts. Play helps boys to learn who they are and where they fit in the world around them. The idea that children possess unique gifts is increasingly misunderstood. Children are often told that they can be anything they want to be. This is simply not true. Ability is not democratic. Not everyone is equally gifted in every area. This sounds cruel, unfair, and limiting to a politically correct world, but it is none of these. In fact, the opposite is true.

When a boy is told that he can be anything he wants, he is being set up for failure. There are very real limitations on what a particular person is capable of doing. I am of medium height and build, and when I was a boy I was smaller than my peers. If I believed that I could be anything I wanted, and I wanted to be a linebacker for the Packers, my physical build would have been a hindrance, a limitation. I would have been imprisoned in my body and forever be frustrated if I had tried to make that position my life’s goal. But by being allowed to discover my real gifts through the agency of play, by working in the scope of my real strengths, a near infinite field opens up to me that aligns with those strengths. Ability is not infinitely broad, but it can be infinitely deep. Being allowed to work within the scope of a child’s gifts frees him from the tyranny of unrealistic expectations created by the “you can be anything you want” school of thought.

Second, competition in play teaches boys how to win, lose, and take their lumps, both deserved and undeserved. They must learn this, for life is filled with victories and defeats, great and small, fair and unfair. The playing fields in which men work are rarely level, and sometimes the cards will be stacked unfairly against them. The unsheltered world outside the halls of academia cannot be the first place they learn these lessons. If it is, they will enter life severely handicapped. They will be stymied by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that they inevitably encounter. Without the armor forged over time through play it will be difficult for them to persevere in the face of a prolonged losing streak. Yes, there are unfair situations that they will experience in school, but those pale in comparison to what life in the real world can inflict on them.

Third, play helps boys to develop their moral imaginations, their sense of right and wrong, good and evil. When they play cops and robbers, they are exploring the moral lessons they have learned from parents and church. Through play, they work out the implications and consequences of right and wrong actions in a safe environment. Their innate, God-given understanding of the eventual triumph of good over evil is allowed to germinate and blossom. Properly developed, the moral imagination of a boy becomes the moral compass of a man who will recognize good and evil even in their most subtle garb, and respond appropriately when he is called upon to do so.

Finally, the imaginary wars they fight, the blood they spill, and the piles of corpses they leave behind them serve very real functions. The imaginary heroes who fight their battles for and through them help protect them from the monsters of their own imagination. In the dark, late at night, imaginary creatures can frighten a young boy far more than any real terror. Chesterton said it best when he wrote “At the four corners of a child’s bed stand Perseus and Roland, Sigurd and St. George. If you withdraw the guard of heroes you are not making him rational; you are only leaving him to fight the devils alone.” With Perseus and Roland at his side, a boy learns courage and is better prepared to act in spite of his fears as a man.

Further, those heroes prepare boys for the real wars they may encounter as men. The idea that aggression and war can be trained out of the mind of a boy is as wrong as the idea that the Earth is flat. There will always be evil in the world, and that evil will threaten nations as well as individuals. Therefore, the world will always need armies of men ready to fight in the name of the right, to kill or be killed in order to protect the good, the beautiful, and the true. Boys must not be taught that war is wrong, or that to rejoice in the victory of good over evil is wicked. As they grow, they can learn the subtleties of just war theory, but as boys, they must be able to act out the war between good and evil in a way that makes sense to boys.

Of course, none of this is present in a boy’s mind when he plays. He is merely enjoying the play for its own sake, happily unaware of any benefit he receives when he goes to play “kill the guy with the ball” with the guys in the neighborhood. If he understood all that was going on, it would cease to be play. It is because the lessons learned at play are unconscious that they form part of the foundation of what the boy will be as a man. Our role as adults is to stay as far out of the way as possible. Yes, we must enforce rules, and supervise play to ensure that there no serious harm is done. The one thing we must never do is forbid them to play like boys.

Allowed to play like boys, they will not lose these traits when they become men. The man will still play, though his play matures along with the boy. He will give up that which is childish, but can still be childlike. This is a difficult balance to strike, but if he can do it, a man will be able to guide the boys around him through their own play. He can enter their world and fight the bad guys with them, or give them a bad guy to defeat. He can also play with other men for the sheer enjoyment of being a man.

Which brings us back to where we started. When they are at rest from the fight, men should play hard and enjoy being men. Fathers, play with the boys in your lives, and forbid them not. Reassure your wives that all really will be well. That scar on your boy’s left knee will give him something to brag about with his friends and show off to girls while he is young, and laugh about when he is older. The gap in his teeth will fill in, the broken arm will heal, and the fistfight with his best friend will be forgotten tomorrow. Boys must play like boys if they are to be worth anything as men.

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Real Women Want Real Men

Here’s a link to an article that illustrates a woman’s desire for men to Man Up!  It would have been better had she provided some statistics to back up her argument, but it is still worth reading.  Perhaps those statistics are in Bennett’s book.

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/10/07/why-does-america-have-so-many-peter-pan-men/

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Nature’s Energy Drink

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that the Energy/Sports Drink business is a global, multi-billion dollar industry.  Energy and sports drinks seem to be everywhere.  Billboards, magazines, TV and radio all carry ads for power-monster-rockstar-ades and sports heroes guzzle them by the gallon.  What does surprise me is that people not paid to endorse these products actually drink the stuff.  When you’ve been working hard, sweating like a pig in the heat of the day, pushing yourself to your physical limits, who really wants an artificially colored, artificially flavored, artificially sweetened Kool-Aid knock off?  When your electrolyte levels are low, your muscles are screaming for potassium, and your sodium tank is on empty, is your body really going to be satisfied with plastic bottle of liquid candy?

No, what I’m thirsty for after a hard day of cutting brush out on the farm is not some pastel-colored syrup crafted in a soft-drink lab, but a real man’s drink, something that will quench my thirst and really restore those lost vitamins and minerals.  I want nature’s energy drink, something that has been satisfying man’s thirst and restoring his tissues for thousands of years.  A tall, ice-cold beer.

Yes, beer.  Beer is nature’s energy drink.  Take a look at the nutrition analysis for a 12 oz. glass of regular beer:

Water 327.4g
Calories 153
Alcohol 13.9g
Protein 1.6g
Carbohydrate 12.6g
Fat 0.0g
Cholestrol 0.0g
Calcium 14mg
Magnesium 21mg
Phosphorous 50mg
Potassium 96mg
Sodium 14mg
Niacin 2mg
Folate 21mcg

Beer has nearly 20 times the potassium and twice the sodium of Powerade, nearly the same amount of carbs as a standard Gatorade, and then look at all of the vitamins and minerals that are completely missing from the usual sports drink suspects: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, niacin and folate with no fat and no cholesterol.  All this without being mixed, measured, formulated and market-tested.  What other beverage can boast such riches, all of which are custom designed to restore the exhausted frame?  A Red Bull cannot stand up to an Ugly Pug, a Gatorade pales before a Guinness, and Accelerade falls flat before the mighty Aventinus.

Granted, a beer is not exactly what you want to drink in the middle of the big game when your mind needs to be sharp, nor when you are working with large power tools that can permanently alienate you from some of your favorite extremities.  But when the game is over and done, and the tools have been cleaned and put away, be honest with yourself, you know that what your body craves is “a beaker full of the warm South, full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene, with beaded bubbles winking at the brim.”  And this is not because you want to be drunk.  It is because nothing tastes or restores your body’s equilibrium better than a beer.  Chesterton said “Let a man walk ten miles steadily on a hot summer’s day along a dusty English road, and he will soon discover why beer was invented.  The fact that beer has a very slight stimulating quality will be quite among the smallest reasons that induce him to ask for it.  In short, he will not be in the least desiring alcohol; he will be desiring beer.”  Indeed.

Chesterton is not the only great mind to sing the praises of beer.  Here is a small sample of quotes from ages past extolling the virtues of that fermented blend of barley, hops, water, and yeast:

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

-Benjamin Franklin-

For a quart of Ale is a meal for a King.

-William Shakespeare-

He was a wise man who invented beer.

-Plato-

Always remember that I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.

-Winston Churchill-

Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world.

– Kaiser Wilhelm-

Beer is liquid bread, it’s good for you.

– Weird Al Yankovic-

It strikes me as unlikely that Shakespeare, Churchill, Plato, Franklin or the Kaiser would ever have sung the praises of Staminade.

So the next time you’re out in the sun, enjoying the feel of muscles employed in strenuous labor, don’t cheat your body that has worked so hard for you by filling it with synthetic, syrupy swill.  Reach for the real man’s beverage, the oldest, most natural and healthy sports drink the world has ever known.  Reach for a beer.

PS:  Budweiser, Coors, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Miller, Michelob and others of that ilk do not count as beer.  They may be mildly alcoholic and brewed from grain, but they are as unlike true beer as Mad Dog is unlike true wine.

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Courage, Part II

One more thing needs to be said about courage before moving on. Recall in the last post that courage needs a moral compass to direct it and practice to sharpen it. It also needs something to inform it, something to give it the strength of resolve to act when the time comes. That something is love. Not the romantic or erotic love of the man who woos a woman (though he may need that before all is said and done). It is what CS Lewis called agape, or what is really meant by the word charity, a love not motivated by self-interest, a love that seeks the good of the beloved above the lover’s own, even at the lover’s expense.

This type of love can be difficult to understand for it does not rely on affection or emotion. Not because emotion is not a part of agape, but because agape is larger and more decisive than emotion. Agape is the result of a promise; a lawful vow, a covenant between the lover and the beloved. We are frequently told that emotion is love, but emotions can change rapidly based on the circumstances of the moment. An angry word in a moment of weakness, a pretty face and figure passing by, a bad day at work, or even simple weariness can cool the flames of the most ardent lover. Because agape is based on decision and not emotion it can continue to love and seek the good of the beloved even when emotions fail the lover.

Agape can have any number and types of objects. Friends and family are the first that come to mind. There is little doubt that many men are willing to sacrifice to protect their loved ones. But there are more abstract objects; things like country, honor, freedom, the good, the true, and the beautiful. The greater and more noble the object of one’s love, the greater the deeds of courage a man may exhibit. This is not to say that there can be no other motivation behind heroic deeds. Fear, hatred, and greed can all be strong motivators to action, but the action they motivate, however heroic, will ultimately fail. Love ennobles and builds a man up. Evil can only destroy the evil man. Taking it further, love is infinite and will continue to build a man up until, by God’s grace, he enters the Kingdom. Evil is finite and turns back in on itself like a black hole. Hell has boundaries; Heaven does not. So then, the action born of evil motives must eventually fail the one who relies on them. The man who loves his country and his kinsmen will continue to hold the field long after the slave, the oppressed, and the mercenary have fled. He may be defeated, but not until he has given to the uttermost.

This agape, then, is what gives real courage its strength. GK Chesterton spoke of it when he wrote: “the true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him”. Steven Pressfield wrote about it in “The Gates of Fire”, saying: “the opposite of fear is love.” It is mentioned repeatedly throughout Scripture; for example in Romans when St. Paul writes “you did not receive a spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adaption, by whom we cry out “Abba! Father!” or St. John in 1 John 4:18 “…perfect love casts out fear” This is the love that strengthens the courage of the husband, the father, and the employee as much as it does the hand of the soldier in battle. It gave Martin Luther the courage to stand firm against the combined powers of the Emperor of Europe and the Roman Catholic Church. It comforted thousands of martyrs as they went peacefully to face horrible deaths at the hands of the Roman Empire. And it was love for His Father, and for us, that led to the greatest act of courage the world has ever known when a humble Jewish carpenter, God who was made man, allowed human hands to nail him to a cross. The love that held Him there until all was accomplished is the same love that will give us the strength to courageously face every day the moral battles of life until we hear Him say to us, “well done” and enter into His rest.

There is so much more that could be said about courage, and maybe I will revisit it in another post. For now, though, having talked about courage, honesty, fidelity, physicality, it may be time to lighten up. What do you think?

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Be of Good Courage

So far in this series of posts on what it take to be a real man, I have asserted that the following requirements must be met:
1. A man must be male
2. A man must be a man of his word
The next thing I will assert is that real men are brave; they possess courage. Courage, of course, is not the absence of fear, but the strength and ability to persevere in spite of it. We often think of courage in the context of physical danger, and rightly so. The man who puts himself in harm’s way for the sake of others is the model of courage. But there is another type of courage; the ability to stand up for what is true and good in the face of opposition. Outside of the military and civilian security forces, men are not often called on to put their lives in jeopardy. Most of us, however, face these other challenges on a daily basis, regardless of our vocations; moral battles that require no less courage than those that are physical.

In fact, moral battles can be more difficult to fight and require more courage than their physical counterparts. The enemy can be difficult to define. It is not necessarily another human being and it cannot be removed from the battlefield through injury or death. The enemy is often subtle, advancing and striking multiple times before we know that we are in a fight, before we even know it is on the field with us. All too often, the enemy is our own self, the weaknesses that are exposed when we encounter a challenge in the form of a temptation to do something we know to be wrong or neglect to do something we know to be right.

Making matters worse, the field itself is almost never clearly defined. There are no stakes in the ground that mark its boundaries, no lines are drawn up with enemies facing each other, no attacks at the first light of dawn. The battlefield can be the place where we feel most comfortable, least on our guard, at a time when we are most tired and least capable of resisting. But if the enemy and battlefield are so difficult to define, how will we recognize them when the time comes? How can we hope to be brave and do what must be done?

This may sound overly simplified, but in order to succeed on the moral battlefield, a man must possess morals; he must know right from wrong. Courage is nothing without a moral compass, a conscience, to direct and inform it. A man may act based on the strength of his convictions in the face of tremendous opposition (which might be praiseworthy of itself), but if his cause is not just, can it truly be said that he acted courageously? Prowess on the battlefield may be more a sign of cruelty than courage.

A conscience alerts a man to moral danger and enables him to properly identify the enemy, particularly when it is himself. But to work effectively, a conscience must be keen. It cannot be dulled or deadened from disuse, neglect, and compromise. The conscience must be honed daily through careful listening if it is to be worthwhile. Further, it must be based on an absolute standard to be of any use. Like a physical compass, it must point to something outside of itself or the traveler will become hopelessly lost. When a man listens to his conscience and then acts accordingly, he exercises both conscience and courage.

So what, exactly, does that look like? Probably nothing like the great and momentous conflicts we might like to imagine for ourselves; stirring, eloquent speeches in the halls of state, or a dramatic defense in a courtroom. It is far more likely to be something that seems mundane. Examples abound. How often do men find themselves in the company of friends and colleagues who go for a quick laugh by taking cheap shots at the expense of their wives and children? Or maybe they attack an unpopular co-worker who is socially awkward. Perhaps they openly lust after an attractive woman, or they endorse adultery or abortion. These are the battlefields where moral courage will be tested and proved.

It takes the same courage to face times of life that are tedious: to go to work every day to a job that is no longer interesting or fulfilling but keeps bread on the table. To stay and work in the marriage that is going through a long dry spell, as most marriages will, rather than run away to “find oneself”. To continue to work with and pray for the son or daughter that has rejected you and everything for which you stand, rather than abandon them to the whims of society. As Charles Bronson said so well in that great scene from the Magnificent Seven, when a little village boy calls his father a coward for not fighting the bandits:
“Don’t you ever say that again about your fathers, because they are not cowards. You think I am brave because I carry a gun; well, your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility, for you, your brothers, your sisters, and your mothers. And this responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists them until finally it buries them under the ground. And there’s nobody says they have to do this. They do it because they love you, and because they want to. I have never had this kind of courage. Running a farm, working like a mule every day with no guarantee anything will ever come of it. This is bravery. That’s why I never even started anything like that… that’s why I never will.” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054047/quotes?qt=qt0345611

The more important a thing is, the more difficult it can be to exercise the courage necessary to stand up for or against it. But in order for our courage to be proved we must act. We must defend our marriages and families, those weaker than ourselves, and the institutions on which society is built against anyone who attacks, no matter what the setting. If we do not, we are cowards and unworthy of being called men. But the more we stand up for what is right, the more our consciences are sharpened and our courage strengthened. We may never need to lay down our lives to save a fellow soldier, but when the time comes we will be able to put our reputations on the line to defend our wives and children. There are no promises, but it is likely that the man who has stood firm in the mundane skirmishes will be ready if and when the great battles do come. He will not shrink from his duty; he will not desert the field of honor. His courage will not fail him in the time of need and, win or lose, he will quit himself like a man. And though the battles I speak of may seem mundane, they are of eternal significance and will stand next to the greatest of desperate charges when weighed in the great balances of time.

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Words fail me…

Whatever he is, he is no man. But then he makes no claim to be one.

I am not certain which is most disgusting; his behavior, that of the co-dependent “nurse” who aids and abets his fraud, or the shrink who fails to justify his behavior.

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