Masculinity. Manhood. Virility. Macho. Manly.
You ask 100 people what these words mean and you’ll get 100 different answers…guaranteed!
Why is that? Why is there such a discrepancy? I wonder if it’s not a matter of disagreement but rather, an issue of uncertainty. Uncertain as to whether or not there’s a need to even define what they mean. Unfortunately, our culture has hijacked the essence of these words and demanded we accept the ambiguity and perplexity of what defines a man as the new norm. Sadly, what we’re left with is a generation of males who, for the most part, see their manhood as either mysteriously confusing or as stereotypical extremes.
But what do they really mean? Somewhere someone a long time ago—Mr. Webster perhaps—defined them. What is defined by language, though, has been greatly misconstrued or even ignored in reality. And that’s exactly what we have today…men with an identity crisis and boys growing up in their shadows following the same wayward path.
As I observe how culture has veered off the path of true manhood, I contemplate my own journey of wrestling with this idea of manhood. Although I grew up in a Christian home where my father was present, was committed to my mother, worked hard to provide for our family’s needs, he was, however, a reserved and private man who rarely expressed his feelings towards me through words and affection. I knew I was loved I just would have liked to have heard it more often.
In 2004, several years after it came out, I remember reading John Eldredge’s Wild At Heart. At the time it was quite a provocative book in regards to the subject of manhood and masculinity. Like countless others I connected with the message and felt challenged and inspired to live as a better man. For the most part it was a valiant and successful attempt to frame this idea of what masculinity could be and how a man finds meaning on this pathway to manhood.
Almost 15 years following the release of Eldredge’s book the subject of manhood continues to muddle around in waters of ambiguity. It seems most men today find the essence of masculinity in the physical alone, occasionally giving notice to the intellectual, and more often ignoring the emotional and spiritual.
Not since Eldredge’s book have I come across such a poignant and well-written expose’ on this subject as in John Sowers’ The Heroic Path: In Search of the Masculine Heart. At the heart of his book, John seeks to rediscover the path of godly manhood, all the while admitting with humble candor his own struggle to “walk the path.” While the book is filled with stories from real life heroes from history to folklore, the underlying message is that God designed men to be heroic…not for self-gratification, but for the sake of “carrying our assigned weight” in our homes, families, work, community, and culture. From the opening chapter he calls attention to the obvious dilemma of most men today…that they are wayward and lost on the path because there is no leadership, no map, no rites of passage, no elder or mentor who knows the way and stands in the gap as a beacon.
This week the Smith household celebrated our oldest son Landis graduating from high school. He’s worked very hard and has strived to be a diligent student. Without question we’re extremely proud of, not only what he’s accomplished but who he has become over the last 18 years. He’s decided to take a gap year and then head to Palm Beach Atlantic University in 2017 to study marine biology. That Friday evening following the ceremony we had family and friends over for a party to celebrate this milestone in Landis’ life. Instead of the usual graduation party his mom and I decided to take the moment to affirm Landis with words of reflection, encouragement, and exhortation. It was a meaningful and inspiring evening. Landis heard the power of the spoken word from those who have been a part of his growing up. Grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, friends all spoke life-giving words over him, to him, into him. It was beyond memorable. It was a rite of passage. It was handing the baton of manhood to the next generation. It was spiritual and it was eternal. Landis will never forget that moment.
Unlike Landis so many young boys have no man speaking into their life like this. Young boys and girls are growing up with a longing to have someone say something hopeful and encouraging to them but it’s just not happening. In his book The Fatherless Generation Sowers doesn’t just write about the need for men to step up and be leaders, he’s fleshing it out as President of The Mentoring Project, a movement rewriting the fatherless story for over 25 million youth growing up without dads. This organization is challenging men and women like you and me to give back, step in the gap, offer hope to these kids who desperately need a mentor in their life. It’s a nation wide call to arms to reverse the cycle of fatherless homes.
Let’s take it one step further…as we approach Father’s day this Sunday (19th) why not do something worthwhile, memorable, impactful, and honoring. The Mentoring Project is having their annual “Don’t Buy The Tie” campaign to raise funds so young boys and girls who are fatherless can have a mentor in their life. After reading Sowers’ book I was so moved by this epidemic of fatherlessness that I wanted to do something. Unlike John, I was blessed to have had a wonderful father in my life. Far from being a perfect man, he did have his own way of expressing love and attention and it made a difference in my life.
So, last year I made a donation to The Mentoring Project in honor of both my father and father-in-law. I want other kids, especially boys, to have someone in their life that affirms them, spends time with them, shares wisdom, and provides hope for their future. Maybe you’re like me as I consider, “What in the world do I get my father for Father’s Day when really, he doesn’t need anything?” How about giving him the greatest compliment ever…the assurance that his legacy, commitment, and investment he made as a father can be shared and multiplied in the lives of those without a father. And if you happen to identify more with John and did not have the presence of a father growing up, then you should understand even more the need of these kids growing up without any fatherly figure in their life.
I hope you see how naturally this coincides with MANTIME. As we walk this journey of manhood there’s a responsibility to “return to the village” and lead our communities. This is one opportunity to consider. I love what is happening through TMP. I believe this is a cultural crisis in our nation. I believe we as godly men have a responsibility to lead the charge of doing something about it. I believe John and all those at TMP have already put the blood, sweat, and tears into the infrastructure which makes it easier for folks to get involved. I believe that people can change and it starts with one person at a time.
I’m reminded of an old African proverb I once read that says,
“If the young are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth.”
KEEPING MANLINESS IN THE NEST
I’m all for the ruggedness of outdoors, sweating out a hard days work, and feeling good about working out. But, we gents gotta keep clean. Some guys go above and beyond clean and go heavy on the after shave and cologne. Some guys go McConaughey-style choosing to not even wear deodorant. Wherever you are in that spectrum here’s a few basic things that might offer some balance.
EVERY MAN JACK- This is a full line of grooming products for men. The company boasts that its products are naturally derived ingredients, without any dyes, parabens, phlthalates, and no sodium lauryl sulfate, all which are found in most other soaps and body washes. Clean and refreshing with some awesome manly scents but without a lingering or overpowering smell. I personally like the Eucalyptus and Cedarwood scents. You can find EMJ on Amazon, at Target, and Costco
DUKE CANNON SUPPLY CO.- For you traditionalists out there who prefer the plain bar of soap there’s Duke Cannon dubbed the “Big Ass Brick of Soap”. I gotta say, aside from the marketing genius this is also a great product. In their own words, these are “products for hard working men, not clowns.” Inspired by the military these are basic bars of soap with modern scents. Furthermore, a portion of each purchase goes back to supporting veterans. For that alone I’d buy some even if I didn’t use bar soap. Since they are not mass-marketed you can only find these products in approved retailers (small, privately-owned specialty shops) or on Amazon, of course.
Here’s something to “up the ante” for you boring Folgers drinkers...
MAKER’S MARK COFFEE- Yep, bourbon flavor infused coffee is the way to go. Start your day off the legal way but with a cup of bourbon-flavored java. This is not just a marketing ploy…this stuff tastes awesome. Even if you’re not a bourbon drinker or even drink alcohol at all you might appreciate the unique taste of this coffee. I know it’s a bit pricey just for coffee. But for special occasions where coffee is served, serve it up with a manly twist.
This issue’s links to enjoyable, valuable, and considerable reads
Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men – Stephen Mansfield
Half Time – Bob Buford
The Indwelling Life of Christ – Major W. Ian Thomas
MANTIME Sneak Peek Events for 2016
As the second half of 2016 unfolds and 2017 dawns we’re hoping to schedule some other events that fit within the MANTIME vision (Encouraging men to reclaim the vision for their life). I understand attending every event would be challenging if not unlikely, but that’s why we’re offering several options. Although specific dates have not been assigned I have included the possible season it will happen. Our plan is to have the events in stone by July so stay tuned to next month’s newsletter.
Father & Son Day- early Fall 2016
Celebrate Marriage: Couples Date Night- winter 2017
Bourbon Trail Trip to KY- late Fall 2016 or late winter 2017 (off-site; limited space)
Walking in Grace Seminar: Understanding the Authentic Christian Life- Jan. 2017
Beer & Hymns- beginning Fall of 2016 and occurring every month thereafter TBA basis