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A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
Within contemporary culture, manhood has been placed in a box, and a quite small one at that. The only accepted version of a real man is one-dimensional: aggressive, musclebound, dangerous, and unfeeling.
In saner times this was not so. There were many archetypes of manhood. The warrior. The poet. The philosopher. The king. While some exceptional men were all of the above, average ordinary men were no less men for fulfilling only one of these roles. Manhood had many faces. Indeed, it still does.
Masculine virtues are universal. Attributes like courage, strength, self-discipline, endurance, and the desire to defend the good transcend all cultures and expressions of manhood. But we must understand that these virtues are not all expressed in the same way.
A musician may exhibit courage by relentlessly practicing a complex piece that seems impossible to master. An artist may exhibit tremendous self-discipline in mastering his craft over many decades. A man can even show strength battling inner demons like depression or addiction—a battle that few will see but that is no less real. We are all dragon slayers at heart, but our dragons may look very different.
An example of this masculine diversity is found in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. There are indeed warlike figures within these books, such as the riders of Rohan, Aragorn, or Boromir. These men are dangerous in battle and leaders of men.
But it is deeply significant that in Tolkien’s narrative the true heroes of the story are the most unlikely characters—the hobbits. Frodo and Sam are among the smallest physically and the most overlooked and underestimated. Far from being fierce warriors, they are creatures who love the homey comfort of the Shire and the simple pleasures of life. Yet it is their loyalty, inner strength and undaunted, even foolhardy, courage that saves the whole of Middle Earth.
We men frequently focus on the external attributes of masculinity. We care far too much about a man’s outward strength and not enough about his strength of spirit or his character. It’s simply shallow. Some of the most physically powerful men are the most immature and unmanly beneath the surface. We’ve reduced manhood to accidents and ignored what is essential—and it is a mistake.
Physical prowess can indeed be helpful and should not be ignored, but it is not essential to what a man is. A chef, a cellist, a poet, or a playwright are all capable of being genuine men, even if they’ve never shot a gun, won a trophy, or cleaned a deer. Michaelangelo was no less a man than General Patton.
The point is this: It is what is on the inside that is essential. Regardless of our personalities, inclinations, or attributes, we can all develop a heart of masculine virtue. We can all be men of character and courage. Let us strive to do so with the help of Almighty God.
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Edward P. Shikles says
Excellent article, sir! I have actually considered this topic numerous times and have wished to write on it, but you have very admirably summed up the nature of manliness. It is especially unfortunate nowadays that the ideal “man”, the epitome of masculinity, is confined to a certain physique: brawniness, strong, aggressive; all the descriptions you pointed out. I have heard people say, even Catholics, things such as “real men smoke cigars” or “rugby is a man’s game”. And while I give the benefit of the doubt to them, that they mean it in a joking way, the reality is that society is fixated on toughness and aggression as key masculine attributes. Not enough emphasis is made on the hidden traits of masculinity, namely virtue. True men are virtuous. I have met men who are short-statured, scrawny, meek, and overall the very opposite of the modern concept of manliness who are more manly than the toughest, most rugged men I’ve met. They may not be able to play rugby, or smoke cigars, or hold their beer like many men, but they are honest, loyal, virtuous, and often times much more intelligent. And drawing the parallel of small but strong from the LOTR with the Hobbits is fantastic. That was a very good example! Thanks for the article!
Laurey Boyd says
I agree, and I’m a woman. I had a father, two brothers, a husband and two sons (plus a wonderful daughter but we’re talking about men). The current beyond shallow assigning of men to irrelevance is surreally ridiculous. I mean to speak up whenever and wherever I can. I see it as part of proclaiming the gospel in our unique times.
Edward P. Shikles says
Indeed! It is something which needs to be pointed out. I’ve even done so to some people I know.
Disagree. Strength is both vital and the first tangible characteristic of masculinity and any man.
What characteristic defends nations, constructs buildings, guards towns, and moves freight?
It’s not some intellectualized, cloistered, tamed virtue. It’s simple strength.
The virtues and characteristics of men are Strength, Courage, Mastery, and Honor, to quote Jack Donovan’s ‘The Way of Men’. Strength is the primary masculine attribute. It’s how you tell he’s not a woman. Having these attributes means one is good at being a man.
There is being a good man, and then there is being good at being a man. It’s a difference similar to the difference between “garrison troops” and combat troops, as explained by Sebastian Junger in his book ‘War’. Garrison troops behave themselves and keep clean and tidy. Combat troops are not clean, do not behave, are very dangerous, and are very good at their job, which is outfighting and outkilling the other side’s men to keep their brothers, their tribe, their nation alive.
Not every man is the perfect ideal of his sex. That is fine. He can gain Mastery and Honor in other fields.
What is not fine, and is in fact flat out wrong, is claiming strength is not necessary for men.
Anybody can have the intellectual and moral virtues. Men’s virtues, Strength, Courage, Mastery, and Honor, are the tangible and physical virtues that men understand and respect.
The Church would do well to remember that. If it can.
Very interesting comment, Lukas. Mind if I send you a message to discuss more? How can I reach you?
You can reply to this comment if you want to discuss more.
Thanks for writing this. I have a progressive mitochondrial neuromuscular disease so being disabled, i often have a hard time relating to a lot of “Manliness” articles…my areas of mastery were always things like music and arts, not marksmanship or atheletics. i think that a lot of our transgender confusion we have today would be less of an issue if we could understand that there are many different ways to be a man and many ways to be a woman, and our identity as men and women is at the core of our being regardless of how it ends up being expressed. i always found it interesting whenever my dad cooked dinner. It was a rare thing–usually when my mother was sick or just had a baby. My mom was very good at thinking on her feet and coming up with something with 5 random ingredients while taking care of a disabled son, 2 bickering daughters, and a toddler. whereas my dad was methodical–he had his ingredients lined up in the order he was going to add them to the pot. He focused on cooking, and THEN cleaned up, whereas my mom cooked a little, cleaned a little, cooked a little, cleaned a little. They both said things like “I don’t know how you could cook like this!!” My mom’s way of cooking was very feminine & intuitive and my dad cooked like he was a food engineer.
Mark Thomason says
thanks – this need to be said again, and again, and again …