We discuss what manliness should be now; we occasionally have someone complain that manliness is too old-fashioned -- or that the modern world lacks the splendor of earlier times.

A better viewpoint is that the past can inform us, but not constrain us:  we'll take what works, and leave the parts we don't want.

What are the parts of old-fashioned manhood we don't want, especially in your family or personal experience?

I'll give a few things from mine.

My grandfather once said to his entire family (at least those that were gathered):  "None of you have ever seen anybody work."  We knew exactly what he meant:  none of us could possibly measure up to any decent standard of manly work, including his son-in-law, whose medical practice paid off the mortgage on Grandfather's farm and continued to pay his bills as needed.  Work defined manhood, and it had to be done in a way that took a lot of effort to produce little.  (He was also insistent, in other situations, that you couldn't work effectively if you enjoyed your work.)

Another thing about men in my family was that they were very distant, especially from each other.  I called my father "the Doctor" (after it started to sound silly to call him "Daddy"), and later I found he called his father "the Reverend," to keep angry distance.  My other grandfather's comment on his son was "Some people you just can't do nothing with."  Son stayed around and worked on his farm; but his dad wasn't willing to grant him credit -- or talk to him about anything deeper than "I got to fix fence today."

Another thing I notice is that except for one line (my father's), the men in my family tolerate all this God stuff without any real enthusiasm.  Of those alive in my family, I'd say 2 men care, and 4 don't. 

Men don't teach.  They expect their sons to learn everything from work habits to how to plow terraces, without a word being passed.

Another thing is that manliness is either demanded without fostering it, or else ignored.  Men do not support their sons in becoming men; they just assume it will happen, or not.

I don't think any of this is atypical.  But these are traditions I'm breaking in my family -- and I think many others in present day have decided to do as well. 

What traditions will you break?  Or keep?


Tags: family, manhood

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I totally agree with everything you stated above. I grew up on a farm and later went to school to be an Art Teacher. I still get flack from my brothers (a Mechanic, and a Farmer) and other people that it isn't manly enough to teach or to be an artist. I've had to defend my position on it so many times that I have a statement memorized just in case I get caught up in the middle of a debate. This happened to me when my ex girlfriend's sister, a lawyer no less..decided to bash on me about it. Despite being slightly drunk, I matched her pound for pound on any argument she had about a man becoming a teacher or an artist. I still think it was a shame for her to attack me like she did at her folks' place when she had JUST met me, and with all that expensive schooling no less.

I've worked hard before and have had some pretty hard jobs before becoming a teacher, so by no means am I a softie. I would like to teach my children if I have any...the value of a dollar/a hard days work. This is something that follows you your whole life. I would like to also foster in my children the idea or the notion of god by joining a church. My family doesn't go to church and I think it is something that my family has really missed out on. I am also going to make sure that I communicate with my children a lot, read to them, and teach them everything I know..so that they can be well rounded adults. My dad is a fine man and he has taught me a lot of things, but he doesn't say much nor is he a teacher. I had to learn from him by watching.
This only works if everyone's sons are doing the same. Tapestries are a poor deterrent of AK-47 fire.
Seriously, though. The John Adams quote only works in a closed system in which several universal principles are assumed: first, it is assumed that poetry and pottery are improvements over warfare and politics, it is also assumed that the world at large agrees this is the case and is striving toward building kilns on every street corner, and it further assumes that the fullness of human existence can be reached through clay, thread, and iambic pentameter.

There are clearly some traditions which are right to pass down generationally--from father to son, grandfather to grandson--and these usually revolve around a man's character. But there are parts of a man's character which have to be forged through hard work, suffering, and sacrifice; these conditions are impossible to pass down orally, and few people seek them out.

It is definitely easier to see physical evidence of hard work in the careers of the past--coal mining, farming, etc., especially compared to the careers of today. "The halogen light in my cubicle is turning my skin to brown leather" is rarely overhead amidst water cooler chit-chat. And let's cut right to the quick, here, as most of these posts were made between 8am and 5pm on a weekday: did your father's father spend his "federally regulated 15 minutes per hour break time" blogging on AoM? I've been typing this post for at least five minutes now, and I haven't even begun to break a sweat.

So don't be so quick to dismiss granddad.
Sure, but the point I was trying to make is that our kids might also need to "go there, do that" for themselves. I don't think the character traits that we learn from the warfare and politics can be translated to our children unless they also go through the same. And some of those character traits are absolutely necessary for a child to be a good artist, computer scientist, or whatever. The career isn't the focus--it is the quality of the individual which is in question.
This is a very nice quote. I like it. Thanks for sharing.
Sounds like Adams hoped his children would be free of war (an understandable wish) and his grandchildren could forego commerce for fine arts. But that would sell the grandchildren short. Fine arts are great, but unless they're going to stay children forever, they're going to have to deal with some of the things their fathers did -- and their grandfather.
Anger is not manly. One can stand up for what is right, not let wrongs go undealt with, and correct what needs to be corre cted, while still keeping cool.
I totaly disagree. A few isolated cases of individual dysfunctional families in no way sums up what the vision of what manhood was in the "good old days". For every negative that is brought up an equal and opposite positive can be offered. There were involved, spiritualy sound, supportive fathers in droves back then. The problem with being human is that we are all not alike, we all do not share the same life experiences- there is no gurantee that whatever I teach my sons will "stick" and they will in the end go off and do whatever it is they want for good or bad. Each generation has to learn again anew the same mistakes of the past.
Who is it you're disagreeing with, when you say 'A few isolated cases of individual dysfunctional families in no way sums up what the vision of what manhood was in the "good old days"'? Not me, or anyone else who's posted so far. We're just talking about what went wrong, or right, in our own families.
Wow. Guess was luckier then I thought....and I always thought I was pretty damn lucky.

I had a great dad who showed me - every day - what it was to be a man. Loving, authoritative, disciplined, hard-working. He put his family first and never complained....still does, actually. Went to church every Sunday and read from the bible he kept in his truck every day.

I don't even deserve to tie his shoes.

Thanks Dad.
Smoking cigarettes. My Grandfather (who raised me. My Father was absentee, to put it mildly.) smoked three packs a day, of Lucky Strikes filterless. Dead as a door nail at 54. I don't touch the damnable things, but I do smoke a pipe.
Year-round, daily beer consumption of not less than 6.
My mother and father weren't married, and my father was never around. No real lessons/examples there, except to be around and involved in my kids' lives - all the time.

I did, however, grow up around several great uncles (grandmother's brothers, but who were fairly close to my mom's age), and saw first hand the nasty effects of substance abuse. It ruined the lives of those who were unable to kick their habits, and brought nothing but pain and anger to the entire family. This is a trait that will not continue through my family.

Another really disturbing trait was their inability to remain faithful in marraiges. One uncle, for example, had some eight marraiges, all of which ended due to infidelity. He had several children, all of which cared nothing for him. He died Christmas 2008, alone, except for the bottle of Canadian Mist. None of his children, or ex-wives, even made it to his funeral. It was such a shame - he was the most charismatic, likeable guy I've ever met, but none of that mattered in the end. Needless to say, his is an example I don't plan to follow.

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