Andy note: "Best of Eddie" - while Eddie is on vacation we're throwing up some of his classic posts from the past. This one from April 2011 is part of the very popular "Man Week" 3-part series. More to come later this week. If there's an old post from Eddie you'd like to see up again shoot me a message.
It's hard to be authentically male in the classic sense today, much harder than even 20 years ago. I have the benefit of more than a few years on most of you, so I've witnessed the change firsthand. A fascinating double standard has emerged regarding men today that is not unlike the double standard commonly applied to male vs. female promiscuity. The double standard I'm speaking of is the growing trend toward the feminization of men by society, which is causing a shortage of "acceptable" men as far as women are concerned.
It's almost as though there's been a silent societal trade-off. If you as a man will forgo the male traits we as a society deem most troublesome (aggression, dominance, violence, etc), we as a society will allow you to continue your childhood indefinitely. So now we have "men" in their 20's and 30's who still live with their parents, play video games for hours on end, and seem to have no real direction in life.
These lifestyle choices would have been met with hostile derision as recently as 20 years ago, but today they're commonplace. If you doubt this, you need look no further than the catalog of Judd Apatow films lampooning today's man-boys. In fact, we can compare two recent movies to show that which separates the men from the boys.
The Hangover is a comedy about men. Knocked Up is a comedy about man-boys. If you look at the characters in The Hangover (with the exception of Galifianakis, who is purposely portrayed as the silly man-boy foil), they are all men. They all have jobs, they're either married or heading to the altar, and Bradley Cooper's character even has a kid. Throughout their various hysterical misadventures, there is one underlying theme: their pervasive sense of obligation. Their obligation to each other, their obligation to their families, and their obligation to get Doug to the wedding on time. To that end, they make shit happen. In many ways, the movie is a comic re-telling of Homer.
Now look at Knocked Up. I'm not bagging on the movie, because I actually enjoyed it and, on a side note, I have to give credit to Seth Rogen for transforming himself physically. But you've essentially got a group of modern man-boys with no direction in life who merely react to the shit that happens to them rather than making something happen. They're content to smoke pot and play video games all day, and cook up half-baked Internet schemes to postpone growing up indefinitely. Man-boys have become such a societal meme that we see them everywhere these days.
And here's a news flash: It's not their fault.
The Lost Rite of Passage
Throughout all of human history, men have been expected to do the heavy lifting. To hunt the food. To fight the battles. To protect and provide for the family. To raise the next generation of men to do likewise. To die, if necessary, in defense of all we hold dear.
For these reasons there have always been clearly defined initiation rituals for boys to make the transition to manhood. Fail the test and you are not a man; pass the test and you'll never again be a boy. For the ancient Spartans, it was the Agoge. For American Indians it was the Vision Quest. For Europeans it was seven years served as an apprentice to a master. In every case, the previous generation of men ushered the next generation into manhood through instruction and testing.
The test was always profound, and often life threatening. It often involved great physical exertion and endurance. It was commonly a test of brains as well as brawn. And when you survived the crucible and came out the other side, you were changed. Reborn, even. After what you'd seen and accomplished, you could no longer look at the world through the eyes of a boy, and your tribe instantly recognized and respected you for the man you had become.
Our modern world lacks these baptisms by fire. The majority of men in their 20's and early 30's were never initiated into manhood because their father before them hadn't been either. This poses quite the dilemma for modern women: in a world where boys are forever extending their childhood, it has become more and more difficult to find a suitable mate with whom to raise a family. Despite our many scientific advances, we've yet to find a way to extend the shelf-life of ovaries. And women in their mid-to-late 20's are keenly aware of this.
The sad fact is, so are men. The self-doubt that comes with always wondering whether you're truly a man must be crippling. I think that's why so many young men turn to distractions they can control, like video games which allow them to "play" at being a warrior instead of actually being a warrior.
Perhaps the best book written on the subject of male initiation is Adam's Return by Richard Rohr. It's a subject I've studied in great depth (I have two young men of my own to initiate, after all) and Adam's Return covers both the stages of manhood as well as the universal truths a man must come to accept in his life.
According to Rohr (and most others who write on the subject), the four stages of manhood are:
The first stage of manhood is always becoming the warrior. Of course, this doesn't mean you must fight or go off to war or do violence upon another person. What is meant by becoming a warrior is that you've learned to embrace and channel the darker aspects of your masculinity to serve beneficial ends. It means you've accepted and can control your aggression, use it when necessary to protect that which is dear to you, and refrain from the aggressive "tantrums" thrown by today's man-boys on so many YouTube ruckus videos and Internet message boards (ahem, WSO). The hallmark of a warrior is his quiet awareness of the power and invincibility within himself, and the outward maturity that awareness projects to those around him.
For centuries, fathers initated their sons into warriorhood. This could've been literal, where a knight taught the science of warcraft to his son, or more secular, where an apprentice stone mason became a master mason after seven years of training and experience. The latter example is where the word "Journeyman" comes from, as masons would travel from place to place plying their trade.
I was fortunate enough to have been adopted by a warrior into a warrior clan. Though I bristled under my father's strict discipline, I knew deep down I needed it and that it would serve me later in life. When I faced my own baptism by fire, first figuratively in my three months of Marine Corps warrior training and then literally in my seven months in the Middle Eastern desert fighting the first Gulf War, I was thankful I had his steely reserve to fall back on. It is also why it has been so difficult (near impossible, in fact) for me to lay The Warrior in me to rest and progress to the latter stages of my own manhood. It's hard to put down the sword.
Nothing worth doing is ever without cost, and the cost of becoming a warrior can be your life itself. But the benefit far exceeds the cost, even for those who pay the ultimate price. Shakespeare said it best when he wrote, "Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once." Becoming a warrior brings about a confidence within you that inspires men to follow you into the gates of Hell, and that women find utterly irresistible.
Which brings us to the next stage of manhood.
Midas and I got the idea for Man Week after reading Kay Hymowitz's piece in the Wall Street Journal lamenting the fact that there are no young men acceptable for long-term relationships. Now, her complaint is nothing new. The entire Sex And The City franchise was built around this single limiting belief. That said, her complaint is not without some merit, and moreso with each passing year, it seems.
I don't blame men entirely for this phenomenon. A large part of the issue is the range of choices available to men today that didn't exist 50 years ago. First and foremost is the sexual availability of today's women. Time was, you pretty much had to get married if you wanted to get laid. Not so anymore. So men today are faced with the very real dilemma of not having to buy the cow when they're getting the milk for free. Even if today's man is of a mind to purchase some cattle, he'll have to come to grips with the fact that his beloved Bessie has probably been through a couple dozen other pastures before she ambled over to his. And there's probably documentary evidence of these various dalliances on Facebook. It's enough to give a traditional guy pause.
Speaking of the Internet, the widespread availability of pornography of every imaginable variety has added another -- often insurmountable -- level of competition to the establishment of long term relationships. As women become more and more commoditized, men no longer have to fight for the most desireable mates and women are no longer viewed as the prize they are for successfully achieving warrior status. Not to put too fine a point on it, but most uninitiated men today would rather rub one out to the perfect 10 on their laptop than put in the time to get to know the 6 that might be the love of their life and the mother of their children.
I'm not gonna preach here. I've been married three times, so it's clear the only thing I know for sure about women is that they scare the shit out of me. But there's a lesson there: I've been married three times. Three different women with very different personalities and backgrounds thought I was the best they could do. And there's probably three or four others who would've cashed in their chips if I'd only said the word.
You guys know what I look like. I'm not hideous, but neither am I particularly handsome. Women certainly don't stop and stare. I don't have any pedigree; the closest I came to higher education was a 6-week summer Spanish intensive at a community college. I'm not a career guy; I've only had one "real" job (as in working for someone else) since I left commodities in '99, and that didn't last long (software related, for those curious). So I don't meet most traditional metrics that make a guy a "catch". Yet I've never lacked for female attention.
You can't be a lover (caretaker, husband, father) in the transcendant metaphysical sense of the word until you are a warrior. First and foremost that means slaying your own demons. Your fears. Your self-doubt. Women are absolutely magnetized to strength and confidence in a man, regardless of what he looks like. That's why so many throw their lives away on "bad boys" like petty criminals, bikers, guys in the band. Say what you will about their life choices, but those guys are not lacking confidence.
If you're a decent, honest man with a healthy sense of self and the heart of a warrior you'll have to beat them off with a stick. Trust me.
This is the stage of manhood where I find myself currently planted, and I have to admit I'm less than prepared for it. Middle age is a bitch, kinda like adolescence in reverse. My wife is the most supportive woman I've ever known, but I know she rolls her eyes at some of my vain attempts to hang on to former glory. And now I have two young boys who look to me for guidance and instruction.
At this point in life, a man should be "established". He'll normally have a wife and kids, be management level or higher at work, and generally have a firmer grasp on the mystery of life than he did in his youth. This is the stage where he begins the transition from warrior to teacher. The people surrounding him look to him for leadership and guidance. Like Rohr points out in his book, you may only be the king of your cobbler shop but people will be drawn to you and follow you without even knowing why.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the world's greatest dad, but it isn't for lack of trying. I definitely put in the time. I'm not the most patient man, so that makes it tough sometimes - especially with young boys. I think my dad was better at it, but I might just be idealizing his memory. Unfortunately, he didn't live to meet my boys (he missed them by about 9 months), but he at least knew about them and had seen their photos when we were early in the adoption process, and it gave him great joy. I like to think his enthusiasm for the thought of me as a father was more than just schadenfreude.
I'm going to cover this in greater depth tomorrow, but becoming a father might be the most profound change you'll face in life. Too many children, especially boys, are raised without a strong father today and it's to society's obvious detriment. I'm reminded of a prison outreach Hallmark Cards once conducted. They allowed inmates to send home Mother's Day and Father's Day cards for free. They ran out of Mother's Day cards almost immediately while the Father's Day cards had no takers. Sad, but true.
If you only do one thing right in this life, do right by your kids. Everything else can be forgiven. Economic realities forced my dad to work two (and sometimes three) jobs at a time when I was a kid, but he still made a point to spend time with me and he never missed the important stuff. We had our fights, especially when I was a teenager, but there was always respect there. It didn't hurt that I both loved and feared him.
Like I was telling Midas the other day, my only hope is that I have the same relationship with my boys when they're adults that I had with my old man. Only time will tell. Just keep in mind that the most sacred obligation you have in this life is to your kids. And that goes way beyond working 80 hours a week and never spending any time with them just so you can pay for toys (both yours and theirs). In the end, it's the time you spent with them that they'll remember and cherish.
The Wise Man
The final stage of manhood is the Wise Man. Obi Wan. Merlin. The power behind the throne.
Wanna know how to tell the difference between a Wise Man and just another bitter old guy? The Wise Man can tell a joke. If you've successfully navigated the previous stages of life, a sense of humor is nature's gift to you for surviving the inevitable travails and tragedies that have plagued you along the journey. Go hang out with some WWII vets and you'll see what I'm talking about.
Did you know there's actually a guild of Wise Men in the business world? They call themselves SCORE (Service Corps Of Retired Executives) and they'll give you potentially millions of dollars in street-wise business advice for the cost of a couple lunches. That's the true nature of a Wise Man: he shares his wisdom and counsel because he's invested in the success of others.
Wise Men are in many ways the linchpin of the warrior culture. Without the guidance of the few remaining Wise Men in the world, we'd be even more lost than we already are. Wise Men officiate the initiation process. Kings defer to their wisdom. They are the warrior's ideal; the warrior's best self. They've seen it all and done it all and, while such status makes the unitiated swell with false pride, the Wise Man is humbled by his experience.
The 5 Universal Truths of Manhood
The beautiful thing about the truth is that it's true whether you believe it or not. These five universal truths may be difficult for some of you to accept, but that doesn't make them any less true. In our "me first" society, these are counterintuitive. But deep down you know they're true.
These are not the only truths about manhood, but these are the essential truths.
While we have neither the time nor the space to cover each of these, take a few minutes to read them a couple times and let them sink in. They may seem negative on the surface, but they hold strength and freedom.
We'll go into detail on #5 on Thursday, but feel free to discuss any and/or all of these truths in the comments.
I personally think technology is to blame for the lack of male initiation today. For millenia strength, aggression, and physical prowess were the determinants of natural selection. Females were naturally drawn to those males who could best protect and provide for the family. Technology is the great equalizer. No longer is physical ability and courage a requirement for success in our tribe.
In many ways this is a good thing. Look at Julian Assange. He's hardly the traditional male archetype, yet he used technology to topple giants. Technology will either be the death of humanity or its salvation, and my money's on the latter.
Where it becomes problematic for men is when technology is used as a substitute for personal power. The types of technology available to us today have only been around for two or three generations, but our inner warriors have been around for eons. The warrior within will not die quietly, and that's why men today who have ignored their masculine nature in favor of technological "force multipliers" feel as though something is missing in their lives. At our very core we require the animating contest of combat and physical challenge. It is the only way to truly know ourselves and test our abilities to the limit.
Many of you will read this and dismiss it entirely. If you fall into that category, I wish you the very best of luck. To those of you interested in connecting with the warrior within, however, the following exercises will get you there:
1) DISCONNECT - Initiation rituals varied widely from culture to culture down through the millenia, but the one aspect every rite of passage had in common was the solitary nature of the test. The boy had to face the test alone if he hoped to emerge a man. The only way to face your fears, to know your fears in the first place, is to eliminate all the noise that distracts you from focusing on them.
You need to disconnect entirely. No Internet. No cell phone. No Blackberry. No television. No computer. In fact, the best thing you can do is take a week off work, pack a backpack with a tent and enough food and water, and head into the woods alone.
Like any other addiction, being disconnected will cause severe withdrawls in the first 36 hours. You'll go a little mad. This is a good thing. You'll have nothing to distract you from your thoughts and your discomfort. You're striving for total isolation here. After the first couple days, you'll settle into a routine of rising with the sun and sleeping when it goes down. Your day will be about the primal things: eating, discovering the creature comforts available in your environment, and spending time in your head. Bring a notebook and write down your thoughts. Name your fears. Be honest with yourself. List your inadequacies and make a plan to rectify them.
If you do nothing else, do this. Go off into the woods by yourself, and move your campsite every couple days so you don't get too comfortable in one spot. Avoid other people like the plague, you're looking for isolation here. A week of this will change your life and you'll get to know yourself in ways you never imagined possible.
2) LEARN TO FIGHT - You guys know I love to box, but that's not why I'm recommending it. I'm recommending it because one of the most common fears among men is that they'd lose a fight if they were ever faced with the situation. Most boxing gyms will let you join for a month to check it out. This is all you need. Pay for a private trainer - it's worth the $45 an hour or whatever. The trainer will teach you proper technique and have you working a heavy bag on Day One. You won't believe what this will do for your confidence. After five or six sessions, you'll carry yourself with swagger. One of the first things you'll do when you meet someone new will be to instantly decide whether you could take him or not. And it won't matter to you either way, because it would be fun to try - and that's the important thing.
You might wonder if martial arts training like karate or judo have the same benefit. This is just my opinion, but they don't in the early stages of training. I've studied kung fu and ishin ryu, and they're great disciplines. The problem is that they're highly theoretical in the beginning (learning kata, etc...) and what you need is exposure to fighting right now. The one exception to this is Krav Maga. If you can find a Krav Maga studio and you want to go that route, go for it.
You don't ever have to get in the ring, by the way. I would encourage you to do so, just to spar and see what it's like to get hit (it's no big deal, trust me). But you don't have to. Just learning the skills to defend yourself is the important thing. And you can learn that in a month for less than $400, gear included. It might be the best money you ever spend.
3) CULTURAL IMMERSION - Time to get out of your comfort zone. The next time you have a week or two off and you want to go abroad, make it an adventure. Pick a country where you don't speak the language and do nothing more than book a round trip plane ticket. Figure everything else out on the ground when you get there. No hotel reservations, no plans, just get to that country and get lost. You'll be amazed at how quickly you pick things up to survive. I promise it will be a memorable vacation, and you'll find the off-the-beaten-path stuff that will give you enough stories to be the life of any party.
Another idea that takes this concept up another notch is a volunteer vacation. You can find listings for volunteer vacations online. Go build a school in sub-Saharan Africa. Dig wells in Mongolia. The whole time you're doing it, you're living among the villagers, doing what they do, eating what they eat, living how they live. It'll give you a whole new perspective on life. At the end of it the villagers will have a new school, but you'll be a new man with the strength and resolve that only comes from self sacrifice.
These are all just for starters, but they'll get you most of the way there. You can become the man you want to be, but not until you get to know the man that you are. Most men won't. But this sort of thing doesn't appeal to those who are interested in being "most men". I'm reminded of the old Heckler & Koch ads that said, "In a world full of compromise, some men won't."
The operative word being "men".