8 LESSONS IN MANHOOD FROM THE GREATEST GENERATION

Let’s say there’s something called a ‘real man ratio’ within every generation and society. I assume we can agree that all males aren’t men as not a human in their right mind would deem a dependent who’s still in his thirties, ‘a man’.

With that out of the way, the ratio would pit men against mere males. Males would be anyone over the age of 18 who’s a slacker, a self-entitled slob, someone who isn’t in any way self-reliant and who feels he’s earned a good job and a fair wage simply because he has student debt.

A man would be anyone who holds the qualities of manliness. He is largely self-reliant in that he supports himself and maybe his dependents. He takes pride in his work, his appearance, and how he treats others.

We can likely picture the latter by thinking about our grandfathers. Always dressed in slacks, when we ask them about their first house it was usually purchased in their early twenties and only after years of hard work in a mill or maybe after they got back from the war. Maybe they tell us about how they worked three jobs to support their burgeoning family. They didn’t travel the world, nor did they rack up thousands of dollars in debt. They only bought what they could afford and they couldn’t afford much – hence the three jobs.

That’s what my grandfather would talk about…

… My Nonno, on my mom’s side, would talk about the war, where he fought in Siberia, had to kill his best friend who’d contracted frostbite in the worst way. He then came home to Italy, began working in a coal mill in Canada until he saved up enough money to ship his family out with him. The coal mill story would usually start after I ask him where his finger was – “probably still in the mill”.

He’s dead now, but that’s how I remember him.

Now, think about millennial’s. It’s a fair comparison because they’re either in their early twenties or thirties, thus, they’re of fighting age and working age and family age if they were born a few generations earlier. What are they going to tell their grandkids? What stories of sacrifice and work and providing a better life for their seeds with they have?

If he’s not going to tell his grandkids about how many loose women he bedded in his day or how his folks paid for his healthcare until he was thirty or how he used their kindness so he could spend all his money and then some traveling the world only to come back and need a loan, he’s not going to have much to tell them.

The Greatest Generation grew up in the Great Depression. They grew up with next to nothing, and then they went and fought in the Great War. Before they were 25 they knew poverty and death, which makes sense that they knew frugality and what truly matters in life.

It’s that generation, including the generations since, that would have to have the greatest ‘real man ratio’, and not just for the reasons listed above.

  1. You couldn’t feel entitled back then because they didn’t have the pussified political correctness nor the free wheeling debt we have today.

The best man got the job and if you didn’t get it you went on to the next, and while you tried to work your way up in a company, you didn’t expect a raise because you’d been there for two years (40% of millennial’s expect a raise after 2 years regardless of their performance!).

  1. They didn’t grow up getting participation trophies. They had to earn what they got. Participation trophies weren’t actually something that they could afford, nor did they make any sense.

We now have a generation that thinks they deserve an award simply for showing up, and when the real world slaps them in the face with the reality of – at least in part – there being something called a meritocracy, they crumble and cry and complain and vote for socialists, the government of participation awards.

We can learn something from them.

I’m not nearly half the man either of my grandfathers are, nor am I half the man that my old man is, and I grew up just after the participation trophy craze. I can’t imagine the thought process of a male whose only goal is to be famous, who thinks that things make the man and that bedding women is life’s most important pursuit. Thus, let’s take lessons from men who had more dignity, who held women in a higher regard, who worked harder, were smarter, and left this world freer than it was when they entered it.

The lessons will focus around manhood. Why? Because we’re men, and to not aim to be the best man you can be is a travesty. We’re also producing less men and more males. That is, our ‘real man ratio’ is the worst in history. We’ve never been more self-entitled. We’ve never been more politically correct (hedging on cultural Marxism). We’ve never been a sadder lot that produces less and consumes more.

Here are but a few lessons in manhood that we can learn from them.

1. No one cares.

The Greatest Generation had the pleasure of living without social media. Photos couldn’t be viewed instantly, let alone shared with every single human they knew. They were not the center of their own universe. They did not have a Facebook or Twitter or Instagram account that they linked so closely to their identity.

We, however, see our Facebook pages as our story, it’s the image we want to portray of the life we want to show people we’re living. The life we’re actually living is secondary. So long as we get likes, so long as our number of friends grows, we are important.

It’s all a lie, of course. A generation who lived without this lie knew that they weren’t exceptional or more important than their neighbour. They didn’t sit at a screen with envy or try to conjure the same emotion in others by posting a picture of a beach with a Corona in hand and a silly little title like ‘life is hard’ written underneath the picture.

What’s so wrong with thinking that everyone cares about what you’re doing? It isn’t the truth.

There has to be truth in life, there has to be reality, or else we’re lending meaning, time, energy, and most importantly, our thoughts, to something that isn’t real, that holds no real weight or value. So many live to impress others. They live so that their peers will envy them. Their pursuits are not their own but rather what they think would convince other humans that they’re living a great life, maybe even making them a tad jealous in the process.

This goes passed pursuits and into purchases as well. Most of what we buy isn’t for the betterment of our own lives, but to fit an ideal that’s set before us by advertising in some form in an effort to feel as though we’re ‘winning’. You have to realize that no one cares about most of the things going on in your life right now that you think they care about.

In his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks writes about ‘success’ in the 1950s. Within the same block you’d have the foreman, tradesman, and even the CEO of the same company. By the size of their house you wouldn’t be able to whom held which position, nor by the car in their driveway. It was a faux pas to try to stand out. Today, it’s almost weird not to. We buy things to impress people we really don’t have any business trying to impress.

The Greatest Generation understood this for many reasons. For one, they didn’t have the ready access to credit like we do today. So we spend more money on useless things that we don’t really own. The banks owns them, and thus, they own us.

Two, they didn’t have social media, a way to show the world the wonderful life they were living, and by all accounts it wouldn’t have succeeded back then, when people were far more private, preferring to invite someone over for dinner, to have what they once called a face-to-face conversation, something that’s almost a relic today.

Three, stuff, the big stuff, was more expensive in relation to what they earned annually. Today things are made incredibly cheaply, from clothes to cars, and combining the access to credit that nearly everyone has to the decrease of prices of goods, combined again with a more vain and narcissistic culture, a consumer-culture on steroids, and you have an idea as to why we care so much about what other people think.

Manhood doesn’t occur on someone else’s terms. It cannot include envy or vanity. Men of yesteryear, oddly enough, dressed impeccably, with much more pride, but with much less vanity. They did it out of pride not to show the world what they had.

Live your own life. Taking a break from social media, from the mall, from online shopping or the credit card, isn’t a bad idea either. To connect with yourself sometimes you have to disconnect with the rest of the world.

2. Nothing is handed to you.

When you grow up in the Great Depression, where jobs were scarce and you took any form of employment you could get your hands on (watch or read: the Cinderella Man), you appreciate work.

Think about that for a second…

Appreciating work, what an incredible concept. It’s the job that gives your day a purpose, your life meaning, a reason for you to rise in the morning and get at it, the compensation for said job is secondary. Today we’re concerned first about the compensation, then about what the jobs gives us and what we give it.

Work is a part of our DNA. Men have always worked. We used to hunt and gather and protect. Our ‘job’ was to protect and to provide, and that purpose hasn’t changed. We still need to protect and provide, we can just go about it in a much different fashion today.

We need work to give us meaning and purpose, and as a means of accomplishment. We need accomplishment to feel as though we’re living for a reason, that we’ve used our talents for some kind of good.

You don’t deserve something because you spent a lot of money on a degree. You don’t deserve a raise because you’ve been at a company for a couple years. You don’t even deserve an opportunity. You can earn each, but you’re entitled to none.

Good things come at the end of hard work, and day one in the workforce is the first step on a long road that may end in success if you earn it. It won’t end in success if you feel entitled to it.

I had a kid comment on an article on this site saying that he actually felt entitled to a high-paying job because of his university degree. I can’t believe that someone would find this site with that mindset. Yet, he still held it. That’s what’s wrong with millennial’s. They’ve been born into an opulent time. They’ve been spoiled. They’ve been handed awards of participation. They’ve been coddled. They’ve been sold on an end and not taught about the means.

A participation award seems so odd to our grandparents because participation was expected, it wasn’t rewarded. If you wanted an award you had to go above and beyond what everyone else was doing. That’s a free market, that’s capitalism, and those who are willing to work will thrive within a free system. Those who aren’t willing to work, who want to get what others have without having to sacrifice what others have sacrificed would rather have socialism or communism – until they get their tax bill in the mail if they ever get off their ass, of course – where hard work, ingenuity, and innovation are punished.

Nothing of value can be handed to you. It shouldn’t be expected nor demanded, but earned.

Maybe it’s because we’ve grown up in a time of plenty and the Greatest Generation grew up in famine. Maybe it’s because we’ve been awarded participation trophies and they either got first, second, third, or nothing. The reasons are many, but the causes are an envious, lazy lot that could learn a thing or two from those great men who turned our nations into the powerhouses they now are.

“Because there is very little honor left in American life, there is a certain built-in tendency to destroy masculinity in American men. –Norman Mailer

Manhood is won, it isn’t bestowed, nor is it innate. The Greatest Generation earned the moniker, they also worked hard every day to become men, to live as men, we can see it in their words, how they carried themselves, and who they ended up becoming.

They have far more responsibility at a much younger age. They’d seen more in the war than most of us will ever see about the nature of man, about war, about the frailty of life and its brutality.

We have the capacity to live a good, manly life, but entitlement will prevent that potential.

Stop thinking you deserve more than what you have. You are exactly where you deserve to be.

3. Be frugal.

Frugality was once the norm. It is now a unicorn. Our lives are so closely tied to our possessions and our possessions continue to multiply that we become slaves to what we own.

For someone reason men of the past felt the sting of a dollar wasted on a far greater scale than we do today. Money wasn’t wasted, it was saved. It wasn’t even necessarily saved to invest or to build a legacy or to buy land, it was simply saved because to spend it frivolously was an irresponsible thing to do.

Men were men on a far greater scale amongst this, our Greatest Generation. As such, it makes sense that they thought of their families first and the things they wanted came a distant second, if that.

Today, as discussed, we are at the center of our universe, thus, what we want we shall have.

This hyper-consumerism does nothing but bring us stress and debt. Most people that devalue the value of money don’t have it. Or, if they have it, they have so much of it that they no longer think about it.

Money, be it in a savings account, in investments, in your company’s treasury, gives you the freedom to not worry about bills and to enjoy life on your terms. When you identify the things that improve your life and those you spend money on that don’t, you free yourself up to live a simpler life, one not riddled with debt but instead covered in freedom.

4. Cut your hair.

There’s something to be said about a generation that had one of two haircuts, either high and tight or trimmed sides with some length on top.

Think about that…

There were no mow hawks nor man buns (how I hate the ‘man’ bun). There was short and crisp, and shorter and crisper. Attire nor grooming were about self-expression. They had more to do with taking pride in how one looked, not trying to set themselves apart from everyone else. Who cares if you stand out? Who cares if people can pick you out of a group because you have pink hair or it stands higher than everyone else’s?

You express yourself by how you live, the quality of your life, not loud pants or face tattoos.

Our society pushes us to express ourselves in the most trivial ways. Fashion is useless. Dress with class but dress with simplicity. Show who you are by the content of your character, the man you are when disaster strikes, the man you are every day, no matter who’s watching.

Cut your damn hair as simply as possible. You aren’t a trend, and you shouldn’t live to follow them.

5. Simplify your life.

A few months ago I hosted my Nana and Poppa for a few days. They came out from the great province of Newfoundland. I got to know the guy more in those two days than I ever have at any other point in my life. I think it’s because I’m just only starting to become a man.

I’m 31 years old, and I just bought a house last year. I’m finally learning to sacrifice, to shut up, to not complain, to do the work and not require applause for the work done.

If he’s a man, I’m still a decade or so behind becoming a man. I’m a work in progress.

We had a few good chats. He married his high school sweetheart when guys still married their high school sweethearts. They’ve travelled a lot together, but when he was a teen travel wasn’t on his mind, nor was college, nor was chasing ladies.

He wanted a job, so he found one. He had a family, so he built them a house and got a couple more jobs. They still live in that house. Their family is still the most important thing they have in this world. Life is as it should be, simple. He loves his wife. He can appreciate a nice looking lady other than she, but she is all that matters.

He enjoys a drink at 5pm. Not before, not after, but right at 5pm.

Today we have options. We have so many bloody options that we take 30 and 40 and 50 years to finally turn into men, men with focus and responsibility and some semblance of clarity.

Forget the options! I wish I never went to college. It was an option that did nothing for me – and I mean nothing. I got into debt, paid it off, and only then started saving money to do what I wanted. There were too many jobs. Variety can be a good thing, but I could have stuck with the first job and gotten really good at it and found meaning in it. (Read This: Why You Shouldn’t Go to College)

Life used to be simpler. That doesn’t mean that it can no longer thrive on that same simplicity.

Figure out what matters most to you in life, and bring only those things into your life.

6. Pay it forward.

Much of what the Greatest Generation did was for the next generation.

Much of what we do is for us.

The way we’re going, the next generation will be left with even more debt that we have – thanks baby boomers. The cycle has to stop. Rather than wracking our kids with debt, and not just household debt, but national debt incurred by politicians who spend as if the money they’re spending isn’t money at all.

Elect people who have some semblance of responsibility. Who we elect reflects who we are.

Leave this world a better place than you got it. Leave it a more real place than it was when you entered it. Nothing seems real any more. Not our money, not the markets, our land isn’t even really our land.

I digress, that’s the scotch talking…

My poppa and my nonno live to pay it forward. Start acquiring land, start saving, start thinking about a legacy that includes more than tits and travels.

7. Know how to build, fix, and repair.

Millennial’s seem relatively useless. We’ve grown up in the age of Youtube, where you can find the solution and the steps to solve nearly every problem, and yet we call someone else to fix something that a hammer and nail could cure.

Maybe it’s because so many of them fought in the war, or because help wasn’t always a phone call away, and when you grow up in more rural areas, self-reliance was expected and necessary, but those born in that great generation seem to be a hell of a lot more handy than those born within the past few decades.

I have a theory, and it goes back to participation trophies.

When you’re given an award without earning it, and this applause without merit happens over a fifteen year span, you’re trained to expect things to happen without having to do the work to make them happen.

I can illustrate this point easily from my own life.

A few years back I bought a used truck. She was a beauty, but a lemon (I’d find the second part out at the worst possible time, driving from Vancouver to Calgary with all of my stuff being towed in a u-haul trailer).

I bought it a few months before a move and would use it to take all of my possessions to my new house. One problem: the bed was a tad too small. The solution: I bought a bed-extender.

Picking the thing up I took it to my folks house, opened the box, and began trying to figure out how to install it. Twenty-minutes went by before I got so frustrated that I left the thing and my truck in their driveway and took my pup out for a walk. When I came back my old man was working on the problem, and solving it.

I wouldn’t call him handy at all, but he figured out how to install the thing into the truck bed. The difference wasn’t the accumulation of knowledge – he’s never installed one nor has he owned a truck. The thing that enabled him to do the job was the acceptance that it would take time, trial, and error. I wanted it now. He simply did what had to be done to get the work completed.

Learning how to fix things is just that, learning. It’s important, too. To be a man you have to, in some sense, be self-reliant. You can’t always be depending on others to solve problems for you, be they house chores or problems within your life, sometimes you need to be able to have the patience and the skill to find the solutions on your own. That is what being a man is.

8. Take pride.

I’m not a big style guy, but every time I see my Poppa I realize that I should be taking a bit more pride in how I dress.

Now, this opposes the odd vanity of millennial’s, who spend more money on clothes than investments or books. Taking pride in everything you do is the way of the Greatest Generation. It doesn’t matter if it’s work or attire or how they treat others, they realize that there’s the right way to do something and the wrong way to do something, and they choose the right way.

Where style is concerned, they dress with simplicity, but class. Usually wearing slacks of some kind, with their shirt tucked in and a sweater over top, they take care of their appearance, from their clothes to their haircut. They don’t, however, fret over it. They’re not consumed by clothes or their appearance. There’s a reason why selfies didn’t exist back then.

With regards to their work, it’s an attitude that’s best summed up by Martin Luther King Jr. when he said:

Whatever your life’s work is, do it well! A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.

About The Author

Chad Howse: Chad’s mission is to get you in the arena, ‘marred by the dust and sweat and blood’, to help you set and achieve audacious goals in the face of fear, and not only build your ideal body, but the life you were meant to live.

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