Masculinity is not something given to you, but something you gain. And you gain it by winning small battles with honor. ~ Norman Mailer
One of my favorite John Wayne movies is The Cowboys. In the film, John Wayne plays an old cowboy named Wil Anderson. He’s stuck in his ways, stubborn, and tough. He’s about to do a cattle run and he needs good, honest men to work for him, each earning a cut once the cattle are delivered. The problem is that there aren’t any good, honest men in his town. They’ve all left in search of the quick buck that the gold rush promises leaving Mr. Anderson with only one option, a group of boys out of the local schoolhouse, none of whom are above the age of 15.
While these boys start the film as kids, goofing around, living lives devoid of real responsibility, unaware of the consequences of their actions and not really concerned about it, they end the film as men. The movie amounts to what is essentially a rite of passage for the group. By movie’s end they’re in control of the herd, barking orders, controlling the cattle, bringing them to their final destination.
They haven’t aged much. No hair has grown on their chin or chest, but by the end of the movie they are without a doubt men.
In one scene from the movie there’s a boy who has a stutter. Because of his stutter and his inability to get his words out when the stress of a moment rises, another boy almost dies. Today had this happen we’d feel sorry for the kid with the stutter. We’d coddle him; tell him that the boy’s near death wasn’t his fault and that there was nothing to do about it.
Wayne’s character had another perspective – one I’m sure John Wayne himself shared. Rather than feeling pity for the stuttering kid he saw that his stutter almost cost a life and a life lost wasn’t something he could tolerate, and as a result, neither was this boy’s stutter.
Rather than patting the boy on the back in reassurance, he got the kid angry.
He poked and prodded the kid trying to get a rise out of him until the boy yelled at Wayne “you son of a bitch!” Wayne kept poking and getting a rise out of him until, heated as he’d ever been in a situation as intense as it gets, the boy was yelling at Wayne’s character, calling him a god-damned son-of-a-bitch without the slightest hint of a stutter.
At the end of that little exchange the young boy and his friends realized that, though the exchange was intense, the stutter was gone. The reality hit boy that his stutter was under his control, but this reality only became his when Mr. Anderson pushed him to realize it.
Right now I’m reading a book called, Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot, by Jim Stockdale. In one of the early chapters he talked about the positive aspect of stress. In today’s world anointing stress as something positive is heresy, something to be burned at the stick for saying. But stress can be good in that it’s in extreme stress that we gain a clarity and focus that isn’t present when we have options of what to think about.
Stockdale notes that in fighter pilot school students learned more in the stress of a cockpit in air than they did in the classroom. They required this stress to focus, when in our current society we’re doing all we can to alleviate it when what we should be focusing on is how to harness it.
JOHN WAYNE CAN TEACH YOU HOW TO BE A MAN
I love John Wayne’s movies because he deliberately plays characters that hold certain values purposefully. He didn’t choose his roles on a whim. He admittedly saw the sprouting of an ideology that wants to do away with manliness and the manly values that made our society free and great, and that made our society thrive. So he chose to play strong, good, gritty men.
Imagine a teacher today doing what Wayne did, treating a kid like that, asking more of them, even coming to the point where he may be breaking them only to make them tougher, stronger, and more self-reliant.
When you show a boy what he can be, the expectation he has for who he is elevates.
He becomes a new man. Today what we do is treat our young men as they are, as most of our society is, because “who we are” now has to be accepted.
It’s socially unacceptable to ask more of someone, to ask more of a group because to do so would be insensitive, it would mean that who they are isn’t good enough and that’s just not a politically correct view of people and of how we want our world to be.
So, we allow our boys to remain adolescents for most of their lives. They have no cattle drive where they’re forced to come face-to-face with the harsh ways of the world or with how men are supposed to act. They don’t have rites of passage where they have to rise to a difficult occasion. They’re special as they are and to not be okay with that isn’t okay in a society where acceptance trumps all.
Our boys need to be tested, held to a higher standard, and shown by other men how to act and what manhood actually looks like. If they don’t get this, life will at some point force them to sink or swim and what happens if you’ve never been taught to swim? You fail. You drown. You die.
In the case of life for our youth and young men, this “death” – if it isn’t literally death – is avoidance. It’s running from problems, fleeing situations like fatherhood, running back into the arms of the folks that raised you because parents no longer spank and they no longer say no.
What we need to do is draw clear lines. There isn’t much grey within these articles because a man can’t afford to have much grey in his life. Blurred lines leave room for excuses. They leave room for weakness, and where weakness becomes habit, men become pussies and the values that our society was built on whither and fade.
If you want to know what a real man is, watch a John Wayne movie.
Watch The Cowboys. He’s flawed. There’s always something, some part of him that can improve, but you know exactly where he stands. You don’t need to guess if he’ll deliver the cattle on time or at all. You don’t need to wonder if he’ll do the work, no matter the circumstances that surround the mission. You know he’ll be there when you need him most, and he won’t take the easy road. He won’t hire liars or men who aren’t honorable simply to make a quicker buck, he won’t befriend cheats because he knows that in time he’ll become who he associates with. Men don’t make excuses. They don’t quit. Their words aren’t many but when they speak people listen.
Yes, you should aspire to be this guy and to live these values, to be a strong man, an honorable man, a man who doesn’t whine or complain, bitch or moan, but a man who carries others rather than looking for someone to carry him.
It isn’t about self-improvement or happiness.
It actually isn’t even about you.
This is your duty, to be the man, the warrior, the leader that your pack, pride, and community need you to be. It’s your duty to live life to its fullest, to face your fear, to work, work, and work some more without relenting because life is a gift that must be lived daringly.
To live life as a timid soul when a warrior rages in your blood is to ignore those who’ve sacrificed to allow your life to exist.
This notion that manhood is something above the sex of the human has been known, talked about, and revered for millennia. Only recently have we ignored what manliness is apart from the plumbing, beyond the sex and years of a fella’s life. Men throughout history have seen the importance of this virtue and the necessity to not only teach it, but also praise it and earn it.
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. He’s a former 9-5er turned entrepreneur, a former scrawny amateur boxer turned muscular published fitness author. He’ll give you the kick in the ass needed to help you live a big, ambitious life.
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