On a whim…

Chaotic, esoteric, marginally coherent, stuff about life.

Charting a Course to Manhood

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I was born into the so-called man’s world of the 50s. Mr. & Mrs. Cleaver, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, and Father Knows Best (Jim Anderson), showed me the ropes. Even Lassie taught me that the-man-of-the-house had very specific roles to play: provide for the financial needs of the family, administer domestic justice, maintain the family car, stay out of the kitchen, capture mice, kill spiders, and take out the trash. They seemed to suggest that if I lived according to their vision of the world, all would be well. But, none of them warned me their world was dying.

In my early adulthood I recall sitting at Sunday dinner and being stunned by a future sister-in-law. She stated there were no reasons why women could not be anything they wanted. Actually, I think she dragged out the word, a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g, for emphasis. Absurd, thought I, and I jumped in (as usual) to declare that women were hardly fit to be linemen, policemen, or firemen. Now I wonder how I ever thought such a thing. After taking a verbal beating I was reminded of another brash moment from my early childhood.

Across the street was a jalopy owning family with a large collection of kids. They were pronounced by my mother to be “wild children”. I knew them as, “The Mondays”. It was this clan that first introduced me to the power of women.

One day, as my older cousin and I played, “The Mondays” showed up uninvited. In thrall to my slightly older cousin we chose to defend our turf. He took on one of the younger boys and I challenged the oldest Monday, a girl. She must have been ten and I couldn’t have been more than six. More importantly she was much bigger than me. Details are a bit sketchy but I vividly recall telling her I would have no difficulty beating her up because “boys are stronger than girls.” What came next isn’t clear. Respect

I vaguely remember the taste of dirt in my mouth and a bloody nose and I suspect these are among the reasons the details are sketchy. More importantly, and to my embarrassment, I did not learn the key lesson of the day; being a man (or a boy) does not afford an individual any special entitlements.

It wasn’t until later (that moment at a Sunday dinner) when I began to suspect I needed to relearn what it really means to be a man. And, frankly, this process is as yet incomplete. I am trying to sort out what it means to be a man and to teach my son the same. My skull isn’t cracked but there are times when my head (and my heart) hurt. I am estranged from the laughably absurd “Father Knows Best” world of my birth. The world of men has become a pandemonium ranging from testosterone driven excesses of “professional” wrestling to emasculated ambiguities. Charting a course requires a difficult to obtain sense of direction.

Once, when crossing the Atlantic Ocean on an aging “tin can” destroyer, our gyrocompass failed. Only the magnetic compass functioned and it was not reliable. Forced to chart our course apart from the fleet we battled storms that stove in bulkheads, swept away deck fittings, and sent our ship reeling from one wave to the next. To find their way a navigator universally relies upon a “point of reference”. A ship is piloted along coastal waters by observing markers like buoys, lights, and landmarks. But when the horizon recedes and the landless expanse of the sea surrounds him, a mariner must look to a more distant point of reference. Likewise a father, to be a man and a teacher of manhood, must look to a new point of reference. For me, that reference is Jesus.

In the disoriented world of men I am drawn to the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, confounded by a choice to accept impending agony or the plausible doom of humanity, prays, “Let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will by thy will be done.” It is a moment of existential crisis. It is a moment in which character is immutably defined.

Herman Melville, speaks through a preacher, a self defined “pilot of the living God”. He declares, “And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; wherein the hardness of obeying God consists.”*

Through that lens we may recognize the crucible of the garden for what it is. To be a man, to be a whole person whose integrity remains intact, there can be no choice other than obedience and yet… Yet this does not deny the need to express an alternative hope; a hope that for a greater purpose must be abandoned. This is a dichotomy that is ever with us; to do that which is good or to do that which is best. For most of us the difference is seldom so clear but the difficulty of making the distinction is always upon us.

A true course to manhood crosses oceans of doubt engaging our minds and hearts. The perennial dichotomy of hope, that is the choice between good and best, is the means by which we discover and prove our manhood. Jesus in the garden guides our moral compass to a true North where might is measured by character, virility is a matter of virtue. To teach our sons to be truthful to themselves and to others, to place the welfare of others above their own, to show compassion, and to teach our sons reverent hope; this is how we and they achieve manhood.

*Moby Dick Or The Whale by Herman Melville. Bookbyte Digital Edition ISBN 978-1-61306-039-1

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Written by David Wilkerson

2 March 2012 at 11:12 pm

Posted in character

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