I want to write a few words about manhood and being a man. I mean more or less “hombre”, “homme” in Spanish and French where there is a word that can mean all members of the human species but generally denotes the male. I am not discussing exactly a “vir” as in Latin or a “baron” as in contemporary popular Spanish which can only mean a male human or rarely another kind of male. I am not writing about “human” or “ren” in Mandarin Chinese with its suggestion of a biped that walks tall nor a “tao” as in Cebuano-Visayan with its suggestion of anyone born into our species. Rather, I am talking about MAN. Those members of our species who are adult or late adolescent males viewed as part of our species. I think that the subject of man is at once a very old subject that has been discussed nearly to death by some lights and a dangerous and ever dynamic subject. Manhood is worth trying to understand well. The cost of not understanding manhood can be a very great cost indeed.
I think that a man who is aware of his own nature as a man has a chance to redefine manhood and to apply it in an appropriately shaped and guided way whenever it seems right for him to do so a man who is not aware of his manhood or does not understand it either has lost it in all practical senses or he has little control over how it ought to be lived and interpreted. There is actually a large body of literature on manhood that is joined by a much vaster literary set that looks at manhood within the context of a more narrow subject and then sometimes broadens out a bit by including a section or to with direct references to the women and children who make up the human race with men. On my Facebook friends list I have a distant cousin related to me through the Broussard line who has written a novel which is among other things a story of the first stirrings of manhood and the first step towards being a man. The novel is called The Chicken Dance and Jacques Couvillon set it in the real world very near where I live and in spots where I do live but also in the fictional community of Horse Island between the real communities of Cow Island where my sister was just wed and the community of Forked Island where I once lived. The fiction of course is a remade world. No French is spoken in the novel to speak of and as a child everyone I met in Forked Island could and did speak at least some French. This departure has made the story more accessible to readers in various countries including the United Kingdom where it has been well received. I encourage people to buy and read the book for many reasons. But partly because it shows how a boy takes an interest in chickens and begins to define himself thereby, to work, to take responsibility and to find in himself the basic ingredients of a man.
In my lifetime books like Iron John, Wild at Heart, Maximized Manhood, Fatherhood and others sought to address the needs of spiritually attuned (mostly Christian) men who wanted to get in touch with what their manhood was about. I think that for all its weaknesses this project was both well conceived and well-intentioned. I even think that reading these books is more likely to help a young man than to hurt him in just about all ways that count.But the main path to manhood does not lie in reading these books of that I am much more certain still. There are books like Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn which have helped particular large groups of boys to find their way to manhood. There are books likeLord of the Flies to help those who are just recently men to remember some of the false steps between childhood and manhood and to avoid those false steps whenever possible as regards the parts of themselves which are still evolving into adulthood.I think the role of this fictional literature can be significant in forming the inner dispositions of manhood in those who are not yet men. But again, this reading is not the main path to manhood.
All humans start off life in the womb of a woman. The natural progression from that state is to be fondled by the woman and suckled at her breast. While women can, may and should do many other things they are in a sense designed meant and determined to return to that same process no longer as the baby but now as the mother. Men must make a different journey. The man must identify himself as not woman in a different way than the woman must identify herself as not man or even in any other way, The boy is not part of the intimate world which is forming him in the same way that the girl is and he usually senses this early on. This difference stays with us all into adulthood in a variety of ways and it haunts our later understanding of many things. In fact it undergirds one of the great tensions in human experience.
Women protesting in the United State for more liberal access to abortion have help placards which stated and declared an also shouted slogan, “It’s my body!”. On the other hand Christian children ( and those of some other faiths) are taught in religious instruction early on that “God made me.” The women certainly do have bodies but the fetuses body is certainly not their body and I am believer but while God made the child he did it with the normal (or not so normal) sexual experience of the biological parents and the pregnancy journey of the mother.These two simple ( and too simple) expressions have to do with a great tension in human affairs. I said to a woman I was chatting with online a while ago that “super evil is a guy thing”. I meant it and I think it’s true but great evil exists at this point in our discussion in woman’s camp. We hear a lot of mother love but their have been women who gave birth and reared children they intended for torture and eating, for maiming and spiritually enslaving. the greatest evil women do is often done to their children and it can be a very great evil. However, the super-evil we were discussing is that kind of innovative and wholesale destruction which men of talent and of mature years alone seem capable of and which remakes the earth or as much as they can reach of it. In a sense one need not believe in God to believe that he and not the mother made the baby in the ultimate sense. She did not make her own body, create the matter and energy it is made of, set up the balance in which it must survive or any of a number of other things. Even as a great sisterhood woman did not do all of this. Too many times animals with natures formed by other male and female members have been vital to survival of her ancestors, too may times it has been a ver religious or violent or adventurous man who has brought back to the women of his village the unexpected thing which was crucial to survival. While all of us have many human qualities in common whether we are male or female the thing that defines a good woman as opposed to an evil woman when we are talking about woman as woman is often her ability to see how much she is a goddess making people and creating a future on the one hand with the dignity and power that are hers and how on the other hand in seeming contradiction she is the place and portal children come through that are not hers at all. Many women want their own children in this evil sense more than any other thing and that is something a good man must oppose even if he loves the woman who wants that absolute power. There are certain ancient interpretations of the Genesis account which see the original sin we all carry inside of us as a shift from a different kind of human race to one in which women abuse children in a particular way and men abuse women in many way. The curse in the Genesis story they would say is only alluding vaguely to information coded in the story itself.
Most men may not be aware of that whole vast female moral struggle to any significant degree. But whether they are aware of it or not it is not their major and principal struggle. Whatever scars and strengths a man brings with him from childhood his real drama and adventure of being a man begins with that later period that some people call boyhood. The idealization of childhood is not a bad thing but we need to remember that childhood is truly a nightmare and nearly ceaseless horror both for many who do not survive it and for many who do survive it. However, in most childhoods there were good times and elements of compassion that loom large in the mind of the child. Furthermore, even the most horrible experiences have a comforting familiarity and a capacity to block out the unknown evils of the world. In the gradual dawning of boyhood a man-child senses that his real destiny is outside of the familiar confronting those unknown evils and woes that he senses all around him as well hopefully finding the goodness he senses is just beyond his current reach. How much his mother or her surrogates have formed the boy in even his way of perceiving his quest is usually not clear to him.
The boy needs his father more to the end of boyhood although there has never been a time when he did not need him. His felt need in early boyhood is for the pack of boys. He hopes to come home and get his mother’s love after expending himself in the pack and if he is lucky he will. He most solitary will spend much less of themselves on this aspect of life than the most gregarious will but all will feel the call. Here a crude immaturity, a directness, a desire to break the rules and a sense of competition or always present. This young boy creature is emphatically not a man but he is also not quite a child. While these packs have a tendency to exclude all girls and little male children completely it is not universal. If the boy with a precocious interest in girls is a dominant fighter and a good athlete and the families are close to their sons there will be some girls participating at times both those who are tomboy and those who are not. Some boys will include their kid brothers and sisters during the after and before periods of their exploits if the mothers in that culture find it safe and this can become a tool of recriting.But the pack will always have times when just boys and no men, women or girls are present. Where boys are enslaved to work or school all the time they will try to find and create periods of time for this activity in what tiny corners they can.If isolated they will turn to animals and imaginary or fictional characters. Here in this pack the boy will also learn a lot about rules and disputes. He will try on roles of various kinds of men in the larger society. If he is fortunate enough to have a real moment of achievement it is possible that this moment will match any feeling of accomplishment later in life. It is not uncommon to read in the memoirs of generals, presidents or kings the story of that race, home run, fish landed, soccer goal scored or bully knocked down that clearly looms as large in their emotional make-up as wars, cities and laws on which they laid their mark later on.
Through the pack the boys will usually begin a study of girls and women. There will be Honest Learners, Lying Teachers, Honest Teachers, Silent Explorers and Subject Avoiders. These are also roles that will get passed around along with other roles in the pack. As girls come into focus a second fact comes into focus as well. The boy suddenly in some ways and gradually in other ways realizes — “Hey, people actually expect me to become a man.” The words may vary but this is rather a shock. He has played at being a man his whole life and in some cultures he may have worked closely with men and dressed like them but there was always “forever” between him and actually becoming a man. Then forever is gone and really at that moment early boyhood ends and late boyhood begins. “I am going to be expected to be a man.” It seems so absurd and impossible all of a sudden when a moment ago it was easy and sure and could not come fast enough.The next moment may vary for some the shock becomes a central piece in a short and violent life of reckless escapism while for others it disappears almost instantly in the sure and steady work of becoming a man. Most boys fall somewhere between these two extremes.
The period between this late boyhood’s dawning and middle age is very varied. It varies by the region and culture of the man and things like class and rank. However, it is also true that it varies a great deal by the individual. One of the issues within the discussion of manhood is the idea of exclusivity . Many cultures come up with a variety of shortcuts to manhood that to my mind produce more marginal men more quickly and prevent the production of men of quality. The propensity for evil by men toward is women is part of that fundamental flaw which is most revelatory of what Christians call original sin. Most of these shortcuts manifest this tendency and involve mistreating, demeaning and devaluing women by using social pressures and structures to disable girls and them employing them as objects of abuse by boys. This is common in many cultures ( not all) and in parts of some cultures and not others. Where this has happened a great deal many of the boys will always define manhood mostly as an abuse of women. However, where certain other factors and opportunities are present men have defined themselves by other means and now turn to the pursuit of girls and women in a way that shows he is competing with other members of the boy pack and has distinguished himself from the child dependent on women. With a little more luck still he will be able to see himself bonding with female counterparts who are to be his principal potential partner in life or his partners in life.
This brings us to another aspect of our discussion. Because all of us sort of know that Manhood is relative. Not all adult men are equally men. In fact, they may not still be reading at this point but there are some men who will take anything in stride as long as it is couched as a personal opinion EXCEPT for opinions about manhood. All men are insecure about their manhood to some degree and all men feel that having manhood defined by others without their values will be dangerous to them in a variety of ways. Most will in anger occasionally admit that they feel someone is not a man when they view him critically. They don’t mean he is a woman or that he is not human but only that he is not a man. Some would take a note about aircraft design, beer drinking, breastfeeding or latin grammar at face value and then determine whether I had anything of value to say after reading and thinking through the text, However, they will not read a thought on manhood the same way. As far my own manhood clearly this note will expose both my inadequacies and my strengths as a man more honestly and clearly than any mere statement of how much or little of a man I may think myself.
Men are perhaps more different at a very basic level than women. There are a variety of reasons why this might be so. One is simply that because men have an X chromosome and Y chromosome and women have two X chromosomes they are possessed of a string of genes without copies. This lack of a reference copy makes men more liable than women to genetic disease. However, while men may be more prone to the kinds of genetic disorders we can easily identify today it is a mistake to assume that because we have mapped all the genome we have a complete understanding of how genes work there may well be complex effects of subtle individuation that go with the more obvious and dysfunctional forms of individuation. While no one has shown a causal link that I know of this pattern is not unknown among other animals and seems apparent in men. The female sense of empathy is very useful because a baby’s survival may depend on it and this may be tied into a basic genetic quality of resonance, pairing and communication which is greater than the male’s. Until there are really competent geneticists who are also competent philosophers and aestheticists it is likely that many questions will never be fully explored.
While I repeat again that there many human adventures that we can all share there is a built-in adventure of pregnancy, childbirth and lactation which imposes itself on some women and entices others that is not available to men. Whatever else she does this is an activity rather analagous to surfing, sailing or skiing. Those sports are physical strenuous and demand skill but the muscles do not power the motion itself. So in these mothering patterns the involuntary drives the changes and the woman responds, shapes, calculates like a sailor guides his boat. That is the path to mature womanhood in the normal way of things. A man’s road to mature manhood is like a footrace or a football game. He is likely to grow a beard and take on some angles and hard muscles but a bunch of choices dealing with things outside of himself will determine the degree to which he becomes a man. his biological immortality lies through the womb of a woman and to the degree he contributes to it more than by copulation he will contribute in complex chancy ways to creating an environment in which his pregnant spouse and helpless young child can thrive or survive at least. Beyond this level of chance is an even greater one.
The next part of manhood which I would like to discuss is violence. Violence plays a major role in defining male identity and inevitably has plenty to do with manhood. There are cultures which are theoretically nonviolent and many cultures where the average man is not a solider. Those are complications they are not simple issues and they go far beyond the scope of my little note.The truth is that as a man in the real world matures he begins to see that violence is a component of how the world maintains its place and positions among and between men. A boy who is lucky has gotten an education in many things and acquired a number of skills but as a young man there is testosterone rushing through his system, he finds it easy to put on hard muscle, his reach and speed and wind are ready to increase. Also the greater hemisphericity in his brain than in his sisters which has inhibited his judgement and made it harder for him to contextualize has begun to mature. He begins to find that he can make judgements with one part of his mind while the other is devoted to strategy or at least tactics. He senses that by asserting himself he has a better chance of securing the things he will need to impress girls and possibly to settle down and start a prosperous family. His relative lack of attachment to most people seems suited for serious conflict and his experience in the boy pack suit him for more aggressive forms of team interaction. A man is not a warrior necessarily but he is fairly close to a warrior once he is a mature man.
Then there have arisen a variety of questions related to population. One of the really absurd assumptions that the “presumably educated” carry with them these days is that ours is the first era wary of overpopulation because the total world and total human population are at their highest levels currently. Almost nobody that ever majored in anthropology, Chinese history, or archaeology would think this could be common but for ever well-rounded MBA and engineer there are two who have a cultivated instinctive feeling that the neanderthals came out of the caves in about 1850 and their own employer then proceeded to build the world as we know it. From this instinctual base no amount of effort will reach the truth. Population control forces have often been brutal and have varied from society to society and have included across the world: cannibalism of young women and girls by young men, sending young men off into wars where many died and where women and children were either directly killed or prevented from continuing as a growing population indirectly, making eunuchs of a substantial number of boys just before manhood, killing those naturally inclined to homosexuality, forcing many into homosexual roles including forcible rape in supposedly celibate monasteries, directing all young men to have sexual relations with a few prolific prostitutes and keeping large numbers of young women as ghostlike slaves in some kind of enclosed environment. When someone is very enthused about population control they are usually a bad person in my experience. However, that does not mean that overpopulation cannot be a threat I believe humanity must advance technically and become more efficient must colonize the pelagic ocean and seamounts and (quite seriously) Mars in a big way but that does not mean I think we can afford unrestricted population growth. Part of manhood is becoming aware of population issues in a way that most girls and women near his age will have been for much longer. A boy may parrot off ideas about population but a man can take some responsibility. Part of this is that of his own progeny (this is not as related to total population as most of you think. Total population is a function of the number of children per average woman and almost the opposite of number of children per individual man.). Many men, although not nearly all, realize that with the effort, some luck and enough violence to survive all the angry people he would create around him he might enjoy fathering several hundred or maybe a thousand children during early manhood. Many men who experience this inner realization behave in a quite sober and chaste way and enter into stable monogamous marriages. But the realization has an effect on his thinking about the difference between what one might want and what one does.
In terms of population policy I myself favor the habitat expansion I have described, I wish all girls studied the most advanced forms of natural family planning in secondary school as part of a journey of self-knowledge in secondary school. I wish all girls had access to sports and education when young. I wish boys took a shorter course in natural family planning their last year in secondary schools. I wish healthy monastic orders had a richer and more diverse roles along with canons in our society. So far I have said things that make me seem a Roman Catholic hero apologist. or a Roman Catholic ideologue nut depending on what ones point of view might be. Then comes the part where I begin getting nominated for excommunication and where others may be mystified. I think the Church should and (in the best case scenario) will evolve in its views about acceptable forms of birth control. I think properly regulated forms of polygamy should be legalized to allow a few men able to have more than one wife who will often have fewer children than a single wife to do so respectably (this is far more the norm in Christian history than almost anyone likely to read this realizes) and still have a large number of children of various social roles and provide homes and happiness for some women who cannot handle monogamy themselves but are good women as well as good people. I also believe young men should be allowed to risk their lives, they have an instinct for it and while the tragedy of resulting deaths is horrible for the families it is not as great as the tragedy for when young men are denied access to danger — many are poisoned and maimed for life in many ways. With that path I would feel as a man I was in a society doing enough for population control.
There is a great deal more to say about manhood but I want to end on one more thing. In many wise societies and in some wise families and religious groups a boy will mark his passage from the boy pack to man’s estate with some great solitary pursuit. Silent retreats, wilderness hikes, vision quests and two or three of these things ought to be a part of the passage for more people than they are. Here the boy finds his boyhood skills are integrated into him and that as a man he can control these shill in an independent and self-contained way a boy cannot. For the majority of young men it would be great if these solitary adventures were followed by something like a ball a big formal carnival of sexual attraction without sexual completion involved.
When all this is done a man can be an engineer, a general, a husband, a priest,an astronaut, a bishop, a king, or a farmer. However, I really don’t think it will ever be alright for us to forget to be and make men first. Once one is a young man there will be men besides one’s father who help one become something besides just a man and also finish the job of becoming a man. One of those men in my life has just joined my friends list. Since he is an accomplished writer with his own reputation to protect he may feel the need to write something distancing himself from all this politically incorrect animist Christianity interbred with science but I still must tag John Wesley Fiero in this list who played a key role in bring out my better qualities — my vast and varied collection of faults belong mostly to me, a little to my father (along with his contribution to the good in me) and not at all to Dr. Fiero. I hope the young men who read this will find a teacher or guide of half his quality or better in which case they will be blessed far beyond the average.”