This is, in many ways, a “part two” to Drifting Without a Purpose.
You won’t find here any quick solutions, magic pills, “ten easy steps,” or guides towards masculinity that you would find on other popular blogs. There is but simple, yet incredibly difficult path to living a manly life. It will test you and will be everything the world says to do the opposite of. You’ve been warned.
I celebrated my first wedding anniversary around the time of this essay’s publication. Reflecting on this joyous occasion brought back many moments of pure joy, happiness, and contentment. While this year has been strange, to say the least, I have grown in many ways as a husband and as a man. I am grateful to be able to test my mettle in the trials and tribulations of 2020, particularly with my beautiful wife at my side.
Anniversaries and other hallmark days are good times to reflect not only on the past though, but to lay forth a plan or resolutions for what is to come. As I ponder what another year of marriage means – particularly with the possibility of there being three of us in our new home – I have found it hard to divorce this projection from the question of what it means to be a man and, thus, my personal goals and plans in life. I have been asked multiple times over the years what it means to live a manly life, a question I often struggled to answer. Being in a reflective state as is and being a year of life wiser, I figure it is prudent to now attempt to meditate on this great (or not so great) mystery of masculine life.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to describe any activities or movements of life without examining the beginning and end of such actions. It would be like reading a book about a character’s journey without finding out where they were headed to or where they came from. Does the Hobbit make sense if there is no Hobbit Hole, no Smaug? You miss out on so many nuanced aspects of the characters, their motivations and goals, backstories, and more. You will ultimately come away from the story with an empty feeling in your stomach. It’s simply unsatisfying.
So it is with our own lives. To live a life unplanned or unexamined, drifting along day by day, is to live a life that is ultimately unsatisfying. Sure, satisfaction is not the end goal of our lives, but we all desire a life of meaning at the end of the day. We need to feel productive and as if we are leaving a mark on the world (or, at the very least, our souls). Surely this is a good goal as well – were there to be no progress spiritually, emotionally, mentally, or physically from our births to deaths, we would have every right to say it was a life wasted.
In order to remedy this, let’s examine the start and finish lines of our own journey. What is a man’s beginning? That is to say, where did he come from? His parents, obviously, but more deeply, his lineage is that which makes him a child of God. Our origin becomes dull or lifeless should we try to take a purely materialistic approach. How uninspiring and lifeless it is to know that we are merely stardust! No platitudes about could motivate us to great feats for more than a few moments. .
One could argue that man is still able to create his own purpose without God. Many have attempted that throughout history. Here is the issue as it relates to masculinity though: we can only create imperfect things, our goals and purposes included. Think about yourself, how numerous your faults and weaknesses are? You know they exist, even if you try to cover them up out of pride, fear, or shame.
Taking our imperfect selves as the arbiters of what to strive to hallows back to a quote by C.S. Lewis, in The Four Loves, on love of nature:
“If you take nature as a teacher she will teach you exactly the lessons you had already decided to learn…
Masculine men do not think they are special, nor do they think that they are perfect. They do not allow themselves to become the arbiter of what is good in life and what is needful in living life. To think otherwise is prideful and, as Lewis writes, going to result in you “learning” the lessons which you already know. Or more importantly, it will act as a bias and reinforce errant beliefs which you hold, as you seek justification for that which is familiar to you, albeit incorrect. There is no growth in this, no actual movement, merely the artificial spinning of your wheels.
Instead, as men, we must live in the truth and recognize what far wiser men have stated for millenia: that God exists and is not only an omnipotent, omnipresent Being but our very Creator. He has bestowed on us the image of Himself and we have the free will to choose obedience or disobedience. Knowing that God made us out of nothing sets us on the proper track for living a manly life because it is a living, not a dead, bit of knowledge. It has being (or rather, Being) more than empty existence.
We must then ask what our end goal is. Death is a scary subject, one that is quietly shooed away from our modern popular consciousness. Whether or not you view it as the gates to heaven or as merely the curtain call on human life, our demise is something we must grapple with to understand our journey through life.
To view death as anything other than the beginning of our judgement, however, is to cheapen our actions here on earth. In many ways it is the unsatisfactory conclusion of our life, to find out that everything has been meaningless and our return to dust, atoms, and other particulate is all there is. In other ways, however, it provides it escape for our negative actions and could be argued to actively encourage epicurean tendencies among people. It must be stated that this is not an essay defending the Christian view of heaven or the existence of God; nevertheless, addressing such issues in a succinct manner is critical to our understanding of living a manly life.
If a life is to have any purpose or meaning, the score must count at the end of the game. We are not merely playing for participation trophies, but rather engaging in good and evil actions, waging this eternal war in ourselves, that will come fruition at the end of our earthly life. Life is a battle and in order to win, we must be cognizant of the severity of the outcomes.
We must then posit that we are from God and we are hopefully moving towards God in our lives if they are to have any meaning. But what does this have to do with living a manly life? What about becoming strong, finding a beautiful wife, or other traditionally masculine activities?
For those disillusioned with our pre-packaged modern masculinity, there is this allure of traditionally masculine activities – all good things, mind you. Chopping wood, finding a pretty wife, working out, fixing your car, and dressing like a man are all potential aspects of being manly. But these are ultimately empty if they are done for their own sake. This is not to say that there are not things to enjoy in themselves – that’s preposterous. Nevertheless, many men act as if the important things in life bring satisfaction and progress if done “just because.” This is the critical error most men make nowadays.
These activities lead to a certain rustic, traditional aesthetic of being a man. Where many men err is to mistake these activities as the backbone of our heroes’ lives, rather than springing out of a greater activity in life. Compare this erroneous mentality with modern movies: many are full of explosions, pretty visuals, and other appealing effects which captivate and dazzle us. Yet how many of them fall flat due to poor story telling? How many of them struggle with their endings (GOT, anyone?), leaving characters dull, their motivations shallow and vapid? Movies with the biggest explosions or coolest action scenes do not leave you fulfilled if the ending is pointless, dull or destroys the character arc – the same is true of life.
When you examine the kings, knights, and crusaders of the middle ages, or the lives of your favorite generals, presidents, and soldiers, or the writings of the greatest saints of Christendom, you all find one thing: a purpose, a directed movement, or a telos, in life.
Thus, I would argue like many before me, that to live a manly life we must live teleologically – with our end in mind. Life is constant movement, constant flux. If we set off on a journey without a destination, we will find ourselves carried away by the currents of the world. Even with a destination plotted, each step of life difficult.
What is more important to realize, though, is that this end is as we previously mentioned: loving and abiding in God. The pursuit of virtue is critical in this endeavor. Virtue is not just something to do, it is the thing to do in order to seek and work co-operatively with God on a daily basis. We are bestowed with powers to act, however feebly and imperfectly, and by acting with the Alpha and Omega, with the Holy Spirit, we make these activities and powers a humble offering which is bestowed back upon us with grace one-thousandfold.
Living a life with this purpose is infinitely more masculine than merely wearing a suit and a tie, growing a cool beard, or being able to deadlift 500lbs. This is because this purpose ultimately gives meaning and can serve as a foundation for every single one of these other manly activities. So rather than reducing masculinity to competing parts, we must look at the foundation or what is the fulfillment of trying to be a man. This purpose of striving towards God will end up coloring all activities in our life and ultimately enable us to balance them, finding that Aristotelian mean which is the point of virtuous activity. That is the goal, at least…
Let us therefore summarize some key points on what is and isn’t a manly life.
How not to live a Manly Life?
- Focusing too much on manly aesthetics.
- Putting too much effort into doing rather than being.
- Living without a purpose.
How to live a Manly Life?
- Keeping the beginning and end in mind, letting your death and judgement guide you to loving and abiding in God.
- Cultivating the virtues.
- Forging manly strength, doing difficult things, and engaging in manly activities in their due proportion and with the end in mind.
If all you care about is amassing followers on social media, go ahead, become a lumberjack or show off your abs on instagram. This desire will soon change and blow to another desire, as the winds of social media and social desire shift to another fad. The pursuit of virtue, of living a godly life, is unchanging, constant, and eternal though.
There are people who want you to believe that masculinity is fueled by soy but are happy when you let your pursuit of a manly life stop at aesthetics and outer manifestations. Real outrage, as we have seen very clearly in 2020, is directed at those men who pursue God, act godly and raise godly families in peace and with virtue. It is not an easy path. In fact, it is one that you must choose to undertake on a daily basis. Slowly but surely, it will be infinitely worth it.
Live life with a purpose. Move towards God everyday. And always remember that virtue makes the man.