Amid the shouting match that is the contemporary media, caught in the crossfire of sound-bite missiles, there is a call. A call that is being heard less and less in our society, and the diligent few that do hear the metaphorical trumpet sound often misinterpret its meaning. It is an ancient calling that has pervaded cultures in one way or another, evolving and developing throughout history. It is a call that up until recently has been generally heeded, but now faces the unpalatable fate of being lost in the high-speed shuffle of modern life. It is the call to manhood.
In history a dominant theme to masculinity was that of the virtuous life. Men strived to develop their inner selves and deepen their character. Ideals of industry, resolution, courage, honor, and self-reliance permeated the path through the transitory period of youth towards mature adulthood. Men were encouraged to evolve past childish tendencies and boyhood habits, desiring instead to cast the shackles selfishness and dependency of the formative years and contribute something to the world. And that is really how the idea of manliness ought to viewed, in its natural context—the opposite of childhood. Fast forward to the present, and it becomes increasingly apparent that somewhere along the way we lost that definition of what it means to be a man. Youth, a temporary phase in our lives, has become the end goal. Men from Hugh Hefner to the likes of DJ Pauly D and Robin Thicke (who are age 33 and 37 respectively), are indicative of the cultural shift towards the acceptance of an indefinite adolescence that has gradually taken place.
Rather than setting out into the world keen on venturing to unknown lands, developing a revolutionary invention, founding a corporate empire, or stewarding the ship of state, young men are returning home to resume life with Mom and Dad. While a large portion of the inverse exodus is initially (and understandably) due to harsh economic realities, approximately 70% of American parents feel that adult children who move back home begin to shirk responsibility. With growing up no longer in fashion, the definition of manhood has suffered. No longer being viewed as the opposite of childhood, popular culture latched onto the idea manhood as the opposite of womanhood. This idea, although being popular, falls short. It results in a superficial conclusion of manliness—one that breeds a generation of men concerned with outward appearances. They become obsessed with whether or not the body wash they use is considered ‘manly’ enough, or if the things they enjoy will be condemned as ‘effeminate’ because many women enjoy them too. They fall prey to the rise of consumerism in our society, thinking that if they shave with a safety razor and dress like Don Draper they will successfully be men. However, this interpretation of manhood amounts to playing dress up and the consequences of its burgeoning acceptance are myriad.
Men today are less ambitious in the workforce, beginning to be left behind in the wake of extremely commendable strides made by women as their own careers stagnate. They lag behind in postsecondary academic success, with their female peers earning the lion’s share of degrees. Even in the nation’s high schools, boys earn the majority of failing grades. The stereotypical adversity to responsibility and commitment that seems to be the defining characteristic of the modern male has merit. Men today are less likely to get married, those that do are more likely to divorce their wives (or husbands), and, perhaps most troubling, are more likely to be absent in their children’s lives, as we see an unsettling rise in fatherless homes. Our baseball players are no longer the luckiest men on Earth, but the subjects of scandal, and our presidents no longer talk of reaching the moon or tearing down walls, but of raising the minimum wage. Now, this is adamantly not a misty-eyed longing for the return of a picturesque caricature of past patriarchy, but a concern that both genders are not operating to the best of their abilities. Feminism has been and continues to be a force for good, but there have been some unintended consequences. It behooves both sexes to ensure that each are working to the best of their abilities for the benefit of society as a whole, and that means continuing to forge a path for feminine empowerment while ensuring the men of today aren’t falling to the wayside and cast overboard.
So how does manhood survive in what The Atlantic has christened the “End of Men”? The answer is not so much offering up a redefinition of what it means to be a modern man, but to revive the idea of the (Modern) Man; to roll up our sleeves and sift through the rich heritage of virtue-driven manhood to retrieve the wisdom worth preserving, and to bury for good the skeletons of the Old Breed of masculinity. Things like racism, sexism, and homophobia ought to be relegated to the dustbin of history as we move onward to fuse the classic with the contemporary. To fashion manhood once again rooted in the development of the virtues of character, which strives to leave behind the trappings of youth and embrace maturity, but now is also equipped to meet the great progressive triumphs of gender equality not with closed-minded arrogance or fearful tepidness—but self-assured confidence. And so, for the gentlemen who may be reading this, I place my ad in the proverbial paper—Wanted: A (Modern) Man. The position demands a daily challenge: to proactively mature, to prudently stand on the shoulders of great men who came before, to help forge a mighty path into the unknown of the future, to contribute a verse, to seek, to find, to never yield. It is a job that doesn’t allow vacations, the hours are brutal, and the daily work load will be daunting at times. But the internal return on investment is immeasurable. Please note that the position is open to all and candidates should take heed of Goethe’s words, that: “One cannot always be a hero, but one can always be a man”. I look forward to reviewing your applications.