The thoughts below are pulled from a few separate entries of my personal journal rolled into one collective thought.
I’d like to discuss a topic that may be controversial today. Masculinity. Many people first think of masculinity as arrogant, chauvinistic, competitive or worse but all men at some point are broken. Like stallions we set out believing we are our own, roaming about to do what we please for our own good and our own purpose. While some writhe and roam longer than others, at some point we are all broken. How do I know this? Ask the men who have come back from their first tour of duty. Ask the man who has gone through a battery of college football two-a-days. Ask the man who has loved and lost. Ask the man who has fought for a cause. Ask the man trying to pay the rent every month while putting food on the table.
The change I saw in the eyes of my closest friends from the time we were young men to when they came back from a tour in the Middle East was vastly different. What did I see in those eyes? What did I hear in their voice when they spoke? Humility. Concern not for self but for family and society. A belief that something greater than “ME” was my purpose. I can see it in the eye of every man.
This change happens at a different point for most men. For some, The sad is maddening because they either choose a lonely path … or destruction because the world in all it’s complexity is too great a burden for a man to bear. My thoughts wander here. I sometimes wonder if someone like the shooter of American Military hero Chris Kyle seems to be an example of this. I do not compare military heroes or others to mine or anyone else’s pain. What they and countless others have experienced far exceeds my own trial and tribulations, but my point is to explain that each man is broken by way of a different set of circumstances.
For me, it took a combination of high level athletics and personal failure. Being put into a competitive environment on the daily forces you to test your mettle consistently and fail consistently so you may improve. I loved football. I loved the game. I loved the environment. It did not love me back. I tore and sprained an ACL, tore two meniscus, hyperextended a knee, separated and dislocated shoulders, tore a hamstring and a quad, sprained ankles and accepted concussions among many other things for a game that has no regard for me. When I sprained my ACL again as a senior in college, mid-season, after battling injuries my entire career that thought hit me. This game cares not for me. My mind went nuts for about 5 minutes. My tear ducts opened like flood gates and after a moment a furious peace rushed over my heart and my soul. What could cause me peace in such a painful place after I had worked and strained my whole, albeit young life? Part of it is my personal beliefs that God spoke to my soul and calmed my spirit, while the other was this thought. “What if this life isn’t your own, and what if it’s not about you at all?”
In the movie “The Gambler” with Mark Wahlberg he rambles at his breaking point about his disdain for the way society works and his willingness to take risks. The conclusion is this.
“my problem, if one’s nature is a problem, rather than just problematic, is that I see things in terms of victory or death, and not just victory but total victory. And it’s true: I always have. It’s either victory, or don’t bother. The only thing worth doing is the impossible. Everything else is gray. You’re born… as a man… with the nerves of a soldier, the apprehension of an angel, to lift a phrase, but there is no use for it. Here? Where’s the use for it? You’re set up to be a philosopher or a king or Shakespeare, and this is all they give you? This? Twenty- odd years of school which is all instruction in how to be ordinary… or they’ll kill you, they will, and then it’s a career, which is not the same thing as existence… I want unlimited things. I want everything. A real love. A real house. A real thing to do… every single day. And gosh….I’d rather die if I don’t get it.”
This gets to the heart of my issue. I want to experience everything this world has to offer before God gives me keys to the universe in eternity. Is that so wrong? Why would God give me a small window into his infiniteness while forcing me to struggle through this finiteness?
I may not know, but I do know the heart of every man is fiercely adventurous. The idea of “taming” a man or “breaking” a man doesn’t sound good to me. It does not sound masculine. It isn’t how the story is supposed to unfold. I am supposed to conquer new lands, rescue a princess and build empires so to speak. But I’ve learned that I could travel the world, break records and do wonderful things…. I could. But to what end? Shall I say I’ve done more things than you? How different am I than the boy in the school yard who boasts he has more toys? At some point a real man decides he wants to do things not simply to do them but to do things that matter. What matters? Perhaps it’s a simple as seeing your wife smile, teaching your child to be a good person, and being consistently available to friends and employers. The goal is to do things that matter. This doesn’t mean you’ve given up. This doesn’t mean you can’t pursue adventure, but it does force you to think about why you choose to do what you do. This brings us back to the question posed at the beginning of this thought, “What is Masculinity?”
While our genetic makeup may contain an animal inside that craves being unleashed, a desire to conquer, a hope to build, and strength unparalleled, perhaps being a man has everything to do with a submission to a force greater than us. Because when you are brought low, there is peace knowing that whatever my burden, it rests not simply on my shoulders but a God who has written the story so HE can be the hero. When you can embrace this idea and pick up your sword to fight alongside the Gladiator who will not lose, you will fight with a valor that cannot be stopped. You can fight for what matters, and that may simply mean being obedient and being consistent. Manhood… perhaps is not marked by achievement, but by an epiphany of humility and service.