I’ve taken to reading all the books that my father has left behind. The ones we kept. He had a small library of Westerns I would never stomach. So I gave them away.
I kept his books on philosophy, economics, the Civil War, Theodore Roosevelt, the Founding Fathers and George Patton.
About fifty in all.
It’s seven years today since he died. And I’ve only read one of the books he inherited.
My wife and I were talking the other day about clearing out the library–purging the shelves of books we don’t need. I was horrified to think of giving away books that I haven’t read, but want to read.
It took me over three years to read my father’s diary. It’s now time to read his books.
Manliness and Theodore Roosevelt
I’ve been pouring through The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.
Roosevelt was a force of nature. He shot thousands of animals, gutted and cleaned them himself. As a teenager he learned how to stuff and preserve them. He’d go through stages of craving fresh meat. This would lead to expeditions out West to shoot a grizzly, buffalo, bulk elk, whitetail buck, rabbit, grouse–anything that moved.
He boxed. Wrestled ferociously with his younger brother. Punched out a gun-slinging bully in a bar. With one rifle he stood down five charging Indians on horseback. Pistol in hand he arrived at the doorstep of a noted killer who had a beef with Teddy. He challenged the man to start shooting (the man back pedaled).
He was equally ready to fight in the political arena, too. Unafraid to challenge powerful but corrupt officials, politicians and lobbyists. He infused his position as Civil Service reformer (a dead position most government officials milked for comfort and security) with the zeal of a Puritan preacher cleaning house.
He made enemies galore. Yet this didn’t slow him down one bit. To say he was masculine is an understatement. Not unlike the manliness that Mark Driscoll talks about in the third story of Death by Love.
But is this true manliness?
Manliness and Mountain-Sized Egos
Annapurna (a book from the public library, not my father’s) is the account of how the first 8,000 meter peak was climbed back in 1950. The account ends with the Maharajah saying to Maurice Herzog, the leader of the expedition, “You are a brave man and we welcome you here as a brave man.”
No doubt courage in the face of so great adversity is needed. Manliness, in essence, is bravery.
The book ends with this stirring line: “There are other Annapurna’s in the lives of men.” This hints at something true about our natures. Our tendency towards manliness. Towards conquering. And mountain-sized egos.
Manliness and Our Fathers
Just the other day I picked up Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, another book I inherited from my father. The second line reads: “2. Manliness without ostentation I learnt from what I have heard and remember of my father.”
Our first lesson on manliness usually comes from out fathers. My father was masculine. He ran, swam and cycled competitively. He volunteered for deployment during Desert Storm. He married his wife when she was young and pregnant. He was young and scared, but he wanted to do the right thing.
I can’t really say that I learned manliness from him. Yet I crave the opportunity to conquer. I adore the idea of magnificent achievement. The Nobel Prize in Literature at sixty-five. The first person to run all seventy-two miles of the Appalachian Trail in the Smoky Mountain National Park.
These are achievements that hang on a stick out in front of my nose.
Manliness and the Gospel
The truth of the matter is true manliness is all about courage. Doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing.
It could be as life-threatening as a fire fighter running into a burning building to rescue a child or a writer documenting the abuses of an oppressive government.
Glory often follows in some measure.
Or it could mean a father having the courage to lead his family in spiritual disciplines. The courage to tell a friend that his pattern of sin will eventual derail his life–dishonoring God.
The courage to talk to his son about marital sex. To demonstrate to his daughter on a daily basis how a man should treat a woman–kind, gentle, respectful, humble, protective and spiritual.
The courage to sit with his wife while she shares her struggles. The courage to pitch in and help a neighbor who has fallen on hard times. The courage to approach his pastor and tell him that he is praying for him. The courage to resist the temptations of the world and the flesh and live a life holy and pure in love with God.
It’s the quiet disciplines. Those that receive little to no glory. But they catch the eye of God who says “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
It is those achievements that count. That make life truly meaningful. And you a man.
Where do you get your sense of manliness?
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