Do boys have any idea of what it takes to be a man? It doesn't seem so if you read the multitude of books and articles recently published about raising boys and the problems they encounter. Nor does it seem young men are clear about what it means to be a man. In a era when women's opportunities are expanding in every direction-laws that ensure equal opportunity specifically for women, sexual harassment punishment employed against boys as young as five, and some commentators insisting boyhood is a pathology--many young men express confusion about what a man's role should be. More specifically, to what proper behavior should they aspire?
This confusion in our culture as to what a real man should be has some unfortunate consequences. A growing number of young men are turning to violence and gang activity, apparently seeing the ability to terrorize others and brutalize women as making them a man. Others drift, finding physical work in declining natural resource companies if they are lucky, or if not, moving from personal crisis to personal crisis because they are incapable of being responsible fathers, husbands, workers or members of the community.
Fortunately, these are the minority. A strong majority of young men under the influence of an older generation of fathers, uncles and community leaders, manage to get the training and character that enables them to be successful as men. But unlike a couple generations ago, there is no longer a clear statement that defines or refers to the role of what a man should be.
The author of this book tackles this problem and attempts to define it by using the old term "gentleman" to describe what a man should be. Starting with the assumption that the past is a better gateway to understanding the future than the dizzying present, he takes us through history and the ideals of manhood from different eras. Focusing mostly on medieval times, he discusses the legends of the Holy Grail, King Author and his Round Table, the Knights Templar, Chivalry, the European aristocracy ideas leading to what a gentleman should be. He includes many other concepts to distill what they had in common to describe the ideal man that culminated into the 18th and 19th century concept of "gentleman." He then leads us to his conclusions as to how these ideals might apply to the 21st century.
He comes up with three masculine archetypes that he sees as rather universal over time: The Warrior, the Lover, and the Monk.
While the concept of the Warrior in medieval times usually meant physical prowess of the fighter, the essence of it was the attitude of standing up for what was right despite personal consequences. Maintaining personal honor was considered more important than personal consequences and a real man will stand "upright" in all his dealings. Despite the cynicism of modern times, there is still a universal appreciation of the person who does the "right thing" or takes a stand based on principle. Contemporary people do seem to respond positively to this aspect in people.
Although the term Lover might be misinterpreted in our sex saturated culture, the author's understanding has little to do with sex. His basis is on how a man treats women. A real man will be protective when appropriate and accept her as an equal as often as he can. One way he describes it is a real man will not interfere with letting a women do what she wants, with her responsibility being to know what she wants and being able to articulate it.
The Monk is a lover of learning, having mastered the ability of restraint. A real man has internalized the lessons he learned from studying the classics, life experiences and has the ability to keep a secret in his dealings with others. Sympathetic to others he can be trusted to not gossip.
From these archetypes, the author fleshes out a description of an ideal concluding that any man that works toward this ideal is on the way to becoming a real man.
This is an intriguing and different take on the question of what a young man should aspire to. Of course, a background in philosophy and history helps this book make sense. The book is sometimes heavy reading and a person that does not have this background, or is looking for light reading, will miss much of what the author is saying. Nevertheless, taking the time to absorb his main point can be very helpful for those that work with at-risk teen males.
About the Author: Brad Miner is executive editor of Bookspan. He is a noted book and magazine editor, a distinguished college professor, and the author of several acclaimed books. Brad Miner graduated from Ohio University, and began his literary career as a manager of bookstores, then in sales and marketing and finally as senior editor of both Bantam and Harper & Row (HarperCollins).