When you were a teenager, did you have a non-Bible ‘bible’ — a book you read and re-read, carried around with you, swore held the key to the universe if only more people would listen to what its author said?
Maybe your dog-eared oracle was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or Siddhartha or Catcher in the Rye or On the Road. Those books, perennial coming-of-age favorites to this day, were a bit too weighty for me.
My teenage bible was a book of pictures and anecdotes called The Manly Handbook. Who made America? “Real men,” it said, “like Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, Teddy Roosevelt and Duke Wayne.”
Do you want to read manly books? Buy Mickey Spillane novels. Manly movies? Watch Dirty Harry, Death Wish, Hercules and the Captive Women and anything with John Wayne. Looking for manly recreation? “Kick down all the doors in your house,” advised The Manly Handbook, and “take a midnight stroll through the Bronx unarmed.” Manly occupation? Rodeo rider, bounty hunter, bartender, drill sergeant, mercenary, truck driver.
All right. In retrospect, this wasn’t exactly edifying wisdom. But the book was a gift from my father. And any budding young he-man knows the first law of manliness is to respect his father — especially if your father served in the Marines during Korea and once stopped two young thugs from picking on a homeless man in downtown Detroit (while his frightened 8-year-old son hid behind his trench coat).
As instilled by my father, manliness to me was a mixture of courage, hatred of immorality, intelligence, self-reliance, physical strength and simple Lutheran piety. The Manly Handbook reinforced most of these things, albeit in exaggerated fashion.
The book also set me on a lifelong effort to figure out what exactly it means to be a man.
Seems to me there’s no time like St. Patrick’s time to re-visit the question. After all, among many other things, St. Patty was one of the roughest, toughest followers of Christ ever to bear the Gospel to a world hostile to it.
When I converted to the Catholic faith, I learned about monks who took the name Mary, pacifistic saints like St. Francis of Assisi, physically weak saints like Benedict Joseph Labre and that whole celibacy thing. My ideas of manliness were challenged.
Not shattered, just challenged.
All the traits I had learned to admire — courage, morality, simple piety — held their own in the Catholic orbit. But now they were tempered by things like gentleness, love of the sinner and metaphysics.
I haven’t figured out exactly what it means to be a man, but I have a few core ideas. Harvey Mansfield, in his book Manliness, says Stoicism is “the philosophy of manliness.” I tend to agree. The detachment of the Stoic and the courage that comes with it is found in every great man, from John Wayne staring down unshaven miscreants in the Southwest badlands to St. Basil the Great standing unmoved in front of Modestus, “The Count of the East,” who threatened him with death, torture and confiscation (not necessarily in that order) if he didn’t embrace Arianism.
Detachment gives rise to properly manly virtues: a tendency to be unmoved by worldly concerns, calmness, quietness, patience, self-control. And if one’s detachment is coupled with love, all the other virtues come rushing in: charity, joy, kindness, gentleness and the rest.
Virtue, of course, isn’t man’s exclusive territory. Women have virtue, too. But men emphasize its valiant, soldierly side. In a popular example, young parents would react differently if confronted with a wild beast. The mother’s inclination is to flee with the baby. The husband’s inclination is to fight the beast. Both serve the baby well, both are virtuous, but the husband’s virtue in this instance is uniquely manly.
Virility in St. Blog’s
There aren’t a lot of manly blogs in the Catholic blogosphere, in the sense of men talking about manly things. Think about it. You can quickly find a lot of Catholic mothers who blog about motherhood and the feminine genius. Now try to name a masculine counterpart to any of those.
I occasionally talk about fatherhood at my blog, and it’s a frequent topic at Pro Ecclesia (proecclesia.blogspot.com) and Thoughts of a Regular Guy (regularthoughts.blogspot.com), but it seems the list thins out quickly after that.
The Catholic Blog Awards used to vote for “Best Blog by a Man,” but they stopped this year for some reason. Last year’s finalists were Jimmy Akin (jimmyakin.org), Mark Shea (markshea.blogspot.com), Domenico Bettinelli (bettnet.com/blog), Gerald Augustinus (closedcafeteria.blogspot.com) and Dale Price (dprice.blogspot.com).
Good men all, but none of them emphasizes the sort of fatherly virility I’m talking about here — with the possible exception of Augustinus, who looks like he could break a heretic over his knee.
Perhaps the most traditionally manly Catholic blog is The Lair of the Catholic Cavemen (catholic-caveman.blogspot.com). This blog is run by former U.S. Marines who write like they’re still in the barracks and would welcome the chance to back up their words in the boxing ring. The blog is probably a bit too Tarzanish for some readers, but I find it refreshing.
If you like The Lair approach to blogging, you might also enjoy Dad29 (dad29.blogspot.com), The Carolina Cannonball (thecrescat.blogspot.com), Suicide of the West (suicideofthewest.com) and the Crusader Knight (crusaderknight.blogspot.com), a blog with a martial approach to religion and culture.
Is blogging a manly activity? As a male, I think that’s a good question. As a blogger who tries to be a man, I think it’s a disconcerting question.
On its face, blogging reveals a degree of self-regard that is inconsistent with the Stoic’s detachment: “This is what I think. You should read what I write. How many people have come to my blog today? How many bloggers link to my blog?”
But when you think about it, no activity is entirely detached from at least a little self-regard, even prayer and other activities that draw us closer to God. It is impossible, St. Thomas Aquinas liked to point out, to be so detached that we don’t desire our own happiness.
Furthermore, most responsible earthly activities are attached to “fleshly” things. Sitting down to a meal, holding down a job, buying a house. It is impossible to become completely detached from things of the flesh.
Maybe blogging doesn’t scream “virility.” Maybe blogging tends to be vain. Maybe some of it resembles the decidedly un-Stoic-like teenage girl fussing over her hair.
But if every pursuit militates against Stoic detachment, what are men to do? I can’t answer that here, though I like the words of the Stoic Marcus Aurelius, who simply said: “It is your duty to order your life well in every single act.”
If a man approaches every pursuit with that mindset, he can’t go too terribly wrong. And that goes for blogging, too.
Eric Scheske blogs at