I went for a run this morning with a very good friend of mine, and we started talking about some of my blog posts (because we’re just that cool). Specifically, he was offering unsolicited commentary on my writings, as so many are wont to do. But what he said surprised me.
“You know, in your posts you talk about yourself like you’re one of those guys in Everybody Loves Ray and King of Queens that you said are so sad, like you’re some bumbling idiot whose wife is perfect. But you’re a badass. Don’t sell yourself short.”
I wasn’t sure whether to be offended on behalf of my writing or proud of my friend’s perception of me.
Of course, the answer is neither.
Our world is desperate for men. Despite the fact that popular culture tells us men are either young players trying to get some, Homer Simpsons incapable of intelligence and culture, or old men bitter at the world, that’s not the case. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.
We need a return of the fighter.
Many books, movies, and articles have weighed in on what it means to be man. The prevailing societal wisdom is that gender is either a choice or a forced social construct. Catholicism, of course, has always held that masculinity and femininity are inherently and necessarily and beautifully different. One of my favorite Christian writings on the topic is a book titled Wild at Heart by John Eldridge. One of his main points is that men are dangerous, and not just because someone tells them to be. They are made that way, and for a reason. There are times when men must stand strong and defend what is theirs, whether by force, words, or both. There are times when men must rescue that which is beautiful and under attack, whether it be a person, thing, or idea. There are times when men must fight. But we are told not to.
We are told not to be dangerous because people are hurt by dangerous things. But, as Eldridge says, a scalpel is dangerous; in the wrong hands, it could kill you, but in the right hands, in the most important moments, it’s the only thing that could save your life. And it can only save your life by being what it is, by being sharp and capable of cutting. You do no one any favors by dulling the blade.
And yet, people want the edge taken off men. They don’t want boys fighting on the playground. They don’t want guys playing football. They don’t want men working while their wives stay at home. They don’t want these things because people have gotten hurt by this before. Little boys have been bloodied, men have gotten concussions despite (or perhaps because of) their helmets, women have been abused and ignored and taken for granted. Every time that men have a chance to be strong, there is a chance that their strength will be used for harm. And so men are told their strength is bad, and they take their confusion and anger to their driving or their video games or their work.
It’s gotten to the point that I don’t even know how to be dangerous. Perhaps the most important experience of my life was playing four years of college rugby, because I finally learned that I can hit and be hit, that I won’t break, that I am strong and that that is good. But now I’m fat and out of shape, a man who spends most of his days in a classroom or behind a computer screen. Where is the danger? Where is the adventure?
But even as I ask the question, I know the answer. The adventure is taking a nap upstairs right now. She is the uncontrollable, the unknown, the beauty under attack and the weakness that needs protection. She is dependent on me, and that’s a good thing.
Yeah, that’s right. My wife needs me.
Before I even get started on the need my daughter has for me, I begin with my wife. In past posts, I’ve talked about how I’m blessed to have her, how she is better and more holy and more put together than me. And all of that is true. But she needs me, too. In some respects, I am better and more holy than she, and I don’t need to be afraid to say that. It’s not pride that says that, or at least I hope it’s not. It’s okay for us to own our strength and holiness, as long as we do it by realizing that those good qualities and strengths and virtues that we have are gifts from God. He gave me a piece of Himself. The Infinite God needed to communicate Himself to us finite beings. So He gave us His Son, He gave us His Scripture, and He also gave us each other. There is something in each of us that speaks of who God is, that gives a glimpse and a glimmer of the divine, that opens a piece of the mystery in a way no one else ever will. And I am a part of that.
We men have been told to be either cocky or apologetic. We’re either supposed to be cold and unhurt-able or be a bashful lackey to our wives. I’m supposed to be self-depracating so that I don’t offend anyone or come off as too proud. No. Our calling is higher. My calling is higher. Enough of this false humility, this playing small and acting like I don’t have gifts from God. It’s not a sin to be who He made me to be; it’s a vocation.
The time is at hand for men to be men. It is time to fight. And the battle begins in your heart. I have been, slowly, painfully, poorly, fighting this battle for about eight years. I have fought against believing our culture’s conceptions of manhood, against the subtle messages I get daily that try to subvert the truths I know, against my own brokenness and desire for sin. And I have failed many, many times. Still do. But that isn’t what defines me. What defines me is who I am, not who my shadow is.
My friend was right when he said I am a bad-ass. I am. So is he. So is every man, if they want to be. Choosing to fight the battle is what makes a man a bad-ass, because it’s a necessary part of our identity. It’s who God made man to be. Whether the battle is against your lust for women, your lust for men, your inordinate desire for alcohol or drugs or acceptance or power or money, all that matters is that you fight. You must fight “having girded your loins with truth and having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6:14). God’s not messing around. He gave us weapons, gave us His law and His truth and His Word to protect us. Grab your rosary and go to war, first in the fields of your own heart, and then in the vineyards to which you are called to work.
I speak of my wife with reverence and respect because Christ lives in her. I talk down about myself because I know how often I sin. My sin is all I have; it’s the only thing God did not give me. But it’s not who I am. Who I am is no more or less than who He made me to be, and who He made me to be is a soldier in the Church Militant. I can acknowledge the beauty and strength inside me without taking any credit for it. That’s just the way I was made. He made me that way for a reason. Praise Jesus.
The time may come when my brothers and I are called to stand up and literally fight for our Church, when we might have to come to her defense at the risk of imprisonment or death. But just because that time is not here does not mean there is no fight. The fight is all around us. It is the attack on the Truth written in our hearts. It is the attack on who our wives and children are supposed to be. It is an attack on the Church Herself and the beauty and truth She is meant to protect. And we must take up our arms and fight those battles in our own hearts, in our families’ hearts, in our next-door-neighbor’s hearts, in the hearts of those we see and pass every day. Because if we don’t, who will?
Will you fight?