When I was a kid, I didn’t just watch John Wayne movies—I entered into them. When The Duke mounted a horse, I could smell the saddle leather. When he walked into a bar, I caught the smells of booze and fear in the room. When he drew his gun, I’d duck. I used to lie on my stomach for hours, chin propped up in my hands, watching that gunslinger be his own man. Nobody bossed him around. Nobody stopped him from doing what was right. Nobody got between him and his conscience.
I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, about as far from a sleep-on-your-saddle, two-door-saloon culture as possible. I’m more likely to wake up tomorrow morning and find myself drinking Tang on a space shuttle than I am to get called into a posse to chase down an outlaw. Yet, images from John Wayne movies influence me all the time. Like the scene from the movie, The Alamo, when his character, Davy Crockett, said to a woman he’d rescued:
“That’s what’s important – To feel useful in this old world. To hit a lick against what’s wrong, or to say a word for what’s right, even though you get walloped for saying that word. Now, I may sound like a Bible beater yelling up a revival meeting at a river crossing camp meeting, but that don’t change the truth none. There’s right and there’s wrong. You got to do one or the other. You do the one and you’re living. You do the other and you may be walking around, but you’re dead as a beaver hat.”
I remember hearing that speech when I was about ten, and then feeling something in my guts flip over. I resolved right then and there to be my own man.
I’m forty-one, and I’m still trying to figure out what being a man looks like. To be sure, what I’ve turned into looks nothing like John Wayne. I’ve never owned a pair of cowboy boots, and I’ve never figured out how to keep a horse from sensing fear in me. I was always the kid at camp who was assigned the 25-year-old, partially blind mare named Bullet who instinctively knew how to walk the trails with nothing more than a warm body in the saddle. I’m a far cry from my boyhood hero, but I’m finding my way.
But it’s not easy. This is a difficult time to be a man, let alone your own one. We are bombarded with strong, complex, and at times, contradictory messages. We are told to be highly committed in the work place, yet ever-present at home. We need to be tender hearted, yet not easily wounded. We need to be ten feet tall and bullet proof, yet soft enough for a toddler to take down in a single, footie-jammies tackle. And we must be present ourselves, of course, with composure and grace, yet with a refreshingly rugged and raw authenticity.
Sort of makes you want to quit before you start, huh?
Let’s not. Let’s figure it out together.
This is my first blog on this Patheos site. I’ll be using my space here to explore what it looks like for men and women to live according to their deepest values, convictions, and commitments. I wrote about these issues in my first book, Man on the Run; Helping Hyper-Hobbied Men Recognize the Best Things in Life, and it’s what I’ll continue to discuss here.
We’re all trying to simplify and celebrate the mysteries of marriage, parenting, friendship, community, work, and other passionate pursuits—that’s my goal for this blog. In fact, that’s my goal for life: by the end, when I am truly about as dead as a beaver hat, I want to know that I lived for the right things and helped others to do the same.