The First of Many Letters to Good Men and Their Lovers
It's not as niche as it sounds. Or maybe it is. But it's an important niche.
I’ve grown tired of the conversations I’ve heard around manhood lately. So, I’ve decided to write a series of letters to those of you who are good men or are lovers of good men. This may be niche, but it’s a niche that’s important to me.
This world is wobbling on its axis, you know? I’ve been feeling the wobble for years now, sensing we’re all riding through space on a rock that’s threatening to spin out of orbit. And over the last year, I’ve put our globe under the microscope hoping to find what’s caused the imbalance. Finally, I’ve found the culprit, the villain, the great imbalance. He has a name: Ego.
The world was not meant to suffer under the sole weight of so many men’s egos. I know this because in the beginning, when God saw Adam was lonely, he did not put him to sleep, take a rib, and create a Bro as his companion (a bropanion). I suspect this was because God knew that two Bros in one garden would end in a fistfight or maybe a murder. And lest you think I’m just speculating, consider Cain and Abel. You know?
But here we are all these years later suffering under the weight of men’s egos, and now, those egos are backed by nuclear weapons. Aint’ that a gas? So, this is where we find ourselves: All wobbling around the sun, holding our breaths, hoping the testosterone-fueled idiots don’t press that little red Russian button or storm the marble-domed capitol or legislate us into a Margaret Atwood novel.
Speaking of testosterone-fueled idiots: I am one. It’s okay, really. As I learned in recovery, the first step is to admit that you have a problem and that you are powerless over it. So, I freely admit that my oversized idiot ego is injurious. Take, for example, my knee. Last week, Sasha the Russian and I were in the gym, and let me tell you, Sasha the Russian has legs like an oak. My legs are more akin to a river birch. Tree analogies aside, we were squatting, and my ego whispered, Keep up with the Russian, River Birch. This little ego whisper was insane for at least two reasons—Sasha the Russian’s power output is measured could be measured by horses and his surname is “The Russian,” which means he was born to endure any misery man has to offer. In the end, my ego put a few too many plates on the barbell, and seven days later, my American knee is still complaining. Mr. The Russian, on the other hand, hit a personal record.
It’s not the sort of ego story that explains an off-kilter world, of course, but the parallels might be extrapolated. The competitive American, the enduring Russian, the injury. Also, we’re men, which seems apropos of too much these days.
This brings me to the point. I considered writing you this private email and copying a small list of amazing men to which this might equally apply. You might know some of them—Dad, John B. (the Poet), Winn (the Professor), Ken (the Prophet), Jay (the Good Politician), Lee (the Sportsman), Nicholas (the Architect), Jesse (the Frenchman), Joseph (the Teacher), Sean (the Starter), Shawn (the Novelist), Mike (the Lover), John R. (the Fighter), Jason (the Lawyer), Bob (the Doc), Kyle (not that Kyle, the other one), Kevin (the preacher in California), the Priest in the midwest (the Catholic one). That email was to thank you for not being a vacuous ego-bag drifting through the universe. And I meant to copy all those other men because they, too, are not vacuous ego-bags similarly adrift. Oh also, you’ve not been small and boring. That’s important.
I’ve been privy to a lot of manly conversations about what it means to be a man and living into the men’s code and whatever smoking-hot ego-stroking garbage men seem to be recycling these days, most of which comes from the early twentieth century. You may recall those days from your history books. There were fascist ego-maniacs who objectified the world while the good guys—us—stormed beaches and dropped fire on Dresden and wrought hell on Japan, all while objectifying only the pinup girls hidden in tiny, steel covered pocket Bibles. It’s an easy narrative, I guess. Good Guys™ versus Bad Guys™ and the good prevailed because we had God, the guns, and the girls on our side. I find most of those conversations revisionist, reductionist, and myopic. And to be really truthful, deriving the meaning of what it means to be a man from this sort of nostalgia bores me. Hence, this email to you.
This is the point. We live in a world in need of actual-factual manly conversations, conversations that are less about lifting weights with Russians or MMA or asserting our leadership or that time our Grandpas stormed the beaches (God bless them, though) or grabbing whomever by the whatever. Some of us aren’t quite so strong. Some of us can’t one-punch a shirtless bro into oblivion. Some of us couldn’t lead a scout troop out of a wet paper sack. And that’s okay because most of the men I admire—most—aren’t just brute warriors or hunters or Crossfitters, though some are. The men I admire are the truth-tellers, artists, poets, servants, sages, negotiators, chess players, readers, thinkers, church-goers, kid-raisers, tender-hearted wife-lovers. They believe that being a man is characterized by a strong mind, a strong work ethic, and strong character. They know that sometimes strength requires putting ego to death, particularly when ego threatens a marriage, job, school system, or global order (you know… the little things).
For instance, I’d like to recognize the way you put your ego to death that one time you owned and apologized for that one thing you said. I’ll not name it here because we both know what it was, and to be fair, a lot of people are reading this, and it might be sort of embarrassing. But you did what so many are loathe to do these days. You recognized your words, how they hurt the people you worked with, how you owned it and apologized. That was a big thing because in this world, I’ve seen too many men—particularly one religious leader I knew—run and hide behind calculated words when called on the carpet.
We have different perspectives.
The criticism is unfair.
Actually… you’re the one who hurt me.
These are the testosterone-capable humans say to shift narratives. Minimize. Gaslight. These well-placed manipulations are just unbending extensions of fragile egos. There are a lot of fragile egos out there these days.
In a world where too many men cannot face their error in the mirror, your un-coerced apology was a divestment of ego. It was a humble move that betrayed both your love for others and the fact that you are not a sociopath. Congratulations on that latter bit, by the way, not being a sociopath. For a minute, in your unabashed concern for the other, I felt the world un-wobble for a moment. It was a relief.
I intend to write more in the coming weeks, mostly by email. Maybe I’m doing it to memorialize a moment in history, the moment before the big-swinging egos of men leave craters in the economy or the earth or maybe even the heavens (a theory for a later day). Or maybe I’m writing as a reminder to both of us—if we were created in the image of God, then we were created to move quietly in a garden and with great love.
In all things peace,
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