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Who is really “The Man?”

September 6, 2011 — 2 Comments

I’m in my 30s now and like any honest man I never have stopped searching culture for signs of authentic manhood.  I like my fellow brothers today are bombarded with conflicting messages about what it means to be a man.  Despite this, I’m learning more about what it means to be a man since getting married and having kids.  Prior to both of those huge components of life, I felt more like a boy wandering in a jungle full of loud and confusing imagery telling me what it means to be a man. But these scenes of life I encounter tell me there is more beyond the curtain.

My wife and I recently watched (twice) Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), starring Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone.  I must say that I haven’t laughed so hard at a romantic comedy in years.  Yes, I’m a fan of the greats like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, Say Anything, and Sweet Home Alabama.  Most guys do love those movies whether they admit or not.

In Crazy, Stupid, Love, what is so amusing is that a 20-something so-called man is giving a 40-something advice on picking up women.  And on top of that, he is giving him advice about what it takes to be a real man.  Ryan Gosling’s character is highly quotable in this role:

“I’m going to help you rediscover your manhood. Do you have any idea where you could have lost it?”

“The war between the sexes is over. We won the second women started doing pole dancing for exercise.”

“I don’t know whether to help you or euthanize you.”

“Be better than the Gap.” (commentating on Steve Carell’s style)

I laughed so hard at the last line in the theatre but then paused to looked down at my jeans and realized they were from Gap.  Good grief.

Despite the movie’s humor, it raises many questions about how men should act and view themselves.  Without ruining the movie, it probably left more questions about this issue instead of giving us answers.  Maybe that wasn’t the point of the movie.  In our lives we are confused by the extremes of man; the angry brute who only will watch and participate in Ultimate Fighting, the passive male asleep at the wheel of life not willing to engage in life, or metrosexual who worries more about himself, his looks, and won’t commit to any woman.   If we as men are not careful, we will get lost in the extremes of post-modern manhood.  What Crazy, Stupid, Love shows us is a glimpse of the transformation process to become a man.  I can’t judge either character too harshly because they are in this process.

I take comfort knowing that like them I don’t have it together.

So where do I go now?  I join Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling’s characters in this process.  All I know is that I’m not going to sit down and wait for things to happen.

I’m challenged to do (and not wait for) the following:

  • Pursue genuine friendships with men.
  • To seek mentors I admire who are older than me.
  • Study the great men of history.
  • Be humble about my successes and failures.
  • Share the wisdom I’ve acquired with those younger than me.
  • Pray like Christ, the best example of man.

What about you? 

What does it take to be a man in your point of view? 

I recently went to a local playground with my young girls.  I walked around casually following them as they explored the array of colorful pipes and swings.  When I saw my oldest daughter struggling and I offered to help, she shouted “I can do it all by myself.”  Meanwhile, she kept calling on me to help so I was oddly confused.  I’m definitely not God but I wonder often if this is how he feels when we do the same thing. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about how we as humans view the adventure and struggle of life.

I recently re-watched two amazing survival movies, 127 Hours (2010) and Into the Wild (2007).  I’ve always been curious by books and movies like these along with Call of the Wild, Alive, and Unbroken.  Perhaps my quest of manhood is revealed through their stories.  What amazed me most about these stories is that they are based on real events while not entirely dreamed up by Hollywood.

127 Hours features Aron Ralston a 20-something adventurist out west.  He became widely known in May 2003 when, while canyoneering in Utah, he was forced by an accident to amputate his right arm with a dull knife in order to free himself from a boulder.  James Franco did a terrific job playing Aron and the movie was anchored by director Danny Boyle with dream-like cinematography.  It is a difficult movie to watch due to the amputation scene but like many I’ve spoken to about it, it still captivates you.

Into the Wild features Chris McCandless played by Emile Hirsch, a recent college grad who packs up his car, leaves his family and heads west to the Alaskan wilderness with little food and equipment, hoping to live in solitude.  In only a few months he died of starvation.  While a disturbing movie, it is beautifully helmed by Sean Penn and the soundtrack by Eddie Vedder is inspiring.  I catch myself on weekends driving around town and opening up the windows to listen to Big Hard Sun.

The question after watching these two films is “Why” go on these adventures alone? 

Like these two characters, I love being out on my own whether it be hiking, traveling, or playing golf.  I haven’t been able to do that in a long time but I know the power it can have in restoring my soul, spending time with God, enjoying time to reflect.  I am reminded by a powerful line from John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, which stirs me.

“Men need to go on a safari of the heart to recover a life of freedom, passion, and adventure.”

It is good to go on that journey.

Here is the problem: Man is misguided by the world.  

The world says that he should be an island.  The world says…Go it alone.  Rely on yourself.  Don’t admit weakness.

In 127 Hours, Aron becomes stuck and recognizes that he must go to extreme measures to return to the people he loves.  He fights to get back to them.  In Into the Wild, Chris feels like regular society has left him so he must leave it.  People should not be part of this equation, only nature.  In the end of the story as he literally is lying on his deathbed, Chris reflects on the people he loved and who loved him. That is what mattered most in the end.

There is a reason that men ultimately love movies like The Fellowship of the Ring and Band of Brothers because the adventure is about being together.  It is the similar with women and movies they love focusing on deep and enduring friendships.

It is important to go on that “safari of the heart”.  

But that safari is meaningless without sharing the spirit of it with people and God that inspires it. 

This past week I’ve watched two fantastic films: The Social Network and The King’s Speech. Both are tremendous works of cinematic art.  Both were successful at the Golden Globes and most likely will do well at the Oscars.  Most importantly, they tackle some key issues that make the movies relatable and by all means fit in the “great” category.

The themes of these films are classic Shakespearian: Friendship, trust/betrayal, duty, love, insecurity, and courage.

As a man these themes came right out from the screen and hit me in the heart.

The Social Network is a breakdown of the things that can make men great.

The King’s Speech is a build up to those things that do.

They are equally important to learn from.

In life I’ve learned that every person is flawed.  It’s what one does to overcome it that matters.

Here is what I learned from these core themes:

Friendship. Find your Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush’s character).  He is the guy we all want to turn to in life.

Duty. Sometimes whether we don’t feel like we deserve to be in a certain position (or don’t want it), we must rise up to honor those before us.

Courage. Know that you can overcome anything with the help of others and the willingness to risk.  Stand up for what you believe in.  It’s not supposed to be easy.

Trust/Betrayal. Be aware of those around you.  We’ve all been betrayed.  It is human nature to a degree.  I’ve betrayed friends before unfortunately.  Ask forgiveness and forgive but learn. Trust can be earned back over time.

Insecurity. We don’t have it all together. No one does.  Be open about that and trust in God, in others who love you, and remember that you’re not alone.

Love. Need I say more.

If you haven’t seen these movies, please do.

I’m challenged by the deeper themes here.  What about you?