July 26, 2010

On Becoming Manly, Part III

Allow me to resume this thread, with increasing trepidation. I have been uncertain whether to put the how before the why or vice versa, but decided that method should precede what may well be madness on my part. Of course, any attempt at prescription is bound hopelessly to fail, for men being men, and boys being boys, rules will be dismissed peremptorily. All I may offer, therefore, is a sketch (something sketchy?).

Unburdening responsibility upon a greater mind than mine, let us hear what Carlyle has to say (when he unburdens responsibility upon his own fictitious inventions):

In all the sports of Children, were it only in their wanton breakages and defacements, you shall discern a creative instinct: the Mankin feels that he is a born Man, that his vocation is to Work. The choicest present you can make him is a Tool; be it knife or pen-gun, for construction or for destruction; either way it is for Work, for Change. In gregarious sports of skill or strength, the Boy trains himself to Cooperation, for war or peace, as governor or governed… (Sartor Resartus).
Boys, in short, must play at being men if they are to become men. This is not to say that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, but then again, men will be incomplete without having sensed victory and pleasure, and, perhaps more importantly, defeat and pain. Furthermore, they must be given the freedom to build and fashion, to be frustrated and to bleed. We wrap our boys in cotton wool at their peril, for the adult world will not cushion their falls. The chips of life fall in much the same way in childhood as in adulthood, but the stakes are not so high. A boy needs to learn to win with magnanimity and to lose with humility (and to resolve to win the next time) before the blinds become too big.

The Playing Fields of Eton, by Edmund Bristow (1822)

What does this mean in practical terms? Nothing more than the rough-and-tumble, active life, indoors and out, that some of us took for granted. I wonder, nervously, how many boys now enjoy this kind of experience. There is so much fear, and so few playing fields, that kids are cloistered, attached umbilically to their video games and gadgetry. Perhaps the most fundamental step, therefore, is to unplug.


  1. Dear Mr. Beatum,
    In many cities the opportunities to go outside and do all the things I did as a child a very few. There are no creeks, no "battle grounds", no open yards for wiffle ball, and so on. I had parents call in for their boys so they can take a day off school to play a new war video game that came out last winter. It is a shame. There is no turning back, America's future are moving full steam ahead into a brick wall, at least in part.

    Mr. Styled

  2. The rough-and-tumble, active life, indoors and out, that some of us took for granted...I doubt that unless you live in a small country town or on a farm, there are very few men doing this kind of thing nowa days.

  3. Damn well said sir...plugged in too much is a nearly universal problem. Even we are as we do this Blog activity.
    I take the rearing of my son seriously...and in keeping with the above thoughts...I am glad he plays lacrosse and wrestles...two very rough and competitive sports. I also take him hunting with me and feel it is valuable that he is in the comapny of other like minded men when the hunting rituals are discussed and carried out.
    As for wrestling in particular, there is much to be learned as a young man thru "combat" sports. When he walks out on to the mat...it is him against his opponenet...no teammates to hide behind...and the sole objective of the match is to beat the other wrestler. It takes fortitude and helps build same. Great post/thread of posts.

  4. Doctor, have you ever chanced upon Churchill's My early life?

  5. Thank you all for the comments.

    Mr. Styled, my parents used to tell me that if I did not go to school, they should be sent to prison. This exaggeration had its uses.

    Schmidty, unfortunately I think you are correct.

    Mr. Sportsman, you raise an interesting point that I plan to pursue with regard to Baden Powell and rock climbing. More anon.

    My dear Kravien, no, I have not, but I take your question as a suggestion and shall seek for it.

  6. As the Liberty lads o' er the sea
    Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,
    So we, boys, we
    Will die fighting, or live free,
    And down with all kings but King Ludd!


  7. Oh so true! I said to my husband last night that I don't want to give in buy my sons a DS. They are free spirited beach children at the moment and I want them to stay like that! So I'm not plugging in to begin with (for as long as I can avoid it anyway). Karen.

  8. Ah, Hilton, do we dare dream of the day 'When the web that we weave is complete'?

    Dear Karen (if I may),
    Welcome to my humble pages, and thank you for introducing me to yours. I was once a free-spirited beach child, as you say, and cannot overstate the value of those experiences: from being knocked flat by a big breaker, to the thrill of riding one; arriving at a humble appreciation of nature and its ways - the joy of pure life and the attrition of sea against cliff. This was a school for a boy, and praise be to the parents who knew it.

  9. My apologies for the late comment, as we have just returned from a rough and tumble vacation to Yosemite National Park.

    I'm glad to say, my son was filthy dirty. Swimming in rivers, climbing trees, chasing squirrels, chopping firewood (yes, we let him use a hatchet), my boy was in his element. And, it was contagious. Other boys in the campsite tried to keep up with him, only to be dragged out of trees by parents. Or worse, told to keep clean and come inside the tent and watch TV. Unfortunately, I kid you not.

    Practice at becoming a man. Absolutely, my fine sir. Absolutely.

  10. My dear Turling,
    No apologies necessary. Ah Yosemite! I have had the good fortune to have been there on two occasions, the latter of which afforded the opportunity to do one of the longer Half Dome hikes (18 miles). Utterly breathtaking place, and a superb environment to blood youngsters and, as you say, to practice at manliness. I'm glad that yours seem to have the right spirit. There's something humbling about the scale of the place. To be a big man in such a big place takes some nerve.


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