Today is my father’s birthday. In honor of him, I want to write a quick review of a book I recently completed and utilized as a template for a curriculum in my class for our young men. This seems fitting not just because it’s my dad’s birthday and this book is about old school manliness (what boy doesn’t love to boast his own father’s manliness) but also because my dad could definitively beat up your dad.
In all seriousness (don’t worry it won’t last), I greatly enjoyed this book, “Manvotionals: Timeless Wisdom and Advice on Living the 7 Manly Virtues” by Brett and Kate McKay. The McKays started The Art of Manliness Blog and Youtube channel that feature Brett tackling a variety of skills and giving advice on current issues men face with an old school flavor. According to their website, artofmanliness.com, the purpose of their blog, books, and videos is that…
“Many men today feel adrift and have lost the confidence, focus, skills, and virtues that men of the past embodied. In an increasingly androgynous society, modern men are confused about their role and what it means to be an honorable, well-rounded man… Ultimately, the Art of Manliness aims to encourage our readers to be better husbands, fathers, brothers, citizens — a new generation of great men.”
Let me promptly put up a disclaimer. This book is not anti-women or sexist somehow. Far from it! The book is written specifically for men but in the book the McKays remind us that all virtues are pursued by men and women. However, often when these virtues are attained they are expressed different ways in either sex. “Two different musical instruments, playing the exact same notes, will produce two different sounds.” (p3)
The authors, Brett and Kate McKay are certainly people of faith. However, in most of their AoM content they intentionally leave out scripture. I tend to think this was with the intent to teach truths that are Biblical to a wider audience. This book is certainly one that has Biblical truths and virtues buried throughout and it took very little effort to use it for our young men’s Bible class on Sunday mornings with the benefit of apt scriptures.
I think what’s so great about AoM’s content and this book is that it brings to light an understanding of manliness that is not sextist, elitist, or juvenile but instead grounded in bedrock morals and virtues shared by many societies as well as the Bible. They aren’t locked into the superficial definitions of manliness but instead redeem the term “manliness” to take on the meaning your grandfather and his father assigned to it. The first chapter of this book seeks to elucidate the reader on this new understanding of manliness.
Manliness used to mean that a person possessed and practiced a particular set of virtues. In their book, “Manvotionals”, the McKays construct an outline based on seven specific virtues that they believe make up a manly man: Manliness, Courage, Industry, Resolution, Self-Reliance, Discipline, and Honor. Certainly these are honorable virtues for men and women. In each chapter, the McKays start with their own synopsis of the virtue for that chapter. Then they take excerpts from essays, letters, poems, and articles from great men in history. From Theodore Roosevelt to Marcus Aurelius, Thomas Babington Macaulay to Walt Whitman, Aristotle to Mark Twain, this book is packed with amazing excerpts and quotes from classical authors and gung-ho US Presidents. I’m not a well read man by any stretch of the imagination but I got the joy of feeling like one after reading this book. Poetry, Aesop’s Fables, letters from our founding fathers, even a couple chapters from the “Army Field Manual” from 1941, each of these were likely pieces of literature I dare to say I would hardly encounter on my own. So much profound and straight-forward wisdom told in some of the most articulate and simplistic ways can be found in this book.
I’ll list some of my favorite quotes at the end of this post.
As I read it, I started to imagine the advice that my father’s father would have given him about becoming a man; and his father before that. It does seem apparent to me that our definition of being a man has been greatly diluted over the past couple generations. I don’t mean to say that my father didn’t teach me what it meant to be a man, just the opposite. Dad made sure we always treated mom and all women with respect, that we worked hard when we gave our word to work, that I didn’t have to do what everyone else was doing, that slow obedience is a form of disobedience, and that Middleton men treat others with respect and honor.
However, culturally, the prolonging of adolescence has eroded some of these ideals and even staved off the point young boys actually come into manhood. I’d love to write something coherent (yeah right) one day about rights of passage and how our culture has suffered in lieu of a type of “manhood ceremony” in the vein of a bar mitzvah but with less presents and puberty. Within the introduction there a brief statement that captures exactly the sentiment what manhood is and what it isn’t: “There are two ways to define manhood. One way is to say that manhood is the opposite of womanhood. The other is to say that manhood is the opposite of childhood.” They definitively lean into the latter definition. Part of me is convinced that the much needed swing towards gender equality is starting to adversely affect the inherit goodness within these virtues of the manly man. “Mansplaining” seems to have given way to “manshaming”. But I digress, for this post I will stay on task.
“Manvotionals” is certainly a great book for fathers to read with their sons. I would highly recommend this book for pastors looking for resources on how to preach on the expectations of a “godly man” and the duties therein that many men are abandoning in churches today (another post for another day). But highest of all, I would recommend this book to you, the young man who is thinking to himself that he might benefit from a clearer definition as to the type of man that he should be. Buy this book and read it. It will give you much needed direction.
In closing, I’ll just say that the book is good and that I certainly needed it as a reminder of the type of man my earthly father, as well as my Heavenly Father, have always taught me to be.
Thanks Dad. Happy Birthday.
I thought I was only going to list five of these but I couldn’t whittle it down! Hundreds more in this book.
TOP TEN FAVORITE QUOTES
- “Living a life of virtuous excellence is harder than learning to tie a tie or start a fire, but no other pursuit will be as supremely rewarding.” – Brett and Kate McKay
- “We need the iron qualities that go with true manhood. We need the positive virtues of resolution, of courage, of indomitable will, of power to do without shrinking the rough work that must always be done.” – Theodore Roosevelt
- “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” – C.S. Lewis
- “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison
- “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” – Benjamin Franklin
- “There is not a man of average ability but could make a striking career if he could but will to do the best that is in him” – Arthur Brisbane
- “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
- “No steam or gas ever drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined.” – Harry Emerson Fosdick
- “Do not consider anything for your interest which makes you break your word, quit your modesty, or inclines you to any practice which will not bear the light, or look the world in the face.” – Marcus Aurelius
- “In great matters men show themselves as they wish to be seen; in small matters, as they are.” – Nicolas Chamfort
Thank you so much for reading! Are there any quotes or books on manliness or any of these manly virtues that you often turn to? What Bible verses often convict you to be a better man of God? Do you think manliness is indeed a lost art in today’s culture? Would love to hear your thoughts!