Within contemporary culture, manhood has been placed in a box, and a quite small one at that. The only accepted version of a real man is one-dimensional: aggressive, musclebound, dangerous, and unfeeling.
In saner times this was not so. There were many archetypes of manhood. The warrior. The poet. The philosopher. The king. While some exceptional men were all of the above, average ordinary men were no less men for fulfilling only one of these roles. Manhood had many faces. Indeed, it still does.
Courage is Found in Unlikely Places
Masculine virtues are universal. Attributes like courage, strength, self-discipline, endurance, and the desire to defend the good transcend all cultures and expressions of manhood. But we must understand that these virtues are not all expressed in the same way.
A musician may exhibit courage by relentlessly practicing a complex piece that seems impossible to master. An artist may exhibit tremendous self-discipline in mastering his craft over many decades. A man can even show strength battling inner demons like depression or addiction—a battle that few will see but that is no less real. We are all dragon slayers at heart, but our dragons may look very different.
An example of this masculine diversity is found in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. There are indeed warlike figures within these books, such as the riders of Rohan, Aragorn, or Boromir. These men are dangerous in battle and leaders of men.
But it is deeply significant that in Tolkien’s narrative the true heroes of the story are the most unlikely characters—the hobbits. Frodo and Sam are among the smallest physically and the most overlooked and underestimated. Far from being fierce warriors, they are creatures who love the homey comfort of the Shire and the simple pleasures of life. Yet it is their loyalty, inner strength and undaunted, even foolhardy, courage that saves the whole of Middle Earth.
What Matters is Unseen
We men frequently focus on the external attributes of masculinity. We care far too much about a man’s outward strength and not enough about his strength of spirit or his character. It’s simply shallow. Some of the most physically powerful men are the most immature and unmanly beneath the surface. We’ve reduced manhood to accidents and ignored what is essential—and it is a mistake.
Physical prowess can indeed be helpful and should not be ignored, but it is not essential to what a man is. A chef, a cellist, a poet, or a playwright are all capable of being genuine men, even if they’ve never shot a gun, won a trophy, or cleaned a deer. Michaelangelo was no less a man than General Patton.
The point is this: It is what is on the inside that is essential. Regardless of our personalities, inclinations, or attributes, we can all develop a heart of masculine virtue. We can all be men of character and courage. Let us strive to do so with the help of Almighty God.