Lying on his deathbed, a dying king turns to his son with some final words of wisdom…
“I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and show thyself a man.”
I have a great relationship with my old man. He’s taught me a lot in life, not necessarily by words, but through his actions. As such, he probably has no clue how much he’s taught me. If he were lying on his deathbed and he reached out and told me to be strong and to show thyself a man, it would be last words that would inspire me, puzzle me, and guide me for the rest of my days. Those final words that David whispers to his son in a last attempt to make amends for bad parenthood and to give some final guidance so his son doesn’t make the same mistakes he did, are a culmination of what a father should be teaching his son from day one.
Most men know that they should be teaching self-reliance and not dependence, but their actions are out of line with their intentions. They may not be actively doing it, but they’re teaching a dependence on things, others, and maybe vices, without ever really knowing what they’re doing. If my old man taught me dependence, it would be in two areas: God and books. I’m more than okay with that. I agree with it and am thankful for it.
He didn’t teach me to be dependent on things, where most of the kids I grew up with were taught so. It starts with what they give and buy you, but also where they, the father, find joy. (Read This: The Death of Self-Reliance)
Walk into my old man’s office and you’re surrounded by books. Walk into his bedroom, and there are books on the floor around his bed waiting to be read at night. He gets joy from reading and I constantly see him with his nose buried in a book. The latest vehicle is of little concern. The nicest clothes or the biggest TV don’t guide him to work harder or save money. The problem with many of us, myself included, is that we aspire to have things to give us a jolt, more meaning in our lives, a bright spot in an otherwise monotonous day.
We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.
Fight Club is a wonderful film, and that sentence makes it entirely worth the watch on its own. To aspire to acquire things is to work to become dependent. As a man, it’s important to draw the line between what you own and what owns you. When we talk about self-reliance we’re mostly referring to the skills that allow us to survive and thrive on our own. The handyman is seen as self-reliant, as is the hunter. But our dependence on things is increasingly apparent. We don’t simply buy them to use them, we buy them and we allow them to use us. We become dependent on the feeling that we get with the purchase. It takes us away from our monotony, from the bigger questions in life, and gives us a brief feeling of power.
Self-reliance must also include power over the things we buy, which must also include an understanding of why we’re buying them and who we’re buying them for.
The other self-reliance, the skillset, is stuff we can and should learn. My old man set this example, once again. As a guy who didn’t want to pay someone else to do something that he was sure he could do, he, with no experience, did the deck and the bathroom and a bunch of other projects around the house. This was before Youtube, but when the “for Dummies” series was at its height.
There is wasting time doing things that you could get someone else to do. That does exist. If I spend two days working on my bathroom, that’s two days spent not working on my business, taking food out of my son’s mouth (my dog). But to learn the skills that enable you to take care of your abode and not depend on someone else to fix what is yours gives pride that cannot be measured in dollars. It’s this form of self-reliance that has been lost.
When David told his son to show thyself a man, self-reliance had to be in the equation. If my old man whispers those same instructions, self-reliance will cross my mind and it will stay in my mind until I pass that incredible call to action to my own son.
Stand for What’s Right
There’s a reason why “stand for” is stand for and not sit for or lie for or think for or wish for. Standing is a position of power and action. When you’re standing you’re ready to fight, to do battle, to defend.
To show thyself a man isn’t just about thought or intent. When that call to action, one similar to Man the Fuck Up!, is put out into the world, it’s expected that the man will stand for what he knows to be good and just and right. He will stand, and fight, for his values, no matter how unpopular they are. To show thyself a man is to stand for something greater than the individual. It’s to stand and fight and defend something beyond one’s own gain and one’s own fortune in life.
This is an important part of the book. Though the call to action is to pick your own ass up and become self-reliant, strong, successful, and a man of action, a man in the arena, there must be something greater that propels you and guides you. For David is was God. For you it may be your family. It may be the future family you want to defend. It may be your belief in something that you just can’t label or figure out just yet; set of beliefs, a philosophy, it may be your Maker, but it cannot only be you.
Do What You Must
I grew up with a wonderful dog. He was my best friend. Just a wee pup, not like Teddy, the Dogo Argentino I now have. He was mischievous and even a little arrogant. He was the Napoleon of the dog park. As soon as he saw other dogs he tried to put himself in a power position even though he was but 18 pounds.
The dog lived a long life, but toward the end he started to slip. My folks went back and forth on putting him down. My dear mother would call then cancel when he showed a bit of life. There’s nothing I wanted more than to have him healed and to eek out a few more years of life. But with each passing hour I could see that it was time. So I called the vet, took him, and spent his final minutes with my hand on his head.
That was tough. Tears welled up. I’d been with the dog since I was 12. He’d sleep on my bed. Welcome me home from school with a wagging tail and screams of happiness. I am not an archetype for manliness, not close. I’m still learning what it is to be a man, largely from my old man. But in this instance I understood what had to be done and I did it.
What must be done is rarely what’s most easily done. It’s the man of the house that works long hours at a job he hates to put food in the mouths of his wife and kids. It’s the man of the house that keeps a bat under his bed or a gun in his nightstand in case the house gets robbed and he has to defend. It’s the man who removes the hornets nest from out back or takes the dog to the vet to be put down, even though he tears up all the way there and all the way back.
It isn’t that the man feels nothing. No, he feels the same pain and anguish. He feels sad for those who cannot survive off of what they have, but he understands the necessity to give people an opportunity to earn rather than giving them sustenance.
When David said, show thyself a man, he in part had to mean show thyself worthy of the moniker, man. Show, not think, not theorize, but show. It’s in the sometimes ruthless actions that men must take to defend their tribe or feed their clan that they show themselves to be men. The men unwilling to see the world as it is and do what’s necessary to survive and thrive in it are relegated to the pussified existence of a victim.