How can a man do it these days? Be one, that is? From bugs to marriage, the most primitive to the most fundamental, Frank Miniter has written the book, and spoke about it with NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: I read Harvey Mansfield. Why would I ever need to read another book on men again?
FRANK MINITER: I devoured Harvey Mansfield’s book Manliness. It’s a book that looks back across time to historically document the dismantling of manliness. Along the way it effectively defines manliness, and it articulates why so much in our modern culture is attacking masculinity. It’s a fine book. My book, on the other hand, is the antidote to the trend Mansfield so well outlines. The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide is a how-to guide to becoming a hero, gentleman, survivor, philosopher, and more by tapping masters of different disciplines to teach the skills, philosophy, and bearing a well-rounded man should attain.
LOPEZ: How did manhood get lost? Where can it be found?
MINITER: Some today blame feminism for weakening masculinity. While it’s true that some feminists have deemed chivalry to be a polite word for sexism, the assertion that men are being emasculated because women are in the workplace is absurd. First of all, how can a man call himself a real man if he has to hold down the other gender in order to prop himself up? Sorry, such a man is too insecure to be a real man.
For a clearer perspective, it’s revealing to note that every culture successful enough to support an upper class produced sissies. For example French kings, such as King Louis XIV, once wore high-heeled shoes, silk stockings, and long, curly wigs made from women’s hair. In Victorian England, men in the upper class (those away from the farm and toil) wore frock coats with fitted waists and matching vests, silk top hats and stockings, and cravats, and practiced strutting with walking sticks with polished brass knobs. Yet those were both two of the most patriarchal societies this world has ever seen.
So then, what dandified those men? Just like urban America today, a complete lack of connection with their roots in the natural world is what is shrank their gonads. Just travel to any Third World country where men still have to till the earth with their hands and hunt to fill the pot, and look around to see if you can find a “girly-man” wishing he had a fuller-bodied shampoo. Such men don’t exist far off the pavement.
Theodore Roosevelt noted this loss of manliness in 1899 when he wrote, “Unless we keep the barbarian virtues, gaining the civilized ones will be of little avail.”
LOPEZ: Why is your “survival guide” necessary? Men have survived without it. Presumably you have.
MINITER: The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide draws on men such as Socrates, Winston Churchill, Cicero, and Tecumseh, as well as contemporary men such Sgt. Greg Stube to step forward and show the way. Yes, men can survive without this book, but they need all this knowledge regardless, and getting it in a lively, pithy way in this book is better than having to learn it all the hard way.
It should be noted that, though it is well-established that masculinity is now under attack, few are acknowledging that being an old-school gentleman warrior is a hell of a lot more fulfilling and fun than being a pensive metrosexual afraid to get his nails dirty or to have rain wash the hair gel from his sculpted look. A real man can be a hero, isn’t afraid to walk off the pavement, and knows vices are a good thing when treated appropriately. After all, drinking, smoking, and gambling won’t make you a man; despite what this politically correct nanny state preaches, it’s learning to moderate those vices that makes you into a man.
LOPEZ: Does a man have to run with bulls in Pamplona to be “manly”?
MINITER: Of course not, but he does have to find a path to manhood. Cultures used to have rites of passage, physical tests of skill and courage boys had to pass to become men. Today we have ages instead of feats — when you’re 18 years old you can smoke, 21 you can drink — which are earned by living, not doing. This is why we have to search for our own hurdles to prove ourselves and thereby learn what we’re capable of and what we’re not. Learning our physical limitations is critical to becoming men, because when a man is faced with a real crisis — a car accident, someone attacking another, an injury — he has to have the skills and understanding of his strengths and weaknesses in order to keep his bearings and be the hero of the moment.
LOPEZ: What do Navy SEALS have to teach men?
MINITER: They taught me that manliness is not inherent in our genetic code. SEALS are our iconic heroes. They can take on pirates or the Taliban. But when I asked a few what made them tougher than the average Joe, they said being tough is only a small part of becoming a SEAL. After the initial intense 25 weeks of training, those still standing go to specialized schools for advanced weaponry, demolition, and more. In the end, SEALS receive more training than most college graduates. So the ultimate survivors don’t just tough out a crisis; they’ve been taught to survive and overcome. Becoming a man is comparable, as we have a lot to learn in order to become men. This is why this is a book of skills — knowledge instills confidence. A man needs to know what to do if your child’s canoe flips.
LOPEZ: There are plenty of men who don’t have “rescue lasers.” This can’t possibly be a problem, can it?
MINITER: I once rescued a lost father and his 12-year-old son in a forest in Upstate New York. When they saw me they came running. It was getting dark. They’d driven up from New Jersey for a hike and soon became lost. They’d entered the woods without a compass or a GPS. They didn’t even know if they’d headed out east, west, north or south. When they became lost, they frantically began dialing 911. There was no cell service. Their electronic leash to society had proven unreliable. I led them out. The father’s tone went from fear to regret as he realized he’d put his son’s life in danger. The son’s eyes told me he’d lost respect for his father. They thought they didn’t need to know what men always have: how to survive. Now they know that sometimes the power goes out, hurricanes come ashore, and you can still become lost. That’s why the first section of the book is called “Survivor.” Men still need these skills.
LOPEZ: Don’t you insult our post-gender society by using phrases like “real men”?
MINITER: There is no such thing as a “post-gender society.” Last I checked I am not genderless. Nor, thankfully, is my wife. If some find terminology such as “real men” offensive, I’d say they were one of the feminazis who for some counterintuitive reason think chivalry is a nice way of saying sexism. True masculinity is not a threat to femininity, but rather is its complement.
LOPEZ: So how do you woo a woman? And are women filing rebuttals yet?
MINITER: I interviewed a lot of women on that topic for this book. But I’d rather not paraphrase them; it’s so much truer in their own words. So I’m going to make people flip to the “Romantic” section of the book for that answer. As for rebuttals, the contrary has been the case. Many women have asked (and a few have even said so in reviews on book-buying websites), “where can I find the man outlined in this book?” Women want the gentleman, hero, survivor, provider, and philosopher, not the metrosexual girly-man who plucks his eyebrows, has highlights put in his hair, and wimps out in a crisis. Women quite rightly realize they’re better off with Crocodile Dundee than with Ryan Seacrest.
LOPEZ: You write, “When in cougar country, keep small children close.” How about keeping children from cougars — and I don’t mean Katie Couric?
MINITER: I’ve become friends with a man who lost his son to a mountain lion. I mentioned his misfortune in an article in Outdoor Life magazine and he called me. His name is Allyn Atadero. His three-year-old son, Jaryd Atadero, vanished on a hike in 1999 near Fort Collins, Colorado. Jaryd had been running ahead on a trail to hide so he could jump out and say, “Boo.” His remains were found years later. Authorities determined a cougar took him. Unfortunately, this case isn’t an anomaly. Cougar attacks on humans are actually occurring more often now than at any time in recorded history. Wildlife in America is on the increase. We now have more wolves, bears, alligators, and cougars than at any time in more than a century; this is fantastic, but it also means we have to once again respect nature by rationally understanding its threats. Allyn has done so. He is now working to foster awareness of mountain lions and to get more funds allocated to search-and-rescue programs in Colorado.
LOPEZ: The first thing you do in your “Provider” chapter is talk in detail about guns. Do you have to be able to shoot to be a man? How about earn enough to have a doorman?
MINITER: There is a TV commercial for a home-security system that shows a criminal kick in a front door only to see a man on a staircase. The criminal runs away and the homeowner flees up the stairs, slams his bedroom door and almost squeals as he beseeches his wife to call for help. Now, which man would most women rather be married to: that girly-man, or a guy who ran into the bedroom, grabbed his 12-gauge and asked his wife to dial 911 while he stayed ready to blow away any rapist or murderer who attempted to follow him? After all, when the police come, they’ll be happy to bring the body bags, but would you rather they brought one for you, or for the intruder?
The Second Amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights gives individuals the right to protect themselves with firearms. A man who doesn’t try to defend himself or his family is hardly a man. But that scary scenario aside, we have freedom of choice. Every man doesn’t have to be a gun owner. But every man should understand the rules of firearms safety, so that he’ll know if a gun is being handled and stored safely. This is why the NRA rules of gun safety are in this book along with detailed gun know-how.
LOPEZ: Who is Juan Macho and what makes him a hero?
MINITER: Juan Macho was my guide to running with the bulls. He has run over 80 times, and he now defines his mission as helping first-time runners understand how to run and survive. He’s a philosopher who is embarrassed to be called heroic. His advice on how to run with the bulls is in the section on heroism because overcoming your fears and mastering yourself is fundamental to growing your heroic characteristic, that part of you that sits ready to be a hero if you are ever unfortunate enough to be really tested.
LOPEZ: You say that “a modern hero needs to be able to hold, feed, and change a baby.” Is this your subtle way of saying that raising the kid is women’s work?
MINITER: No, it’s my straightforward way of saying a real man changes diapers.
LOPEZ: Your book isn’t necessarily about boys, but is it important for a dad to teach all these things in your book — fishing, hunting, being a gentleman? Why? Do you have evidence they are not?
MINITER: Every father should teach his son to be a gentleman, as best he can. This is why this book is out before Father’s Day. As for fishing and hunting, the answer is yes and no. Fishing and hunting can teach respect for nature and foster a deep understanding of the natural world; they have developed boys into men since humans walked this earth. By learning the skills to catch fish a boy learns literally, not idealistically, about nature. Hunting offers the same path. However, I don’t believe every boy has to catch a fish or shoot a pheasant to become a man. But I do think every boy has to learn how nature really works, has to attain a rational view of the natural world, in order to be a man.
The living, real connection of taking a part in the natural process by hunting and/or fishing is certainly being severed. We were once an agrarian society, but now less than 2 percent of us farm. We used to be hunter-gatherers; now only about 6 percent of Americans hunt. And the numbers of people still linked in a primal way to the natural world is shrinking every year. For the sake of the environment, and of our manliness, fathers do need to teach their children the truth about the ecosystems we inhabit.
LOPEZ: You include five “rules of self-defense.” Surely they are not gender-specific? I’d like to stay alive too!
MINITER: You’re absolutely right. Those rules are from UFC champ Matt Hughes. By the way, he teaches women alongside men at his training school.
LOPEZ: Does a man really need to know how to buy gold? And chardonnay?
MINITER: A man at least needs to try. One point the women interviewed for this book said over and over was that they want a man who is willing to show he’ll do romantic things for them. Such is why to woo women, men have long been required to blush with daisies in their callused hands, to procure boxes of candy on Valentine’s Day, to write love poetry, and to perform other rituals designed to temporarily effeminize their masculinity and thereby demonstrate they’ll do anything for a woman.
LOPEZ: Could you blame a woman for wanting to keep her man from seeing Reservoir Dogs? Why is it on your list of “movies men should see”?
MINITER: Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 cult flick Reservoir Dogs follows what happened before and after a botched robbery. They fail. Justice catches up with them. Along the way, from the first scene when they debate what a man should tip a waitress to the last shot fired, they’re questioning the cultural bonds that hold together the just society they’re thwarting. This movie’s violence can be shocking, even though its body count is actually minimal when compared to films such as Rambo II or III. Men should consider Reservoir Dogs a lesson in why not to turn to crime. But come on, you’ve gotta let us have a little mayhem to swallow that moral medicine.
LOPEZ: And about Starship Troopers: You know we have toyed with sci-fi bans in the Corner . . . ?
MINITER: Yes, I know. You’ve even joked about banning Robert Heinlein from the Corner. I get why sci-fi is touchy. But you’ll have to pry Starship Troopers from my cold, dead hands. This is a story of a young man who has to face an enemy straight on and thereby grow into a man; if he folds, he’ll never be a man. The book brings this home more than the movie, but they’re both adventurous gallivants through male bravado.
LOPEZ: You have the Bible listed first on your list of books to read and The Intelligent Investor last. I’m not suggesting switching the list, but should investing advice rate higher these days?
MINITER: No. Moral integrity is still fundamental. Whether you win or lose a fortune, you should still keep your honor. In fact, men need to stand up to today’s moral relativism and belch. Right now we’re in a society that seems to think it’s okay to demonize our corporate leaders, instead of calling out the few bad apples. If we instead held them all up to an old-fashioned code of honor we’d be better off; after all, doing so would punish the charlatans and thereby separate them from the true icons of industry. We’d then, by default, exemplify the good eggs. Indeed, thinking of CEOs as all bad is a relativistic idea; it’s also fundamentally untrue. The same goes for our politicians. They’re not all morally corrupt. This is why I put so many codes of honor in this book. We have to live by a code of honor before we can demand others do. Then when we step into the voting booth, we shouldn’t vote for someone who didn’t pay their taxes. I’m not saying we should then vote for a candidate we’re ideologically at odds with, just that we shouldn’t support the so-called “lesser of two evils.”
LOPEZ: What’s the most surprising thing you learned about manliness while writing the book?
MINITER: I didn’t fully understand what our culture had done to heroism until I began interviewing wounded warriors returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s a telling fact that the term “anti-hero” was coined in the 20th century. Today, many of us no longer believe a human being can embody a heroic characteristic, or that a man can learn to be a hero. This is why movies now give us anti-heroes such as Rambo, Batman, and Jason Bourne. Anti-heroes often try to fight for justice, but they don’t believe right and wrong can be truly understood or can be moral absolutes. So they fight in a dark world where everything is relative, and they become tragic, because they don’t really believe in a code of honor, a black-and-white basis for right and wrong. The wounded vets I spoke with had done things that past cultures would have given them parades for while celebrating them as good examples; instead, they often somehow feel guilty for giving their all, though they often don’t know why.