Positive male role models essential for a young man

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John Newkirk

Sifting through my father’s files, I came across a letter written by one of his cousins in the early days of World War II.
“There are certain things in every man’s life,” he wrote, “which he cannot bear to leave undone if he is manly. The murder and bullying of innocents is one of those things I cannot stand for, and until I have done all in my power I shall not return.”
He was killed in action four months later while strafing an enemy outpost.
The poignancy of his letter is palpable, but one word in particular seemed to jump off the page.
It’s a word you don’t hear much anymore, unless you watch YouTube reruns of Irish Spring soap commercials (“Manly yes, but I like it too!”).
Webster defines “manly” as denoting those good qualities traditionally associated with men, such as courage and strength, although these days it’s more often used in a spirit of derision: quaint and dated at best, oppressive and patriarchal at worst.
I saw the word again while thumbing through Boys’ Life magazine at a local dentist’s office. The underlying article was an appeal to men of all ages to become role models to boys in what American psychologist Leonard Sax calls “an epidemic of unmotivated and underachieving young men.”  One of the factors fueling this epidemic is a widespread devaluation of masculinity.
“Every enduring culture has rules, has a notion of what it means to be a good man,” Sax writes. “Boys are not born knowing those rules. They must be taught.”
Regrettably, popular culture has become an increasingly bad boy teacher. On television, for example, the notion of strong, responsible fathers — Chuck Connors, Charles Ingalls, Ward Cleaver, Andy Griffith — has given way to a proverbial pestilence of dimwit dads — Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin and Bob Duncan.
Dr. Sax points out that enduring cultures also “have strong bonds across generations for boys to learn from a community of men and for girls to learn from a community of women.”  While boys unquestionably benefit from a mother’s nurturing influence, Sax maintains that positive male role models are essential for balanced development.
In a recent interview with Red magazine, former Mad Men actress and intentionally single mother January Jones unblushingly states that her 5-year-old son doesn’t need a father. The last thing he needs, she says, is some man in his life saying “all those [stupid] things.”  Pulitzer-prize winning author J.R. Moehringer, himself raised by a single mother, tends to disagree.
“To be a man,” he writes, “a boy must see a man.”
Ms. Jones wrapped up her interview with a duality that a psychologist could really sink his teeth into: “I want a manly man in flannel, with a beard and an axe,” she sighed. “But then there’s always something wrong with him. Like he’s a Republican.”
The Cowboy Code of the West holds that true masculinity begins with respect for women, children, fellow citizens, animals and our nation’s laws — and all of it’s based on a foundation of honesty, integrity, strength and honor. Without these, you’ve not yet become a true man.
So parents, this Father’s Day, let’s teach the future fathers of America that there’s no shame in the pursuit of manliness. And boys, take notice: as confessed by an A-list Hollywood starlet, in her heart of hearts even a hardline feminist longs for a “manly man.”

Columnist John Newkirk came to Jefferson County in 1967.  He has served on the Colorado Commission for Judicial Performance (1st Judicial District), the Jefferson County Board of Education, and the Colorado Association of Funders.  He lives on a working cattle ranch near Conifer with his wife and children.