What does it mean to be a “Real Man?” I believe the better question is: “What does it take to become a real man?” this is not to be confused with being a “Man’s Man, with all the descriptive words like macho, strong, stoic, good, etc. Being a Real Man takes 4 aspects: 1. A Fall. 2. A Journey. 3. A Liminal Space. 4. A Reconstruction.
An experience, and event or a series of events, a loss, failure, humiliation, etc. Being real comes with a heavy price tag gentleman. It may indeed come from a great humiliation. Richard Rohr puts it succinctly as follows:
Life, if we are honest about it, is made up of many failings and fallings, amidst all of our hope and achieving. Those fallings are there for a purpose. A purpose that neither culture nor church fully understands. Falling Upward p. XV
The process involves a full-frontal attack and deconstruction of our ego and persona (terms used by Dr. Karl G. Jung). Our ego is what we think about ourselves (self-image), and our persona is what we project/present ourselves to others. It comes from the Greek-a mask. We learn from children what society wants from us. It involves our roles. For me, it was me as pastor, army chaplain, responsible father, faithful husband, and “good man.” God knows I genuinely tried to be all of those faithfully. I never faked any of these roles which Rohr refers to as characteristics of the first half of life. However, when I failed in different aspects of these roles, which I did many times, I would explain these fallings and failures from my religious, theological, psychological learning. For example, “Jesus forgives all and there are none righteous…”, “I’m not as bad as others.” Through denial, justification, marginalization, minimalization, suppression, etc., I would appease my conscience. This is how I kept my ego intact. After 27 months in Iraq combat, and a divorce of a 37 year relationship, I began using alcohol and female companionship to my list of “strategies.” To be sure, I always had more positive coping strategies (i.e., working out/running, meditation, working/career, traveling, playing the piano, reading, and educational accomplishments) to deal with life difficulties. Eventually, the maladaptive strategies led to the demise of my persona through a series of humiliating a painful events. My identity, security, and stability (all first half life constructs) were all necessarily stripped away. Read that last line again for its full effect. These events were necessary. This created a journey for me.
The fall leads to a difficult journey. Like Job from the oldest biblical book who lost his children, his land, his home, and his self-respect through a debilitating sickness: “They sat on the ground beside him for seven days and nights. To Job they never spoke a word, so sad a sight he made.” –Job 2:13 Or Odysseus of Greek mythology. Exiled for almost 20 years, fighting and killing the cyclops Polyphemus, the treacherous storms of the sea due to the gods of Aeolia, alluring sirens, languishing amongst the locus eaters in a tranquilized state, losing most of his men to the unleashed anger of the gods in the Land of Cicones, many of his men being eaten by the cannibalistic Laestrygonians gods of Telepylos, seduced by Circe; made drunken, and bathed and fed by her nymphs while his other men were turned into pigs, a visit to the Land of the Dead where he fights evil spirits, navigating the treachery of two cliffs where the monsters Scylla and Charybdis, a lightning bolt of Zeus which damaged his ship on the Island of Helios, the mesmerizing beauty of the goddess Calypso that held him spellbound and captive for two years (she said that she was more beautiful than Odysseus’s wife Penelope, he agreed but stated he loved his wife and wanted to return to her). Then the final test for Odysseus which proved he had changed. His rendezvous to Scheria Island of the Phaeaians. Alcinous, the King offers to Odysseus to stay, and brings his most gorgeous red-haired green-eyed daughter as a gift if he agrees to stay. Odysseus declines the offer, proving he had entered into his true self. He was a changed man. He was tired of the difficulties he had brought upon himself.
Both men were upstanding and auspicious in their respective communities. Job was a “righteous man”, and Odysseus, while a great King and warrior, was deceptive and shrewd. Honestly, I have been both. Both were heroes. I’ve been hailed as a hero, by acquaintances, family, in newspapers and a documentary. I am not a hero. However, both my moments of fame and my moments of infamy, led me on a difficult journey to my liminal place.