Throughout my life I’ve often wondered what it means to be a man. You see, we modern men suffer from a chronic identity crisis and are always asking ourselves troubling questions like, “Who am I?” “What am I?” “Where am I going?” “Where are my car keys?” “Will I have enough money to retire in Naples, Florida?” “Will my kids support me if I don’t?”
As a guy with gray hair and grown kids, I know the answers to those questions (Your kids won’t support you). However, I have three brand new sons-in-law, and I want to help them figure out the answers — once I get them to start thinking about something besides the Yankees and the Red Sox.
I recently read a magazine article that explored the problems modern men face, which despite all the hoopla aren’t as serious as, say, the problems men faced during the Great Depression or World War II.
The headline asked, “What makes a real man anyway?” The writer suggested that things are going terribly wrong, so men need more therapy and medication. That’s certainly original thinking. While some social critics blame the feminist movement for our disorientation, I have doubts about that theory. If anything, we’re to blame for the problems women face.
Nevertheless, I’m worried about young men, because they don’t seem to be motivated by anything but money, power, sex and partying. There has to be more to a man’s life than that. (OK, maybe iPhones, sports cars and video games.)
The magazine article, with its pop psychology, offered no real solutions. A few days later I was browsing in an antiquarian book store and came upon a copy of a 135-year-old text titled, “True Men as We Need Them: A Book of Instruction for Men of the World” by the Rev. Bernard O’Reilly from the Archdiocese of New York.
Having been an educator most of his life, O’Reilly wanted to encourage men to lead good lives and help them distinguish right from wrong as husbands and fathers, so he wrote a book that offered directions — 450 pages of directions. Between those covers, he dealt with every conceivable moral dilemma a man might face, and they are the same dilemmas we face today.
Sometimes doing the right thing can be more confusing than it should be. Once upon a time, it was commonly accepted that there was a right way and a wrong way, and good men chose the right way. But now, our moral compass is broken, and many men succumb to the deception of what O’Reilly called “the universal sway of evil example.” Turn on your TV and you’ll see what that is.
The sins he deplored, such as licentiousness, addiction, adultery, drunkenness, spouse abuse, greed and self-centeredness are hallmarks of modern America, but we no longer consider them “sins.” We hardly consider them wrong.
At the same time, virtues like modesty and integrity are clearly out of fashion, which probably means our society, however “enlightened” it fancies itself, has lost its way.
It’s time to begin educating young men — our sons and grandsons. It’s time to teach them the importance of values like integrity, honesty, fidelity, loyalty, generosity — all those “ty” virtues that have fallen into disfavor.
It’s time to remind them that a man is ultimately judged by his sincerity and goodness, not by his stock portfolio, his Facebook page and his romantic conquests.
Joe Pisani can be reached at email@example.com.