Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

June 30, 2015
What does it take to be a balanced man?

A while ago I was listening to Radio West, the daily interview show on KUER. The host, Doug Fabrizio, interviewed a man who explained how, as a middle-aged man, he felt the need to learn how to cage fight.

In high school he was shamed because he had backed down from a challenge from a classmate he had inadvertently insulted. The man had a family, earned a Ph.D and held a good job, yet he still felt the need to be in the ring to hit and be hit and to prove himself. His story I found interesting because it raises questions about male rituals that boys and youth must go through to become balanced men.

As a society, we do not know what to do with young men. We don’t send them out into the woods to kill the bear, or to perform some ritual to guide them through adolescence to become adults. In many ways, youth and young adults lack guides to help them through this difficult time of transition.

In my ministry, I encounter many men whose choices as adolescents will forever haunt them. It is not a surprise that most men who are in jail are young. Other examples would be young men who fail to launch: They have graduated from high school, are not in college and don’t have a job. They occupy a room in their parents’ or grandparents’ house (most likely in the basement), play video games all night and fail to be able to take on adult responsibilities. Other misguided young men would be those who join gangs and sell drugs.

There are plenty of other examples of stupidity, cruelty and brutality. The hazing rituals of fraternities or university clubs stand out. Some have led to the death of young men by alcohol poisoning, ritual beatings, or just the disgusting stories of forcing the pledges to drink alcohol mixed with bodily fluids.

That is shocking enough, but it gets worse. There are fraternities that lure young women into their frat houses, incapacitate them and either rape or take advantage of them. But we can’t just say it’s a problem with fraternities; it’s a problem with poorly formed young men.

What is it to be a man? How can we help boys to become responsible men? Plenty of young men learn how to become responsible from their experience in the military. They serve their country, get a degree or some type of training during and after their service, and this helps them throughout their life.

A priest friend of mine served in the Air Force, had a great time in Europe, and then later got his bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University in finance. This does not work for all, however. I remember how my grandmother, God rest her, told me that my grandfather knocked out all of her teeth to explain why she had dentures. My other grandfather, God rest him, mellowed out with age; however, he was haunted for his entire life by his time in Europe.

My father recounted to me how his father was extremely abusive to him, his sisters and his mother when he was growing up. Both of my grandfathers were formed by the military and their experiences in World War II and it left them as mean and abusive men to the vulnerable people God called them to love: their wives and children. God only knows how much it was their fault, since they were victims of what they experienced and greatly suffered from what we now call PTSD

Is it possible to be a courageous man and not be violent, whether it is to protect his honor, be a good and caring father, or to prove to himself that he is a man? What are the models of manhood that we give to boys or even for ourselves?

Could we use Jesus as a model for manhood? For the first three centuries, to be a Christian was to be a pacifist. One stood up to the power of the world; however, one did not do so with violence. To be a Christian one was to be like Jesus, who offered his life as a witness, not in battle but on the cross.

This idea lost traction after Constantine made Christianity a legal religion in 313 A.D. Later, Popes sent men to fight in the Crusades, or to fight the other powers of Europe to protect the Church’s power, land and gold. It is only within the last century the Catholic Church has been a voice for peace in the world. Pope John Paul II condemned our many wars with Iraq and the nuclear arms race repeatedly. His words fell on deaf ears or he received patronizing words as a response from the self-assured hawks of the world.

What then is “most manly”? I would suggest it is men who have shown courage and vision by using non-violent resistance to oppression. The individual or nation that resists oppression with violence becomes the oppressor. Violence changes our hearts and souls to make us tyrants.

Models of manhood include great men like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Francis of Assisi and the one they all used as an example: Jesus. No one could doubt their courage, but for many of us, their example is either too radical, impractical, or just incorrect for our times.

If Jesus were our model for manhood, then boys in our community would be formed into loving, kind, nurturing, faithful, respectful, responsible, hopeful, self-giving and joyful men. Many young men are starving for guidance. Yet, due to neglect, poor parenting, and the nastiness, materialism, fear, anger and hatred that is directed at them via computers, phones, TVs, and radios 24 hours a day, I wonder where we start to give them a different direction. God is trying to build His kingdom inside all of our hearts. We are the ones who put up the brick walls.

I propose we offer them Jesus. How do we do this? We commit to a life of prayer. We work for justice and have special concern for the poor and the powerless. We live a life of radical simplicity. We reject all violence and tools of violence. We share a portion of all that we have, realizing it is all a gift from God.

To quote Fr. Richard Rohr, we live differently, so that we may think differently. We make choices that change our way of living so that we can live with greater love, justice and hope. As Jesus told all who wished to follow Him, first, give what you have to the poor, and then come and follow Me, the Kingdom of God is at hand. We have to embrace a different way of living and only then will things change.


Rev. Dinsdale is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.

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