Jul 28, 2014
Already twice this month, I've read a handy little free book for guys called Semper Virilis: A Roadmap to Manhood in the 21st Century (ladies, just forward it to the dude in your life).
It was written by Brett McKay, a guest on today's podcast and founder of the Art of Manliness, a website which I religiously read. In one section of Semper Virilis, Brett introduces Theodore Roosevelt.
This struck close to my heart, since Roosevelt was one of my favorite Presidents (and from a physical virility and workout standpoint, in pretty stark contrast to this guy). Here's what Brett has to say about Roosevelt:
"...Theodore Roosevelt was born to a wealthy family in New York City. The Roosevelts enjoyed comforts and conveniences in their 19th century brownstone that most Americans wouldn’t see until several decades later. When the Civil War tore America apart, Teddy’s father had more than enough money to pay for a substitute and thus avoid a draft into the Union Army.
If you were to judge the trajectory of TR’s life based on the first ten years of it, you’d probably guess that he’d end up as a smart and capable, but physically weak, natural history professor at some Ivy League university. Roosevelt could have easily settled into a life of cosmopolitan comfort.
But after a stern talk from his father, young Teddy chose a different path for himself.
He chose the hard way. What he called “the strenuous life.”
In Teddy’s time, the standards of male honor largely revolved around virtues like integrity and industry – being a good man. And Roosevelt kept this code to a T. But he didn’t want to just be a good man, he wanted to be good at being a man, too.
It was a goal he actively pursued.
His adolescence was spent exercising and building up his once frail body. He took up boxing in college and became a competitive fighter. During winter breaks in school, he’d go up to Maine and hunt with the famous guide and timberman Bill Sewell. After his wife and mother died on the same night, instead of wallowing in grief and despair, Roosevelt headed out to the badlands of the Dakotas to take up cattle ranching. Despite being a four-eyed “dude” from back east, Roosevelt quickly earned the respect of rough and hard cowboys by showing he could pull his own weight and wasn’t afraid to jump into the fray: he cleared out stables himself without complaint; he captured a posse of horse thieves after tailing them for 3 days in subzero weather; he knocked out a gun-wielding loudmouth with 3 dynamite punches.
By striving to live the hard way in his younger years, Roosevelt armed himself with the fire and fight he needed to succeed in the political, social, and intellectual challenges of his later life. Even as a middle-aged U.S. president, Roosevelt didn’t let up on his dedication to testing himself and living the strenuous life; he took part in judo and boxing matches in the White House and punctuated his schedule with hunting, skinny dips in the Potomac, and brisk hikes. He stayed ever ready for whatever adventures and exploits might await him.
And what exploits they were. Roosevelt served as police commissioner, governor, assistant secretary of the navy, and president (the youngest ever to assume the office). When war broke out with Spain in Cuba, Roosevelt put together his own volunteer unit and led them in a charge up San Juan Hill. He was a devoted husband and father of six children. He read tens of thousands of books and penned 35 of his own. After his days as President were over, he set out on an expedition to explore an uncharted part of the Amazon River and nearly died in the process.
All throughout his life, Roosevelt had the choice to reject the masculine code, but he never did. He sought to ever challenge himself “in the arena” and to always “carry his own pack.”
Some historical commentators chalk up Roosevelt’s obsession with the strenuous life to a symptom of the “male anxiety” that many 19th century urban men faced in America. It was the age of machines and steam and a man’s place in society was being questioned: What was the use of masculine strength when new machines could do the work of twenty men? With the frontier closed, what use was there for the old pioneer qualities of ruggedness and self-reliance?
Roosevelt and other men of his time ignored the hand-wringing and deliberately chose to live by the code of men even though it wasn’t demanded of them.
I think that’s why I and so many modern men admire Teddy Roosevelt. He showed that it’s possible to live in our modern world of luxury and comfort, but not be softened by it. He showed us that you could proactively choose to be good at being a man even when your surroundings or culture aren’t conducive to exercising your innate masculinity.
In short, TR showed us that it’s possible to live in civilization but not be of it..."
Good stuff. This is the kind of writing that inspires me to go do sandbags, car pushes, tire flips and sledgehammers - which new research shows gets you just as much results as hitting the fancy Nautilus machines at the health club (and is way more fun).