By Scott Keith –
This past Friday night I was honored to present for the first time the content of my book, Being Dad. In an interesting sense of serendipity, I was asked to teach where I first began teaching, Faith Lutheran Church Capistrano Beach. Every month, Faith hosts a Men’s Movie Night. The evening is an opportunity for the men of the church to get together, drink a little, smoke a little, hang out a little, watch a movie, and just be men together. This night, instead of watching a movie, I presented concepts of gracious fatherhood, friendship, and meaningful mentoring.
For me, this night was truly magic. Magic, not because of me or the subject matter of my teaching, but because of the other men. After I had taught for about an hour, I opened the floor up for questions. The questions that came were, as is often the case, given to me more in the form of comments than questions. Comments about how wonderful it was to be in the company of other men discussing the need for the presence of more strong men.
I know this has become kind of my hobby horse, but it is worth saying it again. Our culture begrudges the presence of masculine men. That is, our current cultural milieu would not tell us that masculinity is a laudable trait. Watching television, going to the movies, or engaging in the contemporary culture by means of the modern media tell us that almost every man is homosexual, impotent, stupid, incapable, or irrelevant. This is the opposite of what I experienced Friday night. Friday, I experienced a group of men who were strong, capable, kind, gracious, magnanimous, and supportive. Pastors, professors, teachers, scientists, lawyers, and engineers, all of them alike, in a group: masculine men.
Though I hardly know many of the men present on Friday, I was reminded again that masculine men have a true sense of brotherly friendship and love, or philia. That is why every time that I find myself surrounded by other masculine men, I know I am in a safe place. This is why I say in Being Dad, “It sometimes seems that masculine men run in herds because they are often together. It is not some sort of gang mentality; rather, it is iron sharpening iron. In the ancient world, philia was considered to be the most praiseworthy of all forms of love. Friendship was to the ancients seen as the cornerstone of the development of virtue, while our modern world, by way of contrast, completely disregards it. In our social media– encumbered world, there are few who find virtue in true friendship. Few find virtue in friendship because few have actually experienced real masculine friendship for themselves.”
Men need to be in the company of other men. Young men need to be in the company of older men, and the other way around. In Iron John, the great American poet, Robert Bly, quotes Wordsworth from The Excursion, saying:
He loved me; from a swarm of rosy boys
Singled me out, as he in sport would say,
For my grave looks, too thoughtful for my years.
As I grew up, it was my best delight
To be his chosen comrade. Many a time
On holidays, we wandered through the woods…
Bly goes on to elaborate the problem of our day: “Much of that chance incidental mingling has ended. Men’s clubs and societies have disappeared. Grandfathers live in Phoenix or the old people’s home, and many boys experience only the companionship of other boys their age who, from the point of view of the old initiators, know nothing at all.” (Bly, Iron John, 16)
When I “happen” to fall into evenings like Friday evening, I am often tempted to believe that such an event happened by chance. I’m not sure my idea of chance is properly a Christian idea. In fact, I think C. S. Lewis would disagree strongly. In The Four Loves, Lewis says: “But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends ‘You have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for one another.’ Friendship is not a reward for discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others.”
Many men, I think, don’t know how wonderful the company of other men can be. Some literally don’t even know what the word man means, or as Bly says, whether they are grown up men or not. For me, I need to thank Faith Lutheran Church for opportunities like Friday night. Every time I am granted entrance into the company of other men – gracious and masculine men – I know, I think, what Lewis felt when he said, “There’s no sound I like better than the sound of male laughter.” In that laughter and in the company, I find the grace of God at work on me coming to me in the loving assurance of gracious masculine men.
Bly claimed, “It’s important to be able to say the word masculine without imagining that we are saying a sexist word.” If we believe to be masculine and to surround ourselves with other masculine men, is sexist, we will never accept that we need these men in our lives. This would be, and is a great tragedy. As men, we need other men to be our iron sharpening iron, our oasis from the world at war with us, to share with us a sense of true philia and to be the word of Grace and forgiveness on the lips of others; other men! So I give a heartfelt thank you to Pastors Jeremy Rhode and Darrin Sheek, as well as all the men of Faith Lutheran Church, for bringing me into your world and granting me His peace.