The American Man

The frontier is conquered. The mines are empty.  The factories are gone. And the fighting is voluntary.

The fields are corporate, empty and harvested by machines. The cattle aren’t driven. They’re processed. And the ships crew themselves.


What labor is left is service; a surrendering of time and effort to a task someone else could do for themselves, if they felt like it. But they don’t. So we earn our keep doing for others what they won’t do for themselves.


The value we provide is the choice-less surrendering of our effort to another. There’s nothing made. Nothing harvested. Nothing raised and brought to slaughter.

The American man has no purpose.

We’ve lost our way.

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Our labor isn’t needed the way it used to be. So, we’re paid less for it. For fifty years our value has decreased. The value of a man used to be in what he could produce. And now it’s in what he knows. And what he understands. And how he can communicate. Builders, craftsmen, the intentional purposes of a man are fading.


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We can’t behave the way we used to in the workplace, though many women will tell you it’s not for lack of us trying. There’s women to compete with. Their incomes have gone up substantially in my lifetime, though still not at parity with ours. But ours have dropped. Modern work provides men less privilege than it used to.

If you ask us at least.

It’s likely our wives can earn as much as we can. And they’re more educated than we are. In the home, we’re not heads of households any more. We’re partners. We handle babies and change diapers. And if we are the lone bread winner, at the end of the day when we walk in the door, it’s mom who gets a break. Because dad “gets to go to work.”

All of this is in service to a more equitable and just society. Though we’ve still got a ways to go.

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The American man, in a relative sense, isn’t worth what he used to be though. Our privilege is revoked. Our standing is diminished. And now they want to take away our guns.

Here are the most honest things that I can say about the gun control debate in America right now:

The Second Amendment, as written and intended, is enormously different than the reality of our modern gun debate.

Personal fire arms are a poor defense against modern tyranny.

Governments have no monopoly on tyranny.

The presence of guns makes a society more violent. The data is unambiguous.

Gun rights advocates are right. Proposed gun control won’t work. Effective gun control, that actually decreases or eliminates violence in America is a fifty-year problem that involves a national elimination of gun ownership.

Bad people will always do bad things. Bad things that kill people are harder to do without guns.

The people who suffer the most from gun violence are poor people and women.

The gap between no effective gun laws and a law prohibiting gun laws is substantial.

These are undeniable, objective realities. But they matter less than the next three sentences:

I would like to believe that I would be willing to give up my right to bear arms if I were certain it would eliminate gun violence. But the idea that I’m not allowed to arm myself makes me feel like less of a man. I can’t reconcile that rationally. But that feeling is there.

Those last two sentences are linked to the first three hundred words of this essay. And so is the American gun debate. And I don’t know how to reconcile it.

6 replies »

  1. I think it all comes back to purpose, confidence, and liking yourself. Each of those can be shaken at times but if you truly believe in yourself and have a purpose in life that moves the world forward in a positive way, then Things, like guns, are not needed.

  2. Wow, this is powerful. I’m also not sure where we go from here. Partnership, together, men & women is my hope. Evolving the current culture’s definition of what it means to be a man and a woman, each inspiring and empowering the other.

  3. I can’t stop thinking about this post. It makes so much sense. Purpose is a basic need as is connection. Take those away and there’s not only despair but a vague sense of threat in the air. With threat we reexamine our relationship and understanding of power. Here’s the thing… You, whose blog I faithfully follow and whose ideas I respect, say you feel like less of a man without a gun. I understand there are so many more who feel like you do. This takes my breath away. Just the sheer number of men who equate power with destruction; not creation – destruction. I’m trying to digest this. It’s hard.

  4. Thank you for this piece. It resonated with some other observations I’ve been mulling over. Below is my response. Keep thinking and writing – you’re sharing some meaningful work. Julie

    “Musings on the American Man”

    NOTE: The comments in this essay have been circulating in my brain for the last six months, but it took the reading of a blog post by Sean Patrick Hughes at Chartwell West to help me realize what I was trying to define. My point of view is different from his, but there are common threads. And that’s a very good thing!

    In 2014 an Iowa state senator made it known that he carries a gun at all times because he doesn’t feel safe. The senator is a tall man, closer to six foot five, and while not overweight, he is a fit and muscular person. And he doesn’t feel safe.

    I was astonished. I’m a five foot five variable weight female and there aren’t many places in Iowa where I’m afraid. How is it that a large, muscular man is afraid? Several friends have commented that he carries a gun as a show of power, not out of fear, but I’m inclined to take him at his word on this. He used the word afraid.

    The question is important, timely and relevant across our society. Why are men afraid? Sean Patrick Hughes suggests in his piece, The American Man, that the ways a man traditionally defined himself are disappearing, and that the American man has lost his sense of purpose. I think that’s a significant part of the equation, but there’s more.

    Thomas Friedman has a great new book out, Thank You for Being Late, where he has a nifty chart that shows the rate of technological advancement against the ability for humans to adapt. We’re at the point, that we can’t adapt fast enough to keep up with the technological changes. Perhaps the challenge is simply we’re all struggling to adapt. Men most of all.

    And I agree that men are struggling more. By all means women can and do deserve better, and certainly there are racial and cultural groups where there are long standing societal behaviors that continue to depress opportunity, but we’re seeing the fear and frustration more from men.

    Women have always had to push forward and gain opportunity through adaptation. Yes, in some ways it is harder now, but the formula approach to adapting is culturally acceptable for women. For black Americans whose roots are in slavery, adaptation was a survival requirement for generations. Advanced education can help you learn how to think about a variety of different knowledge sets, but when more women are completing college degrees than are men, it becomes another advantage for women.

    Just recently a high school classmate and friend reviewed the book, Hillbilly Elegy. I have not read the book, but have heard from many of my progressive friends that it speaks to a reality in our society, so I was eager to read her review. Her take on the author, “waa, waa, waa, stop whining.” And, in case you think she’s a north east liberal insensitive to the plight of Appalachian America, we graduated from a rural high school in western North Carolina, where the county next door was the largest moonshine county in the country and the home of NASCAR champions. She still lives there.

    I’m a big believer in the ability for each of us to reinvent ourselves as we go through life. The critical first step in reinvention is YOU MUST LET GO of some part of your life in order to let in the new parts. If you try to hold on to everything you will not be able reinvent. Second you have to ASK for help. And you have to be willing to BE A BEGINNER. As I look back at this list – letting go, asking for help, and the vulnerability of being a beginner – those are all hard things for men. But they don’t have to be.

    Sean Patrick Hughes also addressed his logical understanding of the need to control guns in our society, even to the point of getting rid of them. He then admits that while he understands this logically, the concept of doing it makes him feel less like a man. I appreciate his honesty.

    There are two shot guns in our house, both belong to my husband. Last winter, after Trump was elected, I spent three months going back and forth on whether to buy a handgun. Why? Because I felt then that Trump would encourage violence. Just his presence in the White House has opened the door for white supremacist leaders to be proudly public and vocal about their supposed rights and advantages which should not be infringed upon. I felt very strongly that I need to be able to defend myself.

    I made myself take three months to decide. I have always joked that the reason I support gun control is me. Because if you have the gun, why wouldn’t you use it? In the end, I came back to that fundamental point…if I buy a handgun, I’m taking the first step to allow myself to use it. And I don’t want to give myself that permission. Therefore, no handgun. You can all rest easier.

    The thread that ties all of this is a question we need to answer. How can you recognize what will be fulfilling to you? I think we need to teach people how to know yourself, how to recognize what is fulfilling to you. Then or simultaneously we teach how to adapt. Because if you adapt and but only learn to do something new that you hate, you’re not going to be happy. And you’re going to find yourself pining for the good old days when you had a clear picture of your role, when you a clear sense of purpose. To me that’s the difference between people who adapt and succeed and those who don’t, regardless of gender.