What is a real man? This central question has baffled both past and present generations. Before the modern era, many would have agreed that a real man had to be the breadwinner of the family and someone who was able to physically fend off any dangers to himself and those around him. He would rescue the damsel in distress and be the hero most young boys seek to emulate. With the rise of feminism, however, contemporary society has turned this definition on its head. We now prefer to define a real man as someone who is in touch with his feelings and in tune with his feminine side—the model being someone such as Bill Clinton. This metrosexual male is soft and tender, more concerned about developing his outer beauty than his inner character and strength.
But award-winning journalist R. Cort Kirkwood rejects this Oprah-style definition of a real man. In his book, “Real Men: Ten Courageous Americans to Know and Admire,” Kirkwood highlights the lives of 10 great American heroes who exemplify what it means to be a real man. For Kirkwood, a real man possesses qualities that include, “bravery, tenacity, rectitude, integrity, loyalty, faith, chivalry, obedience to God and just authority, and devotion to duty.” These are the qualities that symbolize true masculinity. They are the traits men strive for and women cherish.
Kirkwood, managing editor of the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Va., chose these 10 special American men based on two crucial questions: 1) “What kind of men do I want my sons to become?” and 2) “What kind of men do I want my daughters to marry?” Based on these criteria, Kirkwood profiles the lives of American heroes such as Francis Marion, “the Swamp Fox,” known for his shrewd tactics against the British army during the U.S. Revolutionary War; warrior David Crockett, who died at the Alamo; Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general who became a war hero in the North and the South for his commitment to the “Lost Cause;” and Andrew Jackson, our most courageous President who became a national hero during the War of 1812. Other real men include legendary football coach Vince Lombardi and Lou Gehrig, baseball’s “Iron Horse.”
Kirkwood believes that all these men inspired millions to live with courage and dignity. Their manliness was not something extraneous from their existence, as is the color of one’s eyes or hair. Rather, it was intrinsic to them. It embodied the very essence of their being and shaped their character. Moreover, true manliness encompasses “the traditional Christian conception of manhood defined in chivalry.” The men profiled by Kirkwood exemplify this. They were honorable, honest, generous, just and protective of women and children. They understood “that some things are worth dying for.” In sum, they had guts and principles.
Kirkwood notes that all the men he highlights had lost a father or had a difficult relationship with their father. They all experienced difficulties growing up. Yet, despite their hardships, these men grew to be real men. Kirkwood acknowledges an innate strength had facilitated this, but he explains that the reason for this was “more than genes.”
“From childhood, these men knew how they were expected to act. They knew what their mothers and fathers expected of them. They knew what girlfriends and wives expected. Words like ‘honor’ and ‘courage’ meant something,” Kirkwood writes.
Unfortunately, modern society is breeding a generation of gutless men. According to Brad Miner, author of “The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry,” gentlemanly courtesy and honor are becoming increasingly rare. Today, the chivalrous man is ex mille electus, one in a thousand. The rise of feminism has led to the downfall of chivalry. And as more and more men adhere to the false feminist mantra that men and women are the same, as are their qualities, more and more young boys grow up with poor role models, bereft of what it means to be a real man. Fathers have increasingly accepted the feminist definition of manhood and are passing it on to their sons. Our culture continues to propagate this definition as more and more books continue to omit these great heroes from their pages. In fact, in some circles, it is considered politically incorrect to identify these heroes as real men.
Are traditional values long gone? Was Edmund Burke right when he said in 1790 that chivalry is dead? Although chivalrous men are rare, they are essential to society. Kirkwood emphatically makes this point in his character sketches. He notes that, since men have been responsible for letting their manhood slip away over generations, it is up to them to launch a counterrevolution, one that will reclaim their masculinity. They can start, he suggests, “by asking what kind of examples they want for their sons and daughters.” Hint: Bill Clinton is not one of them.