“Whether these people will endure it, I do not know; but I know very well that no man will who has a sword!”
Lucius Verginius, in Livy’s History of Rome*
Boys tend to be raucous. The overthrow of the harmony of home or school, and the bane of many a parent’s or teacher’s peace of mind, boys’ over-the-top if not downright chaotic energy can seem a serious flaw of nature. We want to throw up our hands: what is going on? Why can’t they be calmer and more focused?
There is much in play here. There can be significant aggravating factors that are chemical/biological as well as of course family and social environment. These must be considered. But regardless of circumstances, there is clearly something of nature at work here. And it always behooves us to turn a docile ear to what nature is saying. This can make a great difference in how we think about our troubles with boys. If fighting seems to come more naturally to them, what might this bespeak?
With boys, it’s always ultimately about fatherhood. Whatever from nature is brewing and bubbling within them, it must have to do with their call to be fathers. This is the key to what is at work in them, and to how we can work with them–to help them become the men and fathers they can be.
Fatherhood requires the readiness to fight. It gives it meaning, direction, purpose. It also gives it limitation. Fighting is never an end in itself. If there is not something that makes us refrain or cease from fighting, then there is nothing worth fighting for. And a boy must learn this. Especially in his home. The rich, shared life of home—and the goodness, virtue, and joy it entails—is the very archetype of something worth fighting for. Of something worth living for.
In this video, I suggest that this trio pertains to manhood: fighting, building, fathering. One fruit of such a perspsective is the insight it gives us into boys: the little ones, the bigger ones, and the ones that are always inside of every man. And it can help us recognize and cultivate this challenging gift.
*This quotation is from one of the most dramatic stories in ancient Western annals. It took place in Rome in the mid 5th century B.C. and is told by Livy (59 B.C.–17 A.D.), the great Roman historian. Appius Claudius, a tyrannical member of the infamous decemviri, lusts after the daughter (Verginia) of a faithful Roman centurion Verginius. As a way of getting Verginia, Appius has a collaborator claim that Verginia was in fact a slave of his. His plan is proceeding apace when, informed by friends, Verginius rushes home from the front lines and boldly strives to preserve the honor and chastity of his daughter. Ultimately, seeing no alternative Verginius chooses to kill his daughter rather than subject her to Claudius’s evil intentions.
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Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. LifeCraft springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.
John growing up on the streets of Boston I got into many a fight. You either fight or become a target as people would see you as weak. I don’t advocate fighting now and I cannot remember the last time I was in a fight and hope never to be in one again but living in that environment is much different than growing up in a place like Front Royal you fight to survive. Thanks so much for the thought-provoking video.
Thanks Rick. It will sound strange, but sometimes I wish I had grown up on the streets of a big city just for the experience of it. I’m sure it’s better to look back on than to be in!
Why do you believe might makes right? Or that the end justifies the means? Or that violence is a viable solution? Especially when the church explicitly repudiates these ideas.
This exposition you give is a microcosm of why my crisis of faith has become centered on concluding that “Loving Father” is a contradiction of terms. And then there’s the cross and Omega of the resurrection: the macrocosm of why “Loving Father”is a contradiction in terms.
Tony, Thank you for your questions. I take them very seriously. Sometimes it can be difficult to see how to reconcile things that need to be reconciled: such as ‘loving’ and ‘father.’ Please allow me to make a brief response.
I certainly do not hold that might makes right. Rather, precisely because some people do think and act that way, it becomes necessary for others to fight in defense of goodness and righteousness. I have suggested in my post that human life calls for a willingness to fight against those who attack it. If a bully is attacking a child and another person comes and defends the child, we do not ask him: “Why do you think that fighting is OK?” Rather, we see that the defender recognized the demand to come to the aid of the weak. Fathers, precisely because they love, must be prepared to do this. Not all fathers are loving; that is unfortunately very true. But there are truly loving fathers; and they love so much they are willing to fight, and even die, when necessary, for the sake of those they love. I hope this gives more clarity.
The first responsibility for a husband and father (besides the pre-eminent one of getting his wife and children to Heaven) is to protect his family. Husbands and fathers might need to resort to a physical defense if necessary. Fathers take the natural inclination of boys to be fighters and help them channel/harness these natural drives for the purposes of the Good. Mothers are not wired to help their sons become husbands and fathers. So many societal problems can be laid at the doorstep of fatherless boys.
Thank you, Deacon Edward, for pointing to the unique role of fathers towards their sons.
Hi Dr. Cuddeback,
Thank you for this and for all your thoughtful posts. I’ve been thinking about this a bit as someone who trains in Muay Thai (Thai boxing). There are notably more men than women in the sport, but a non-negligible amount of women (who retain their femininity). In this context, fighting is an end in itself, but it is viewed as a sport and an art. So, just as running is usually a means (running away from danger or running towards a good), it becomes its own end within the sport of track and field. Similarly, fighting well becomes its own end. Muay Thai is also called the “art of eight limbs” and is genuinely viewed as an art.
I do think that part of the appeal of the sport (beyond the obvious physical evolutionary primal drive) is a spiritual desire to fight. I think it is a reflection of the reality of spiritual warfare. I’m still grappling, however, to pinpoint the distinction between the sexes on this plane.
Anne, Thank you for sharing this. I too am trying to understand better the difference. One principle I think we should bear in mind is this: when one sex tends to excel in a particular area, one of the fruits of this is that the other sex can learn from and grow in that very characteristic, even while retaining the real difference between sexes. For instance, I as a father have tried to learn from my wife in her gentle, nourishing approach to the children. While I can learn from her, that does not mean that the real distinction goes away. Men are suited for aggression–of course done well for an appropriate reason. There is an aspect of ‘aggression’ necessary for all human life, also in the life of women. At the same time, I think certain manifestations of aggression should, at least generally, be reserved for men. (This would be a reason for women not to have combat roles in the military, for instance.) I agree that there is a kind of ‘spiritual’ desire to fight–in the sense of both working hard to achieve spiritual greatness and also of repelling the attacks of what would hinder that greatness. I suggest that what we call ‘fighting’ is not, to speak precisely, an end in itself (but rather in view of some greater good), and perhaps the martial art is an ‘art’ not so much as a fighting but as an exercise of discipline, order, and strength. Just a thought. Thanks again for sharing.
last time I was in a punch up was in the armed forces. We had a bully who decided he was going to look at a photo album in one friends open locker. To look at some very private pix of the guys wife. I told what I would do and did it. He was surprised and in fact he never bullied anyone again as far as I know. That is what men do protect the weaker ones. Their mothers and sisters.In fact God was very adamant about physically guarding the country he gives us
Sometimes all that stops a bully is being met with force. Thanks Mike.
I was born and grew up in a small town in England. At my elementary school the boys were always scrapping. They were 8 or 9 years old. Many were in The Boy Scouts and on ‘scout days’ they were allowed to wear their uniform. In those days all young boys wore short trousers and long grey woollen socks. They were allowed to carry their skene dhu tucked into the top of their socks. Of course no boy would have dishonoured the Scouts by hurting anyone with it, and honour was of utmost importance then. Sadly all, even the Scouts has changed , not for the better and boys are not encouraged to be boys anymore, they ape but do not defend girls,they play the cissy and fail to growto be real men. I do not think many would rush home to defend the chastity of their daughters now.