Robert Flazon invited me to address you today, because he knows that I’ve figured out everything there is to know about manhood and I live it perfectly everyday and that I should come and bestow my great wisdom and learning upon you.
Very quickly before I begin, if you're new to the Men Alive events or, you know, you're new to Catholic events, do not be afraid, at no point this morning will you be required to hug another man — you're very welcome to — but often you go to these events and the speaker's like 'Turn to the man next to you and give him a hug' — 'No!'. No, that won't be happening; a whole bunch of men just went 'Ahh'. Okay. So thank you. Good morning.
I want to say that there's certain forces in the Universe that cannot be resisted — gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, and speaking engagements from Robert Falzon, invitations from Robert Falzon. I told Robert repeatedly that today I was busy rearranging my sock drawer but he felt that I should be here 'cos there was a whole group of men that I should talk to, and I think that's because he knows that I've figured out everything there is to know about manhood and I live it perfectly every day and that I should come and bestow my great wisdom and learning upon you. Well, in truth, I come to you today as somebody who's passionate about the topics for more reasons than I could name. And I have a few ideas that, pray God, will be of some use, because in many ways the hour is dark.
The choice of the title 'Manning Up' for this morning's gathering is based both on my experience of many years working with boys and men, and crucially my wife Karen said to me last night, 'Hey tell 'em that it's everything to do with my journey'. The ideas and concepts that I share with you have been tested in the laboratory of my own life. It's also based on my recent reading of US sociologist's Kay Hymowitz's book Manning Up. Her book highlights a very problematic trend in manhood and in the developed world that I'm going to highlight in a second but before I do that I think the term, which you can see here, 'Manning Up', needs a passing comment.
So most of you will be familiar with terms such as 'Man Up', 'Toughen Up', 'Grow Up'. If you notice, we rarely apply them to women; they seem peculiarly the preserve of men. The next thing to notice is they all imply a lack of something, some crucial male quality that needs to be brought to bear in facing a particular crisis — a clear and present danger. It's not as if you're reading the paper or walking your dog or rearranging your sock drawer and somebody comes up to you and says 'Hey, Man Up'. We only say it in response to urgent threats, urgent needs, and I'm going to suggest that you are actually surrounded — all of you surrounded — by these urgent needs every day and you may just be missing them.
And the other thing I want you to notice is that this term implied movement. We imply movement from a lower state to a higher one or at the very least they imply movement from one place to another. Notice we never say, 'Man Down' or 'Toughen Down'. We say, 'Man Up, Step Up'. They are dynamic terms and that's important — why? It's important because what I think God may be up to in our lives as men is moving us from one place to another — from a place of immature self-absorption out into what I call the 'real world' and that's the world of our addictions, fears and all the complex and often culturally validated ways that we might just be hiding from the truth of who you are and what you may be called to do.
I have a three-year-old son who makes me terribly vulnerable, I love him almost too much, he is God's purest gift to me and the spirit in him is the most gentle and beautiful thing I have ever known. However, as his father, I already find myself moving him on, moving him from relative immaturity toward an increasing level of self-control and awareness of others. I don't rush him, I try and let him enjoy these blessed years of innocence, but friends, I am moving him because my job as father is to discharge my commission to move him on, to move him up into the manhood through which one day he can become what he is supposed to become, which is fundamentally a gift to others. So if God is the perfect typology, or if God is the perfect father, I am convinced that he is in the business of moving his sons toward something — you — toward a true manhood, toward maturity.
Now think of the action of God in the great narratives of Scripture, it is so frequently dynamic, so frequently associated with movement. Think of Abraham, sitting one night outside the camp, the sounds of distant dogs barking, muted laughter as the fires burn down. He stares at the vault of heaven, the great confluence of a billion stars, the desert wind stirs and more clearly than he sees the constellations above him, he senses a voice, a 'real' voice, something is speaking, 'Abraham, Abraham — it's time to move'. Think of the Israelites' journey out of Egypt which becomes the metaphor for the whole pilgrim people of God throughout history and it's a metaphor for your life. Leaving what is comfortable — facing uncertainty and adversity and fear — moving, moving, always moving — from relative security and comfort into the Great Unknown. Think of Jesus moving from the Baptism in the Jordan, from the Jordan to the desert, from the desert to the people, from the people to Gethsemane, from Gethsemane to Calvary, from Calvary to Hell, from Hell to Glory.
So I think this principle is operating in your life, all of you, right now. The real question is the degree to which you are alert to it even happening and then the degree to which you are fighting it via addictions and fears and withdrawal, or the degree to which you are cooperating with it.
I want to suggest to you that really it's the best show in town, friends; you have a front-row seat to the drama of your own life. But some of us are sleeping through it and that's not good. I love these words from Chesterton, please listen to them very carefully, 'We are to regard existence as a raid or great adventure; it is to be judged, therefore, not by what calamities it encounters, but by what flag it follows and by what high town it assaults. The most dangerous thing in the world is to be alive; one is always in danger of one's own life. But anyone who shrinks from that is a traitor to the great scheme and experiment of being.'
So, summary: I think God is in the business of moving us somewhere — moving us up, it's this process of stepping up, moving somewhere, manning up — but I want to talk briefly about what factors may be limiting that. It's a good question. If this is true, you don't have to agree with me, but you're polite — humour me — if it is happening, what's stopping it? So I want to return for a moment to Kay Hymowitz's book Manning Up. I want to very quickly sketch the issues that we now face culturally. I'm going to talk about a contentious issue here, but as I talk about it, I want you to think about it demographically, politically, globally; don't think about it in terms of your own particular personal experience or moral perspective. It'll make sense; just think about what it's doing to hundreds of millions of men.
So quite simply for most of human history men never thought and you never thought much about manhood per se, or what was expected of you as a man. Life expectancy was pretty low, you married as soon as you reached sexual maturity, you had kids as quickly as possible 'cos infant mortality was off the charts. The advent of contraception changed all that in a blink of an eye. Put simply, contraception broke the nexus between male generative sexual energy and commitment to the structures of marriage, family and fatherhood that had historically harnessed and challenged those energies. For younger guys this will be relevant for you because this is the world you are about to walk into.
Augustine said that one of the functions of marriage was to make men take responsibility for the children they fathered. Contraception removed responsibility for fatherhood from the equation altogether — responsibility and fatherhood from the equation altogether. So contraception and the rejection or avoidance of what I call the 'cultural trends of manhood' has given rise to what myself and others now refer to as 'Man-boys'. You need to know this: this is the cultural milieu, the air we breathe, the Zeitgeist. Man-boys in their 20s or 30s, they live at home, the girlfriend sleeps over, mum does the washing, why leave? A whole bunch of dads in the room are like going, 'I'm asking myself the same question all the time'. For the Man-boys it's booze, porn and PlayStation in your 20s and 30s; it's what Pope Benedict calls quite beautifully 'The endless pursuit of novelty masquerading as freedom'.
So the cultural message for young men is simply have as much sex as you like and marriage is optional because contraception removes the threat of fatherhood, marriage and commitment. Importantly, it also removes the likelihood of a man learning responsibility, selflessness, hard work, generalist love and my personal mantra, the deployment of his strength toward an end outside himself.
So once again, I'll finish with this, but you need to see it in its historical context in terms of men and men's work and the world we are entering, so for most of human history men's roles and sense of identity was ascribed to them as a function of what we'd call your ontological, generative essence, your male sexual essence. That's gone. That's gone. In its place is a pan-cultural refusal to grow up, to Man Up, to transcend the self in the service of something beyond the Self. So that's the bad news.
I always like Jack Welsh's theory which he called 'The Reality Principle'. Now Jack Welch was the CEO of General Electric which under his leadership at the time was the biggest corporation in the world. So he'd bring his global management team together in Chicago and he had this thing called 'The Reality Principle'. He'd just say to them, 'Hey, I don't care how bad things are, just tell me the truth'. Leaders can't do anything without accurate information.
So here it is, what I think is the reality. In some ways things are bad. Boys are being schooled in an anti-manhood and many fathers are passive; that's not good but there's always hope, there is always hope. I have a lot of time for the Archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput. He's a straight-shooter in an age of spin and sophistry. Now commenting on the issues facing the Church, culture, manhood, listen to what he says, this is gold. He says, 'The only thing certain in history is the eventual triumph of Christ; everything else is up for grabs'. 'The only thing certain in history is the eventual triumph of Christ; everything else is up for grabs.'
I want to talk just for a moment about your part. I want to convince you that there is something incredible in you — there is a man, a student, a school captain, a bishop, a father you are supposed to become, that you must become. I'm going to go for hours on this: you are the only thing in the Universe that can become more of what it already is. So in terms of what's possible, do this for me, try and tell yourself seriously that this verse does not and cannot apply to you: 'I the Lord know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.' That is your destiny; that is your birthright: you are a Son of the Father; you have the run of the Father's house. What sense do you make of this Scripture: 'Which of you earthly fathers if your son asked for a fish would give him a serpent or if he asked for bread would give him a stone? If you wicked as you are know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask? '
Do you see? God's not like your father, even if your father is or was a great guy and especially if he wasn't. He wants to, yearns to, hungers to give you and will give you what you need to become the man we need you to be, if you will just cooperate. So I sense some of you are thinking nice speech, what do we actually do? The best as I can tell, you have two options if you want to become a better man. Technically there's a third, which is to descend — concentrate on this one — which is to descend into passivity, disengagement and avoid the whole thing altogether. Please understand this morning, please understand, the stakes are high — God will let you do that. Augustine said, 'He who made you without your permission will not save you without your permission'. And I think this option remains open to you and to be honest after 20 odd years of banging away on this stuff I think it is actually the option that most men will choose. Said Chesterton, 'You are always in danger of your own life'. The stakes are high; you don't get a second shot.
So here's your two options: to become the man that we desperately need you to be. First, you can become a neo-Pelagian. Okay, quickly turn to the man next to you and say 'neo-Pelagian'. Do that for me. Okay, . . . that's what I do when I need a drink of water. And Peter was talking about his 'wordling', but we've now got a new one. If your wife, girlfriend, your mates in school say 'How was today? ' 'It was good, I learnt that I'd need to avoid being a neo-Pelagian'.
Now Pelagius was a monk who — interestingly, his real name was Morgan — I think one of the reasons I love the Catholic Church, we've got so much great stuff, you know; you can be a 'formal heretic', a 'material heretic' and if you invent your own heresy you can become called an 'heresiarch'. So Pelagius was essentially an heresiarch and he kind of basically thought that when Christ died, his salvific act gave us everything we need to live essentially perfectly. So are you with me? He has basically said, look, when Christ died everything was done, what you guys need to do is just get with the programme and just work harder. It leads to a theology of striving: pray more — this is a little snapshot I took in the room this morning — it's this philosophy of striving: do more, pray more, work more, you get to Heaven. Friends, very simply, that ain't gonna do it. So if striving harder won't work, what will? Here's the gold, it's very simply, just . . . cooperate. He who made you without your cooperation will not save you without your cooperation.
God wants you to be a great husband, father, priest, bishop, student, businessman — we just need to cooperate. How? Well you already know the answer, you just may be avoiding it — sacraments, prayer, reading, spiritual direction, time in silence and yes, some effort. To make it even simpler how simple is this? Mother Theresa's axiom: 'Pray as if everything depends on God and then work as if everything depends on you'.
There's an obvious question — here's a great question, if I'm in the ballpark of being right: 'Why won't most men just cooperate? It seems reasonable.' So in terms of the barriers I want to sketch two very quickly. We'll record this today, I'll give you the transcript; I would hope that some of you would listen to it again and think about these barriers and where they operate in your own life. There's basically two. I want to mention them quickly. Number One: Distraction and Busyness. Distraction and busyness. Number Two is Addiction and Pain. Addiction and Pain.
We're going to pretend that there's no men here that struggle with drink, pornography, sex addiction, depression, rage — they're not here, they're somewhere else. We live in our first barrier in an incredibly distracted age. Busyness, distraction and exhaustion will inspire, conspire to ensure you never pray — and by pray, when I said that word a whole bunch of associations for many of you just went off — pray . . . yeah we pray, I maybe do pray . . . but for some of you that's difficult because our associations are wrong — you know what prayer is, it's this, this: You basically need to make some time to open yourself to the truth of what you already are. And what's that in the Latin? You are Capax Dei, that which has the capacity for God.
You've got all sort of problems friends; the problems of infinite desire, truth, beauty, goodness. You are a God-seeking thing and you could medicate it, drug it, deny it, work it into the ground, but it will not die. So I always needs friends to be blunt, I don't care what story you would like to tell me about this, about why you can't, don't and won't pray; I've got three kids under five, consistent business and professional commitments, but I get up at 4am, I get on my knees and I beg God for his guidance and provision as husband, father, layman. Most of the time it feels like 10th round in an Ali-Foreman fight, I get tired, but I have to go there. Because I want to go there. I actually, genuinely, in the midst of everything I do, I just sometimes lie awake at night hungry for a deeper relationship with God — I just do, and I want to go there because I want my kids to see me go there so they can follow.
If you're a father, a son — the farewell discourse in St John's Gospel: I always like it when Jesus said, you know 'It's your will that I would lose none of those that you gave to me'. I like that, that applies to me as a father, that I should not lose any of those that have been entrusted to me. John Paul II said beautifully about his own father — listen to this line — 'My father never had to be hard on me . . . because he was so hard on himself'. That's not Pelagianism, it's just the number of times my kids have woken up at 4am and seen me on my knees. I ain't perfect, friends, I ain't perfect by a long stretch.
God will show you — please, for the businessmen here, for the young men here — really simple, God will show you how to go there; you must scale the walls of that barrier, there's no excuse. Here's one way to do it. Learn to love silence. That's a start. Maybe it's late at night, maybe it's early in the morning but you will never — listen to these words, you will never be the man that you can become if you don't learn to love silence and the God who comes when that silence has settled around you for long enough.
Barrier Two: Addictions and Pain. Where do I start? I'd say many of you here, even some of my younger men already, will carry deep burdens, things have happened to you — all of you at different levels — failures, reversals, abuse, embarrassment, trauma, loss. A small number of you have found the help you need, but many others in this room now are lost deep in the swamps and dark forests of addiction, depression and rage. That is not your home; that is not where you are destined to stay. Someone is looking for you and He will not stop.
I've agonised about how to navigate the next few lines of this speech. In truth I've thought about it for months but I'll put it like this. I think I probably have a more traumatic personal story than probably anyone in the room. Maybe one or two of you could trump me, I doubt it — I'm competitive like that — if I'm going to have personal pain I'm going to have more than anyone else! The things that happened to me are things I now only disclose to very trusted friends and men who I think need hope but suffice to say I have inhabited some of the deepest cellars of pain that men can know. But someone was looking for me.
For the man in this room now who has known abuse, abandonment, toxic fathering, failure, true pain, deep trauma, I can tell you this — this is not the end of the story, someone is looking for you. Many years ago I was almost broken in pieces by a very powerful Scripture. In the Old Testament God says this: 'I will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten'. You see that now, that metaphor. Hordes of locusts destroying the crops, laying waste to the landscapes — 'I will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten' — and the level to which that happened, this happened in my own life, is amazing.
So my dear friend wherever you are in this room, he will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten, but you must cooperate. And many of you here that struggle with addictions — pornography, alcohol, sex addiction, rage, depression, secrets and pain — you must get free very quickly. If this is useful to you use my Principle of Seven. Quarter of a million people — friends, how many men have I met that said 'Oh yeah I saw a counselor once'. I say 'Did you see seven? ' 'What do you mean? ' 'Keep going'. Men go 'Oh I didn't get on with them'. Find seven. Two, three, four, you've got to keep going, friends. We can't pretend, in a group of 140 plus some of you aren't carrying deep pain. You need to get free. You know why? It's not just for you. You have to get free, whether you are 17 or 70 so you can . . . love. That's why.
Thomas Merton said (just listen to these lines), 'The purpose of life is not self-actualisation; the purpose of life is to fully recollect yourself so you can truly give.' That's where the game is, friends. I go through all this stuff on what it means to be a man. May I say it's really simple — look at Calvary. Self-emptying gift, male generative strength externalised in the service of something else in life. It's that simple: just do that; everything will work.
So some final words. I want to talk to the three groups of men in the room. I want to talk to them specifically. To the young men in the room, could use a little help now. Could use a little help. To the husbands and fathers and to the older men, the wise men at the City Gates — a couple are going 'That's men, that's us'. 'He's friends like with me'.
Alright. Very quickly. If you're in your teens or 20s I'll keep it simple — get in the game. Everything in this culture wants to elevate you and your amusement and happiness to the supreme goal of your existence. It wants you to delay commitments, keep your options open, be a perpetual boy. Please — grow up. Grow up. Get in the game, get out of home, get into the great stream and current of life, get out there and fail, fail big, do big ones. Have permission from a man to do that. No paralysis by analysis. Pay your dues. Stop using some mystical idea of God's will to delay what he may actually be asking of you. He is not going to send you a fax. Please understand, as young men, most of the biggest decisions in your life, you will not know if they are the right ones. You will not know. I'm not saying be frivolous; get good advice, surround yourself with good men, but please get in the game. Get in the game: gap year, change uni 15 times — get in the game!
To the husbands and fathers I'm simply going to give you the single greatest piece of advice that I have literally, seriously, I'm dead serious about this — that I have ever heard — about manhood and the season that you are in as husband and fathers. Men in the room, husbands and fathers — you should be paying me; this is good. Seriously, let's send a hat around — no! I'm going to introduce it like this, all you have to do is this.
Several months ago I was sitting with a priest in Sydney, at Kugi, in an apartment we were in, and after dinner he was sitting there with Karen and me and I was talking about stress and exhaustion and sleep deprivation and business deals and all this crazy stuff. He looks at me, right and this is life-changing, I'm dead serious, I'm not making this up, this was big. He looks at me and he goes, 'Jonathan, be a donkey'. I was hoping for 'Jonathan, ten Hail Mary's but no, he says, 'Jonathan, be a donkey' and he said 'here's the image'. I want you to think of a donkey turning like a mill, tethered to a stone, turning a mill and this mill turns a water wheel and the water wheel sends water downstream. He said that donkey just gets up every day and just grinds it out and he doesn't realise that downstream, because of what he's doing, things are growing. Gardens are irrigated, orchards are blossoming, the landscape is revitalised.
So the point? I think that our task as men and fathers is to be just like that donkey. Get up every day. Get up every day, serve your wife, father your children, go to work, grind it out. As you know there are many days when it all feels like you are going nowhere. The truth is that by being faithful to what you promised you are sowing into an incredible harvest just a little further downstream. Just keep turning up, keep turning the wheel. So please, if you forget everything else I say here today, 'Be a donkey'. The metaphor has really helped me. Robert asked me what I got for Father's Day and I said I didn't want to tell him. Why? Because one of the things I asked for was a donkey figurine. It sits on my desk; it stares at me every day as if to say 'Jonathan, keep going. Keep going, be faithful'.
I had a man come up to me at a speaking engagement last week and he said to me, 'Wow', he said, 'I went to one of the most exclusive schools in this country' and he said, 'Jonathan, my career peaked 10 years ago, 15 years ago and people say to me you know, why don't you do X and Y and I'm going to set up' and he goes, 'I saw your donkey thing'. I said, 'It's okay, be a donkey'. And I've been on big stages, thousands of people — I was there two nights ago just scrubbing dishes, Karen's tired, 'Be a donkey, be a donkey, put all three of them to bed, be a donkey'.
To the Wise Men at the Gates, basically anyone over something around 50, what can I say? We have a crisis with eldership, with mentors and the guides we need. I became a self-made man because no men would help me. And I made it. And it almost killed me in the process and it could have been so much different. Richard Rohr said something quite confronting, he said — listen to this, some of you have heard it — he said, 'The generation of older men did not become elders, they just became elderly'. This has to stop. If you are over 50 you have a God-given responsibility to mentor younger men. No excuses. Even if you have nothing to teach, just do it, even if you are not sure how to approach younger men, just do it, even if you fear rejection, just do it. We need you, we desperately need you.
Just find a younger man you already know and have some relationship with and however basic that is take him out for beer, a coffee, you can't take the Padua guys for beer, don't do that. Um… a couple of guys I think have tried. Help him move house with his young wife, take him and his young son to a game, set diary reminders to ring him every three weeks, or have lunch once a month. Whatever shape it takes, get in the life of a young man and over time share what you know — there is wisdom in the room. Teach him about marriage, love, fatherhood. If the whole bunch of you went 'Well I haven't got that perfect' tell him where you've failed and the things you would do differently. Teach him about business, money, or God's chosen game — golf. Teach him about the wing velocity of an African swallow — whatever floats your boat — but just do it. Please get this, boys need men and it doesn't stop when the boy wears a wedding ring or he plays for his country or he leads a government. Please don't fail us.
To conclude . . . I wanted to conclude with a Scriptural insight into what the refusal to man up, to cooperate with this process of movement through which God wants to Father you will mean. We need to stare down the barrel of this; we need to have a very good look at what this is all going to look like.
Many years ago, while an undergraduate University student this Scripture hit me with the force of the triple bourbons I was drinking most nights at the same time. Interestingly in the taxi on the way to the airport yesterday it hit me just as powerfully all these years later. Please friends, listen to this carefully. The Scripture comes at a time in the Old Testament history of Israel that in many ways mirrors our present time. Why? The people had wholesale abandoned the law of the Lord and in that wonderful language of Scripture, 'each man did what was right in his own eyes'. The result of this abandonment was not a secular or pagan utopia; the result was the evisceration of a nation, the slaughter of women and children and a comet-like descent into servitude and bondage. I mean listen to how God described that situation in Ezekiel 22: 'I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it but I found . . . none'. Another powerful translation talks about God searching for a man who would 'oppose me in the breach'. Think of that language — breathtaking language, and it's got incredibly important ramifications for me, for you, for all of us. Essentially God is saying it is not his desire that this pain come to pass, this destruction, but unless men are found to stand in the breach and oppose Him to His face, then his justice, a result of our stubbornness of heart, cannot be averted.
My dear friends there are so many breaches now, so many breaches in our culture. The wall is torn down around our families and our children. God is crying out for you to find within you the man that you truly are. You must climb through the rubble and ascend that wall. You must stand in the breach — for your wife, for your school, for your children, for your vocation, for your priesthood, for the man beside you. You must stare into the face of Almighty God and whisper in the midst of your fear: 'I will stand'.
Jonathan Doyle. "Manning Up — A Message for Catholic Men." Men Alive Workship (October 7, 2012).
This talk was delivered to a group of men and was sponsored by the Archbishop of Brisbane, Australia, the Most Rev. Mark Coleridge.
He speaks across Australia and around the world on issues relating to young people, masculinity, issues impacting young women and relationships parenting and Catholic education and Catholic identity. Each year on average he trains over 3000 teachers and speaks at live events to between 20-30 thousand people. He has given keynotes in Federal Parliament at the National Sexual Integrity Forum, the Second International EDI Congress in Manila and a range of major conference in the Asia/Pacific region. He has appeared on national television and radio and is the author of, How To Get The Man Of Your Dreams based on his live seminar programs in dating and relationships. He has been married to Australian Catholic businesswoman and author Karen and they have three children under the age of five called Olivia, Aidan, and Stephanie.
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