Understanding Manhood in America
I have often wondered if there is a role for freemasonry to play in the restoration of American society to its more glorious time of respectfulness and rugged individuality. This was a time, as I see it, for the sacred masculinity within men to be celebrated, not denigrated and the family unit was the crown jewel in any truly successful man’s life. The father was venerated, sometimes to a fault, as the engine that drove his family forward while the Mother was seen as the glue that held it all together. Over the last century, the father and masculinity at large has taken a back seat to new ideas about feminism and alternative lifestyles. It is not my perspective that these movements are without merit, merely that societal focus, almost obsession, on these new modes of living have been to the detriment of the traditional role of a man in society.
Some may not identify this drifting of the traditional role the “man of the house”, once held as a pillar in American family life to a mere punchline on the average television sitcom as a problem. Many amongst us may even relish in this departure and see any facet of masculinity as toxic and something to be cast aside in the dustbin of history. I however see a most definite causal link between the decline of masculinity as an icon in our society and what I perceive as the downward trajectory our culture has found itself on in both civility and personal satisfaction. Numerous studies and statistical analysis support the idea that the decline of traditional nuclear families with a stable father have a significant causal link to poverty, domestic abuse, child abuse, violence, juvenile delinquency and illiteracy. As a member if the craft, I have often lamented that there must be some way to implement our fraternity as catalyst to reverse these trends.
What a happy coincidence for me it was to be handed a copy of Bro Robert G Davis’ “Understanding Manhood in America: Freemasonry’s Enduring Path to the Mature Masculine” by the Master of my lodge to review. Bro Davis’ book sings to my heart. I can honestly say that of all the various Masonic and otherwise esoteric or philosophical tomes I have read, this is by far the most inspiring and useful of them all. Bro Davis not only diagnoses society’s illness and its cause but lays out a uniquely Masonic prescription. Best of all, it is an easy to read, no nonsense and pragmatic read from cover to cover. One can tell from reading this book that the author is a sensible man with useful insights for Mason and non-Mason alike.
The book opens with a familiar description of the sorry state of manhood today in America. Bro Davis laments on the electronic era and its endless distractions, changing familial structures, absentee fathers and the relentless drift from the era of rugged individualist pioneers and farmers to distracted, disaffected, demoralized dreamers that lack the strength or willpower to make their dreams come true.
From there, we learn about the “Self-Made Man”, the archetypical pioneering colonist responsible for the birth of our great nation. This is one of the most inspiring chapters of the book for me. The reverence the author uses when he speaks of the artisans and tradesmen of colonial days and the fortitude required to stand toe to toe with the aristocrats that frequented colonial lodges without wavering plays like a song in my heart. Bro. Davis brings these real men and heroes to life in a unique and unsentimental way, yet I still find my heart swelling to read of their character and tenacity not only creating a fraternity, but a personal philosophy required during a time of nation building.
We are then led on a journey that illustrates the various changes the American vision of manhood has undergone over the decades and centuries since the inception of the United States. The Industrial Revolution, World War I and II, Vietnam are all discussed in a context that allows the reader to contextually identify societal pressures applied to men’s roles within and without the familial setting historically his to forge. We learn how all these historic periods shaped the psyche of the average man and how each generation of men responded to its own sets of challenges.
It should come as no surprise that the book also covers the effects of the sexual revolution and feminism on the cultural identity of the average man during the 1970s and 80s. Bro Davis deftly covers these phenomena with tact and dignity while still illuminating the deleterious consequences on the American nuclear family and society at large. His conclusions are supported by more than ample amounts of statistical data if one were to research independently, however footnotes are in short supply here. This would be my only real criticism of this fine book. I would have loved to see a wealth of footnotes and supporting data, as I know it to exist. The addition of footnotes and statistical research would elevate this book to masterpiece in my humble opinion. Regardless, it very nearly qualifies despite this glaring omission.
Where all of this leads to in the closing chapters, is Bro Davis’ remedy for the sad decline the state of manhood in America now finds itself. Take solace, there is a solution and it rests within the very fabric of Freemasonry itself. I won’t spoil the revelation for you, but I will say that Bro Davis’ proposal speaks to the very heart of who we are as Masons and what we are here to do. I mentioned my own personal struggles with the craft and its role in redeeming society and manhood at the outset of this review, and I will tell you with an open heart that I have seen more than a glimmer in Bro Davis’ work. We are called upon to be more than a friend to out fellow Masons, in fact perhaps more than a Brother at times. Perhaps we are meant to be Mentors, Counselors, Stewards and even occasionally father figures. We can be the glue to fix the cracks in the mortar of our Brother’s temples. But we must find the courage within ourselves to help our fellow Masons to do the same.
“Understanding Manhood in America” is probably the most personally meaningful work I have read on the craft. I enjoyed it from beginning to end and I enthusiastically recommend all Brothers read it and take away the hopeful message it conveys to Masonry at large.
Brother Aaron Chauncey
You can purchase your copy of Understanding Manhood in America at the link below.