Fortitude

In a time when finding reasons to be “offended” is a national pasttime, and our children are indoctrinated into imagined victimhood, fortitude stands out like a lighthouse amid a dark and stormy sea of chaos and ignorance.

“Men who fall, pick themselves up, fall again, and are trying to get back up when they die.” -Theodore Roosevelt

The American Heritage Dictionary defines fortitude as:

  1. Strength of mind that allows one to endure pain or adversity with courage.
  2. Strength; force; power to attack or to resist attack.
  3. Mental power of endurance; patient courage under affliction, privation, or temptation; firmness in confronting danger, hardship, or suffering.

“The longer I live the more I think of the quality of fortitude,” said a paragon of this virtue, Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919). “Men who fall, pick themselves up and stumble on, fall again, and are trying to get back up when they die.”

How well this quality would help so many people who have been convinced that they are “victims”; that the world somehow owes them an apology…and perhaps some form of “reparations.” I’ve got news for people who buy into the sickness of self-pity: The world doesn’t owe you anything, and if you linger in feeling sorry for yourself, you’re only a victim of your own attitude.

Character is forged in the fires of adversity.

While it’s right and good to help others who’ve been victimized, nobody likes a professional victim. There comes a point when you have to move on, pick yourself up and “stumble on.” You have it in your power to overcome adversity, to strive against challenges and opposition and emerge a better and stronger person.

Here’s another news flash: Everyone experiences injustice, prejudice, and persecution. You do yourself and the world a disservice when you set up camp in the neighborhood of victimhood. Take it from the Cambridge Dictionary definition of victimhood: “The condition of having been hurt, damaged, or made to suffer, especially when you want people to feel sorry for you because of this or use it as an excuse.”

Fake victimhood.

So let’s dispense with that attitude right now. You have intrinsic worth as a human being made in the image of God. Your race, your creed, your culture or the color of your skin don’t define you or determine your worth; your character does.

And character is forged in the fires of adversity. The best lives, like the best movies and books, are stories of overcoming. This is the theme of every sport worth watching—someone is trying to stop you from succeeding, and you must contend for the prize. Without opposition and hardship, you cannot grow. Without fortitude in the face of it, you won’t progress and you cannot win.

Masculine men are not easily broken.

The opposite of fortitude is fragility. Masculine men are not easily broken. They have strength in such abundance that they can protect and defend those with less of it. Strong men not only protect children and those struggling under true adversity, they model fortitude and the potential to overcome the hardships inherent in life and emerge victorious. Weak men, whiny men who wallow in self-pity do not offer value or inspiration to the world.

“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.” -Helen Keller

Made blind and deaf by illness at 19 months of age, Helen Keller (1880-1968) could have claimed to be a victim of the cruelty of fate; yet she became a great soul and is admired to this day. “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet,” she wrote. “Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

Helen Keller

And, yes, I’m using a woman as an example for men because truth is not determined by gender or skin color. Men can learn a great deal about fortitude from remarkable women, often including their mothers. (Yes, mothers…teach your sons to be strong. Raising them to avoid feeling sorry for themselves is a form of love. “Helicopter moms” do not prepare their sons to face life with fortitude.)

“The only courage worth calling courage,” wrote G.K. Chesterton, “must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point and does not break.”

Reality requires fortitude, endurance, and resiliance.

The world is not out to get you…but the world is out to get you. It has not singled you out. The history of mankind has been replete with forces trying to destroy human beings: predators, bacteria and viruses, other people, the heat of the sun, the cold of winter—for Pete’s sake, even plants can kill people! Reality requires fortitude, endurance, and resiliance.

Everyone needs these qualities, but especially men. Whether or not some people today want to deny biology, men are physically stronger than women. They are made to protect their families and communities. This kind of strength is a gift that should be valued and cultivated. It is a form of selfless love that the male gender has a responsibility to give to the world.

Weak men are useless; weak men deny their calling. Men can be wheelchair bound or even paralyzed and still have mental fortitude and power of will. In fact, those who refuse to be victims of their physical state often develop uncommon levels of fortitude because of the daily challenges they overcome.

“I thank God for my handicaps. For through them, I have found myself, my work and my God,” wrote Helen Keller.

Attempts to feminize men do a great disservice to society.

Of course, male strength can be used for evil by men of low character to harm those they should protect, to steal and kill and abuse. But this very fact is all the more reason for good men to build the fortitude, strength and courage to oppose evil. Attempts to feminize men do a great disservice to society; you can bet that evil men will not grow soft or compliant. They will ever be a threat to the safety and stability of society.

We need men with fortitude.

We need men with the strength of mind to endure pain and adversity with courage.

We need men with the power to attack and defend.

We need men with the power to endure.

We need men capable of patient courage under affliction, privation and temptation.

We need men capable of firmness in confronting danger, hardship and suffering.

Boys, the world needs you to develop into such a man; men, we need you to be masculine and strong.

The world needs now, more than ever, MEN with fortitude.

“Staying power. The bottom line? Stay with it, man. Stick by your commitments. Stand by your promises. Never, never let go, no matter what. When marriage isn’t fun…stay in it. When parenting is over your head…stay at it. When work is crushing your spirit…don’t let it beat you. When the local church is overwhelmed with pettiness…stay by it. When your children let you down…pick them up. When your wife goes through a six-month mood swing…live with it. When it’s fourth and fourteen with no time on the clock…throw another pass.”
― Stu Weber, Tender Warrior

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Theodore Roosevelt

Let’s start this History’s Most Manly series off with a man so over-the-top tough, he could make Chuck Norris start hyperventilating into a paper bag at the mere thought of his awesomeness.

We’re talking about a man who got shot in the chest by some jerkweed just before a campaign speech in 1912, and then shook it off like a nerf dart. Shot point-blank and bleeding, Teddy Roosevelt dialed up his testosterone like a steampunk Bane in full-on grow mode, and went up on stage. His opening remarks were,

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”

(That, my friends, is a level of badassery that boggles the mind—especially in a day and time where a lot of guys would take a week off work if they spilled a soy latte on their lap.)

What’s a bleeding flesh wound to a president who acts as his own Secret Service bodyguard?

Rough riding Teddy then proceeded to give a 90-minute speech, since he wasn’t coughing up his spleen or anything mildly concerning like that. What’s a bleeding flesh wound to a president who acts as his own Secret Service bodyguard?

Then there’s that one time Theodore survived a real pickle in the wilds of South America.

The year was 1914, and Teddy Roosevelt and his son Kermit were nearing the end of an epic trip to explore the most unexplored and intimidating tributary of the mighty Amazon River. Aptly named Rio da Dúvida (River of Doubt) before being re-named the Rio Roosevelt, the serpentine waters wound through nearly impenetrable jungle, with impassable rapids and waterfalls.

Lost and running out of supplies, the expedition was in jeopardy, not to mention the lives of the entire party. Just days before, Teddy had slipped and sustained a deep gash on his leg, which had become infected. He did not have the energy to go on.

Portrait of President Theodore Roosevelt seated in garden, looking like he’s about to pummel someone with a big stick, circa 1910s. (Photo by Fotosearch/Getty Images).

“Leave me and save yourselves!” the great ex-president told the others, as he lay against a fallen log, his face gaunt and pale—I find that level of self-sacrifice pretty damn badass too.

But Kermit was forged of similar steel as his father and refused to let him die in the wilderness. With Kermit half carrying his father, the intrepid pair limped their way back to civilization.

Not that Kermit, smartass.

After Teddy and Kermit returned to the U.S., skeptics raised doubts about the River of Doubt story. Teddy rebutted his critics in a public forum sponsored by the National Geographic Society, basically telling them to “pound sand, mofos.” In 1927 American explorer George Miller Dyott led a second trip down the river, independently confirming Roosevelt’s discoveries. Teddy had been dead for seven years by then, but he busted out of his coffin and dug through six feet of compacted clay soil with his mustache just to say, “I freakin’ told you so!” according to a legend I just made up.

To read the compelling full story, you can read T.R.s account of the expedition, Through the Brazilian Wilderness, or the excellent River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Miller.

These are just two of the stories about a man so magnificent, it could make your head explode just thinking about him. He single-handedly dug the Panama Canal with a plastic spork, created our national park system in his sleep, broke up huge monopolies run by Capone-like gangsters, and hunted the Sasquatch to near extinction. (The current occupant of the White House can’t even conquer a set of stairs or master a bicycle.)

If you’ve girded up your loins and decided to depart from the “cold and timid” life that makes you invisible to women, you’ll get up and make your voice heard, even if you have to take a hit to do it. No risk, no bullets flying, no impact.

“Which way to the weight room?”

It’s time to stop retreating from life’s challenges. Once you resolve to get into the arena, don’t be afraid to be “marred by dust and sweat and blood.” If you know what you want, go after it like a bull moose, knowing that “it is not the critic who counts.” It is the intrepid who make the history books and ultimately succeed.

After the speech, doctors discovered that the bullet had lodged three inches into one of Teddy’s Lou-Ferrigno-sized pectoral muscles. He carried the bullet in his body for the rest of his life.

No big deal.

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Weakness is Not a Virtue

How far we have fallen.

Western society has embraced the antithesis of true manhood, encouraging males to be easily offended, embrace dependency, and identify with their weaknesses rather than overcoming them. It has attacked masculinity and manliness as something dangerous, harmful, and toxic.

A March 12, 2021 article in Psychology Today by Silva Neves encourages readers to “confront the roots of ‘toxic masculinity.’” He attributes this “toxicity” to a “strict set of rules that prescribe what being a man should be.” Neves then conjures up a banal list of “man rules” seemingly out of thin air, without explaining how he came up with them.

  1. A man should suffer physical and emotional pain in silence.

Are whining and complaining better options? Authentic men do talk about their pain, and many share their feelings to various degrees, depending on their personality type. But they don’t dwell on their pain or their reactions to it.

Being men, we pick ourselves up and seek solutions, knowing that ultimately, only we can face our personal pain and allow it to transform us into someone stronger. That’s healthy, mature behavior.

“Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life,” wrote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in The Gulag Archipelago. “For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”

Whenever my sons fell off a bike and skinned their knees, I’d hug them, check to make sure they weren’t seriously injured, and then tell them, “get back on the bike, son.” That kind of courage is a quality that they will need for life.

When you lose a job, take a break to catch your breath, and then find a new one. If you get a leg blown off serving overseas, mourn, heal, and then learn to walk with an artificial leg. Get back into life. Then go help someone else who is struggling.

  1. A man shouldn’t seek warmth, comfort, or tenderness.

A man can and will enjoy these things. But he doesn’t “seek” them. He is more likely to seek challenges, opportunities to grow, and ways to get stronger. It’s easy to enjoy warmth, comfort, and tenderness, but life requires strength training as well. Because life can be hard, men seek to become harder than it so we can prevail against whatever it throws our way. Theodore Roosevelt gave a now-classic speech in Chicago in 1899 on “The Strenuous Life.” Here’s an excerpt:

A life of slothful ease, a life of that peace which springs merely from lack either of desire or of power to strive after great things, is as little worthy of a nation as of an individual…Who among you would teach your boys that ease, that peace, is to be the first consideration in their eyes—to be the ultimate goal after which they strive? A mere life of ease is not in the end a very satisfactory life, and, above all, it is a life which ultimately unfits those who follow it for serious work in the world….I preach to you, then, my countrymen, that our country calls not for the life of ease but for the life of strenuous endeavor. The twentieth century looms before us big with the fate of many nations. If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at the hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and will win for themselves the domination of the world. Let us therefore boldly face the life of strife, resolute to do our duty well and manfully; resolute to be both honest and brave, to serve high ideals, yet to use practical methods. Above all, let us shrink from no strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness.

  1. A man should only have the emotions of bravery and anger. Any other emotions are weaknesses. Weakness is unacceptable.

This “rule” is a parody that hardly merits a response. It would be insulting if it weren’t so dumb. I know exactly zero men like this. Weakness isn’t “unacceptable,” but it’s certainly not a virtue. What many men consider unacceptable is embracing weakness, or turning away from the opportunity to grow stronger. As I told my sons, “it’s okay to feel discouraged or sad; it’s not okay to stay there!”

Because evil exists in the world, there will always be predators willing to exploit weaknesses to prey on the weak. For this reason, among a multitude of others, every society needs strong men to protect and defend others against evil men. (It’s not that women can’t join in this protection, but men are physiologically stronger, as biologically male swimmer Lia Thomas is currently demonstrating by helping destroy women’s sports.)

  1. A man shouldn’t depend on anyone. Asking for help is also weak.

Self-reliance is a core principle upon which this country was founded. But that doesn’t mean we don’t ask for help; men do it all the time. It’s healthy to know you can depend on others to help when you’ve done all you can. But relying on others to do what we can do ourselves conditions a man to become dependent on others—and that’s not healthy. I taught my sons that, before they ask for help, they need to try and figure things out for themselves. Life presents many occasions when help is not available—like getting a flat tire on a lonely road or finding oneself lost in the woods—self-reliance is a virtue.

Theodore Roosevelt overcame respiratory illness and an atrophied body, largely thanks to the support and encouragement of his father. Young Teddy needed his father’s help, but he did not depend on Theodore Sr. to be strong for him. His father didn’t put him through hours of counseling, he spent time with his son and taught him to be a man of strength. Theodore Sr. didn’t attempt to take all life’s obstacles out of Teddy’s way, he taught his son to overcome them. 

This is why Theodore went on to say things that have inspired generations of men like, “We do not admire the man of timid peace. We admire the man who embodies victorious effort; the man who never wrongs his neighbor, who is prompt to help a friend, but who has those virile qualities necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life.”

  1. A man should always want to win, whether in sports, work, relationships, or sex.

Well, we certainly don’t want to lose! Men don’t play not to lose; we play to win, but we know the importance of sportsmanship and losing with grace—that’s why we shake hands with the other team after the game and say, “good game.” We honor them for playing well.

Most importantly, we know our biggest opponent is ourselves, and if we’ve given it our very best effort, we can live with “you can’t win them all.” What we cannot accept is losing because we didn’t give our best effort to win. The great Vince Lombardi said, “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle—victorious.” The most difficult victory, according to Aristotle, is victory over self.

Life requires winning when it matters—against illness, the elements, adversariess, economic hardship, our own laziness—practicing winning is essential to our survival.

In the 2006 movie, Rocky Balboa, Rocky’s son complains, “living with you hasn’t been easy…I start to get a little ahead, to get a little something for myself, and then this [taking a post-retirement fight] happens…”

Rocky doesn’t respond by giving his son some chamomile tea, calling his therapist, and driving him to his safe space; he gives him an epic dad-style motivational speech:

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that! I’m always gonna love you no matter what. No matter what happens. You’re my son and you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain’t gonna have a life.

Rocky Balboa

Multiple cultures across time have celebrated the strength of men. Challenge, hardship, and pain were seen as necessary catalysts to grow a boy into a man—and men were expected to become tough. For millennia, men have been celebrated as protectors and providers.

“Grandfather impressed upon me that every struggle, whether won or lost, strengthens us for the next to come,” as James Kaywaykla dictated to Eve Ball in her fascinating book, In the Days of Victorio: Recollections of a Warm Springs Apache. “It is not good for people to have an easy life. They become weak, and inefficient when they cease to struggle.”

Founding Father and Virginia’s first Governor Patrick Henry said, “Adversity toughens manhood, and the characteristic of the good or the great man is not that he has been exempt from the evils of life, but that he has surmounted them.”

Real masculinity isn’t toxic, and it certainly isn’t the ridiculous one-dimensional straw man the Left beats like a cheap piñata from the clearance rack at Walmart. Men are multifaceted. Yes, real men are tough, willing to take the hits; we are able to endure suffering and hardship—because that’s what life often demands. But that strength and the ability to overcome suffering also cultivates a soul capable of compassion, chivalry, and a lack of self-focus. It makes us excellent fathers, coaches, husbands, and the best of lovers.

What is truly toxic is a weak, dependent man with anemic aspirations and a lack of initiative. Such immature creatures add little to the world except criticism of the strong…and perhaps vapid little articles offering nothing of value that no one should take seriously.  

Kelly John Walker, M.S. is Editor-in-Chief of FreedomTalk

The New Puritans

Real men have a genuine concern for others, and they will do their best not to purposely offend, but taking responsibility for others’ feelings is not, and cannot be, a quality of Tonic Masculinity. Strong men are not concerned with the nebulous and shifting notion of “political correctness.” Perhaps surprisingly, the refusal to take ownership of other people’s sensitivities is in part motivated by concern for their well being.

Let me explain.

Continue reading “The New Puritans”

The Wounded Warrior

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Sunday, I popped into Viva Coffee House to grab a drink—Viva is a little coffee shop our family opened in 2017 in Tucson, Arizona.

In walked an older gentleman, wearing a “Wounded Warrior” hat. His eyes, radiating both pain and pride, told me he had stories to tell, so I got up and shook his hand.

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Optimism vs. Realism

The essence of optimism is not its view of the present, but the fact that it is the inspiration of life and hope when others give in; it enables a man to hold his head high when everything seems to be going wrong; it gives him strength to sustain reverses and yet to claim the future for himself instead of abandoning it to his opponent. It is true that there is a silly, cowardly kind of optimism, which we must condemn. But the optimism that is will for the future should never be despised, even if it is proven wrong a hundred times; it is health and vitality, and the sick man has no business to impugn it. There are people who regard it as frivolous, and some Christians think it impious for anyone to hope and prepare for a better earthly future. They think that the meaning of present events is chaos, disorder, and catastrophe; and in resignation or pious escapism they surrender all responsibility for reconstruction and for future generations. It may be that the day of judgment will dawn tomorrow; and in that case, though not before, we shall gladly stop working for a better future. —Dietrich Bonhoeffer, anti-Nazi theologian

If ever there were a man for whom pessimism would have been an irresistible siren song, it would have been Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a remarkably thoughtful man of learning and a Christian theologian who watched his country plunge into the utter tyranny and unspeakable horror of the Nazi regime. His country, his freedom—indeed all he believed in, would fall under the crushing authoritarianism of national socialism. A fascinating individual, his involvement in a plot to overthrow Adolf Hitler led to his imprisonment and execution in 1945. His Letters and Papers from Prison, published posthumously in 1951, is a profound testament of his convictions.

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The Value of Suffering

“The fact is, life has been found to be more meaningful for many who are in pain, than for many in pleasure. Prior to the problem of pain is the frustration of meaninglessness even when every comfort we pursue comes within reach.” Ravi Zacharias

One of the biggest barriers to believing in a compassionate, all-powerful God is what has been called the “problem of pain.” As a friend of mine said, “What father, if he had the power to do so, wouldn’t save his child from suffering?” Many people refuse to believe God exists because the idea doesn’t square with the suffering they see in the world. Others say it’s possible there is a God, but that He’s either powerless to stop the evil and suffering in the world, He’s indifferent, or He created the universe and then walked away from it.

Yet suffering is crucial to your development as a strong and compassionate man.

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A Good Man is Hard to Offend

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There is no inherent tie between the color of one’s skin and the content their character. However, the “thickness” of one’s skin does indicate the depth of one’s character. A “thick skinned” man is as impervious to insults and slander as a rhino is to a shot from a BB gun. Unfortunately, we are living in a time when being easily offended is considered a virtue, and the most offended among us gets the most attention and social clout. Even when no offense is intended, or a slight is imagined, feelings are everything. One can earn the crown of victimhood simply for having their feelings hurt. Continue reading “A Good Man is Hard to Offend”

The Essence of Masculinity

Straw Man_ misrepresented someone's argument to make it easier to attack. copyThe concept of masculinity has taken a beating in recent times–often having the prefix “toxic” attached to it, as if the two words are synonymous–but is such disapprobation deserved? Is it true masculinity that’s being attacked, or a bogus “Straw Man” version? It’s not so easy to knock a real man down but, the truth is, a man with Tonic masculinity wouldn’t be a likely target to start with. Why? Because he delights all but the most bitter, prejudiced or malignant of society…and he himself is, in turn, a delightful human being.

A man with Tonic Masculinity has qualities of character and demeanor very different than the versions of pseudo-masculinity currently in the crosshairs.

Continue reading “The Essence of Masculinity”