the imaginative conservative logo

Machismo is the failure to grow into the fullness of what it means to be a man. The mark of machismo is the boast and braggadocio of the braggart. It is the mask of pride, worn by those who lack humility…

Once upon a time, when I was a boy, I recall watching a Western on TV with my father. At one point the hero, played by John Wayne, walks into a saloon, heads to the bar and orders himself a beer. The bartender pours the beer and sets it before our hero. The hero takes one sip, delivers his line to the villain with appropriate macho brevity and walks out of the saloon, his nearly full pint of beer still on the bar. “And he calls himself a man,” says my father, alluding to the undrunk beverage. The lesson was learned. A real man doesn’t order a drink he doesn’t finish.

That was a long time ago but even today, many years later, I cannot leave a bar or a restaurant without finishing my drink. How could I call myself a man were I to do so? What would my father think?

It’s funny how such habits become ingrained, inscribing themselves indelibly in our psyche. The lessons we learn at our father’s knee almost become a part of us, almost defining us. For better or worse.

In some ways, I’ve come to realize that a large part of my growing up has necessitated an unlearning of some of the lessons I learned from my father. Don’t get me wrong. I had a great relationship with my father, whom I loved dearly while he was alive, and still love dearly now that he has left this mortal coil. It’s just that he had not fully matured beyond machismo to real manhood, at least not during the years when he was teaching me the lessons about life that I would spend the rest of my life learning to unlearn.

The problem is that machismo is a mark of immaturity. It is the failure to grow into the fullness of what it means to be a man. The mark of machismo is the boast and braggadocio of the braggart. It is the mask of pride, worn by those who lack humility; it is the rant of one demanding his rights because he does not have the courage to face his responsibilities. It is the “manliness” of one who is not really a man.

In my own case, I would have to confess that I have spent most of my life as the macho man who was not really a man at all. It took marriage to make a man of me, which is to say that it took a woman to make a man of me. And not just a woman; it took a wife to make a man of me. And not just a wife, it took children to really make a man of me. I can say, therefore, echoing the words of Wordsworth, that the child is father of the man. My own children have been the fathers of my manhood. Without them, I would still be a pathetic macho man, making all sorts of masculine noise without having any of the real masculine substance.

It is for this reason that our present culture, which makes war on marriage and the family, is also making war on genuine manhood. In spite of its own braggadocio, modern culture doesn’t really make war on things such as “sexism” and the abuse of women and children because it encourages the machismo that turns men into abusers while simultaneously discouraging the familial and paternal responsibility that turns men into good husbands and fathers. Such a culture does not only make men miserable, it makes women and children miserable too—and all in the name of the pursuit of freedom and happiness! It’s all so pathetically funny. A tragedy that is also a divine comedy because it shows that virtue is the only way of getting to the happy ending.

My father became a man before he died. It’s just that he wasn’t a man when I was a boy; he wasn’t a man when I needed a man in my life. All too often he failed to come home after work, preferring to get drunk at the pub with his friends, though he was always man enough to get up in the morning and go to work, taking his hangover with him. My fondest memories of him are his teaching me to play chess and the many hours we played together, united in glorious silence as we pored our minds over the pieces on the board. I recall his quoting from memory long passages from Shakespeare, declaiming whole speeches with intense passion, and his reciting of long poems, such as Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard,” or shorter pieces, such as Kipling’s “If” or Chesterton’s “The Donkey.” It was at these moments, waxing lyrical with his children, that he was really a man.

As for me, I still go to the bar occasionally to have an ale or two with friends and, unlike John Wayne, I always finish the beer in my glass before leaving. But I’m always home in time for family dinner and for the family time that follows. I enjoy reading the classic works of children’s literature to my nine-year-old daughter, and although I’m not able to declaim Shakespeare as my father had done I have recently taught my daughter to play chess, passing on this wonderful gift that my own father had given to me. The last time we played, my daughter beat me for the first time. I took the defeat with a real joy, rejoicing that my daughter was mastering the game and that, therefore, she was mastering me. In other words, I took my defeat like a man.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreThe Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
"All comments are subject to moderation. We welcome the comments of those who disagree, but not those who are disagreeable."
6 replies to this post
  1. Thank you Joseph,
    I would be interested on your thoughts on Duty
    As to being a man I clearly remember a Rebuke from a high Quarter when I recently prayed for relief for the civilians being bombed yet again by Assad in Aleppo.
    The Rebuke was immediate and shocked me ” Well what are YOU doing about it” I sat up with a start and said to myself . ” Fair cop, I deserved that are you a man or a mouse? ” I spent the rest of that day and month doing something about it..

    As to a man’s man, I met my hero in my childhood as a Server ( altar boy) in the the church that the family had chosen and attended. The priest is still clear in my memory 55 years on. He had been a Padre in action (armed only with the bible) in one of the most dangerous, bloody and critical campaigns in WWii.in the jungle

    This man was able to stand in his pulpit, beat his chest and with tears in his eyes , declare to his parishioners that he was a “sinner”. The congregation were shocked. I was amazed and thought ” what a guy” and loved him from that moment. I was not alone as each year he held a service for the fallen members of the Unit to which he had been attached. The attending soldiers’ love and respect was plainly demonstrated.

  2. Talking about Dads and Beers and fond memories.
    I grew up in awe of may father, not because of the thrashings or KOs when we were sparing and I took advantage to hit too hard. It was because he was so gregarious he could make a friend for life out of complete strangers after a five minute conversation. Much later I understood the secret, he simply loved people.
    My memory is as fourteen year old being taken to town to buy a new school blazer. On our way home we decided to walk from the station. Half way home, a mile covered another to go, there was a pub. At that hour it was full of tradesmen and labourers. Dad , in a business suit, told me to wait at the door and approached a table of men fartherest from the bar.. He asked them to screen me whilst we had our first beer together in a public place. This was totally illegal but i loved it and knew he had been waiting for fourteen years to shout his eldest a beer.

  3. “…it is the rant of one demanding his rights because he does not have the courage to face his responsibilities.”

    This is a nice thought. It hearkens back to the time when men had rights particular to men. But today men have no rights as men. If you think they do, can you write them down in your next column or point them out in magisterial documents or elsewhere?

  4. One need look no further than our highways and byways to see evidence of the lack of maturity in “men”. I often encounter aggressive males in their 20’s, 30’s, and even 40’s driving, usually a dark coloured p/u, as if every other vehicle is just some obstacle in their way. Men just don’t mature early anymore. If it were up to me, I’d raise the legal driving age for “men” to about 45.

  5. Great article. One thing is missing though. Radical feminism’s role in decreasing the importance of husband/father. Until the all the making fun of men stops, you will not see men taking their roles as husband/father, as a whole, seriously.

Please leave a thoughtful, civil, and constructive comment: