Don’t Box Men In
There’s a lot of talk these days about masculinity. Toxic masculinity. Failed masculinity. I even had one of my daughters, the feisty one, explain to me that soon men would no longer be required to create children.
Now, it’s not what is being said about men these days that bothers me. It’s that men are actually listening to this garbage. It’s not easy to operate in a world where you’re being blamed for everything that’s wrong with it while simultaneously being expected to fund and fix it.
This is one of the reasons I wrote Raising Men (that’s also the reason why I’m currently writing the sequel). I meet too many guys getting their asses handed to them by life: They’re overweight, overworked, and underwhelmed. They’re miserable and they don’t know why. Their grandfathers and fathers didn’t do them any favors either. They slowly slipped out of the parenting game because they were too busy punching a clock, and their absence was filled by other things—most notably, popular culture—which redefined masculinity in the nastiest of ways by telling our boys to either 1) sit in a corner or 2) respond to challenges with aggression and working their bodies like little robots.
In Chapter 10 of Raising Men, I discuss a SEAL hand-to-hand combat…
…exercise called the Box Drill. The drill begins when our instructors bring us into a large room that is all black—black walls, black curtains, and barriers—with heavy-duty rubber padding on the ground. They lead us to a corner of the room that is marked off by a shaded white box. On the side opposite your box is a door on a fake wood wall, much like you would find on a Hollywood set. We’re told that we’re only safe from harm within that box.
The drill starts when you see your first threat and ends when you get through the door on the other side of the room. There is no time limit and no rules.
Once the drill began, I waited for something to happen. Eventually, five or six of the biggest guys they could find—wielding chains and bats and wearing hoods and protective gear—sauntered into the room. They began to verbally harass me and quickly became more aggravated and aggressive as they approached.
Like any “real man,” I responded with what I thought was expected of me: confidence and aggression. Over and over, I dove right at the guys, hitting and punching them, but each time I got my ass handed to me, the instructors would blow the whistle and mercifully send me back into my white box to reset and do it all over again.
Each time, I tried to come up with a new plan of attack and execute it as violently as I could—convinced that the drill was to teach me that I could take on anybody at any time. But each time—boom—they dropped me to the floor.
Then something happened. One of my attackers got impatient waiting for me to come out of the box. He said, “Screw this, I’m out of here,” and left. That’s when it hit me: maybe aggression and brute force wasn’t going to get me out of this.
I waited some more, and another guy left. Eventually, they all did, and after I looked around, confused, the instructor yelled, “Get to the door,” so I bolted for it, encountering zero resistance, and finally made it out. The drill was over.
The Moral of the Story is?
That day, I learned that every fight should be considered a fight to the death, and direct contact should be avoided whenever possible. But there was a deeper lesson: Aggression and force only work when you’re dealing with someone or something weaker than yourself and here’s the point. Men – we don’t fight those who are weaker than us, we help them. That’s real strength.
Our antiquated response to conflict is fear-based and it is the reason our reputation and ability to effect positive change in this world is being squashed. Media and pop culture feel as if they have to put us in a box, and when they do we feel like they’re attacking us so we come out swinging and the cycle repeats, and their fire is fueled.
What we need to do, instead, is slip out of that box and through the door so that we can do what we do best. Make this world a better place. It’s time we stop throwing our bodies at this thing called masculinity and start deploying the most powerful weapon we got. Strategy and skill!
Eric and the son he writes about in his book “Raising Men – Lessons Navy SEALs Learned from Their Training and Taught to Their Sons” are GIVING AWAY one of their favorite Osprey Backpacks along with some of the gear they find essential for their outdoor adventures.
This is the same bag they used during their last SEa-Air-Land (SEAL) excursion where they and members from our “Strategic Training Group” conducted survival training deep within the Redwoods.