Tag Archives: manhood

Real Men and Waking Up Early

As I sit here basking in the glow of my 13 inch computer in an otherwise dark room this morning, I’m reminded about one of what I consider to be one of the great tenets of manhood; that is, waking up early.

As a child and then a teenager, I was always amazed each morning at how early my dad woke up. No matter how early I got up each day, without fail, he would already be awake and laying on the couch wearing his Nike hoodie, reading the paper.

The funny thing is… the man is not an early to bed kind of guy. This is a man who regularly stayed up late to watch Letterman in its entirety. The even more amazing thing to me, that I’ve only learned in the past few years, is that he never uses an alarm clock.

I never understood that facet of my dad’s life until recently. You see, for most of my life I’ve told myself a story that wasn’t true. And while I’ve definitely told myself many stories that aren’t true, the story I’m talking about right now is the that I was not a morning person.

For most of my life, I’ve been a snoozer. When I was a kid, my parents had to institute a 10 a.m. reverse bedtime during the summers and weekends to prevent me from sleeping all day. And boy did I ever balk at that one. In college, if I didn’t have early morning classes, I could (and often did) sleep until 10:40 or so no matter how late I stayed up.

That was my sleeping in pattern for most of my life.

A few months ago, that all changed. A guy who’s blog I read, posted about the idea that each of us has several internal stories (plural) which may or may not be true that we tell ourselves which make up our STORY (singular).

I’ve always been a firm believer that our lives are stories, and his post got me thinking about my life and the stories I’ve told myself that maybe weren’t true.

The timing of that post couldn’t have been better. Just a few days earlier, I’d heard a man speak at a luncheon who’s own story really resonated with me. A very successful business man and person of faith, the speaker spoke on the importance of being a man of discipline. A man of discipline himself, he spoke about how men of discipline wake up early: A) because it’s difficult; and, B) because life is short and sleeping through too much of it really is a waste.

The combination of the post about the stories we tell ourselves that aren’t always true and the idea that men of discipline wake up early couldn’t have intersected more perfectly in my life. I left the luncheon thinking to myself, “Self… I want to be a man of discipline even if that means waking up early.”

And so that night, I set my alarm to go off the next day at 5:00 a.m. When it went off, I got up. I read a few chapters of a book I was reading at the time, I prayed, I sat in silence, and I ran a mile. Despite the fact that I was exhausted by 2 p.m. that afternoon, it was a great experience.

It wasn’t until a few days later when I read the aforementioned blog post that I was really able to articulate what I’d already been feeling about my own story as a morning person. Since that time (it was last November) I’ve been re-telling myself that story almost every day when my alarm goes off and I stumble out of bed at 5, 5:30, or (on bad days) 6:00 a.m.

As Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Waking up early has been a great help in my attempts to stop and look around every once in a while.

Some mornings I go for a run. Some mornings I take a walk. Some mornings I read. Some mornings I write. Some mornings I reflect on who I am or what I’m accomplishing. Some mornings I think about my marriage. Some mornings I talk to God. Some mornings I just listen for his voice. And some mornings, (rarely but still occasionally) I waste almost 2 hours perusing the Facebooks, or the Twitterz, or my Google Reader RSS subscriptions.

I’m hesitant to say that waking up early has changed my life, but honestly, I can say I’ve seen a marked improvement in my quality of life since last November when I started waking up early.

As a man, I think there’s something deep in my core that calls me toward self-improvement and challenge. Waking up early, though really a small thing, has been a challenge that I’ve taken on successfully. Not only have I had more time to myself each morning for personal and spiritual reflection and development, but each day I get out of my bed before the sun comes up, I reinforce the idea that I have control over and can change the stories I tell myself.

The little victory I’ve had over my sleep story has started to make me question other questionably “true” stories that I’ve been telling myself for too long. It’s amazing how one little victory combined with a few more early morning hours of introspection each day can make all the difference in helping us become the men we want to be.

For me, realizing I could wake up early was not only a victory over a very real physiological and mental myth in my life, but it was also one of many early steps in my realization that I still had a long journey toward becoming a real man… a journey I’m still learning from and enjoying almost every day before most people are even awake.

Sometimes a real man does things that are difficult simply because of the discipline it takes to do so. I want to be a real man. I want to be a man of discipline. For me, a big part of that means I wake up early.

What about you?

No Man is an Island Jack

In 1986, Robin Williams starred in a movie of great acclaim, Club Paradise. The title of this post, a line from that movie, is my homage to the film and to the fact that real men need other men.

This line has stuck with me through my life mainly because of its humor. There’s a scene in the movie where one of the characters tells Robin Williams (whose name is Jack) that, “No man is an island, Jack.” Another one of the characters hears this line, doesn’t realize there’s a comma in there or that it’s a famous quote, and immediately makes a song out of it. “No man is an island, Jack.” becomes “No man is an Island Jack” and Island Jack is born.

While the Club Paradise movie may or may not be the best inspiration for a blog post on what constitutes a real man, that famous line from it certainly is.

While times of solitude are certainly important for real men, a real man knows that he is not an island and that he needs friendships with other men if he’s going to make it in this life.

The problem with our culture in the U.S. is that too many of us are caught up in the false notion of independence as a virtue. If you don’t believe me, just take a few minutes and think about the title of the document that kicked off the revolutionary war that started our country. (The funny thing about the Declaration of INDEPENDENCE was that it actually required a great solidarity among men to make it happen and carry it out to fruition… but we forget that today sometimes.)

In today’s world, and for the last couple hundred years, men have been taught to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and to make their own way. It’s the whole, “Go west young man, go west!” idea played out to its worst extremes.

And yet the reality remains that men need other men. The earliest people to inhabit this earth knew this instinctively. As a matter of fact, for most of human history, with the last few hundred years being the exception, people lived together in tribes. In the grand scheme of things, the idea of the independent and self-made man is a relatively new (and largely unproven) idea.

Life is going to be difficult at times and the people who depend on us need us to be strong men who go to bat for them and get us through those times. When life goes to crap, we only have so much inherent strength within us that we can draw from to make it through. When that strength is depleted, where will you go to replenish yours? Don’t put that on the woman in your life. It’s not her burden to bear. No, when life requires more strength than we as individual men can muster, we need to draw from the fellowship of other men who have been through whatever it is that’s depleting our strength.

When life get’s tough, we need other men who know us to the core. We all have friends who know us to some degree, but when life requires great strength, we need men who know our strengths as well as our weaknesses. Men who will call us out when they see us on the verge of making a colossal mistake. Men who will lift us up when we fail and stand beside us in adversity.

Do you have men like that in your life? Does your life look more tribal or more nomadic? If you answered nomadic, I encourage you to find other men who also realize that life is a journey and that journeys are not meant to be taken alone.

I think this idea is part of what made the men of the Greatest Generation so great. The men of that generation went to war together. They fought the enemy and the elements together. At times they slept back to back in foxholes at night supporting each other. They never left another man behind. And despite how the horrors of war impacted many of them in negative ways, they developed a great appreciation for the value of fellowship with other men.

I want to be the kind of man who has deep bonds of friendship with other men. I want men in my life who know my struggles, who know my strengths, and who aren’t afraid to run out onto the battlefield and pull me back to safety when they see me wounded. And I want to do the same for them.

No man is an Island Jack but a group of islands is an archipelago… think about it.

*Thank you Jimmy Cliff for the sweet reggae.

You can find more “Finding Manhood” essays here.

6’4″, 29, 220

Editor’s Note: For two months now, we’ve featured “Finding Manhood” on our Man Cave page as one of our partnership blogs we recommend.  We’re pleased to announce that beginning each Wednesday, we’ll now have a feature from their “Best Of” archives to share with our community.  Finally…regular Man Cave stuff AND Sports stuff!  I loved this post, and am glad it was chosen to kick off this weekly segment – Red Dirt Kelly

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It could be said that I am a big college football fan. It could also be said that I’m an even bigger University of Oklahoma (OU) college football fan.

My dad started taking me to games in Norman when I was a little kid and that tradition has continued into adulthood. In those rare occasions when I’ve been unable to make it to Norman for a game that is not televised, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to be a part of Bob Barry’s play-by-play color commentary on the radio for the better part of my life.

While there’s a lot I could say about Bob Barry and his style of radio announcing, the one thing that has stood out to me over the years is the way he introduces the players at both the beginning of the game and as they check into the huddle. After saying a player’s name and usually his hometown, Bob most always follows it with three numbers. For years I had no idea what the numbers were until one day a good friend cleared it up for me.

Each time a new player comes on the field, Bob says their height, age, and weight after announcing their name and the town they are from. Because I didn’t realize what that was until later in life, I always find it really amusing anytime I hear it now. For example, if I were walking out to the huddle for my debut as the starting left tackle for the University of Oklahoma, those listening to 107.7 KRXO FM in the greater Oklahoma City area would hear: “Michael Mitchell subbing in for the Sooners from Oklahoma City. 6’4″, 29, 220.”

Amusing though I find it, those 3 numbers really do matter in the game of college football… sometimes (see story about Darren Sproles below). If you tell me a guy’s age, his height, and his weight, you’ve told me a lot about him as a football player. I can generally gauge by his age the level of maturity and in-game instinct he’s going to have on the field. Obviously, his height and weight tell me a lot about his physical development and strength… how much power he’s going to pack. I like Bob Barry’s system because I like making snap judgments and it gives me a very quick, very simple shortcut to size a guy up.

As men, many of us are a lot like Bob Barry in that respect. We carry around numbers in our heads that are important to us and that we compare to the numbers of other men we know.

As we get older, the numbers we carry around in our heads are no longer our height, age, and weight…though for some men all three of Bob Barry’s numbers remain a big part of their identity.

And while it’s likely that you probably don’t care too much about your own height, age, and weight (unless you’re extreme in any of them to the point of medical danger), you probably carry around other numbers that you think ARE important.

For some men, it’s our salary. The more zeros at the end, the better, right? For other men, the number that matters is the number of letters we have after our names. For some of us, it’s the square footage of our homes or the number of toys our kids get on their birthdays. For others, it’s our golf handicap. And for some of us, it’s the dollar amount of our retirement account. (I do enjoy a good rhyme.)

No matter what numbers you carry around in your head, the fact remains that as men a lot of us have a hard time being comfortable in our own skin without comparing ourselves to others. We place way too much value on numbers that really don’t matter.

The problem with the numbers we carry around is at least two-fold.

First, much like the game of football, no matter what number we use from which to base our evaluations of ourselves and comparisons to other men, there’s always going to be someone with a better number than us. In football, it’s usually the left tackle.  But even the biggest left tackle always has someone coming up behind him that is: A) younger; B) probably taller; and, 3) heavier.

Maybe my income has 6 zeroes in it. (It doesn’t), but if it did, there’d be someone else out there who has 7. The same goes for my golf score (I don’t play), the number of fish I caught the last time I fished (less than my limit), the size of my home, the value of my investments, the horsepower of my car, my kid’s IQ, etc. etc. etc. The list could go on forever. And just like in the game of college football, there will always be someone with a better number.

The second way our numbers as men are similar to Bob Barry’s college football numbers is that often times they are both misleading and flat-out DON’T MATTER. While age, height, and weight are a quick way of sizing up a college football player, often times they are actually not the most important factors. We’ve all seen those guys who dominated the game of college football despite seemingly meager numbers. As an OU football fan, the name Darren Sproles comes to my mind. Sproles, who now plays on Sundays for the San Diego Chargers, is listed at 5′ 6″ and 185 pounds. He’s beefed up since his college days.

In 2003, despite his tiny stature, Sproles (who played for Kansas State) shredded the undefeated and highly touted OU defense in the Big Twelve Championship game leading to a 35-7 upset. Since then, he’s gone on to have a pretty good career in the National Football League. And yet, if you look at the guy on paper, his numbers betray him. And while I’ve never met the guy, I get the feeling that the one thing that REALLY sets him apart is a number that is impossible (at least for us non-medical professionals) to judge… that is, the size of his heart.

As men it’s really tempting to get caught up in the game of evaluating and comparing ourselves to other men based on whatever numbers we, or they, have deemed important. However I’ve recently started to meet and read about men that don’t fit the mold in this area. Men who may or may not have impressive numbers, but who just flat-out don’t give a damn.

These are men who evaluate themselves on intrinsic things that can’t easily be sized up with a quick number. Things like the amount of passion with which they face life, the way they treat other people, their own level of self-discipline, etc. These men have a sort of strength that draws other people to them. Call it resiliency, call it the mountain man persona, call it whatever you want to call it – but men like this don’t need numbers.

Despite the fact that these men probably have impressive numbers to boast, they find their value in simply being what they were created to be. Living life with gusto. Holding doors for little old ladies. Trying risky things even if it means failing more than they succeed. Taking care of their physical, mental, and emotional health. Taking care of their families. Making the decision to live a life of discipline. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day just because it’s difficult.

That’s the kind of man I want to be. Until then, I’m 6’4″ 29 220.

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Michael Mitchell is a new daddy and the husband of a friend.  I’ll let him introduce more of himself as he sees fit.  Afterall, I don’t want to be puttin’ up some wrong “numbers,” yo! – RDK