Lessons in Manliness: The Childhood of Theodore Roosevelt

by Brett and Kate McKay on February 4, 2008 · 33 comments

in A Man's Life, Lessons In Manliness


Theodore Roosevelt was not only one of our greatest presidents, he was also one of the greatest American men who ever lived. He embodied all the manly virtues and lived life with vigor and enthusiasm. In everything he did, he not only talked the talk, but walked the walk.

This is the first in a series of posts that will highlight the exemplary manliness of TR. We shall begin with his childhood.

The Childhood of Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy’s life began rather inauspiciously. He was a sickly child, asthmatic (a condition that at the time was sometimes fatal), near-sighted, and home-schooled. His father, who desired a rugged son, was completely disappointed in him. He would not let Teddy languish in his frailties. One day he took Teddy aside and said:

“Theodore you have the mind but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. I am giving you the tools, but it is up to you to make your body.”

Teddy did not hesitate before responding:

“I will make my body!”

From this moment on, Roosevelt become a tireless champion of what he called the “strenuous life.” His goal was to live each day with vigor and conviction. He put fearlessness as a constant goal before him.

Teddy immediately went to work. He and his father built a gym in the house where he would box and lift weights. He found hiking particularly vitalizing and would climb mountains in all sorts of weather.

Teddy Roosevelt Teddy Roosevelt
Before=Sissy After=Bad Ass

He became a strapping and hearty young man, taking up competitive boxing and rowing as a student at Harvard. Even so, after he graduated his doctor advised him that due to serious heart problems, he should find a desk job and avoid strenuous activity. Roosevelt decided to climb the Matterhorn instead. Because Roosevelt had thrown off his sickliness through willpower and discipline, for the rest of his life he had no sympathy for pansies. Of his sons he said:

I would rather have one of them die then to have them grow up weaklings.

As we shall see, TR brought this uncompromising zeal into everything he did.

Lessons From TR

1. Set goals to overcome weaknesses. Don’t let your weaknesses hold you back from success. Sit down today and make a list of the weaknesses that you have. It could be procrastination, a bad habit, or shyness. Make it a goal to overcome that weakness and set out an attack plan to overcome it. If shyness is your weakness, make it a goal to introduce yourself to 3 strangers everyday. After a month of doing this, your weakness will have become a strength.

2. Work hard. TR showed us that setting goals isn’t enough to overcome your weaknesses. You must work at. Work hard daily on conquering your weakness. Focus all your energy on improving yourself daily.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bob February 4, 2008 at 2:40 pm

Those are some badass chops he’s got there.

2 Brett McKay February 4, 2008 at 7:59 pm

@ Bob- badass indeed.

3 Keith February 5, 2008 at 5:51 am

I think we need more dads to push boys into men like his did. Good write up.

4 Brett McKay February 5, 2008 at 7:12 am

@ Keith- I agree with you 100%. We coddle boys too much today. Boys would be better off with a little parental prodding.

5 mike February 5, 2008 at 3:07 pm

Teddy Roosevelt was probably my favorite president. How could you not respect a man who embodied so many great leadership qualities? Sadly, I don’t see many of these attributes in too many of this year’s candidates.

6 panic February 5, 2008 at 6:15 pm

After visiting http://www.whatcausespanicattacks.com, I have learnt so much more about overcoming shyness, and exercises to improve my social skills. It has definitely made a difference to my social life; you should check it out too!

7 Gandalin February 8, 2008 at 2:05 pm

Asthma in the XIXth century was never fatal, on the authority of Sir William Osler, who would not have missed it. Asthma became rarely fatal in the second half of the XXth century, and why that is, has been the subject of considerable controversy. This is not vital to your underlying point, which is that Teddy Roosevelt was a weak and sickly child who strengthened and toughened himself by the exercise of his will.

8 Brett McKay February 8, 2008 at 6:55 pm


Thanks for the tip panic!

9 linsey mckay February 10, 2008 at 7:34 am

you need more info!

10 amcolorado February 11, 2008 at 8:23 pm

Want to see how tough TR really was – read this book:


A great story about a great man.

11 Brett McKay February 11, 2008 at 8:55 pm


Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll have to check that out. I’ve read Theodore Rex and Young Theodore Roosevelt. Bother were very good.

12 anon February 16, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Sissy, pansies.
so it comes back to be a real man has to insult homosexual?
now that’s a real good idea.

13 Liz February 22, 2008 at 7:31 am

Good morning! My name is Liz and I’m with Turner Publishing. I was wondering if you’d like to help us with one our books, “The Historic Photos of Theodore Roosevelt.” We’d love to send you a complimentary copy for a review and judging by this page, thought you would be perfect for it. If you are interested, please email me back at the one listed and I hope to hear from you! You can also visit our website at http://www.turnerpublishing.com. And just so you know I’m a real person and not some spambot, I’ve listed my blogsite as well for you! (you don’t have to read it, I just wanted to reassure you!) :) Have a fantastic day!

14 Jacob April 18, 2008 at 2:57 pm


yes; that’s exactly what we have to do. They insult the name of manhood.

15 Santoni April 18, 2008 at 9:02 pm

If TR were still around he would no doubt be training at Gym Jones. If anyone is interested in “building the body” check out this site: gymjones.com. “Talent doesn’t exist. . . Talent doesn’t get results practice and devotion do” Scott Semple.

16 Yank May 4, 2008 at 7:53 am

TR was a self-made badass.

He once gave a speech after an assassination attempt, with the bullet still in him. Brass bal*s.

God, I’d vote for him in a heartbeat if he ran today. Could you IMAGINE how he’d SHRED today’s dungheap journalists with their ‘gotch’a’ methodology?

I can see him now challenging one of them to 3 rounds in a boxing ring if the smartass asked some silly-ass question, or maybe just walk into the clown’s office and punch him out. If you wanted a DEBATE with TR, whoa you’d get a debate.

No opinion polls for this man, ask a question, get an answer.

yeah… :)

17 The Baltimore Babe September 28, 2008 at 5:03 pm

I am glad you are honoring such a man!

18 spence October 23, 2008 at 8:24 am

I blame the dads! More fellas need to ManUp and raise their sons. Too many guys are letting the women-folk raise our boys. Try though they might, women-folk are simply not equipped to make a man. It’s hard to raise a manly kid when the “man” who helped conceived him isn’t doing the heavy lifting-.

19 heloffffffffff February 26, 2009 at 9:44 am

OMG i think Roosevelt was the most AMAZING president EVER

20 Julio Iglesias August 21, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Want to be a true badass? If a father’s love for a son is so tied to his being the stereotypical “strong manly man” and if TR would “rather have one of them die then to have them grow up weaklings”, then tell your father to go to hell and form your life the way you want it to be, not want someone else wants just so you can earn their love and respect, father or not. The virtues espoused on this site need to be moderated and not taken overly literally – hopefully, we’ve evolved more than some comments here would suggest.

21 zach October 20, 2009 at 10:27 am

teddy rosevelt was a good president

22 Lucas November 12, 2009 at 7:23 pm

@ anon

Sissies and pansies are not even terms that directly imply homosexuality. By inferring that weakness, frailty and lack of manly vigor are traits of the homosexual, it is you who are insulting them.

23 Tim February 19, 2010 at 10:28 am

When Roosevelt mentioned “weaklings”, I interpret that more to mean that he did not want his sons to be victims of themselves or of the world – which really seems to be the true interpretation. We should never accept that.

24 Pablo February 23, 2010 at 1:51 pm

@ Julio,
First off, you don’t have the cajones to put up your real name so there’s that.

Second the virtues espoused on this website do not need to be moderated, in fact the men on this site need to encourage more of it, not less.

Thirdly, if you have some issues with your father, go deal with them, don’t project them to the readers of this site. If he challenged you to not be a weakling and you failed, that’s a hit on you. Don’t assume the rest of us did so too.

Speaking for myself and probably for many men here, when my father challenged me to man-up in various ways, I enjoyed the challenge and I’m greatful he did it.

25 BearMan March 9, 2010 at 12:12 am

A culture a nation and a people are only as strong as their individuals. The strength in the current culture enforces the strength in the next.

26 Eric April 8, 2010 at 10:01 pm

I totally agree with you. :)

27 Cal April 22, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Just a note that quote:

“I would rather have one of them die then to have them grow up weaklings.” He never said to his children but uttered to his wife.
He pushed his oldest son (Theodore Roosevelt) so hard he suffered a nervous collapse. From then he decided to never push his children but encourage them to live the virtues he embodied.

28 Jeremy June 28, 2010 at 7:31 am

I find it no end of amusing that the people who post the most acidic comments do so from behind either a false name (@Julio) or the ever-impressive “anon.”

@anon – I agree with Lucas. It is you, and people like you, who continually find insult where none is given, and try to turn everything into an insult. Hate to burst your bubble, but I personally have known homosexual men who were anything BUT effeminate, and actively hated that perceived way of acting. As one of them said “I was born with balls, I’ll act like it.” So much for “sissy” and “pansy.” Try harder.
@Julio – if you read the site attentively and especially “The Art of Manliness,” you would see nothing about true manhood is being a “stereotypical” anything. Unless he is abusive to you, any man who would tell his father to “go to hell” deserves no respect in my book.

29 Jeremy June 28, 2010 at 7:39 am

And yes, I realize the above statement to Anon may seem incongruous from a sexual standpoint – however, to clarify I was referring to the fact that, no matter who they chose to give their affections to, they acted like men. They didn’t mince, prance, talk with a lisp, or any of the other effeminate actions that, stereotypical or not, have come to be associated with “typical” homosexual men. In fact, had they not chosen to tell you they were homosexual, there was little or nothing to show that they were. That was my point, and in it my rebuttal of anon’s claim.

30 Mike December 4, 2012 at 2:43 pm

He would get sued and us bombed now, due to how sensitive everybody is now

31 Jade February 12, 2013 at 8:32 pm

I really enjoyed reading all these things about another one of our great united states presidents.it really shoked me when i found out about he was a sissy once in his life!

32 Hugh April 3, 2013 at 9:26 am

“TR, did a speech over 90 minutes with the bullet inside him, bleeding “… He also did the rest of his life with the bullet inside him, since the lead remained in him for the rest of his life. the shot went through 1000 pages of his speach wrapped around his spectical case

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