Editor’s Note: I had some problems with the sound on this episode. I apologize for the quality. I hope to have the recording problem remedied next week.
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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another episode of The Art of Manliness Podcast. And this week, we turn to our series called Man Stories where every other week we interview a different gentleman and ask him what it means to be a man. And this week, our guest is Zeke Smith. Zeke, welcome to the show.
Zeke Smith: Thanks for having me, Brett. I appreciate it.
Brett McKay: Yeah, thank you. I appreciate you taking the time and sharing your thoughts with us. So, Zeke, before we get started with the questions, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Zeke Smith: Sure, no problem. I’m a 26-year-old web designer and photographer. I actually just moved to Manchester, England, with my wife, Wendy. She is studying a graduate school program here at the University of Manchester, and we have lived in North Carolina for the past few years, it was a little bit tough to leave Chapel Hill which was actually the place where I went to college and we met, but we really enjoyed in England, and you know, picking up a new English language so to speak.
Brett McKay: Yeah. So, I’m guessing you are a big North Carolina fan then, right?
Zeke Smith: Yeah, actually I’ve been a sports photographer for the team for the last bunch of years, so it was great to go out on top. I actually was in Detroit for the 2009 national championship and in St. Louis for the ‘05 championship, so it was definitely a great run there, and fortunately, there is a lot of streaming webcast on sports and that kind of thing, so I can keep up with my teams from over here.
Brett McKay: Yeah, it will be a shame if you miss that on that stuff.
Zeke Smith: Exactly.
Brett McKay: All right. So, are you ready to start with the questions, Zeke?
Zeke Smith: Absolutely. Go ahead.
Brett McKay: All right, Zeke, when do you feel like you became a man?
Zeke Smith: Well, Brett, I think really the– when I became a man, it was probably when I got married, and I know that sounds a little bit cliché and it wasn’t like I walked out of the honeymoon suite the night after my wedding going, yes, now, I’m a man. But I think marriage certainly brings out a lot of qualities in a person that really translate into you discovering what it means to be a man. You really become much more aware of things outside of yourself than you ever have been before, you start to become aware of the fact that you might feel a little bit selfish as a person or different things like that, and really make you start to reach out and think about things beyond just your own sphere of influence. And so, I really think that just the worlds that open up when you get married is really a lot of what it means to be a man and start to become conscious of taking care of other people besides yourself and being kind and how you act and a lot of those sort of things. So, I will have to say probably when I got married which is about four years ago.
Brett McKay: Four years ago? You were 22 when you got married?
Zeke Smith: Yeah, I was pretty young, but, you know, I certainly had not anticipated that, you know, I always joked that I will be the last guy of my friends to get married, but, you know, when you really find the one it’s doesn’t really matter I guess. That’s what they say and that’s the case with me.
Brett McKay: Yes, kind of had it with me too. I got married pretty young, I was, I think yeah, I was 22 years old, and I wasn’t planning on getting married that young, but, yeah, you find the one and I put it off.
Zeke Smith: Exactly.
Brett McKay: Right. All right, Zeke, what does manliness mean to you?
Zeke Smith: I think probably the way that I define manliness the most is the godly man. I know I probably listed it a lot of eye rolls from listeners and that kind of thing with the comment, but– and I don’t necessarily mean the religious man, the guy who pounds on his chest and says like, I know what God wants for me and it’s to keep the woman in the kitchen barefoot and making me pies, but I actually mean, you know, I think that manliness is really defined by a lot of the figures in the Bible. I’m actually a Christian, and I hope that doesn’t make listeners uncomfortable or anything like that, but I think that there are a lot of really cool visions of manliness they come out of biblical stories, you know, there are guys who are well aware of their flaws, have really big problems, but they overcome them through faith and perseverance and things like that, and that’s really a definition of a man’s needs, a man who realizes that he has flaws, but cares for the people around him, and really looks to something beyond himself sort of the greater purpose, if you will.
Brett McKay: Yeah. So this kind of leads on to our next question – what men in your life, living, dead, or fictional, or from history, have influenced your views of manliness?
Zeke Smith: Sure. Yeah, and I think to that point, certainly, the biblical figures have influenced my view, but, I mean it’s not really enough to say that those are the only people who’ve influenced my view on manliness. My dad obviously is probably the number one influences I’m sure that a lot of readers and listeners can say the same, that’s sort of inherited, and then beyond that I would say probably the two other biggest influences are the guy who was my pastor for the last number of years in Durham, whose name is J. D. Greear, and is really intent on making the church a place where guys are totally comfortable. He has always said, he wants the church for dudes, and has run this program called Men’s Fraternity, which sounds way lamer than it actually is where guys all kind of get together at a manly time of 6:00 in the morning every Friday and sort of haggle with these issues that are really difficult for men to talk about. It’s like, hey, why are we the way we are and why do we have trouble with things like this, and I actually thought that was really cool to run a program like that where a lot of guys want to have those conversations with other guys but don’t know how to actually start them up or find an environment where they can have those conversations.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Zeke Smith: So, I thought that that was a really a cool program and helped me sort of talk through a lot of those things, and you also meet guys of all kinds of ages. So I would say J. D. Greear is a really major one and I have loved my friendship with him, he and I still keep in touch. And then the other ones are probably the other seven guys that I lived with, my senior year in college where we’re called the Overlook Boys, we lived in this place called the Overlook. And I think that they, you know, all of us together have really sort of helped define what each of us think a man is, because all of us are sort of different. It’s a sort of a group of friends that I think every guy would love to have, and I’m really blessed to have. It’s a bunch of guys who have all gone to different life occupations, have all come from different places in life, and even places in the country and things like that. And so we’ve brought different perspectives and we all get together, you know, at least once a year to just see each other again, and beyond that, we just talk on the phone all the time and that kind of thing and so, I think every man should really have a group like that of other guys who help, you know, keep him sharp, keep him accountable and that kind of thing, about what’s going on in his life and what is he up to, and just checking in with each other. So I think that group of guys, the Overlook Boys, have done a really great job of helping me progress into manhood, because we all share like our experiences with each other and learn from them, and that’s been great.
Brett McKay: That’s great, that’s great. You have good friends like. I know a lot of men these days are unfortunate not to have that. We are still isolated these days. That’s great you have that support.
Zeke Smith: Yeah, I think it’s funny, I mean one of the movies that we watched actually when we’re on the plane over here and my wife and I was I Love You, Man, which I thought was a hilarious and was totally apropos for the times these days or it’s really difficult for dudes to meet other dudes once you are like out of college.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Zeke Smith: And I’m even finding that to be true here in England, you know, it’s one of the first times that I’ve ever moved somewhere in my life. I’m actually an army brat, so we moved around all as a kid, but it’s kind of my first time as an adult moving to a place it’s totally new, and so going out and trying to make adult friends is really awkward, you know, going up to another guy and be like, hey, hi, I see you like basketball, I like basketball too, you want to get together sometime and play basketball, it just feels awkward.
Brett McKay: Yeah, it feels awkward.
Zeke Smith: [chuckle].
Brett McKay: So what– I mean going on that, what have you done since you’ve been in Manchester to try to make new male friends?
Zeke Smith: Well, fortunately, there is this interconnected series of tubes that has all kinds of information about getting the other groups and so I’m really fortunate that the internet is here because I’ve just been looking up different groups of digital creative, you know, people who do the same kind of work that I do, so I have that in common with different groups that are sort of on the same wavelength in terms of my wife and I finding a church and like finding activities and things like that. And then guys who play like pick-up soccer and basketball and that kind of thing, so it’s sort of been the thing where I guess you pick a common interest and you try to roll with that and try to find other people who are into the same things and then you progress from there, but yes, so it is a little bit awkward just to start off.
Brett McKay: Yeah. It’s good to doing that. So, Zeke, you mentioned that your father had any influence on your view of manliness, and how exactly did your father influenced your conception of masculinity or manliness?
Zeke Smith: Sure. I think he really influenced it a lot in terms of that I wanted to be a well-rounded man, and very much in the way that he is. He has so much depth to him, and that’s something that I’ve always admired about my dad. He has an extreme body of knowledge and respect for all things that I think is awesome, you know, he was a military man, but he is not really a stereotypical military guy, he was also in veterinary school before he decided to join the army and service the country in Vietnam, and he was almost a poet and actor, and he has a lot of different facets to his life, but I think he also influenced me in some negative ways as every dad probably does. I’m definitely afraid of that when I have kids someday that I’m sure some of my flaws are going to come out, but I think because he had some issues growing up and that kind of a thing that he was a little bit of an absent father, my parents kind of split up when I was young.
So I think he obviously showed me what it was to be a man and to really put your family first and that kind of thing. Even though my parents split up, he moved across the country just to be near to me when I was in junior high and high school and really prioritized, spending time with me and that kind of thing and, you know, took trips with me across the country, and we had a lot of these conversations about what it is to be a man and that sort of thing, but I think that also– it was weird because he is such a smart guy and such a patient and gentle guy sometimes, but then he will just like explode on somebody in traffic or somebody who is like serving us at a restaurant or something. So it’s weird. I’m sure everybody has that relationship with their dad where you learned a lot of things that you really want to emulate and say that’s my dad, he is awesome, and then you also take some things away where it’s like, man, I don’t know, is every man supposed to be like that, is that supposed to be a vision of manliness. So obviously you learn both good and bad from your dad, but I think I took mostly the good away for certain, and I’m really thankful that he has made being in my life such a priority.
Brett McKay: Great. And one of things we talked about on the site quite a bit is that a lot of men, particularly our age, I’m 26 too, we kind of miss out a lot like kind of manly skills that our dads or grandfathers could do.
Zeke Smith: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Is there something that your dad can do that you can’t do?
Zeke Smith: Yeah, I think the number one is probably navigation. I definitely inherited my mother’s sense of direction. She can go somewhere a hundred times and then go there for the 101st time and still get lost, and unfortunately, that is the same way with me. And my dad, it really gets him frustrated as anything because he was a pilot, he was a helicopter pilot, so he has this incredibly innate sense of direction where he knows we’re going south, southeast right now, we need to go about 50 paces in order to hit, you know, this certain highway or something like that. And most of the time, when I was a kid even when we drove around the country and things like that, I had my nose in a book, so I really did not inherit any navigational skills and it’s only made worse by the fact that I can just take out my iPhone and use Google Maps now to get anywhere.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Zeke Smith: So I certainly wish that I could do that because I, you know, there is always the thing in the back of my mind where I would get stranded in the middle of the woods during a campaign trip and basically just cling to a tree because I would have no idea where to go, but I think that’s certainly an awesome skill that he has that I wish I had.
Brett McKay: Yeah, iPhones don’t work out in the middle of woods sometimes.
Zeke Smith: Exactly.
Brett McKay: All right, Zeke, here is the last question. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done as a man, either emotionally, physically, or spiritually or otherwise?
Zeke Smith: Sure. You know, I think probably the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do is tell my now wife, Wendy, that I didn’t want to be in a relationship with her, and this is actually, it’s kind of like a long story with our relationship. She was dating another guy and broke up with him the first summer that I had met her, and the guy that she was dating was really good friends with a lot of my friends, you know, we kind of shared mutual friends, and towards the end of the summer after it had been a while, she came to me and said, hey, I really like you a lot, I really want to date you and I really had a mutual feeling about her that, you know, I felt something really strong, but I think because some of my friends has scared me off and maybe because I was scared of something going wrong, I said, no, I really don’t want to be in a relationship, and I don’t think we can talk or see each other or anything like that. And that wasn’t a really hard thing to do, I mean– I don’t know– it’s hard to explain now in retrospect, and I’m still trying and explain it to her this day, because I ended up seeing her a year later and realizing that, you know, I really thought I felt something strongly for her because I couldn’t get her out of my head the whole year that we were apart, but I think that was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do, I really put into motion a sort of period of just weird emotional turmoil in my life where I couldn’t decide what was going on and why I had made that decision, so fortunately, everything still worked out, fate intervened, and we’re married today, so that’s awesome.
Brett McKay: I’m glad that everything worked out.
Zeke Smith: Exactly.
Brett McKay: Well, Zeke, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us, thank you for your time.
Zeke Smith: Absolutely. Thank you, Brett.
Brett McKay: Well, that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice, check back at The Art of Manliness website at www.artofmanliness.com . And remember, we got a book on sale too, it’s The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man. You can buy it at any major bookstore, www.amazon.com  and other websites. So for more information about the book, check out www.artofmanliness.com/thebook . And until next week, stay manly.