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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another episode of the Art of Manliness Podcast, and this week we return 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 Robert Disque. Robert, welcome to the show.
Robert Disque: Thank you, Brett, appreciate that.
Brett McKay: All right. Thank you for taking the time to speak to us today. So before we get started Robert, can you tell us a little bit about yourself.
Robert Disque: Yeah, sure. My name is Robert Disque. My least favorite question is where I am from, because I grew up as a Marine Corps brat, so I grew up everywhere, so usually I just say, I’m currently from, you know, like right now I am currently from Ogden, UT and I am a divorced single father of three.
Brett McKay: All right. And the way I met Robert was, he is very active in the Art of Manliness community www.community.artofmanliness.com, he is really active there and had some great insights and he is a great guy there and from my understanding, Robert you are also not only an army brat, but you also served in the military yourself, is that correct?
Robert Disque: I did, I did. I actually served with a few branches, I joined the Marine Corp way back in 1990 right before the Gulf War and then right after the Gulf War, our President was cutting back the Marine Corp, so I was offered to get an honorable discharge or go into the reserve, so I went to the reserves and then they disbanded my reserve a year or two after that and so the only military police unit available in the States at that time was a military police unit in the Army National Guard, so I did a lateral transfer and did the rest of my years doing that.
Brett McKay: Wow, very interesting, very interesting. Well, Robert you are ready to get started with the questions?
Robert Disque: Sure thing.
Brett McKay: All right, Robert. So when did you feel like you’ve became a man?
Robert Disque: That one always makes me laugh. Because it makes me think about because I distinctly remember the time, the date, the place and Marine Corp Recruit Depot, Marine Corp graduation from Boot Camp. I remember that you feel like you earn it…
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Robert Disque: You go through – back then – it was 13 weeks of hell, so that’s when I realized – just kind of felt it.
Brett McKay: And so how old were you when that happened?
Robert Disque: I was 23 years old.
Brett McKay: Okay, so you were pretty young then?
Robert Disque: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Do you think the experience you had in the military kind of prepared you for other facets of your life?
Robert Disque: You know, it basically set a foundation just about everything in my life, between church and the Marine Corp and my dad, it kind of– it prepared me for just about everything, took everything I thought as a kid because I grow up as marine brat, so it was like going home when I went to Boot Camp and struggles in life, emotional, physical, mental. Boot Camp just kind of prepares you for it, what they do is they tear you down. I mean, they really emotionally just tear you down and then slowly but surely they build you up and they build you back into a marine and then when you get your dress blues on and you’re walking across that parade ground and you got four uncles that are former marines, retired marines and your father that is a retired marine and you think of all the dead grandparents that were marines and everything clicks and connects and you just feel like a man.
Brett McKay: I mean, right there what you described is a perfect example of a rite of passage.
Robert Disque: Yeah.
Brett McKay: You go in and you’re kind of stripped away from society and you are actually kind of initiated in by elder men, in this case your uncles and your father and everyone else who preceded you to kind of into manhood, so yeah it’s really interesting.
Robert Disque: Well, even in Boot Camp, your senior drill instructor becomes almost like your father literally, I mean emotionally you want his praise, you want them to be proud of you, and you feel like you have earned his respect when you graduate, so it really is a rite of passage.
Brett McKay: That’s really great that you had that experience because one thing we’ve talked about on the site before is that a lot of men these days, particularly younger men don’t have that experience.
Robert Disque: I know.
Brett McKay: And it’s really sad.
Robert Disque: And you can actually see it too. I mean, you can see it in their lives. By the way they systematically live their lives, you can see by their actions and by their choices, you can see the lack of it.
Brett McKay: So the marines and the militaries are a big part of helping you shape your idea of masculinity and kind of bring you into becoming a man, what does manliness means to you, Robert?
Robert Disque: Well, for me, it’s always been knowing and perfecting yourself by embracing your manhood, you know, as a kid you look forward to becoming a man and going through all those little things like shaving and, you know, all the little things you look forward to going to and in my family it’s shaving, hunting and things of that nature and you start getting all these messages from outside of your family unit and from the world and it starts confusing like what are you? Even your role defined as a boy starts getting confusing and of course, you also have that little thing called hormones going to puberty confusing issues a lot more too, and so I was always taught to be the best person you can be, but was always, you know, knowing yourself and correcting yourself and once you realize what manhood is from the examples around you, that’s what you kind of strive to be and that’s what I was always taught was just being the best man you can be.
Brett McKay: And going on that, looking at examples of manliness to follow it kind of leads on to our next question, what men in your life either living, dead or even fictional have influenced your views of manliness?
Robert Disque: All of my examples kind of coagulate together, because my father was a marine and at 17 years old, he joined the Marine Corp and spent five years in Japan. I have several brothers and we used to sit around as kids and my dad and my brothers, we would watch James Bond movies and, you know, you see James Bond, there’s all kinds of cool things about that a boy just love, you got gadgets, you got girls you got cars and all the cool stuff, and that’s something that kind of influenced me a lot is not really the movies and the characters of James Bond which did, but doing those things as a bonding experience with my dad and with my brothers and then we also were forced to take karate at a very young age, but it was different back then than it is today.
Back then, there was no English spoken in our dojo, and sometimes a dojo was a garage in somebody’s house. There are a lot of things rites of passages that you go through and that too because as the low ranking belts, it’s your job after class to bend over in line with wet rag and wipe down the dojo floor, that’s my biggest memories. But every Saturday we had to spend two hours listening to lecture on philosophy, history of karate and things of that nature. So I got a lot of martial philosophy growing up as a kid, so and again my father brought that influence of Gichin Funokoshi into my life that way too and so Gichin Funokoshi is a big big influence philosophically and then my uncles, so I guess everything kind of centers around family with me, because my uncle Bob when I was younger, he owned an autobody shop and during school days, I worked at his autobody shop and he built custom hot rods and show cars and muscle cars. And so I grow up with this love of muscle cars and he too was also, you know, a former marine and during the summers, my mom and dad always felt we needed something to keep us out of trouble and to build our character as boys and so my brothers and I were sent to uncle’s ranch in Arizona and it’s a real ranch, not the Billy Crystal kind. You know everybody get big romantic ideas of like, you know, 3:00 in the morning mixing up 300 bottles, giant baby bottles of Calf Formula and hand feeding them is not romantic or fun.
Brett McKay: No, no.
Robert Disque: But my uncle, Hank was a cattle rancher and, you know, he was a very typical masculine cowboy, handlebar mustache, same boots for 30 years, same hat for 30 years, every morning got up worked the ranch, taught us how to work cattle, how to care for them, how to roll pot right and hard, hard work and he was always full of cowboy wisdom.
Brett McKay: What kind of cowboy wisdom that he have?
Robert Disque: Just the basic things like, you know, I mean it’s always kind of funny when you say don’t squat on your spurs but teaches you a lesson, that’s the first time you do it, it hurts. But a lot of life things like trusting people. He used to pass on little cowboys wisdoms here and there about trusting people, you would learn these things, you engrain them in your lives and to this day, I automatically trust people to a certain point just because of him. You know, even in the days of cynicism and everything, I still do seeing the good in people, which something he always did. He always saw the good in people first and then judged them by their actions later as they were lower down the stand and so that’s something we were always taught to do is that people are just like cows, you treat them right, you keep them healthy, they will always be easy to handle or manage and it’s true, it’s little simplistic, but it’s true, if you treat them right, keep them fed and keep them healthy, they are really easy to deal with, you could lead them just about anywhere.
Brett McKay: So family, the men in your family have been the biggest influence in your life?
Robert Disque: Yeah.
Brett McKay: That’s great. It’s another, I think, another thing that lot of men lacked these days, families not that big in life, even if they have a father at home a lot of times, the dad’s away busy at work or devoted to other things, but not necessarily in their children and a lot of people these days don’t have the luxury of living nearby extended family and kind of getting that extra support.
Robert Disque: I never really realized that before. I never realized how great I really had as a boys growing up, seven brothers, dad, uncles, grandparents, you know, they were always there and I never realized out of my little box of influence that the world outside of mine, there are people I don’t have that.
Brett McKay: Well, Robert, you mentioned your dad a little bit, how he has kind of influenced your idea of manliness, are there any other more specific examples of your– you know, the ways your father has influenced your conception of masculinity or manliness?
Robert Disque: You know there are so many, we don’t even have time. You know, as a boy, I saw my dad working as a marine. We go visit him on base, we bring lunch to him during lunch hour. I watched how he was with other marines and noticed he was different from some of the other marines, you know, but I saw him work his butt off. I saw him take two or three jobs to support all the kids that he had to support, so he was a marine, and he worked as a security guard at a medical facility, research facility in California. I remember seeing him come home late at night and thinking, well I haven’t seen my dad in a week and then dad would take the weekend and spend a few hours with us and tell us, oh, I’ve seen you guys in a while, I am sorry, so let’s go do this and we go fishing for the day or something like that or just do something silly. He always worked hard and when we did things around the house around the property because my dad had a thing he grew up in a city and my mom grew up in the country and so he wanted to live in the country all the time, so that’s where we lived, every time we moved to some place, they always look out the boonies and we had cows and pigs and chicken and everything, and my dad is trying to reclaim something that he felt he missed out on and he worked our butts off.
We always had to work hard and, you know, when I went to the Marine Corp and learned a lot about my dad, because I go through Boot Camp where I’d be in my permanent duty station like Camp Delta and you see everybody round him, like these little reminders of my dad like, that’s the characteristics my dad always taught us, a part of my dad is right there. And I guess the best way to see his influence was that he taught us 90% of everything by example. He was a very strong man, still is, he was always a family man, you know, he had eight kids of his own and then I had an uncle that was debilitated by disease and he took three of my cousins, his three sons and adopted them and they grew up like brothers with me.
Brett McKay: Wow.
Robert Disque: And then my aunt ended up having almost the same exact same thing happened to her, she was debilitated and he took her three daughters and adopted them and raised them as his daughters. And so I grew up in a huge household.
Brett McKay: Yeah, it sounds like, can fill the baseball team.
Robert Disque: And our church, oh yeah, our church had a program to help the Navajos several years ago back in the 1970s and I remember several foster kids coming to the house as a kid and we were always ordered to treat them like family and that’s something we always did, and so we were taught by example that family is important, it’s everything. And spirituality, you know, my father was raised as a strict Lutheran in Pennsylvania. He found religion in another religion and was disowned because he joined the religion and it didn’t stop him and he didn’t force any religion on us as kids either. He always taught us that spirituality was coming to terms with whatever supreme being or higher power you believed in or found and coming to terms with it. And that allowed me by seeing his example, you know, I was taught religion and I was taught about God, but I wasn’t forced to accept it, there was always out there, like this is what I believe and this is what’s right, and we were never told you believe this or you will be punished or any kind of thing like that. And that allowed me to make my own decision as I discovered different thing as I grew up and so I saw my dad live as an example, he lived his religion, he still does, he still treats family so important.
You know, he’s got 63 grandkids now, he sees all of them, he knows all of them and its always been important, so as an adult it’s important to me and I am one of those unusual cases where I have full-time custody of my daughters after my divorce, you know, and I still treat my wife with respect because of what I learned from my father, you know, we don’t talk bad about mom in the house because mom is part of family, it’s my daughters’ mother, that’s something that just kind of engrained in my life.
And then there’s silly things like my dad had a policy that you break it, you fix it or replace it, and so I can fix almost everything now as an adult because of that, because I was forced to fix things or replace things and as a kid I didn’t have the money to place them, so I had fixed them. And there’s so many examples I can give if you we could go on for hours on this because he just taught by example and that’s exactly how I try to teach my kids, I hope I am doing okay with it, but I am not sure yet.
Brett McKay: Well, your dad sounds like a quiet a man. Robert, you mentioned that you have a kind of unusual circumstance where you have full custody of your children after your divorce.
Robert Disque: Yeah.
Brett McKay: And they are all daughters, is that correct?
Robert Disque: Yeah.
Brett McKay: So what’s that like. I am sure that’s kind of an interesting, you grew up in a household of boys and now you are a single dad with three girls, how has that been for you?
Robert Disque: I had to call my mom sometimes and my mom would say well, call your sister Cindy, she knows how to braid hair. I called my sister, who lives in Phoenix and I’d say, Cindy, the girls are crying, you know this is when they were much younger, they want me to braid their hair, I am guy, I don’t know how to braid hair. My sister would sit there and take me through painstaking details over the phone how to braid hair. And my mom would call me. If I call my mom, I would be frustrated. Parental frustration, typical I hope, for everybody and my mom would say, you know what the problem you are having is you are a man, and I’m like what? She was oh, you talk to your dad and he will tell you what to do about the situation. My dad get on the phone and my mom would be telling him what to say, and my dad say Robert, they are girls, just accept it. So it’s always been different and it’s been kind of a struggle too because I have a teenager now which scares the tar out of me, but she is 13, she plays volleyball, plays in the jazz band at school, and so between music classes after school sports and activities, church and church activities and everything, I feel like a soccer mom sometimes because of this running back and forth, and it’s hard to do the whole work thing and life thing and still keep your kids going. And then my little daughter is 12 years and so she is in the same middle school as the older sister.
I have to be dad, sometimes I have to be the mom sometimes because mom doesn’t spend as much time with them, so I have to admit, you know, the only times I’ve ever had purposefully swallowed my masculinity was allowing my daughters to paint my nails and do my hair and put clown make-up on, you know, but it was hard for me, it took weeks for me to say okay, fine, your mother is not here, paint my nails, I don’t care. And it was actually really difficult for me to do something that I was always raised that’s a girl thing, you don’t do it, and so I had to swallow my masculinity and say okay let’s be girls. And the teenage struggle between parents that always will happen, it was difficult because girls are different and I can’t just look out and say man up, it’s a crime.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Robert Disque: You rub some dirt on it and I find myself doing that and then I get this look and it’s always the same look, I think they learned it from their mother, this rolling of the eyes look and staring at dad and I have to stop and step back and realize that okay, I have to treat the situation differently because I am not relating as a girl. I can’t get them to relate as a boy, so that is not going to work because it was actually very different and it’s been very difficult and keeping their mother in their lives is a struggle sometimes. Everybody automatically assumes usually that the man is at fault in a divorce.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Robert Disque: If a man single it’s his fault, he did something wrong. I have had people be surprised when they find out oh, yeah, I’ve got my daughters all week, sorry I can’t do that, I’ve got to do this or I got to do that and people always congratulate, now you are such an involved father, it’s like I don’t get that because it isn’t what fathers do.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Robert Disque: That’s just natural for me, so it’s been quite a struggle being a single dad.
Brett McKay: Or maybe this kind of relates on to our next question, maybe this is the answer to that the question was asked, what’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done as a man, either emotionally or physically or spiritually?
Robert Disque: You know, I thought about that question. That was actually one of the hardest questions to actually think about and answer because I didn’t have an answer right up the top of the head. Immediately, I was thinking, oh divorced, it was really hard emotionally, but I thought back about it and you are familiar with this because you did it for two years, I gave voluntarily full time service for our church. It was really hard because we didn’t watch TV, read the newspaper or listen to the radio, participate in all the things that, you know, a normal 19-year-old kids do. We separated ourselves from the world, we knocked on doors, we taught people about our church, we helped people by doing service projects and getting serviced and that was a spiritual, emotional and mental struggle for me that I grew more in those two years than I think I have in the past 30 some odd years and it was really difficult for me…
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Robert Disque: But I would never give that experience up because of what I learned and what I became because of it.
Brett McKay: I agree, yeah.
Robert Disque: It made Boot Camp easier, honestly it did.
Brett McKay: What Robert is talking about here we build certain missions for our church and those of you familiar with the LDS Faith, you probably seen the guys in white shirts and ties knocking on your door and you might run away from then and hide and that’s okay, I understand. But yeah, it really is a life-changing experience and for me, that was kind of my rite of passage into manhood, I guess and I guess for you it was Marine Corps, but I know for lot of man, the mission is a rite of passage, interesting.
Well, Robert, thank you for your time. I appreciate you being available for us and answer some of these questions.
Robert Disque: No problems, I enjoyed it.
Brett McKay: That wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to 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 find it at www.amazon.com or any other major bookstore. And for more information about the book, check out at the website at www.artofmanliness.com/thebook. And until next week, stay manly.