The 5 Switches of Manliness: Legacy

by Brett on June 13, 2011 · 55 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

We started the last post in this series with a surprising fact–that only about 33% of our ancestors were male. We’ll begin this post the same way:

When the Titanic sunk, the survival rate for the rich, first class men (34%), was lower than that for the poor, third-class women (46%).

Most people know that the Titanic had less lifeboats than were needed for the number of passengers, and that the richest passengers were given first dibs on those limited seats. And yet, the numbers tell an interesting tale. What happened? Many of the wealthy men decided to let the women, regardless of class, get on the lifeboats first, choosing instead to go down with the ship themselves.

Women and children first. You’ve probably heard this expression all your life, so much so that you may not have paused to ask yourself the reasoning behind it…why have the lives of women historically been worth more than the lives of men?

The Expendability of Men

 

The answer goes back to what we discussed last time in the Switch of Challenge and can be traced to the biological differences between men and women. A woman can only get pregnant by one man (at a time) while one man can impregnate multiple women. A group with five men and one woman is not going to be able to have as many babies as a group of five woman and one man. This is why a woman’s eggs, and her womb, have always been much more valuable than a man’s seed. And why, coupled with our greater physical strength and propensity for risk, men have always been slotted for society’s dirtiest and most dangerous jobs. Like hunting and war. This is true from primitive times down until the present day. Societies had to protect their women if they wanted to survive and thrive.

In World War I, there were 9.7 million, almost exclusively male, military deaths.  The number boggles the mind: 10 million men went off to war and never came home. Enormously tragic, but on a certain level we accept it; it is inconceivable to imagine 10 million women being sent to the slaughter instead.

6,026 American service members have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Only 2% of the fallen were women.

Men made up 93% of the 6,000 on-the-job deaths last year.

We cheer and are touched when we hear stories of men laying down their lives for women, such as this man, who covered his wife’s body with his to save her from the Joplin tornado and lost his life in doing so. It would be much more surprising to hear a story that happened in the opposite way–where the wife sacrificed her life to save her husband.

It is also still common to hear newscasters and journalists report on an accident or disaster by saying that the death toll included even women and children. Even. Because the death of men is one thing, but the passing of women makes the tragedy seem all the more terrible.

So we know what the practical result of the greater expendability of men is–men have historically been called upon to do society’s most dangerous jobs and have often lost their lives in doing so. But have you ever stopped to think about the effect of this system on the male psyche?

The Chance for Immortality

When Kate and I began to talk about having kids, she asked me why I wanted to have children. I said something like, “I really like the idea of having a part of myself still go on in the world after I’m gone.”

She looked at me blankly.

“What?” I asked. “Haven’t you thought about that?”

She hadn’t. She wanted to have kids because it would be an expression of our love and something to love, and other things revolving around love.

Men have always been particularly interested in the idea of legacy. And who can blame us? In the back of our mind we know we’re expendable, we know that if duty calls, we may have to sacrifice our lives, likely when we are still in our prime, to protect those of the tribe and those we love. At the same time, our primal brains tell us we may never have a chance to be a dad. So a biological legacy is not guaranteed.

And so we turn to creating non-living things, things that will bring value to the world. Time is short, and we want to make our mark and leave behind a part of ourselves. We want just a bit of immortality, and the act of creation, in which a man brings into existence something that did not exist before, is the most godlike thing a man can do. We may blow on and off the earth quickly, but we hope that when we depart, something, however small, is a little different because we were here.

Create More, Consume Less

Of course, even if you’re not buying my personal, more philosophical theory for the origin of a man’s drive for legacy, there are still very practical reasons for the development of this desire.

In the days before settled agriculture, tribes were likely very egalitarian. Women gathered nuts and seeds, and men hunted big game. Anthropologists think that their contributions to the tribe were about equal.

But women contributed something extra: children! So what were men going to do for their extra contribution? Well, if women were handling the reproductive tasks, the men needed to step up and create something extra in the productive realm.

This goes back to what we talked about last time, in that womanhood has always been a status sort of automatically conferred, while manhood had to be continually proven. When a woman had a baby, that in most cases forced her to grow up. But a man needed an external push to propel him into maturity, to keep him from wanting to slide back into infantile dependency. And this is why the mark of a manhood, according to sociologist Steven L. Nock, became whether or not he produced more than he consumed…did he do his part to add value, power, and wealth to society? When he passed from the earth, would he leave the tribe stronger than he came into it? Or was he a lazy leech? Ancient societies around the world were in agreement on this point: the latter was not a man.

The Modern Obstacles to the Drive for Legacy

You don’t hear much about “legacy” these days. There are  a few reasons for that.

First, we live in an incredibly present-minded society. There is very little sense of history and understanding of what has come before. There is a sense that our society is the only one that has ever existed and the only one that matters. We don’t have a broad, expansive view of history and time. Because we do not acknowledge the legacy we have inherited, we don’t see the value in leaving a legacy ourselves.

We’re also a culture that wants to believe we can live forever. We venerate youth culture, try to stay looking young as long as possible, hide away our old folks, and shield our eyes from death. The more we deny the inevitability and reality of death, the less motivated we feel to work to create a legacy. After all, who needs to leave something behind if you’ve convinced yourself that you’ll always be around?

Third, we live in an extremely disposable society. Everything is designed to be used a few times and then thrown away. And every advancement is soon replaced by an even better update.  And so we lose faith in the idea that anything can truly be lasting. We feel like–why bother?–whatever I can possibly add to the world will soon be obsolete anyway.

Fourth, we live in a very impatient society. We want things to happen immediately. Waiting for our computer to boot up makes us want to punch someone. But building a legacy is a slow process, and more importantly, the results of our effort may take a very long time to manifest themselves…they may not even come to fruition until after we are gone. Talk about an instant-gratification buzz-kill.

Turning the Switch of Legacy in Your Life

“Yet man dies not whilst the world, at once his mother and his monument, remains. His name is lost, indeed, but the breath he breathed still stirs the pine-tops on the mountains, the sound of the words he spoke yet echoes on through space; the thoughts his brain gave birth to we have inherited to-day; his passions are our cause of life; the joys and sorrows that he knew are our familiar friends—the end from which he fled aghast will surely overtake us also!

Truly the universe is full of ghosts, not sheeted churchyard spectres, but the inextinguishable elements of individual life, which having once been, can never die, though they blend and change, and change again for ever.” -H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines

What does it mean to leave a legacy? My definition comes from what I learned from Boy Scouts: leave your campsite better than you found it. So it is with life. To leave a legacy means to leave the places you go and the people you meet a little better than you found them.

Many men will likely say that their children are their greatest legacy. And that’s fantastic. But as discussed, I believe men have an innate desire to leave a legacy that touches the broader world around them as well.

Actually, the comparison between children and creating value in the world is quite apt. They both involve a man’s seed. With the former, a man’s reproductive seed, thousands of sperm fight to reach the egg, but only one will find purchase. With the latter, a man’s productive seed, thousands of attempts to create value in the world may end up on barren soil, but a few will hit the mark and sprout new life.

Thus, every man should be a Johnny Appleseed of sorts, scattering their seeds of creation wherever they go, and being content to know that the seeds may not bear fruit until long after they have moved on. It requires patience, and a sort of faith, a faith in the idea that we have not lived in vain, that the world is a little different from our being here.

I was surprised at how popular last week’s Manvotional, Facing the Mistakes of Life, turned out to be; it was shared over 1,000 times on Facebook. The passage came from a book written in 1909 by William George Jordan. Perhaps Jordan’s books were popular in his lifetime, which is a nice reward, but how extraordinary is it that 100 years after penning those words, they would be read by thousands of people on a medium of technology he could not have even conceived of? Sitting at your desk on a rainy day, as you type words into the computer, can you imagine people a century later finding inspiration in your writing? That’s legacy.

And legacy comes not just from the creation of physical and literary objects. A legacy can come from an idea, a business, a tradition, a thought…anything that changes a person, the world, just a little and gets passed on, anything that lasts.

There are lots of little ways to create your legacy. A man never knows when an encouraging word given to another may change the course of that person’s life, and in turn, alter the course of history and add value to the world. Here are a few ways to create your legacy every day:

  • Keep a journal
  • Start a manliness club at your college or high school
  • Begin a new tradition at your fraternity
  • Take steps to start your own business
  • Start a blog
  • Be a mentor–become a Big Brother, coach Little League, take someone new at work under your wing, etc.
  • Share your ideas in a Master Mind Group
  • Start a Bible Study or small group at church
  • Figure out new and better ways of doing things at work
  • Make a piece of furniture or another item that you can pass on to your children, and they can pass on to their children
  • Start a new program in your community–a rec league, a recycling program, etc.
  • Tinker with an invention

What are some other ways a man can create a legacy? What are you doing to create your own legacy?

Switches of Manliness Series:
The Cure for the Modern Male Malaise
Switch #1: Physicality
Switch #2: Challenge
Switch #3: Legacy
Switch #4: Provide
Switch #5: Nature

{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dan Foerster June 13, 2011 at 12:54 am

Another excellent post! This theme of legacy and impermanence has been rattling around in my noggin recently. Can’t wait to see more “Switches.”

2 Glenn June 13, 2011 at 1:10 am

Great post! Definitely gonna look into this.

3 Nick June 13, 2011 at 1:18 am

“Start a manliness club at your college”

Thanks for the idea

4 Rich Cottle June 13, 2011 at 2:56 am

Great Article! I am a firm believer that a major problem with my generation( I’m 24) is that we lost site of any legacy given to us. Having my son (he’s 2,) opened my eyes to the fact that no matter what, I am going to impact the next generation. Either for better or worse. It is up to what we do as men today, and every day through the course of our lives that will determine what kind of impact we will make. This is one thing that is truly in our control. We need to embrace this, and raise the next generation up to be far greater than we ever will be.

5 Robert June 13, 2011 at 3:31 am

One of the realities of modern life is that it makes it much harder for a man to make his mark as an individual. That said, if you keep your mind on the idea of leaving this world a slightly better place than you found it, you can find lots of ways to accomplish just that. Find something in your community, and help bring it to life, or help keep it alive. You don’t need any musical skill or talent to help your local symphony, ballet, or opera. Volunteer at your local public radio station. Take a look at your job. If you feel you are just a cog in the corporate machine, and not really improving someone’s life, look at taking your skills into the non-profit sector, or to a green start-up that is looking to change the world. I found a great deal of personal reward when I had the opportunity trade my corporate IT job in to become the staff geek at the classical music station that had inspired me decades ago. It is very rewarding to have a job where you regularly hear from people that you’ve had a positive impact on their life.

6 Jeremiah June 13, 2011 at 5:10 am

A friend of mine and I wandered into a conversation about living in parity with our environment. I used that as a branching point into legacies and felt my comment was appropriate for here:

I’ve always like the native american system of not taking more than you can use. Which is why I want to pay off my student loan, and then I’m pretty much done. I might get enough together to pay rent, food, gas and insurance out of a savings account for the rest of my days. But really I won’t have a need to do anything beyond that.

Unlike most men I can’t pass on a genetic legacy, and I’ve already built a non-genetic one through several of my friends who I helped get into computers, or programming, or both. This allowed me to pass on a legitimate trade, and is my standing legacy.

7 Antonio June 13, 2011 at 5:59 am

Congratulations for the post and the amazing site. It is great to know that we are not alone. Fantastic motivation as values transcend cultures.

8 LeeOr H. June 13, 2011 at 6:10 am

Legacy is only right here right now.

And I’ll let someone great do the talking for me:
…..
For all things fade away, become the stuff of legend, and are soon buried in oblivion. Mind you, this is true only for those who blazed once like bright stars in the firmament, but for the rest, as soon as a few clods of earth cover their corpses, they are ‘out of sight, out of mind.’
….
—–>
….
In the end, what would you gain from everlasting remembrance? Absolutely nothing. So what is left worth living for? This alone: justice in thought, goodness in action, speech that cannot deceive, and a disposition glad of whatever comes, welcoming it as necessary, as familiar, as flowing from the same source and fountain as yourself
……
Marcus Aurelius, 121-180 BC.

9 LeeOr H. June 13, 2011 at 6:14 am

I offer a viewpoint, that power that drives us, to live a power greater than our own, greater then our life. power, destiny, purpose… a little more accurate then legacy and a little more fitting in our narcisistic society. What say you?

10 Leon June 13, 2011 at 6:20 am

Plant a tree. Think about it though, choose the species and location carefully. Then plant another one.

11 James June 13, 2011 at 8:32 am

There’s another reason why the term ‘legacy’ has become outdated; as progress moves forward, the speed at which we advance grows exponentially.

It used to be that a singular invention or discovery might take a lifetime, and last a generation or more before it was replaced (or much, much longer the further back in time you go)

Now, new and wonderful things are discovered at an incredible pace and become obsolete within a few years.

12 jimmm June 13, 2011 at 8:46 am

Fatherhood: I had to get over the notion of biological legacy, and happily, I did. I am the proud Dad of two kids whom my wife and I adopted about ten years ago. They, our marriage and our family life constitute our legacy.

13 Jared June 13, 2011 at 9:12 am

This post got me thinking about something that seems at odds. Guys love toys – new trucks, new technology, new tools. And they show these things off to their friends and family and purchase these things like there is no tomorrow. Perhaps in an attempt to prove they are a producer (i.e. that they can afford these things due to money production)? But this seems at odds with ‘Create more, consume less’? I wonder if and how this affects a man’s psyche…

14 David Y June 13, 2011 at 9:14 am

We will all leave a legacy of some sort. It may be small and fleeting. It can also be a negative legacy of destruction.

Or, we can leave something good and lasting. There are many ways of doing this. As you said, we can create things that live on after us. We also can, and I think should, try to preserve the good legacies left to us by those who came before.

15 Chuck June 13, 2011 at 9:17 am

My take on this is really just to leave things in an improved state over where I found them. Now that I give it some consideration, I think it’s one of my core values. It’s important to me to take the time to do things right where maybe others haven’t. It’s also important to not be judgmental of those who chose to do things the way that they did.

I find myself constantly telling myself and my children, “that may be the way some other people do it, but that’s not the way that we’re going to do it.” It doesn’t make us better than anyone else; it just makes us who we are.

Maybe I just hold us to a higher standard than other people do? I don’t know. I hold us to the standard that I think is right, and I commonly use what I call the “grandparent test”. Would my grandparents be OK with whatever it is that I did or said?

It works for me, and I try to leave the legacy that whatever I was involved with is better as a result of me being involved. Kids included.

16 Sandra June 13, 2011 at 9:37 am

What and interesting post, as always! It is so enjoyable to wake up every morning to such intelligent articles. Thank you for helping me be a little wiser each day.

17 Michael June 13, 2011 at 9:43 am

Christians may find the following words from Pope Benedict XVI to be relevant and thought-provoking:

“All people desire to leave a lasting mark. But what endures? Money does not. Even buildings do not, nor books. After a certain time, longer or shorter, all these things disappear. The only thing that lasts for ever is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity.
“The fruit that endures is therefore all that we have sown in human souls: love, knowledge, a gesture capable of touching hearts, words that open the soul to joy in the Lord. So let us go and pray to the Lord to help us bear fruit that endures. Only in this way will the earth be changed from a valley of tears to a garden of God.”

– Mass ‘Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice,’ Homily of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals (April 18, 2005)

18 Andrej June 13, 2011 at 9:53 am

Is it possible to start a local art of manliness club and translate the aom.com into the local language?

Please answer men :)

19 Tim Knecht June 13, 2011 at 10:13 am

Good article. But, you forgot to mention one of the best ways to leave a legacy: TEACH. When you teach someone how to do something, you empower them, and they in turn may teach someone, and they in turn………. Teaching is an act that goes up and out; it is a great goodness.

20 Rob June 13, 2011 at 11:02 am

Love this series, thanks so much for writing it!
I can add one thing to the list – paint! I enjoy distributing paintings I’ve done as a way of spreading my legacy, and people seem to love to receive a personal commission.
cheers,
Rob

21 Drew June 13, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Great article. Great writing. I’m a firm believer in meliorism, the power of one individual, and legacy.

22 Joe @ Not Your Average Joe June 13, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I write about “old school” principles, about being a child of the 70′s and 80′s and my main influences being Depression era Italian immigrants. I don’t want their way of life to fade away. I don’t want them to be forgotten. I want others to hear about them and learn what they taught me. That’s my legacy.

23 BJ June 13, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Is this why MEN are seemingly so promiscuous? Especially powerful men.

24 Vincent June 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm

I’m sure it’s been said many times and places, but “No man achieves greatness until after he is dead.”

@Michael I love it when people bring relevant religious remarks into the discussion and I get annoyed when others try to keep them out. Thanks for the input.

25 Jacie June 13, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I’m a single mother to a 15 year old young man, finding this site has been such a wonderful tool for me and him. I pray everyday that even though I’m a single mom, some how, my young man will grow into a man others will respect, trust, depend on, and leave a legacy of his own. Thank you, I print these and give to my son to read.

26 James June 13, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Great post. I think about this literaly all the time, even since I was pretty young. Now that I am in the military and can be called upon to lay down my life it is even mroe at mind.

I think the wiil to have a Legacy is part of what feeds the internet. Pushing your content out there. Where what you do can touch everyone and live on.

27 Dano June 13, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Incredible post.

As I am at the beginning of my future after just graduating college, I am inspired by your words and commitment to protecting, harnessing, and cultivating the qualities of men and manliness with this website. It is a strange time we live in, and it I could not agree more with your perspectives on the challenges my generation faces. It will be very difficult for us to establish legacy through virtue and productivity when everything around us is consumed by dreams of youthful immortality.

Thank you, Brett.

28 JustBeaManBLOG June 13, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Good post. The part about creating an excess over and above what you need to survive, and that prestige, legacy, whatever serving as motivation and confirmation of your Manhood was interesting. I’m going to think about this further. Often you’ll hear successful Men prioritize their legacy, their reputation, their family name, which is all one and the same.

JustBeAMantheBLOG

29 Georgiaboy61 June 13, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Brett, thank you for an insightful and well-done article. This website has become one of my essential stops on the ‘net. For a long time now, I have been troubled by the increased use of women in the armed forces, and the push to put women into the combat arms. This past Memorial Day, I saw an op-ed by a female soldier demanding that she be allowed to join special operations. I have many practical objections to such feminist social engineering in the armed forces, but the moral argument – which you have summarized well here – is the most persuasive to me. What sort of civilization sends its women off to war when able-bodied men are available? The answer? a sick one, one that has lost its moral and ethical compass. Women are the keystone of civilization… the bearers of children, keepers of the home and hearth. Sending women off to war is literally killing off the generations to come. Thank you for crystalizing this insight for me. Keep the good work coming…

30 Image June 14, 2011 at 12:31 am

Brett,

Thank you! You are building a legacy yourself with this great blog!

31 Artifact June 14, 2011 at 1:17 am

This post reminded me of an article I read a while back about the expendability of men and the nature of gender inequality and I encourage everyone to read it.
http://www.psy.fsu.edu/~baumeistertice/goodaboutmen.htm?utm_source=Daily+Subscribers&utm_campaign=abdc51a671-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email

32 Native Son June 14, 2011 at 9:59 am

“Women and Children First” originated at the sinking of the British troopship HMS Birkenhead off South Africa in the 1850s. As the ship broke up, an order to take to the [inadequate number of] lifeboats was countermanded by the a regimental officer.
He ordered the men to stand in formation and the women and children to get the lifeboat seats.
The the men of the regiment stood on deck as the ship sank under them.

33 Brucifer June 14, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Even though Brett is a “family man” I’m glad he went past the essay part on procreation to point out that having kids is, at root, a mere biological function. Leaving an actual legacy means much, much more.

Frankly, those who willy-nilly procreate are leaving a legacy they often don’t want to own-up to. Population control is still a largely taboo subject. Then we blithely turn around and wail and moan about its effects: “pollution,” “development,” “sprawl.,” somehow become abstractions ….. the legacy of OTHER people, certainly not “good” people like us.

The other thing you will be seeing is Baby-Boomers finally coming to terms with their own mortality and also realizing that they have been legends in their own minds as far as having supposedly “changed the world” back in the 60′s and 70′s. They *might* have done so, but they largely dropped the ball and became yuppies. Thus, many will now madly scramble to “leave a legacy” in their communities. Unfortunately, most of their ideas for doing so, will still be rooted in outmoded and discredited ideas they still carry from back-in-the-day.

Finally, if women indeed want to be accorded equal rights and privileges with men, they should then properly be accorded their fair share of responsibilities and share of communal hazards. This means such things as women n combat, and only cries of “children first” when the ship sinks. Fair-weather feminists that want to have their cake and eat it too, needs be a dying breed.

34 Steve Cianca June 14, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Thank you, Brett, for another fine essay. Your series on the switches of manliness is quite apt. I believe many men, especially of the younger generation, are at loose ends when it comes to their sense of manhood. This is a great existential dilemma, because men need to feel grounded in their masculinity and feel a sense of having become a man. You mention some of the obstacles to achieving this goal that contemporary culture has thrown in our path. I would like to add a couple more.

First, you mention the cult of youth. You are correct in your analysis, but I would go further. The cult of youth is not just about the denial of mortality, but the avoidance of growing up entirely. This youth cult began in my generation (the Boomers) but we were fortunate enough to have parents, especially fathers, who were never influenced by this nonsense, so many of us escaped the infantilizing effects of the culture of youth and the need to “rebel.” In generations past, young men (and young women, for that matter) aspired to be adults, not just adolescents with bigger allowances.

Growing up in the 50s, 60s and even in the 70s, young men understood that one achieved manhood by completing at least two (preferably all three) of the following three tasks: securing gainful employment, serving in the military, and raising a family. However, succeeding generations have been raised in a climate that encourages ongoing dependency upon parents and others. The youth culture has by now instilled in young people a sense that youth is an end in itself, not a stepping stone to adulthood (and manhood for boys). I can think of no more apt symbol of this mentality than the ridiculous phrase that was bandied about when my generation was young: “Never trust anyone over 30.”

As a result, there are fewer and fewer examples of responsible adulthood in society today. Boys and young men need older men to look up to and imitate. When society ceases to venerate maturity, youth are understandably confused. The effect of the youth cult is to deny the virtues of manhood, which–at bottom– is taking responsibility for others.

The second obstacle involves the unintended(?) fallout of feminism. If the cult of youth has banished adult responsibility to the periphery of society, then feminism–intentionally or not–has removed many of the opportunities for men to prove their worth as men. The expendability of males is hardly confined to the human species. But only human males are conscious of their existential predicament. Nature has given women, as individuals, a built-in sense of worth through their ability to bear children. Men, on the other hand have to justify their existence, since from a reproductive perspective, not a lot of us are needed.

Men need to contribute something unique (their “legacy”) to society. It doesn’t have to be anything grandiose. Simply carrying on a meaningful tradition will do; but it has to be something uniquely masculine, something only men do. Because if women can do it, too, then there is nothing uniquely manly about the activity and thus it fails to serve as a proof of manhood and a justification for an individual man’s existence. With almost all of what was once the sphere of masculine activity given over to women, there are very few ways a man can validate his manhood in contemporary society. Even the role of fatherhood has been diminished–almost to the vanishing point in some segments of society. Thus, once again, boys and young men understandably feel adrift.

Rites of passage for boys into manhood are a fine thing and much to be encouraged. But until we as a society restore the unique value of manhood to a place of honor, respected by women and embraced by men, no amount of rites of passage will assuage the deep sense of loss that most men feel today.

35 Johann June 14, 2011 at 5:09 pm

One of the greatest articles/Manvotionals yet.

36 Lee June 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Agreed with Johann, definitely one of the best articles I’ve read lately. The part about youth culture is especially true.

Steve’s response goes to the heart of American society. College does not create any true calling in life, once you graduate, young men are released into the world no better off than they were in high school, unless they majored in a professional degree.

37 Seth June 14, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Hey Brett, Thanks for these brilliant posts.

38 Tim June 14, 2011 at 10:27 pm

My father began to teach carpentry to me nearly twenty years ago, when I was ten. Just this year I began to inscribe my name on new pieces, usually the back where it is not seen in daily use. The best lagacy I can think of is on the back of a bookcase. I inscribed my name, when I finished it, and stated that I learned carpentry from my father, who learned from his father, who learned from his father. Four generations of my family will be remembered as long as one piece of oak furniture exists. It is my hope that a grandson or even great grandson will be shown this description at ten years of age, before he picks up a saw or hammer and nails for the first time.

39 Mike June 15, 2011 at 2:59 am

My aunts and uncles have in the past few years become increasingly interested in learning more about our ancestors and our family history, and one of the projects that was spawned from this interest is an effort on the part of my uncle to collect family photos from as many generations of our family as possible. He’s been scanning them and posting them on FB for a while now, and it really creates a sense of connection between our family and all the history I learned in school. He’s been able to find photos from the present day all the way back to the late 1850′s. Without printed photos though, this wouldn’t be possible. Think about it, will your descendants have access to the photos you have stored on your phone or on your hard disk 70 years after you’re gone? You may be keeping them on an external drive, but who knows if there will even be USB ports on computers by then? If you care about leaving a photographic history for the future, print your photos on real chemically developed photo paper or find a service that does archival inkjet prints. An even better option would be to toss your digital camera and shoot film. You’ll be creating real, physical, durable negatives or slides that will last more than a lifetime if stored halfway decently. You can go even further and make the prints yourself in the bathroom with a used enlarger.

40 Lee Coursey June 15, 2011 at 4:01 pm

I live in a small town. It’s the same small town my dad, his dad, and for the most part 17 generations of my family in some shape or form have lived in.

My grandfather has a legacy. He was the man with the last word. All the men would sit around and talk and complain, and when they were done, they would say “David, what do you think?”. He spent the whole time they talked thinking about a solution. He would give it if they asked. To this day, 20 years after his death, people still tell me this simple truth: David had the last word.

If I could become the man who had the restraint and the wisdom to be the man that everyone wanted to have the last word, I would have accomplished a legacy.

On another point, I wear the legacy of the good works of my OTHER grandfather in the form of his ring with the Square and Compass on it. That is a very private legacy I hope to pass on some day.

41 Jason Craig June 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm

If you’re a catholic man seeking a legacy, start a chapter of Fraternus.

42 Bryan June 16, 2011 at 6:35 am

It is rather odd, if not downright sick, the way that some people talk about liberty and honesty. In the real world these are seen as weakness, things to be taken advantage of. Onstage people love to sing god bless america and say that God is good, liberty and justice for all, yet what do these people really DO? Children have been becoming more disconnected with thier parents and more in tune with media sources. We don’t have as many fathers teaching thier sons “just go along with this patriotic garbage, but just remember it is a bunch of lies”. Some of us hear the hype and promises and believe that America is a great place and that we have a fair chance and will be treated with respect. THEN we get out into the “real world”. How long, how much longer can this society survive with all this hype and misleading info? I want something more. I want to leave behind something more. To kill and conquer the world is not what it is all about. It is to truly be alive. So forgive me if I choose a slightly different path. Maybe my apparently small legacy will oneday be of much greater value than all the stuff that other men steal by various means.

43 Charles Stewart June 16, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Thought provoking article. I think it is also apt to remember that just like men legacies can be good or bad. Our society has inherited many great legacies (liberty, freedom, etc.) however it struggles with many bad legacies (i.e. environmental arrogance, racism, sexism, unjust wars, etc.). In fact as I was writing this it dawned on me that every man will leave a legacy….our choice is whether to put in the blood, sweet, toil and tears to a leave a good one or allow apathy, laziness, and greed to sprout a bad one.

44 Jason June 16, 2011 at 7:17 pm

You want to talk about legacy? ADOPT! In my opinion, the greatest legacy you can ever leave in this world is being a parent to a child who is not yours. My wife cannot have children, but we made the decision to adopt and are now in the system awaiting placement. There are so many children out there in need of a good home. Imagine life without family! As much as I want to deny, my parents shaped who I am. I want to pass on the skills and values I have learned.
Other thoughts on legacy, one of my ancestors was General Sherman. Learning about my past helped me shape my future as I always felt a deep connection toward military service. I served in the Marines for 5 years and now continue serving my country in the form of contractor work. I’m hoping to instill this love of country in my children too. They may not be blood related, but that won’t matter.

45 Mark June 17, 2011 at 9:44 am

This blog had a post several months back about philanthropist adventurers – that article inspired me to set up a philanthropic cycle tour across the island of Java in Indonesia. I didn’t make it because of a traumatic head injury that caused short-term amnesia. I only mention the cycling tour as an example of how things we do (you specifically) that have legacies you may have no idea about.

46 Mark June 17, 2011 at 9:49 am

I forgot to mention that the cycle tour (called BikeJava) raised enough money for a child to get a life-saving surgery, a community to gain much needed supplies to conserve the nature near their land threatened by housing developments, and a poor school got school supplies and hundreds of books.

Write on!

47 Emmanuel June 18, 2011 at 6:13 am

Thank you very much for this wounder full post.

48 Max June 18, 2011 at 6:41 am

This should be taught at school, wait, we should strive to get his into the school curriculum, wait, it might already be there?…

49 Mary June 18, 2011 at 2:49 pm

This is very interesting, but I don’t think it only applies to men.
Many women want just as much to leave their mark. It doesn’t mean that because they had children they’re done. We’re just as terrified of death, we also want a legacy that it doesn’t necessarily involve breeding

50 Alejandro June 18, 2011 at 10:19 pm

It’s sadly ironic that the lives of males are still considered expendable. Even in this politically correct society – where bleeding heart liberals clamor for the welfare of death row inmates – that probably won’t change anytime soon. Women seem thoroughly satisfied with the double standard they’ve imposed upon us. They demand equality in jobs, education and pay, but still want to be the first ones in the life boat when the ship hits the iceberg. And, men are letting them get away with it. Men shouldn’t have to certify their worth solely through good deeds; that is, actions that make adult females safe and comfortable. On the eve of “Father’s Day,” I know men are more valuable than what they have in their bank accounts. And, we shouldn’t have to compete to the death with other males to prove it.

51 Jane June 19, 2011 at 12:58 pm

@ Georgiaboy61: there’s a difference between “sending” women into combat, and allowing those who want to fight, to go and make their mark in the way they choose.

Very good article, on the whole. Some parts only seem to apply to America (the “we’ve lost touch with our past” problem). Also, as Mary says, it doesn’t only apply to men. Being able to prove that we’re worth something, that our existence will be noticed, applies to everyone, and child-rearing is a dual-gender thing. Simply producing a child, yes, female-only, but as many have said here, it’s rearing that child that leaves a legacy, and that’s a job for either gender, with adoption being just as valid a a genetic relationship.

My dad’s got his legacy sorted: he’s taught me, and others, a lot.

52 Andy O June 22, 2011 at 9:14 am

Outstanding article in a solid series.

To my mind, a man’s legacy has many parts:

-the biological. Offspring. Not always possible, and in this day and age the least relevant. Yet it is still the ur-legacy. Children carry on the genes.

-the social. The effect a man has on those with whom he crossed paths in life. How many did he teach? How many did he encourage? how many boys did he turn to men? In short, how many colleagues and replacements in manliness did he create?

-the cultural. Innovations he brought about. This can be the oft-referenced artistic creativity or technological invention, but for those not gifted for that, it’s anything “new” to improve or add variety/usefulness to those around him.

-the physical. Assets and artifacts that the man added to the civilised world. Not “new” things, just instances of old ones that took his labour, planning or resources to reproduce. The software I write is part of my physical legacy. So are the cabinets I installed in my mother’s kitchen.

53 Beardy Ben June 30, 2011 at 4:06 pm

This is right on and very timely! I have just been thinking about how the general lack of long-term perspective is hindering progress and education in the last few days. It must be a common thing among men to want to improve the world around them for the future, and it is terrible that the culture’s “disposable” paradigm directly opposes this urge. It seems that leaving a legacy was expected of men years ago, each man was expected to be known for something: courage, creativity, leadership, vision, sacrifice, etc. but now no one expects anything – just do what you want, whatever feels right is fine. Its disappointing really and I believe its the cause for students coming out of schools with paltry knowledge of history, economics, civics, and fine arts. Just like you said, we need to create as many colleagues and replacements in manliness as we can or our descendants will suffer for it.

54 Kenny A. December 4, 2013 at 10:04 am

Here I am, 32 yrs old. My Godson just turned 2. Since just after his conception I have been writing letters, an idea I had after reading Teddy Roosevelt’s Letters to his Children.
I will transcribe them into Composition notebooks to be delivered upon his coming of age, somewhere around 13 to 16 yrs old I imagine. Since I have no children of my own, this will be my legacy: to help him grow unto a better man than I am.

55 Gabe December 20, 2013 at 3:39 am

I’m inspired to put up some recycling stations around my neighborhood.

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