Surveys show that adult men are suffering a friendship crisis. Most adult men don’t have a single friend they could turn to in a time of need. Many sociologists suggest that this dearth of friendship is one of the contributing factors in increased mental disorders and suicide rates among men.
But close male friends don’t just keep you from suffering a mental and emotional breakdown. They’re also vital in shaping you into a better man.
That’s the argument my guest today, Stephen Mansfield, makes in his latest book, Building Your Band of Brothers. Today on the show, Stephen and I discuss the bleak statistics on male friendship, the myth of the lone alpha male, and why making friends in adulthood is so hard for men. We then discuss what he means by a “band of brothers,” why men’s accountability groups usually fail, and how a close-knit group of friends can help make you a better man. We end our discussion by delving into exactly what you need to do to develop a band of brothers and what to do when you get together.
If you feel like you’ve been lacking in the friendship department, this episode is for you. You’re going to walk away with some tactics you can put into action right away to begin developing your posse of pals.
- Why it was necessary for Stephen to write this book on male friendships in the first place
- Why is it important for men to be part of a band of brothers?
- The illusion of the American alpha wolf male
- The crisis of adult males who don’t have deep friendships
- Why it’s easier for boys to make friends than adult men
- The history of male friendship
- “Rusty friends”
- Stephen’s own experiences and troubles with male friendships
- The history of the phrase “band of brothers”
- How is a band of brothers different from any other men’s group?
- The “free fire zone”
- The essentials to creating a band of brothers
- How many guys does it take to form a strong band of brothers?
- How do you find men to buy into this idea?
- “3B-ing” a relationship
- How to have a band of brothers even in the midst of a busy life
- How to “tend your fields,” and why that’s the heart of manhood
- How a band of brothers makes you a better husband and father
- Sustaining a band of brothers
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- My first interview with Stephen about manliness
- Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men
- Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection
- On the Importance of Keeping in Touch With Old Friends
- The Joys and Difficulties of Making Friends in Adulthood
- How to Build Relationships That Don’t Scale
- Making and Keeping Man Friendships
- The History and Nature of Man Friendships
- Band of Brothers book by Stephen Ambrose
- Band of Brothers HBO miniseries
- Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3
- Stephen’s podcast
If you’re looking to form a band of brothers, Stephen’s book provides concrete, actionable steps to help get you started. Pick up a copy on Amazon.
Connect With Stephen Mansfield
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
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Recorded on ClearCast.io.
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Surveys show that adult men are suffering a friendship crisis. Most adult men don’t have a single friend they could turn to in a time of need and many sociologists suggest this dearth of male friendship is one of the contributing factors in increased mental disorders and suicide rates among men. But close male friends don’t just keep you from suffering a mental or emotional breakdown, they’re also vital in shaping you into a better man. That’s the argument my guest today Stephen Mansfield makes in his latest book Building Your Band of Brothers.
Today on the show, Steve and I discuss the bleak statistics on male friendship, the myth of the lone alpha male, and why making friends in adulthood is so hard for men today. We then discuss what he means by a band of brothers, why men’s accountability groups usually fail, and how a close-knit group of friends can help make you a better man. We end our discussion by delving into exactly what you need do to develop a band of brothers and what to do when you get together.
If you feel like you’ve been lacking in the friendship department, this episode is for you. You’re going to walk away with some tactics you can put into right away to begin developing your posse of pals.
After the show’s over, make sure to check out the show notes at AOM.is/bandofbrothers for links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Stephen Mansfield, welcome back to the show.
Mansfield: It’s great to be with you again.
Brett McKay: Last time we had you on was a little over a year ago. We talked about your book Mansfield’s Manly Book for Men or Mansfield’s Manly Book of Manliness. It was a lot of Man and Manliness in there. Great conversation, but you’ve got a new book out, Building Your Band of Brothers, which I think picks up where you left off with your first book. Why did you feel it was necessary to write a book on how to develop … I mean, what it is it’s how to develop friends as an adult male. Why do you think that was necessary?
Mansfield: I’d written this book Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men, I was speaking about it all over the world, grateful for the opportunity, and I realized months after the book came out and great things were happening with it that I had made a mistake. That was that I had done what many people do, I had described manhood. I had urged men towards it. I had probed them, asked questions, held up historical figures, but I had not actually given them the final step that I knew, which is that they’re gonna have to get some men around them to help them execute this. They’re going to have to have, as I say, a band of brothers to help them perfect, achieve righteous noble manhood. That was missing from my first book. It was my fault.
I decided to write a little companion paperback to help bring that to the floor and to emphasize it. It’s my omission and I think it’s also an omission we often have in men’s literature that we don’t get practical like this. That’s why I went after this book.
Brett McKay: Why do you think it’s necessary for men to be a part of band of brothers in order to become the men they want to be? I mean, there’s this sort of trope in, I guess, cinema, American cinema the idea of the lone alpha wolf, like Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name who’s just on his own, he becomes the man. He does what he want. He’s pretty cool because he has that sort of self-resolve he developed himself. He didn’t need anybody else. Why do you think men need to surround themselves with men to become the men they want to be?
Mansfield: Well, first of all, that myth, that image is a very American image and it’s a very selective image. There was the occasional lone figure who would ride off into the wilderness, but for the most part it was communities that settled the nation. So, we have this more emphasized in movies than it ever would have been in American history. The reason it has to be emphasized is that we men naturally have friendships when we’re boys, when we’re in high school, when we’re in college. It’s easy. The guys are there. We’re open to it. Friendships, we don’t have to work at. It just kind of happens automatically.
But when we get into our adulthood, that’s when crisis hits. I mean, it can happen for a high school and college kid too, but it tends to happen when a guy gets into his business life, when he marries, when he has children. It starts to isolate him. All those things are wonderful, but he tends to not have meaningful connections to other men. He knows guys maybe from the health club or from the work or whatever religious organization he might be part of, but for the most part, men find themselves, the surveys show this, they find themselves in a sea of casual relationships.
You know the surveys, Brett, very well. The average man can’t name a best friend. He doesn’t know who he’d call if he was out of town and his wife needed help at three in the morning. Suicide rates are sky-rocketing. When we do the post mortem on men who commit suicide, normally it’s loneliness. Normally it’s “I don’t have a friend.” Normally “There’s no man close enough to me to know what’s going on in my life.”
We clearly have a crisis of adult males who do not have significant relationships with other men. I don’t just mean friendships and golfing buddies. I’m talking about guys who really know their lives and are helping them achieve something better.
Brett McKay: I think it’s interesting too, there is this idea that’s permeated American culture that men don’t like relationships. We’re sort of loners and things like that, but I’ve had psychologists on the show that said, “No. Actually men are wired for relationships.” Boys are more likely to form these what they call like little playground gangs while women are more about one on one didactic relations. Boys love making friends. But then, as you said, as you get into adulthood that just gets harder and harder to do.
Mansfield: Part of the reason is it happens naturally when we’re young. When we get older, it can tend to become a bit artificial. They do studies where the put little boys and little girls into a room. Little girls will move chairs opposite each other, look in each other’s eyes, face each other, and one of them will say, “I like your hair. I like your dress.” And they’ll start engaging a relationship that way, face to face.
Little boys pulled the chairs side by side, look around the room, and go, “I can beat you to that tree. Hey, I bet we could whoop Tommy. You suppose we can, you know, go over there and get involved in that?” So, they look for something to do. Men need what we call indirect connections. They aren’t going to sit in a circle and dredge up their emotions, like some organizations try to get them to do. They need something indirect. They need to connect while doing something else. That’s an art that a man has to learn if he’s in a situation like most of us where that’s not automatic.
Brett McKay: You begin your book talking about the history of male friendship. Kind of giving a cursory summary of it. Like as you said earlier, this idea of the lone male is a very recent phenomenon. So, if it is a recent phenomenon, what were male friendships like before the decline of male friendship?
Mansfield: Male friendships tended to come out of doing other things. You were in the military. You were plowing the ground. You were having the barn raising. You were on the ship. Whatever. There was enough work to do, there was enough happening and we were enough in community that friendships came naturally out of those kinds of pre-existing connections. In other words, you were gonna connect with men, you might as well make friendships among some of them because you were, again, the village, the tribe, it simply required it.
As we got into our modern society, we got a bit more atomized, as some people say. The house in the suburbs, the car where you drive alone, the cubicle where you work alone at work. We got into an industrial age and then a digital age. Isolation set in. It’s not a permanent disease. It’s not as though we’re doomed. It’s just that we have to reclaim some skills that were sort of automatically used and automatically developed in previous ages and now we have to be a bit more intentional about them. Most guys just never are told that. They never are confronted with that so they float around, like I say, in a sea of casual relationships and live out pretty lonely existences.
Brett McKay: You also talk about rust friendships or rusty friends.
Mansfield: A rust friendship is simply an older friendship you’re trying to drag into the future that is not really active. Like I have dear friends from college and I love them dearly and I love talking to them, but if I’m relying on that friendship, a phone call two or three times a year, maybe a vacation together once every five years, these guys aren’t guys who really know me. They only know what I tell them.
Real friendships know you in 3D. They’re close enough to see what’s going on with you. They know things aren’t going right in your marriage because they’re close enough to detect it. So, your man’s making a mistake if he’s taking rust friendships, these are older friendships they’re dragging into the future, and trying to make those adequate. It just won’t work. Sometimes when I ask a guy, “Man, do you have any close friends?” He’ll mention Army buddies or college buddies or what have you from years ago and that’s the best he’s got. Well, that guy’s in trouble.
Brett McKay: Stephen, what’s your experience with male friends. Has this been a problem for you and something you had to be intentional about developing?
Mansfield: Yeah. It really is. I was a little bit challenged by it even in my boyhood because I was a military brat. My father was Special Forces and intelligence, so he moved quite a bit. So, every year for 13 years of my childhood life, I had to make new friends and then we’d up and move. On the one hand, I was challenged about friendships and had to make new friends all the time. On the other hand, I developed some skills maybe other guys didn’t have to develop.
Then I went to high school, college, and had great friendships there, but I fell into the same pattern as most guys. I got married. I had a couple of kids. I had a busy career. I played racquetball with some guys. I went hunting occasionally with some guys, but I certainly didn’t have men around me who knew me, where we were discussing and helping each other with the issues of righteous manhood, noble manhood. I went through some crises in my life. Nothing life destroying, but some crises where I realized, “Stephen, you’re alone. I mean, just because you play racquetball with a guy and get a steak or something like that, does not mean you’ve got anybody who’s there in a crisis or helping you be a better man. They’re not invested in you. You’re not invested in them. There’s something better that should happen here.” That’s when I really started pursuing what’s led me to this book.
Brett McKay: At what point in your life did you start being intentional about your male friends?
Mansfield: Well, it really came about when I went through a bit of a crisis years ago. The actual nature of the crisis we don’t need to take time with, although I’m happy to talk about it, but what happened was some men pulled in around me and began to just, because I was in a bit of trouble, and I don’t mean legally or in any major moral way. Just relational crisis. They began to speak to me. They began to say, “Well, that’s happening because you’re a knucklehead in this certain area. Or because, yeah, you got this quirk in your personality and that’s obviously what’s causing this situation.”
As they began to kind of hold up mirrors for me, as they began to speak bluntly to me, as they began to tell me about how they got through this on their own, I realized that I was living pretty much out of what I knew of myself. Quick little story that illustrates this the best I know how. Not too long ago a guy gave me a picture of a scene from a party that I had attended and I looked at the picture, saw the person in the picture, and I said, “Who is that?” He said, “It’s you, fool.” Well, it’s one of those pictures that we all hate. I was scrunched down on the couch, I had about five Oreos in my mouth, my t-shirt was stretched over my belly, my neck was scrunched down to my shoulders so I look like I had 50 chins, and I looked like Jabba the Hutt, but I had never seen myself from that perspective.
It really dawned on my at that time if I can look a way that I can’t even recognize, it’s probably possible that I’ve got some internal things that I’m not seeing about myself either. I really want to be a good man. I really want to be the best man I can be. I need to have guys around me.
That crisis and that way of thinking caused me to realize that I was being an idiot. I really didn’t know myself well enough to help myself just through my own insights about myself become the best I can be. I needed other men who could see me in 3D. I gotta tell you, it made all the difference in the world. So I became more intentional about it and at that time we began getting a lot of these stats about how men are in downward spiral, of the suicide rate, particularly in England, for example. I was raised largely in Europe, so I’m aware of European trends, and all of that made me realize we had a crisis we had to address.
Brett McKay: As you’ve been saying throughout this conversation, this is more than just a racquetball buddy or a drinking buddy or a sports league buddy. You’re advocating for a band of brothers. That phrase is popular now thanks to the HBO miniseries about World War II and the 101st Airborne Division, but you go into the history of that phrase Band of Brothers. Can you talk about that because I thought it was really interesting?
Mansfield: Sure. Sure. Shakespeare really gave us that phrase and he gave us that phrase in the play Henry V. In that play, it’s all about a battle between France and England, in that play he puts words into the mouth of Henry V. Henry V, the real historical Henry V actually made this amazing speech, but we don’t have much of it written down from that time. These were men heading into battle, they weren’t taking notes. So, Shakespeare imagined that speech that’s called the Agincourt speech because it was at the battle of Agincourt in the early 1400s. It includes the line “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”.
Well, that phrase band of brothers has come down through history as just the perfect, these terse words that really describe what men are looking for. They were used at D-Day to motivate the guys going ashore. They were used in Trafalgar, a great naval battles in English history. They’ve certainly been used even in Iraq recently. There were commanders motivating their troops by quoting the Agincourt speech in Henry V.
This phrase band of brothers, of course that’s where Stephen Ambrose got it, which is why we have it in the HBO special, the HBO miniseries, but it really has become the tightest way to describe that we don’t just want a group of rowdy guys around us. We want a band of brothers, men who are committed to us to some degree. We’re committed to them. There’s something more happening than just friendship. That, I think, captures it beautifully and challenges us with it.
Brett McKay: So, how is a band of brothers, your idea of a band of brothers, so, you’re saying it’s more than just a guy you drink with, do stuff with, but you mentioned earlier it’s not really an accountability group or a prayer group or any sort of a men’s group that are popular in some circles. How is a band of brothers different from those type of things?
Mansfield: A great question. A prayer group or an accountability group, I’m all for both, but it’s not going to answer what a man needs. Because an accountability group, for example, is it’s usually styled, requires me to figure out what’s wrong with me, drive across town and tell you about it over bacon and eggs. Well, we’re assuming I’m going to figure out what’s wrong with me. We’re assuming I’m going to be honest about it. We’re assuming I’m going to be right and we’re assuming I’m going to show up for bacon and eggs.
A band of brothers is a group of men with whom you do life. The thing you’re really going for at the heart of a band of brothers is what I call a free fire zone. That means anything can be said that needs to be said to make me a better man and also to make the other guys a better man. So, you’re working towards a situation where you all are pretty much agreed what noble manhood is, what you’re shooting for. You know each other well and I don’t have to drive across town two Tuesdays from now, tell you that I’m having trouble in my marriage or porn is killing me or I’ve gone beyond the one glass of wine tonight, I’m having five, or whatever. You’re walking closely enough with me to know those things and we have a free fire zone, which means that we’re not going to stay away from any issue in each other’s lives out of manners or some kind of cultural, you know, “Hey, we don’t go deep with people” kind of thing. We’re committed to saying what needs to be said to make each other better.
It’s not just gathering up in a room and circling the chairs. We’re shooting hoops. We go climbing mountains. These are guys you’re having fun with and you’re doing life with, but the difference between that and just a group of friends is that you’ve committed to each other, first of all, that you are committed to noble manhood, and second of all, that you’re going to address whatever needs to be addressed in each other’s lives to make this happen and then help each other work it through.
My band of brothers, for example, we’ve had guys who have weight problems. We got guys with marital crises. You’ve got all kinds of situations you’re dealing with. Anger. “What are you so ticked off about? Every time you talk to your son it sounds like you’re about to beat him to death. What’s wrong with you?” That kind of thing. Just straight up in each other’s face and it’s made us all better.
That’s what I think men are looking for. They want to have fun. They want to have rowdiness. We’re not trying to turn it into a sewing circle, but we do want that free fire zone that gets said what needs to be said. Most men never hear the real business about their lives. They never have anybody speaking bluntly to them. That’s the difference in this particular group.
Brett McKay: Besides that free fire zone, are there any other essentials to forming a band of brothers?
Mansfield: Absolutely. You’re looking for a contagious culture. You’re looking for a situation where you guys are conducting yourselves with each other in a way that more is caught than is taught. This I not a Bible study. It can be a book study, but it’s usually not. It’s usually what I call a contagious culture where you’re living out noble manhood in such a way that a guy can find people around him who are better at the things he’s not good at and get help. I call it contagious culture. I think it’s important. You’ve gotta have a commitment to just unrestrained honesty.
I look at guys all the time, my guys, and I say, “Guys, if you hold back on me for any reason. I’m just an idiot. You’re afraid of me. Whatever. I feel sensitive to you. Whatever. And you don’t tell me what’s going on with me that I need to know, I’m going to beat you with a stick.” We laugh about it, but it’s a commitment to absolutely firm honesty.
Those kinds of building blocks, and I describe some practical things in the book, but those sorts of commitments and that kind of culture that you create is really what you’re going for. You’re going for an ennobling, honest, hard-hitting, but deeply loving culture among a group of men.
Brett McKay: How many men does it take to form a band of brothers? Do you need one other guy or do you need more than that?
Mansfield: It almost always starts with one other guy. I don’t want any of our listeners to assume that this is the magic number. We tend to find that five to seven is the best number. Five to me is almost the ideal, but I know fantastic bands of brothers that are three, four. It’s just that five is an odd number and it means you haven’t got two sets of guys looking at each other. It’s enough to mix it up. It’s a basketball team. But I find that five is about right.
But listen, one of the things I want to emphasize is that there’s no one pattern for this. As I describe in the book, I know guys who meet weekly, basically by Skype because they’re spread all over the country and they get together once a quarter for a hunt or some kind of a fun thing. They’re not even living in the same area, but they developed relationships earlier in their lives. I know airline pilots who meet at airports once in a while and really deal with each other and then they try to get away for a trip or mountain climb or something. I mean, it can be done a thousand different ways.
I live in Nashville half my year. Lot of the tour buses have got men on them who are working through my stuff, working through your material, Brett, really developing a band of brothers there on those tours. So, it can be done a thousand different ways, but usually it’s about five guys who are really working it with each other. By the way, it’s not a meeting. It’s just a series of relationships where we’re constantly confronting and encouraging each other.
Brett McKay: Here’s the challenge. It sounds like you can do this, you don’t have to be located nearby geographical for a band of brothers, but it seems like that’s the ideal. It seems like that’s how you can really do life, as you say, right?
Mansfield: It’s absolutely the ideal because one of the things I say in the book is, and I believe very strongly, is once you start developing these relationships, you want to do two other things. You want to get in each other’s homes. That could be as simple as just shooting hoops some Saturday afternoon and ordering up a pizza, sitting on the back porch, but you get around the wife, you get around the kids, you know what’s happening in the home.
My guys need to see my wife. My guys need to see my son and my daughter. They need to be in my home to really know my life. I’ve turned to my wife and said, “Man, if something goes wrong with me or I’m out of town, these are the guys you call.” You want those relationships.
The other thing is, we bring the sons in and it’s very important to sort of initiate the sons into this band of brothers at an appropriate time in their life. That really can’t be done long distance. I just don’t want guys to … Airline pilots, if they’ve got to have five guys sitting in a room, they’ll probably never actually have a band of brothers, so I’m cool with encouraging them to talk long distance and then get together once a quarter or once every four or five months for a hunt or something.
But, yeah, the ideal is that you’re local so you’re in each other’s grill, so to speak. You’re in each other’s lives, and you can actually see what’s going on.
Brett McKay: There’s the challenge. I think people are listening to this and they’re thinking, “This sounds great. I want this in my life.” But the challenge is how do you find men who are, one, nearby geographically for that ideal of doing life together, and two, this is the hard part, just as interested in you as forming a band of brothers?
Mansfield: Well, I think you start with the guys you’re already in relationship with. The problem with most men is not that they don’t have any relationships, it’s that they don’t have any relationships of depth. So, the guy you’re playing golf with, the guy you play racquetball with, the guy you run with, whatever, the guys at work, you just start to turn them …
We have a little slag we use internally, we call it 3B-ing a relationship. “You gotta 3B that guy.” It means you gotta start turning the themes you talk about and discussion a bit towards band of brother kinds of themes. So, it can be as simple as, “Dude, I’ve come across this awesome website called Art of Manliness. Jump on there, man, and let’s talk about it next time we get a burger.” It can be that simple.
What you’ve done is you’ve taken a golfing friendship or work friendship or whatever and you’ve just turned it a little bit towards the theme of manliness. That guy comes back and goes, “Man, you know what? I was unfathered. Nobody taught me this stuff.” Whether it’s manhood and Plato or it’s manhood and how to be a cool uncle, all the things on your awesome site, the guy comes back and says, “I don’t know any of that stuff. Man, how did I miss that?”
Well, now you got a chance to start talking more about those themes and you say, “Well, I missed a lot of it too, but I’ll tell you what, this book meant a lot to me,” or “This website meant a lot to me,” or “I heard this guy speak and that meant a lot to me.” You just start talking about it. You start moving in that direction. If the other guy’s a good candidate, he’s going to bite. He’s going to jump in. He’s going to say, “Man, I don’t have that together. In fact, that’s one of the problems in my life.”
One of the things I urge is that somebody in this conversation eventually say, “Look, you’re in awesome shape,” or “You really handle your money well,” or “You’ve got such a sweet marriage. I don’t. Can you help me with that?” And somebody kind of humbles themselves a little bit, honors something in the other guy’s life, and begins to ask for help. Once you do that and you’re getting the guy to kind of coach you, it’s not long before you’re going to be able to have that free fire zone that’s mutual and really be able to speak into each other’s lives the way you need to.
Being local and then finding the friendships you already have at a shallow level and turning them band of brothers-ish, so to speak, with a casual conversation. That’s how it usually starts.
Brett McKay: How do you respond to the objection or the excuse, “I just don’t have time for this. I’ve got work. I’ve got family. I’m involved in my kid’s Boy Scout troop. I’m coaching.” A lot of older men are busy. What’s your response to that?
Mansfield: Well, I’m going to say honestly, I’m an older guy. I’m in my 50s and I’m very busy and I gotta tell you, this has been one of the most important things to me. It’s improved me professionally. It’s improved me with my children. I understand being busy, but I also understand that you can be spending a lot of time with your son and not have insight into your son that’s actually going to help them because you don’t have other guys’ eyes on who your son is.
For example, I spent a lot of time with, my son now is 30, but I spent a lot of time with him when he was growing up, but one of my band of brothers was in my house one time, a big African American guy, former NFL, and he turned to me and said, “You’re an idiot.” I said, “What?” He said, “You don’t even know what your son’s doing, do you?” I said, “No. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He said, “I want your permission to take him lunch tomorrow.” I said, “You got it.” We went upstairs, told Jonathan he was going to go to lunch with him, went to lunch with him. There was something that he fixed in Jonathan’s life and I gave them permission not to have to tell me. It wasn’t a massive moral thing or legal thing. Something going wrong in my son’s life that I couldn’t see.
Well, that’s why you need other eyes on what’s going on. You see, I could have spent a lot of time with my son and made that part of my busy-ness, but it was about what I really needed was to be more effective, more insightful, have help.
I’m convinced when we send guys to men’s conferences or have them read books about men, sometimes we give them the impression they’ve got to do all this alone. Well, what’s been great for me is having other men of different personalities and different gifts looking at my life, looking at my family, looking at relationships with my children. I’m telling you, it’s made me better in every way. Everything that they’ve confronted me about or hammered me about has made me a better … Just better professionally. I mean, I can probably track that it’s made me more money in my profession because I’m better at what I do because of them.
I don’t think anybody should consider themselves too busy to open themselves up to the input of a band of brothers. The reality is they might be able to work smarter and not harder at the things they’re already doing. Could make a massive difference in their lives just in a practical way.
Brett McKay: You argue in the book that the heart of noble manhood is found in the phrase “manly men tend their fields”. What do you mean by that phrase?
Mansfield: Let’s turn it around, Brett. What’s the guy we consider to be an idiot? If we know a guy whose house is falling down, his wife’s bitter and hurting, his kids are in trouble. He doesn’t know it. He’s sitting in a Barcalounger with stained sweat clothes on on a Saturday, screaming for somebody to bring him another beer and a sandwich. In other words, he’s not tending anything around him.
I believe that every man has a field, I don’t mean his professional field only, a field. It’s the total body of commitments, obligations, responsibilities that he’s got. By the way, it includes taking care of himself. A 16-year old might just have half of a bedroom and a part-time job at Pizza Hut and obligations to maybe family and church and then his schoolwork. That’s all he’s got, but that’s still his field. We teach him to do it well. We teach him to own it. We teach him to own its dimensions, know what’s required of him and do it well. You add a dating life. Eventually you add college. You add more work to it.
Well, a guy my age, I’ve got a field. I’ve got a company. I’ve got obligations. I’ve got things to do, but when I get guys away for some time at retreats or out in the woods, we talk about, look, one of the arts of being a man, one of the arts of living, is knowing the dimensions of your field. What is it that you’ve been given to do at this stage in your life? If you’ve taken responsibility for more, as they say humorously, more than you can say Grace over, then burnout, stress, and moral failure is heading your way. You’ve got to know what your field is, know what the total body of obligations, responsibilities are and then tend that well and not hand it off.
My children are my responsibility. My home. My house. My wife. My obligations civically. My work. My spiritual commitments. And taking care of myself. Getting the controlled rowdiness that I need and taking care of who I am. All of that’s the total field that a man has to tend. I think if you ask me what’s the fast track to righteous manliness, it’s when a man recognizes he has a field of responsibilities and begins to step up and take ownership of them. Not in a dominating way, but in a way that causes everything within his field to begin to flourish and fulfill its purpose. That I think is the essence of great manhood.
Brett McKay: The band of brothers is there to tell you, “Hey, look, you got some weeds over in this part of your field. Take care of that.”
Mansfield: Absolutely. You know, even a man who’s trying to be really noble can do some silly things. Here’s a silly little illustration. When my daughter was very, very young, I just started calling her Stinker. It was just a pet name. Well, when she was 17 and gorgeous, I was still doing it and one of my guys said, “You know what? That’s not appropriate. That’s embarrassing to her. She just doesn’t have the courage to tell you. You gotta stop doing that.” So, I sat down with my daughter and I asked her. Turned out it was humiliating to her every time I did it. I had no idea.
This is a tiny thing, but here are my guys able to hear and see something that I’m not able to see. I don’t want them just guarding me from great big moral issues, although that’s important. I want them to know when my language is dropping. I want them to hear the conversation with my wife that maybe it’s indicating there’s a crisis going on. If I check out the backside of the waitress four or five times in lunch, “Hey, buddy. What’s going on at home? That’s not who you want to be.”
Yeah, there’s a guardian role, but there’s also a helping me to be better role. All of my guys are better at stuff in the lore of manhood than I am, so they coach me and I coach them and we get better. I just couldn’t do without them. Just couldn’t do without them and if I’m a successful husband or father, it’s in large part due to the fact that they are absolutely fierce about making sure that I hear what I need to hear to be a better man. It’s made all the difference in my life.
Brett McKay: Let’s say you found your crew. You got things going. Everything’s really exciting in the beginning, but how do you sustain that initial excitement when you’ve formed your band of brothers? How can you keep it going months, years after you’ve started?
Mansfield: Well, first of all, you gotta be very careful not to make it a bunch of guys circling up chairs and staring into each other’s eyes and saying, “How are you feeling today, Joe?” Men will run from that. We’re always doing new things. We’re always doing those, we call it the indirect event, the indirect approach. Guys will talk while they’re shooting hoops or grilling steaks or about to watch the Super Bowl or whatever. You gotta have something else going. So, we just have a lot of fun. If we weren’t guys who were serious about manhood, we’d probably still have a lot of fun, but we have moved it to this core of the free fire zone, of the coaching each other and so it stays alive.
Also, there’s going to be natural change. Just because I help chaplain the Redskins and go to a church in DC with a lot of the Redskins in them, I have a lot of NFL buddies and so in my band of brothers have been some current and former NFL guys. Well, they rotate. They get transferred. We eventually say, “Well, let’s bring old Joe in over here. Do you suppose so and so might be a candidate to come be a part of us.” Or whatever. We don’t treat it like an exclusive club.
It’s going to breathe. It’s going to rotate. It’s going to switch out. There’s going to be change. It’ll have a natural life. By the way, every man in the group’s going through different phases of his life and has a different personality. So, it keeps it fresh, as we kind of hammer each other into shape.
Brett McKay: Well, Stephen, this had been a great conversation. There’s a lot more we could get into, but where can people find out more about the book and your work?
Mansfield: I appreciate you asking. StephenMansfield.tv is where everything that I’m involved in happens. On there we have a page called the GreatMan page. You’ll see it on the home page. Just click on that. Everything that I’m about with men is right there.
Appreciate what you do, Brett, very much. It makes a big difference in a lot of lives.
Brett McKay: Thanks so much. Well, Stephen Mansfield, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Mansfield: Thank you, buddy.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Stephen Mansfield. His book is Building Your Band of Brothers. It’s available on Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can find out more information about Stephen’s work at StephenMansfield.tv.
Also, check out our show notes at AOM.is/bandofbrothers, where you’ll find links to delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com.
This episode was recorded on ClearCast.io. If you’re a podcaster who does remote interviews, it’s a service I developed to help podcasts sound better and avoid some of the skips and audio lag that often happens with Skype. ClearCast at dot io. Check it out.
As always, appreciate your continuing support and until next time this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.