In this episode of the Manlihood Mancast, Josh Hatcher talks about what it means to be WILD.
To be wild, to hear the heartbeat of nature, to feel the rush of adrenal strength, to drink from the fresh air and howl at the moon – these are things that are embedded into men.
Men are wild, mighty, and fierce. Yet our culture wraps silky ropes around our necks, and shaves our faces, and trims our nails. The wildman isn’t quite socially acceptable. It’s not okay to have dirt under your fingernails, or to kill your own dinner.
We don’t have to reject civilization entirely, there is a time and a place for manners and polite conversation and neckties and cologne.
But I believe that all men, even the dandier, fluffier ones, have a call – drums beating in the distance – that beckons them into the wild.
“But especially he loved to run in the dim twilight of the summer midnights, listening to the subdued and sleepy murmurs of the forest, reading signs and sounds as a man may read a book, and seeking for the mysterious something that called — called, waking or sleeping, at all times, for him to come.”
― Jack London, The Call of the Wild
Fury. Sometimes, yes. Wild fury and righteous anger stirs up in the hearts of men. Driving them to action, to battle, to fight. Hopefully, it’s tempered with the code, with the order. Fury must be kept in check, and be used to propel justice, to free the oppressed, to protect.
Tests of Strength. From the time boys are young, they enter contests, either alone or with their brothers, and their fathers – to see how strong they are. Wrestling, weightlifting, arm-wrestling, “bloody knuckles,” Chinese hot-hands, even thumb wrestling. This wild behavior may seem reminiscent of goats butting their heads against each other, or bears mawing at each other’s necks…. But it’s a part of who we are. We don’t necessarily outgrow it. And that rough and tumble tug-of-war helps shape us, helps bond us together, and helps remind us who we want on our side if there is a time to fight.
The call of the wild pushes men to success. It drives men to be refreshed in nature. As long as we wrap it up in silk and lace and soap, it will still be there.
“He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew in that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly under the stars.”
― Jack London, The Call of the Wild
“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.
This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.”
― Jack London, The Call of the Wild
Something else that we’ve lost when our culture became civilized and pushed out the wild men – the fire.
Today, we gather around the television and let people tell us stories, with the imagination already painted for us. Or we pretend to gather in virtual communities – typing with our thumbs and sending each other cat videos and poop emojis.
But in the WILD – men gathered around a fire at the end of the evening. The fire cooked the food from the hunt. It kept the predators away. It kept the tribe warm.
But more importantly than that, it united them. It gave them communion with each other, with the stories of their ancestors.
They laughed, sang, and told stories while the little ones fell asleep in daddy’s lap.
Generations later, we brought the fire from the outside to the inside, in stone hearths. Our tribes were smaller, but the same thing happened. Grandpa played his fiddle, Pa smoked his pipe. Grandma braided hair and they told stories of the good old days.
Today, our heat is made from underground pipes or copper coils. Our songs are auto-tuned, and we all listen to our own with our Beats by Dre or earbuds. Our stories aren’t even our own anymore – as we stopped having real adventures generations ago. OR we’re afraid that Grandpa’s war stories might frighten the children, or trigger the young and traumatized adults. (When Grandpa was their age, he was in ‘Nam dodging bullets.) But now Grandpa lives in Florida, or in a nursing home, rather than to spend his remaining years with his loved ones.
Can we recapture the tribal fire? Can we sit with our band of brothers, their wives, kids, moms, and dads and tell stories again? Can we teach our kids that electronics are nice, but sometimes the untamed and raw beauty of a fire is what our soul really craves?
The law of the wild – the order – the code if you will, matters. When we talk about living wild, we’re not talking about living without morals.
There has to be honor.
I know that some men define honor differently. Jack Donovan says the word honor has its root in the glory that came from ancient warriors who fought valiantly. He claims that now that we’ve spread out the honor like a participation trophy to anyone who does something good – we’ve stripped it all away.
I can’t say I agree wholeheartedly, with Jack Donovon, but he makes a good point.
A man of honor, though, isn’t just a brave or strong man, he’s a man with integrity, who KNOWS right from wrong, and lives it.
He needs no government to enforce it. While he may be spiritual and commune with God, he doesn’t require religion to police his behavior. If he is a spiritual man who communes with God – he doesn’t follow the code because he is frightened of lightning or hell, he follows the code because his friend is God.
Regardless of his faith or lack thereof though – we live in an age that struggles to define that code. Right and wrong have slipped away in the tsunami of relativism. While some things in life are relative – the truth is – somethings just aren’t relative!
I can’t begin to answer the questions that living in a relativistic society dredges up. As a Christian, I’m often accused of being judgmental, because I have a believe in the idea of moral absolutes.
I know that not everyone shares my judeo-christian worldview. I don’t expect everyone to do so… but I do think that as our culture has become more secular, they have perhaps thrown out a few babies with the bathwater – and neglected moral codes that were previously accepted as universal in their attempts to distance themselves from Christianity.
I know we won’t agree on what morals are universal. I get that. But I would encourage you to determine what your code is.
Hunting today isn’t what it once was. We used to hunt because it was life. We didn’t hunt, we didn’t eat. Now, it’s a sport, a multi-billion dollar industry. A government managed program that requires permits, fancy orange vests, and expensive equipment.
At the core of the wild is the idea that we must seek, stalk, kill, and haul our prey home to feed our young.
It was a right of passage for young men for generations – to get that first kill. To take the life of an animal, and to learn that our life depends on the life of another.
I understand that there are some that don’t eat meat -but don’t think for a minute that you aren’t still killing SOMETHING when you pluck that carrot out of its dirty ground!
Our cultured and shiny environment now doesn’t require people to get their hands dirty. If you go to the store to buy meat, you buy meat. You don’t see the beating heart, the twitching nerves, or the cold stare left behind by the animal that gave its flesh for you.
Today – our “hunt” may be translated to many things.
Rites of Passage. What rites do we use to identify our maturity into manhood? What ritual marks a teenage son turning to a man? What ritual marks a man turning to an elder? I fear we may have dropped many of these by the wayside, and I think we must begin to resurrect them.
“Men cannot be men—much less good or heroic men—unless their actions have meaningful consequences to people they truly care about. Strength requires an opposing force, courage requires risk, mastery requires hard work, honor requires accountability to other men. Without these things, we are little more than boys playing at being men, and there is no weekend retreat or mantra or half-assed rite of passage that can change that. A rite of passage must reflect a real change in status and responsibility for it to be anything more than theater. No reimagined manhood of convenience can hold its head high so long as the earth remains the tomb of our ancestors”
— Jack Donovan (The Way of Men)
Strenuous Activity. Chasing a deer through the woods, wrestling a bear to the ground, or even holding perfectly still to avoid chasing off the rabbit are all strenuous. They build strength and speed in us. What are we doing to build strength today? Are you active? Are you moving? Are you training to build your body better than it is?
“Training for me is a metaphor for life. Period. The Dedication. The Determination. The Desire. The Work Ethic. The great success and the great failures – I take that into life.” – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Respect for the source. In many cultures, a hunter or farmer would say a prayer as he slit the throat of his animal so that it could be bled out. He respected the beast that would feed his family. Now, we could have a long talk about the evils of factory farming, but that’s another topic for another day. The crux here is: Are we grateful for the sources of our provision today? Do we show respect for the company where we earn our cash? Do we show honor and respect for the work and for the hunt for our success? Or do we just demand and assume that our wealth will be handed to us?
I love my dogs. I have a golden retriever named Lincoln, and a shelter mutt named Teddy. Yes. They are named after presidents.
They are normally relaxed and gentle beasts. Nothing at all like the wolfish ancestors. Their greatest joy is to snooze on the furniture, while a family member strokes or scratches them. They don’t have to hunt for food, and their only job is to be friendly, and on rare occasions, to be protective.
A few years ago, they got loose. Our front door was broken and didn’t get shut all the way, and so the dogs left the house while the family was at church.
It actually happened on two occasions. Both times they were gone for a week. The first time, we found both dogs covered in porcupine quills and starving. The second time, they came home covered in thousands of ticks, and weakened by Lymes Disease.
We live in the middle of nowhere, and all along the edge of our neighborhood is the Allegheny National Forest – acres upon acres of woods, old growth pines, bear, deer, raccoons, deep lakes and cold streams.
I like to imagine that for those two weeks, they were wolves. Running free, howling at the moon, hunting, digging, scratching, and living like all dogs secretly want to live.
Eventually, though, these dogs are woefully unprepared for the wild. They haven’t learned that porcupines aren’t safe. They haven’t learned to feed themselves well. And they came home to be cared for, fed, and groomed.
Teddy and Lincoln are tamed.
While we as men may live in gentle little houses, with fancy soaps, canned soups, and table manners – we must not be tamed.
We can be gentlemen, we can be polite. But we need to keep that fire of wildness and strength alive. So that when our wildman is called upon, he lives strong in us. He’s ready for anything. Ready to fight to defend, ready to provide for his family, ready to brave the elements, so that he comes home, not because he can’t survive, but because he did.
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