Where have all the cowboys gone?

Have you ever experienced one of those incidents in your life which perfectly illustrates a nagging concern that has stayed crouched in a hidden corner of your mind? No? Okay then, maybe it’s just me…

Yesterday I’m walking into a local business when I noticed a young woman a few steps behind me. I stopped and held the door open for her to enter the building first.

“Uh, no thanks,” she said, with an expression of mild annoyance. “I think I can open the door for myself.”

A witty riposte leapt upon my tongue but I bit down on it and gave a tight smile instead.

“Very well,” I said, walking in ahead of her.

Take another incident, this one occurring several weeks ago and far more disturbing.

A young woman divorces her husband of five years because of his refusal to provide her conjugal rights, due in no small part to an addiction to internet pornography and massive multiplayer online games.

This 30-something man, no more an “adolescent” than I am, would rather remain hooked-up to a simulated world and choose a simulated intimacy instead of reveling in the very real connection that he is meant to enjoy with his beautiful real-life bride.

Man, you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying.

Now I hate to sound like some sort of knuckle-dragging Neanderthal who yearns for an idealized “good ol’ days” (that, in fact, never actually were) but what is going on with men and women?

As the father of girls whom I hope will someday find men of character to love and honor, I have to admit that I’m rather nervous about the sort of “guys” they will have to sort though.

In fact, to quote a one-hit wonder from my younger days, sometimes I feel like asking, “Where have all the cowboys gone?”

The legal age of adulthood is 18 in this country and, if trends of the last 10 years are any indication, I suspect that is a rather optimistic appraisal. Of the 18-year-olds with whom I am acquainted, very few are worthy of the term.

Instead, we have a generation of boys who can shave.

By the time my great-grandfather was 30 he had been working for nearly 20 years. He’d fought in a world war, built a house with his own hands, married his high school sweetheart and had five children. My father fought in Vietnam, has worked since he was strong enough to lift a bale of hay, has been married to the same woman for over three decades and has children who have children of their own. When I think of what it means for me to be a man, I think of men like this. Meanwhile, I cannot tell you how many 30-year-olds I know of who are still struggling to “find themselves” or some other balderdash.

Throughout history the achievement of manhood was not necessarily equated with a specific age or even certain physical characteristics, but by a rite of passage. For indigenous tribes the rite typically involved pain and an abandonment of more childish pursuits.

In our Western culture the rite of passage has usually been a bit more nuanced and subjective, increasingly so with the passage of time. In fact, a remotely coherent idea of “manhood” is probably on the ropes for many of our young. Between “sexting” and random hook-ups and booty calls, why bother with such introspection?

I would venture that within many men there remains a vague inner drive to prove oneself through courage, physical prowess or even the mastery of certain skills. That one can gain admittance to the fraternal order of manhood, and so continue on the hero’s journey toward winning a woman of virtue and establishing a household.

But if there’s no desire to this end, if there’s no impetus to establish a family, then does a “guy” feel the need to prove anything to anyone, or even himself? Of course not. He can simply coast along and enjoy the affluence purchased for him by the sacrifices of previous generations. There is no shortage of diversions for him. In fact, entire industries cater to his every desire, especially the baser ones.

I don’t mean to throw my gender under the metaphorical bus because the gentler sex has their part in this as well.

From mothers who mollycoddle their little boys and refuse to hold them accountable for their more youthful indiscretions, to the young ladies who tolerate any “guy” who treats her like a “friend with benefits.”

I come from a tradition which teaches women are created a certain way and men are created a certain way. Biological science and human history both testify to this fact. This difference is not a limitation, it is a miracle, and should be celebrated.

Of each we are all called to manifest the character of our Lord, in standing for what is true and gladly sacrificing our wants for the needs of others.

There is nothing as strong as tenderness, and nothing as tender as true strength. In this, we are all to lead and to serve each other.

If women want more out of men they’re not going to be able to simply hope for it, but they must refuse to settle for less.

Sometimes what it takes more than anything else is a good woman to help make a man out of a guy.

It certainly did in my case.


12 thoughts on “Where have all the cowboys gone?

  1. Dear brother, you know my penchant for perpetually asking, “Is that really true?” If you don’t mind, I feel this subject is worth the trouble of asking, so here goes…

    Aside from the usual rhetoric of blaming men in general each time a crisis is being discussed, I know that you are a more thoughtful person than most who are engaged in this pursuit. So, I am confident that you’ll be posting an equally pressing challenge to women instead of pretending that the matter stands balanced because of a few lines tossed in about the fault of ladies who let men get away with “indiscretions” and walk all over them (which is really just another criticism of men).

    Although your illustrations are certainly important and valid (there are many unworthy men out there), for each of them I could select a dozen or so real examples that reflect very badly on women. And what would that prove? To put this another way, illustrations are not the grist for good arguments, unless hasty generalizations have stopped being fallacious. Even the most oft-quoted statistics are merely half truths. Of course, you know me well enough to appreciate that I am not suggesting that there is no basis for the criticism of men who do the sorts of things you were describing. What I am saying is simply that you cannot take aim at an entire generation of men because of those you know or whom you’ve read about who are, at best, only one of the “guys.”

    But more importantly, if we look at them squarely, it is hardly the case that the men of a generation or two ago were saintly paragons of a faultless work ethic. Most of them weren’t like your grandfather, and even many who were, nevertheless helped to create the mess we live in today by devoting themselves more to a job they tied all their self-worth into rather than being there for their families. All men have not only their faults, they are rather monstrous inside… and, as unchivalric as it is to say it, so are women.

    Or does not the Bible make this loud and clear?

    For all the illustrations of male infidelity I’m familiar with which occur “out there” somewhere–which I have no reason to doubt are entirely true–my actual experience remains that women are uniquely and abysmally the ones who sow the seeds of destruction in their marriages and families. When I learned of it, I was certainly as surprised by this as anyone could be, though I really shouldn’t have been. After all, even with the perfect Husband, Israel went whoring. The first of women, Eve, didn’t trust even her faultless husband’s convictions, much less her perfect LORD, and Gomer returned to the mire, even with a marvelous man like Hosea calling her to come home. It is obvious that women don’t need bad men to be wicked and can be wicked even with good men at their side leading the way. At the same time, you can see how selective examples can be. But this is far and away what I have seen and, unfortunately, I have seen it a lot. Women are counted the “weaker” sex for a reason, and it isn’t a reference to their physical limitations.

    Now, perhaps someone could make a case that the best explanation for experiences like mine is to be found in a more basic fault in men. Someone else, in turn, might find evidence that the cause of this same fault in men is actually deeply rooted in the women who raised them or abandoned them… and on and on it goes. Wherever the truest blame lies, in Adam or in Eve, in Ahab or in Jezebel, I do know this much…

    Women are just as opposed to the perfect Man as anyone else in our generation… and I’ve never mistaken Him for my grandfather.

  2. If more women would let more men open the door for them, those men wouldn’t feel emasculated on the rare occasion when they need a woman to open the door for them.

    What woman wants an emasculated man? (Somehow, I feel the need to explain that this is a rhetorical question demanding a “NO WOMAN DOES” response.) Then why do so many women emulate or revere Lorena Bobbitt–physically or psycho-emotionally? It makes as much sense to me as an obsession with tattoos and piercings, which has been described by at least one neuropsychologist as the result of deep inner pain and a dreadful acceptance of worthlessness. Women who don’t like men to be men (“men” not to be confused with Neanderthals, brats, or tyrants) typically have trouble defining themselves as women. Little wonder, though, when societies have alternated between treating them like property or playthings and demigoddesses on pedestals–it’s enough to make humanism’s goal of gender integration deceptively attractive.

    Christ taught male-female unity: “And the two (husband and wife) shall become one.” Paul, his apostle, followed up on this by asserting gender equality, expressed in complementary gender roles–like when two parts of a mechanism, both necessary for a function, are called “male” and “female.” Humanism, on the other hand, teaches male-female integration–that by taking on the better characteristics and attributes of the other gender, both can become more integrated, less differentiated. And this is usually spouted from the same mouths that praise cultural diversity. Totally backwards.

    In a society as bent on confusing genders as ours is, only by God’s grace can a man or a woman chart and steer a straight course to personal fulfillment and cultural enlightenment. We would do well to remember our adversary is the author of confusion.

  3. As a college student (22) struggling to find strong Godly men my age, and older sister to two wonderful Godly young men(17 & 19), I loved your post! The end through me for a loop though. I think I’m misunderstanding. I disagree that women should be the ones to make a man out of a guy. A mom, yes, she should have a huge influence. But even today my friends and I have all been caught up in relationships where we feel as though we need to “fix” the midtwenties guy who doesn’t quite have his life figured out…and I think that’s just not right. And it’s not very attractive either. No, I don’t expect guys I date to be perfect, but I do expect them to have a lot going in the right direction spiritually and career wise and with life in general. Do you mind explaining? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Amy, sorry for the misunderstanding. Considering this was written in haste, there’s some lack of clarity here and there that embarrasses me in retrospect.

      You’re quite right though, I’m not implying young women should “fix” or continue to raise boys into men. What I meant by “make a man” out of them is that young men should be held to a certain standard of conduct and behavior (as should young women). No, it’s not young women’s job to “make” a man out of them, but ladies can certainly refuse to pursue a relationship with a guy who refuses to “man up.”

      I hope this helps, sorry for the confusion!

  4. I hear what you are saying. I followed your link over from the “when at home” blog.
    I agree that both definitely play a part in the problem going on it our society – women for demeaning men (whether it be intentional or not, sometimes we just don’t realize the effect our words have and it it something I struggle for constant awareness with) or men for allowing it to happen (though sometimes I can’t blame them just because it is the easier path).
    As a mother of 4 boys and 1 girl I pray that they all find spouses (if that is their path) that will be the support they need through their life. That my boys will be real men and that my daughter will find the “perfect for her” real man.
    One of the things that impressed me so much when I met my husband was his manners and how he treated me like a lady. As I got to know him I, of course, found a bounty of other wonderful traits, but it was the gentlemanly behavior that first caught my notice.
    And now I have my own real cowboy 🙂

  5. As a teacher of 12-13 year olds, I would just like to say: There is a lot of good out there. There is hope for future generations. There are young men and young women in the world who believe in chivalry, values, virtue, and God. I am glad I found my cowboy, and I have hope that my daughters will too. I am hopefully raising a son that will become a man an not just a boy who can shave. Thanks for the post.

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