I’ve never met Nate Larkin. But I read his book in one four-hour plane ride from Milwaukee to Las Vegas. Absorb the book. Drink it. It’s called “Samson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhood.”
On the one hand, the book is Nate’s story. That is, the story of Nate. On the other hand, it’s the story of just about every man I’ve ever known. Except me, of course. OK, slight overstatement. I mean especially me.
“Samson” is the story of modern men. The details change, but for most of the men I know, the dynamics are all the same. Pervasive aloneness, if often unrecognized. Cherished and nurtured images of self behind which our real self trembles, awaiting the day we are discovered to be foolish and finite and ordinary. Ordinarily virtuous. Ordinarily sinful. Really, really ordinary. Just can’t say too much about the word “ordinary.”
See, only a man could attempt to exaggerate the word “ordinary.” We can’t bear being ordinary, so, maybe if we are the most ordinary men ever, we could resume the status of being special, remarkable, even unique. Uniquely ordinary. Ah, now I feel better.
Nate tells me I live my life isolated and isolating. Meaning, I am both unnecessarily alone and choosing to be so. Oh, Nate is brutal. See, I have this well-rehearsed speech about how busy I am earning a living and raising my kids and writing these newspaper columns. Nate says I’m full of it, that I tend to prefer isolation, that isolation is soothing and comforting, even if inevitably misery-making and dangerous for my soul.
Shut up, Nate. Who asked you?
Nate says I have combined narcissism and self-loathing so brilliantly that both are now invisible to me. In such moments, I am “the piece of (expletive) around which the entire world revolves.”
That line makes me put the book down on my lap. I stare from 38,000 feet out the window at South Dakota, whose empty plains swallow me whole. Tears well.
Nate wants me to spend more time in the company of men, but not just any men. He means men with whom I’m willing to be intentional, honest and open. Real fraternity, which in Latin means brotherhood.
Nate admits the prescription is the diagnosis. That is, he is asking me to do the very thing I’ve habituated myself to avoid. So much has been said about a modern man’s fear of intimacy with women, it’s almost cliche. But Nate blows me away when he suggests that, for many men, an even more terrifying journey is opening our hearts to other men! Practicing real accountability in covenant friendships with other men. Man time.
I am so ready for this plane to land.
Men who can’t/won’t avail themselves to regular participation in fraternity, Nate says, must inevitably put an untenable pressure on the women they love. We expect our mate to be friend, buddy, colleague, lover, playmate, confidante and horse patootie detector. Too much for anyone, Nate says. Yes, accountability is a vital part of any great love affair, but in the end, a man needs a man to say “What the hell are you thinking?” as only a man can say it.
At home, I finally connect with my friend John. Haven’t seen him in six months. And he lives nine miles away from me. All-you-can-eat sushi, and we eat like hedonist kings. Asahi beer. We retire to the hookah lounge, where we talk of work, career, fathering, women. We each take a turn kicking the other’s butt about some dangling issues of respect and coming clean. We listen to music in his car.
John, Paul, Temple, Bruce, Rex, D.R., Keith, Daniel, David — these guys all have a couple of things in common in my life. First, they are my friends. Second, I dare say they love me, though it makes me feel embarrassed and exposed to say it out loud. Second, we spend more time talking about getting together — when we talk at all — than we actually spend together.
The man Samson in the Hebrew story was a warrior with strength beyond imagining. But he fought every battle alone. And alone, he was willingly undone by a seductress, which cost him his strength.
Samson shoulda had sushi with me and John. We would have smacked him up the side of the head and set him straight.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling Wellness Center in Las Vegas and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.