The Bachelorette: An Experiment in Modern Masculinity

When I return from my Monday softball game each week, my wife is usually engrossed in either ABC’s The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. We are currently in the midst of The Bachelorette at this point, and I have to say, it’s been pretty interesting. I would never tune in to either of these shows on my own, but I get sucked into the drama like a good Carl’s Jr. commercial.

What has struck me the past few weeks has been the considerable differences in the apparent “maturity” and emotional depth of the various men who are playing suitor to the start of the show, Kaitlyn (I apologize if I’ve spelled her name incorrectly. Minor details…). Some enjoy passing the time with the fart jokes and sexual banter that best typify “locker room talk.” Others seem more reserved in their language and appear to show, in the words of the old Sears ads, their “softer side.” They talk consistently about the development of their strong feelings for Kaitlyn and their emotional reactions to the other suitors on the show.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with either approach (stereotypical jock talk and affective/relational vulnerability), the thing that stands out each week is the result. All of the guys would be considered by a majority of women to be at least a 5/10 in terms of attractiveness and generally being a “catch.” It’s kind of a given that if you’re on this kind of show that you’re at least a stocking stuffer, if not the one true “God’s gift to women.” Looks are not the issue. Most of these guys have abs that could be taken to the river to scrub clothes on. The thing that seems to separate the guys in the eyes of the Bachelorette is their ability to live in both worlds.

Kaitlyn specifically states in almost every episode that she thinks ___(insert any guy from the show)___ is really hot, and she’s just waiting for him to open up and be vulnerable. Kaitlyn wants a guy that is competitive but not self-centered. A guy who has the ability to win a competition, but not the compulsive, angry, aggressive need to. A key lesson here for guys looking to get the girl is that being an attractive and skilled physical specimen is often enough to get you in the door. It may even get you in her bed, if that’s your goal. But if you’re looking for anything more than that, you’re probably going to need to learn to speak what sometimes feels like a foreign language. As confusing as it may seem to the guys,

One guy in last night’s episode seemed incredulous that Kaitlyn was not “impressed” by him being “a former model who has traveled the world a couple times.” He actually said on the show that his ex-girlfriend was twice as hot as Kaitlyn. I laughed out loud at this guy. Why does he think his ex is his ex? He clearly doesn’t get the importance of embracing both the traditionally masculine and the traditionally feminine. In an increasingly egalitarian world, women are looking for more than washboard abs, a cool haircut, a slim-fit tie and a paycheck. Sure, those things may be important at getting your foot in the door on a first date, but to close the deal on anything longer term, consider unflexing your muscles and working out your communication skills.


18 Things to do with “The Guys”

In planning a poker night for several friends at my house last week, I started thinking about other things that I’ve done with guy friends in the past or things that are on my to-do list with “The Guys” (that group of guys that includes your best friend(s), some other friends and acquaintances, and some of those friends’ friends). The guys that come along for any of these activities may change depending on the activity, the level of interaction expected during the event, the duration of the event, etc.

I’ve listed below several activities I’ve done with The Guys in the past, as well as a few that are still on my bucket list. Some examples from my stomping grounds are embedded, but a quick Google search will lead you to venues close to your home turf. I’m always looking for other things to do, and this list is surely meager at best. If there’s something not listed that you (or your boyfriend, husband, brother, etc.) do with The Guys, please share it below in a comment! I’d love to borrow your ideas! I may re-blog this at a later date with any other suggestions that are shared below or that I come across in my day-to-day with The Guys. Enjoy!

1. Since I’m on the subject: Poker Night. Best to get at least 4 other guys and no more than 9 other guys together. Any more than 10 guys and it gets too crowded and you can’t really interact with everyone. Have some beverages and food available and agree on a format for the game(s) you plan on playing before starting. Make the buy-in reasonable and enough that it’s fun to play for something and not so steep that people get upset if they lose. It should be about fun, not making some cash off of your buddies. (Our poker nights end like this: 3rd get his money back, 2nd doubles up, and 1st gets the rest, thus we always have to have at least 7 guys playing. If you have fewer guys, just don’t give 3rd his money back.). You might also consider heading to a real casino, but this becomes less about hanging out together and more about the gaming itself. Many casinos will, however, have additional entertainment options available for the less gaming-inclined.

2. Guy Flick night. We’ve all heard of “chick flicks.” This outing is for guys to go see a movie that the girls may not be as interested in (James Bond, American Sniper, any stupid/immature comedy with “guy humor,” etc.). Consider having dinner/drinks before the show. Find a pub near the theater so you can walk over in case anyone “overindulges” before the movie. Everyone should be fine to drive home afterward.

3. Camping. This one takes more planning and coordinating time away from work. If you can swing this for a few guys, you might consider camping in an area that has good hiking trails. Click here for a VERY thorough list of gear needed for camping, as well as several things that are less than necessary, but would likely be useful during the trip. Make sure to plan ahead for what you will do while there. With poor cell reception and few activities at your fingertips you may need to get creative. Does someone bring a guitar? Outdoor sports equipment? Fishing gear? Hiking gear, maps, backpacks, etc.?

4. Hunting. I have no experience with this one personally. But really, is there anything more “manly” than walking around in bright orange vests in the forest and shooting stuff? Optional: arrange for a taxidermist to preserve your kill (anything from fish to bears) and stick it on the wall of your Mancave.

5. Hiking. This can be an activity contained within #3, but can be accomplished without the hassle of a weekend camping trip as well. All you need is a backpack, a couple liters of water, sunscreen, good hiking shoes (preferably waterproof), and some sunscreen. Head into your local hills/mountains for the day and make sure to follow the marked trails. You don’t want to end up like James Franco in 127 Hours).

6. Rock climbing: While some of you out there may be adventurous (nuts?) enough to go out and do actual climbing up the face of El Capitan, for a less-extreme and less-expensive alternative, consider indoor climbing venues. Some Orange County, CA examples are embedded here. You can often purchase either a one day pass or a membership for multiple days, months, or a full year. These indoor venues provide multiple difficulty levels such that any guy in your group can find something to challenge himself. On belay!

7. Fishing: This probably doesn’t need much explanation at first, but consider that there are multiple ways to fish in endless places. Two of my personal favorites are pier fishing and deep sea fishing. I’m not much for standing in a stream foolishly convincing myself that my clumsy whips of a fishing lure in the stream at all resemble a mosquito landing and taking off. Fly fishing is not for me. If you like camping and have the time and money to commit to learning the art, by all means go for it! If, on the other hand, you’re more like me, you’re looking for something a bit less involved. Something you can try out once in a while without a big time or money commitment. For you I’d recommend getting some basic fishing equipment and heading to your local lake or coastline in search of a pier. Once you’ve confirmed that there are indeed fish in the waters beneath (check with your local fish and wildlife department), your basic gear should suffice to at least have a nice quite day relaxing, drinking your cold beverage of choice, and maybe landing a fish or two. Make sure to purchase a fishing license for the day (about $15 in CA, prices vary for annual licenses depending on income, veteran status, etc.). Another option I’ve enjoyed in years past is deep sea fishing from a chartered boat. An example in Newport Beach, CA is linked here. Supplies are included in the packages for those that have not invested in the required equipment. A bit pricey for a regular excursion, but fun for an occasional trip. As teenagers, a friend and I used to fish at night for a reduced fee because we agreed to help the cook clean the kitchen after the boat docked for the night.

8. Golf: Whether just heading to the range to get out some of that good ol’ fashion manly aggression or to work on fine tuning your short game, this is a relatively inexpensive outing for an hour or two. Depending on the club/course, playing 9/18 holes can range from about $15-$200/round. Definitely look into the costs (green fees, mandatory cart rental at some clubs) prior to calling the clubhouse for a start time. Be prepared for a long time (2-4 hours), but a good time. In the midst of hacking our way around the course, a friend who was new to golf had a revelation. The woman driving the snack/beverage cart rolled up to us and my friend exclaimed, “Wait a minute, you mean I can drink a beer in public while we play!?” Needless to say, he found the round relaxing. Have fun, be safe, and check into the club dress code before you go. Golf is fun and relaxing, but some clubs are all about rules and won’t let you play if you’re not up to their standards.

9. Batting cages: See “Golf” and driving range. Similar prices to driving ranges, bats and helmets provided free of charge. If you bring your own bat, be prepared to possibly leave with a couple dings from the dense balls used at most cages. Expect to pay a couple dollars for around 15-18 pitches at a low-key outdoor facility. More sophisticated options are also available for those really looking to improve their game, but at significantly higher costs.

10. Basketball: Find a local park, high school, college, YMCA, or church and see who has a hoop available. If you’re not skilled it would be best to find a park with multiple courts so you don’t feel pressured to compete right away with the slam dunking behemoths found on some public courts. Your private gym may have a court and there are likely to be some less busy times your buddies can take over for a while. The only cost for this (outside of any membership fees for private gyms) is the $15-$100 you spend on a ball. I recommend The Wave indoor or outdoor ball for beginners or those playing friendly pickup games.

11. Bowling: For those unafraid of germs and smelly old carpet, check out your local bowling alley! Granted, some are much cleaner and may even be updated for the 21st century. But still, who doesn’t look back on high school “Rock n Bowl” nights with fondness? There may even be karaoke at the bar in the alley. Get ready for some nachos, beer, and bringing back the old school.

12. Dance clubs: This is definitely NOT my style, but for those of you who somehow managed to pick up some moves other than the slow dance (my personal favorite) in junior high and high school, think about hitting up some local night clubs. Be prepared for way overpriced drinks and remember that everyone looks different when the light of day returns in the morning. If the club is popular and you don’t have a reservation for a table, be prepared for a bit of a wait. If you’re bringing several ladies with you, your chances of getting in may improve dramatically. Don’t finish your drink if you leave it alone, and stay hydrated. You don’t want to end up the story everyone laughs about 5 years from now for passing out while talking to that chick that wasn’t that interested to begin with.

13. Geocaching: This fun, inexpensive hobby is something you can do literally just about anywhere in the world. I have found and hid caches in multiple states and just about any environment you can think of. There are some ground rules for the community of geocachers that can be found on the site linked above. The gist is that people hide caches in disguised containers, with magnets, in holes, in bushes, in hollowed out posts, and just about anywhere else you can think of. A typical find will take only a few minutes of looking and by creating a username on the site above, you can track your finds, place caches of your own, and link with others in the community.

14. Build something: This is another that is not my particular area of expertise (I’m about as handy as a jar of almonds), but can potentially create hours of time with your buddies. If you are all handy in a similar way, consider creating something together. You might rebuild a car, work together to repair a fence for one of your yards, build a gazebo at one of your homes, whatever. The point is to hang out together doing something you all can enjoy. Possibilities are endless! (As are the costs, depending on what you decide, but chances are good that you were going to build the thing anyway. This way you’re doing it together!).

15. Football: (or any other sport that requires a team) The idea here is that, similar to basketball above, there is minimal overhead for the activity. You just need a football (NERF, NFL, or otherwise) and some open space to run around. You might consider this as an adjunct to having a BBQ at a local park on the weekend. Invite your families, girlfriends, etc. but make sure that you get some guy time built into the afternoon.

16. Video/Computer games: Possibilities abound. Whether playing in the same room or linking up online, if you’re into video games, take advantage of the available opportunities to spend time with your buddies. You’re probably going to play anyway, so why not get together for a mission/quest? Make sure that you’ve all purchased the appropriate software and hardware required for communicating in addition to the game itself. If you’re really dedicated you might consider entering a competitive tournament together.

17. Dave & Busters: For a low key, low prep evening, consider having dinner and/or drinks at an adult arcade. Compete against each other in racing games, hoops, etc. while also watching live sports/fights and meeting new people around the bar. Designate a driver, put some points on your gaming card, and have fun!

18. Men’s Retreat: For the religious or spiritually minded, many outdoor education and wilderness camps offer men’s retreats (often for the duration of a weekend or more, cost can range from around $100-$300) during which men get together and do outdoor activities, listen to motivational/inspirational speakers, enjoy group bonding time/team-building, and take time out for personal relaxation/reflection time. Depending on the nature of the camp, speakers may deliver sermons or motivational talks. Activities can include paintball, rock wall climbing, group running outings, off road cycling, fishing, poker tournaments, billiards, and other outdoor adventures. A SoCal example can be found here.

Alright, that’s all I’ve got for now. If there are any other activities you do with “the guys” please share in a comment below so we can all jump on your bandwagon! If your boyfriend/husband/dad/brother/boss/neighbor does something that’s not quite your style but you think someone else might be interested, share it! I’m always looking for more ideas and I can’t wait to try out whatever it is you do with your group of guys. Have fun, be safe out there, and blessings on your male bonding time!


Photo retrieved from on 4/13/2015

Social Media…The Ultimate Showcase for Male Stupidity

In the past two days I’ve been called a “p/c pussy,” “spineless coward,” and “faggot” through social media platforms for acknowledging (not stating agreement or disagreement with) the opinions of certain minority individuals in America. The people I specifically commented about had said and done some things that I did not personally agree with, but I did not take that as an invitation to openly slander them in a public forum. Heck, even in person, there are some things we should probably just keep to ourselves, however valid we may believe our opinions to be. Apparently the people I’ve been observing missed that lesson in Kindergarten.

Whatever the case, I have to say that mostly I feel bad for the guys posting the inane, poorly formulated, unsupported and just plain stupid comments I’ve been seeing lately. Social media is surely one of the greatest community-building arenas in the history of the world, while at the same time being one of the lowest forms of communication ever invented. The anonymity and distance provided by the keyboard/touch screen allows people to stoop to new lows in human interaction.

I truly believe that the man who made the above comments would not have done so in person. He was agitated and likely felt challenged to support his position against “attack” from someone (me) who voiced an alternative opinion. In thinking about how this all relates to manhood, I realized that aggressive, unsophisticated, vulgar language may be the only way some men feel they have to protect themselves in the digital space (money and physical intimidation are not options here). When someone like me comes along and does not play the escalating game so common and seemingly essential for many men establishing their sense of masculinity, they aren’t sure what to do (F*** you! No, F*** you!!! F*** your mother!!!! and so on).

Maybe we need to do a better job as a culture of providing boys/men with appropriate expressive (even agitated/emotional) language to use in public discourse. Is this an artifact of the digital communication culture? A consequence of the 160 character communications of Twitter and texting? Are we now just going to use brief grunts and insults to communicate our ideas? I hope not.

It’s a shame that so many men stoop to this level, giving the rest (majority?) of the civilized, secure, and otherwise strong men in the digital space a bad name. I’m sure it happens, but I’m having a hard time thinking of a time when I saw a group of women digitally duking it out. Seems to be more of a guy thing. (NPR recently discussed a humorous related study exploring why men typically sweep the Darwin Awards.).

Let’s fix this. Don’t escalate. Be respectful. And if a man challenges you with insults, show greater strength by walking/clicking away. It’s not that he’s beyond help. You’re just not the person that going to change his mind and his life over Twitter, Facebook or the comments section of a blog/article. Stay confident and classy out there, men.

*Photo obtained from

If I Have Gay Children…

I am a father of one son, with another son on the way. I saw this post a few days ago and it was a great reminder of how I believe all parents, myself included, should approach their children: with open arms. I believe the advice shared by the author applies to parents who are gay, straight, working, stay-at-home, Christian, atheistic, Islamic, or whatever. Mainly just some sound principles for appropriately accepting and loving our children regardless of the ways they may be different from us (their parents).

That said, I think that tolerance has its limits, and can at times breed indifference, ethical apathy, even ignorance–especially if we just accept what people say without investigating the fullness of the principles they postulate. I watched a parenting video How to win at parenting without beating your kids a few years back and one of the take-home messages was (and it’s been a while so I’m paraphrasing slightly here), “If it’s not morally or physically dangerous, I let my children make as many decisions as possible so they can learn from the consequences of those decisions.” People will obviously differ culturally on what constitutes moral danger, but I think there’s something healthy to take away here for all people of all backgrounds. Eventually your kids will need to start making their own decisions, and wouldn’t it be great if you got to continue being part of/influence the decision-making process, instead of being a resented old coot that they can’t wait to get away from? Ask your kids questions. Be interested. Be an influence. Be balanced in your feedback. Show them the human respect they deserve.

(As a side note, isn’t it interesting that children are the only people in America not protected from certain forms of assault? Good luck spanking your employee that shows up late for work without getting sued for your next 10 years’ earnings!)(And for anyone getting ready to throw out the “spare the rod, spoil the child” argument, there are more effective and lasting ways to discipline a child than physical violence. They just take more determined, consistent work on your part as a parent. Stop taking the easy way out.).

I hope you’ll give the post linked above a quick read and consider what it means for these 4 promises to have been made by: a) an American man in 2015, b) a straight American father, and c) a Christian pastor (who also happens to be a father). I hope you’ll think about his motives for what he says. What drives him to be so passionately accepting? Is there a faith-based motivation? A moral conscience? A simple belief in the good that can come from being kind to others, especially children?

Regardless of your faith background, if you side with this man in radical acceptance of a child…better yet, if you decide to “judge not, lest you be judged,” what implications does that have for your acceptance of others that society has traditionally cast aside? Who else deserves your radical acceptance? Is there something to which you should be devoting more time, energy, thoughts, prayers, or money? I don’t care what your personal/theological/ethical/moral stance is on the LGBTQ community. You’re entitled to your opinion, whatever it is. What I do care about is that you start and end your conversations with anyone from that community–or any other community that differs from your own–with respect and curiosity. Work toward understanding even if you have a hard time with acceptance. Leave the judgment and hate for someone else. It’s not your job.

Creating Your Legend

Matt has some great thoughts on influencing the boys/men who follow us. Sometimes being a “second father” is even more important than being a biological father to a young man. Too often the primary/original father figure is not around or is downright lousy at the most important job he’ll ever have. Here’s to all the men out there inspiring and growing the men of tomorrow!

Matt Shaner

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be adding some posts leading up to the release of my new men’s devotional at the end of the month. Let the countdown begin!

This week, the world of college basketball lost Dean Smith, legendary coach at the University of North Carolina whose tenure included guiding Michael Jordan, the greatest to play the game.  I’m not a huge basketball guy, but I found myself reading the stories and response to Smith’s passing.  In doing so, I found a valuable lesson in the untapped potential of men.


Photo Credit: cuppycakelolz via Compfightcc

A phrase that kept coming up in the memories of Smith was, “a second father.”  Many players stated he was the father they never had and they admired his influence. He was a man who taught his players beyond the hardwood. He valued skills that would apply into the world after college.

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To Pluck, or Not to Pluck…

While talking with one of my students today the topic of “male grooming” came up. This student is not one that anyone I know would consider “soft.” He’s around 20 years old. He has several tattoos. He works out regularly. He wears sports apparel most days. Typical guy stuff. We talked about the Super Bowl, his job, volunteer work, using sports to help break down racial barriers with the junior high students he mentors, the struggles of trying to do it all. Then the issue of eyebrow shaping came up. I don’t recall how, but there it was.

We went from the comfortable and familiar language of pick-up basketball games and working out to talking about whether it’s acceptable for a guy to care about his appearance. If so, to what degree? What behaviors are allowed? Where is the line that, if crossed, will result in losing your “man card?” If you use Nivea For Men Exfoliating Scrub ,   are you still a man?

Now what if you use your girlfriend’s melon-scented exfoliating scrub? Same smooth skin, different aroma. Man card: Yes or No? My student and I decided that, especially if you’re doing other things that support your manly public persona, it’s okay to do a little eyebrow shaping here and there.

Consider Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans. This guy is a super-stud on the basketball court. What gets mentioned in virtually every Davis highlight? His epic unibrow! (This guy has a few great pics). I’m guessing that growing up his goal was not to be known forever as “The Brow” or for his “Browtastic” dunks, blocks, etc. I wonder if he has considered waxing? Is it better to stay true to your original, given physical features? I think any guy who says this and regularly spends more than a couple hours a week in the gym is being just a bit hypocritical here. Working out to get bigger, leaner, or whatever muscles is certainly enhancing your appearance in the eyes of many. Similarly, plucking your eyebrow(s?) may be working toward the same goal of trying to attain some socio-cultural ideal body image. It used to be that men with large tufts of chest hair erupting from their Hawaiian shirts were considered manly, and the Magnum, P.I. handlebar mustache has all but disappeared in recent years. Nowadays the typical movie star is a hairless wonder of a 20-something year-old man that has had laser hair removal or perhaps in a bizarre, desperate attempt to get endorsements, used the No-No.

So where is the line? Should a guy bulk up his biceps without shame, but hide the fact that he removes a few of the connecting strands between his brows? As Jessica Rabbit might have said, “What if I’m just drawn that way?” For those blessed with an “ideal” modern male body, face, etc., congratulations. For the rest of us, maybe just ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Are you trying to impress the wrong people? Maybe you just feel better if you believe you look “your best” considering your specific cultural influences. Whatever the case, let’s not take away a guy’s man card too quickly. Consider the whole picture.

The Dreaded “Chick Stick”

The use of the “chick stick” came into question during a recent game of pool with my brother, brother-in-law, and younger male cousins. My 16 year-old cousin needed to make a shot from a significant distance across the table. He was given the option of using the “chick stick” (bridge), but was warned–in a semi-joking way–that this was not the way “real men” strike the cue ball. We were of course referring to this age-old notion that men only do things the hard way. Taking the easy way out is seen as weak, womanly/girly, and generally less masculine. I’m happy to say that my cousin didn’t let us get inside his head and he successfully used the bridge to make his shot.

To me, this strategy of encouraging men to take the more difficult of two roads to prove their masculinity is reminiscent of so many Discovery channel moments. One can easily envision two full-grown rams banging their heads together, giving each other concussion after concussion until one of them submits and walks away, defeated, likely never to mate again. Sure, they’re built for it, and in some ways the survival of their species depends on it, but why do we men do the same thing to each other? Why must the most difficult way be the manly way? Does this even make sense any more?

I suppose many of us convince ourselves that we compete for the sexual attention of women through displays of our physical prowess. There’s evolutionary evidence for this, and research would support the notion that there are certain traits that women find more attractive than others. However, I think we may be fighting a battle long since over. For those of us living in developed, 1st world nations, women no longer look to that physical prowess as their most enticing, sexually motivating factor. Where we men still prefer attractive physical features suggesting youth, health, and reproductive fitness, women all over the world prefer men with resources and status (Buss, 1995).

How does one acquire resources and status? Well, unless you are one of a very select group of professional football players, fewer UFC fighters, and even fewer boxers, you probably aren’t making too much scratch beating up other guys. Hit the weights to stay in shape, but don’t count on them to help you “get the girl.” Many of the wealthiest and apparently most desirable men in the world these days have used personality/charm, intelligence, intuition (business sense), and/or strong leadership/relationship skills to get to the top. This is what most women want most. Long gone are the days of beating each other up for attention.

With this in mind, to whom are we trying to prove ourselves? Women? Research would suggest no. Often they’re not even around for our little skirmishes. Think about the majority of the crowd at a school fight, a UFC fight, a football game. Sure, there are some women in attendance, but they’re the clear minority. We are trying to impress other men!

We are competing for women that are not around, don’t care, or would rather see a “civilized” approach to courting them including courtesy, sophistication, precision, respect and–yes–strength. But what kinds of strength? Certainly there will be many men out there that must maintain their physical strength for work. Blessings on you for carrying sacks of cement, 2x4s, tires, and heavy tools across the construction site. I appreciate your ability and willingness to bulk up your arms using a jackhammer on the street for hours at a time so my drive to the office is faster and more enjoyable. The rest of us thank you, but try not to think of yourself as just a tough guy. Don’t let your strength be the trait that defines you or the thing that you lean on in relationships. That can lead to unsatisfying, shallow, and–in more extreme cases–abusive relationships.

For the rest of us, the average guy, how much is enough, really? My wife needs me to reach high places in the kitchen, lift heavy boxes, move furniture around, open pickle jars, and lift the stroller into the trunk.  For most men, this is all the physical prowess our women need from us.

So carry on men. For the subset of women that still want to mate with a neanderthal, grunt away. Live at the gym. Display your largely useless physical strength. Chug that bottle of whiskey and race your monster trucks. Definitely leave the “chick stick” on the rack. For the rest of the women checking you out in 2015, show your strength of character, your strength of resolve, your strength of values, your strength of maturity, and–if necessary–your physical strength to open a jar or two. But let’s not fool ourselves. We’re mostly just trying to impress each other.

Exploring the roles and expectations of husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, friends, and coworkers

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