Real Men and Waking Up Early

As I sit here basking in the glow of my 13 inch computer in an otherwise dark room this morning, I’m reminded about one of what I consider to be one of the great tenets of manhood, that is, waking up early

Growing up as a child and a teenager, I was always amazed each morning how early my dad woke up. No matter how early I got up each day, without fail, he’d already be awake and laying on the couch wearing his Nike hoodie and reading the paper.

The funny thing is… the man is not an early to bed kind of guy. This is a man who regularly stayed up late to watch Letterman in its entirety. The even more amazing thing to me, that I’ve only learned in the past few years, is that he never uses an alarm clock either.

I never understood that facet of my dad’s life until recently. You see, for most of my life I’ve told myself a story that wasn’t true. And while I’ve definitely told myself many stories that aren’t true, the story I’m talking about right now is the story that I was not a morning person.

For most of my life, I’ve been a snoozer. When I was a kid, my parents had to institute a 10 a.m. reverse bedtime during the summers and weekends to prevent me from sleeping all day. And boy did I ever balk at that one. In college, if I didn’t have early morning classes, I could (and often did) sleep until 10:40 or so no matter how late I stayed up.

That was my sleeping in pattern for most of my life.

A few months ago, that all changed. I guy who’s blog I read, posted about the idea that each of us has several internal stories (plural) that may or may not be true that we tell ourselves that make up our STORY (singular).

I’ve always been a firm believer that our lives are story and his blog post got me thinking about my life and the stories I’ve told myself that maybe weren’t true.

The timing of that blog post couldn’t have been better. Just a few days earlier, I’d heard a man speak at a luncheon who’s own story really resonated with me. A very successful business man and person of faith, the speaker spoke on the importance of being a man of discipline. A man of discipline himself, he spoke about how men of discipline wake up early A) because it’s difficult and B) because life is short and sleeping through too much of it really is a waste.

The combination of the blog post about the stories we tell ourselves that aren’t always true and the idea that men of discipline wake up early couldn’t have intersected more perfectly in my life. I left the luncheon thinking to myself, “Self… I want to be a man of discipline even if that means waking up early.”

And so that night, I set my alarm to go off the next day at 5:00 a.m. When it went off, I got up. I read a few chapters of a book I was reading at the time, I prayed, I sat in silence, and I ran a mile. Despite the fact that I was exhausted by 2 p.m. that afternoon, it was a great experience.

It wasn’t until a few days later when I read the aforementioned blog post that I was really able to articulate what I’d already been feeling about my own story as a morning person. Since that time (it was last November) I’ve been re-telling myself that story almost every day when my alarm goes off and I stumble out of bed at 5, 5:30, or (on bad days) 6:00 a.m.

As Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Waking up early has been a great help in my attempts to stop and look around every once in a while.

Some mornings I go for a run. Some mornings I take a walk. Some mornings I read. Some mornings I write. Some mornings I reflect on who I am or what I’m accomplishing. Some mornings I think about my marriage. Some mornings I talk to God. Some mornings I just listen for his voice. And some mornings, (rarely but still occasionally) I waste almost 2 hours perusing the Facebooks, or the Twitterz, or my Google Reader RSS subscriptions.

I’m hesitant to say that waking up early has changed my life, but honestly, I can definitely say I’ve seen a marked improvement in my quality of life since last November when I started waking up early.

As a man, I think there’s something deep in my core that calls me to toward self-improvement and challenge. Waking up early, though really a small thing, has been a challenge that I’ve taken on successfully. Not only have I had more time to myself each morning for personal and spiritual reflection and development, but each day I get out of my bed before the sun comes up, I reinforce the idea that I have control over and can change the stories I tell myself.

The little victory I’ve had over my sleep story has started to make me question other questionably “true” stories that I’ve been telling myself for too long. It’s amazing how one little victory combined with a few more early morning hours of introspection each day can make all the difference in helping us become the men we want to be.

For me, realizing I could wake up early was not only a victory over a very real physiological and mental myth in my life, but it was also one of many early steps in my realization that I still had a long journey toward becoming a real man… a journey I’m still learning from and enjoying almost every day before most people are even awake.

Sometimes a real man does things that are difficult simply because of the discipline it takes to do so. I want to be a real man. I want to be a man of discipline. For me, a big part of that means I wake up early.

What about you?

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Real Men and Pancakes

A real man knows how to cook pancakes… in fact, a real man knows that the proper name for pancakes is actually MANcakes.

While I could do an entire post on the importance of learning to cook in our journey to manhood, I’ve found that specific is always better and let’s be honest here, “cooking” is kind of a broad topic that could take years to master. But as my father-in-law likes to say, “You can eat an elephant one bite at a time.” so we’ll start with this very important staple of a man’s cooking repertoire.

Pancakes are important because they are fitting for so many different occasions and audiences. Kids love them. Old men love them. Dogs even love them. They’re good for breakfast, they’re good for dinner, and they even make a good late night snack.

So back to the pancakes. The most important factor is the batter. There’s a lot of debate in the world of men’s cooking on the type of batter that you should use when making the flapjacks. Some say the more complex the batter, the better.  Those people go for the mixes that require oil, eggs, and various other non-nutritive additives. I wholeheartedly disagree with those in that camp. The truth is, in the world of mancakes, simplicity always wins the day. There is no better batter than a plain Jane just add water mix. Brand does not matter. The only thing that matters is that the shopping list for your pancakes only involves two items: 1) powdered pancake mix and 2) tap water. Anything beyond that is too much.

The second most important factor is the consistency of the batter. Some people will tell you to mix it until there are no lumps. THEY LIE!!! The only thing that matters more than the simplicity of your batter mix is that you make sure it still has plenty of lumps when you start pouring it on the griddle. You want a consistency that is clearly liquid but still has plenty of lumps and air bubbles. The more lumps in your batter, the more fluffy your final product will be.

Also of great importance is your cooking surface. Never underestimate the value of a well-seasoned cast iron griddle. I’ve seen some rookies out there make the mistake of trying to use a coated non-stick griddle and it always ends badly for them. What they quickly discover is that pancakes stick to a non-stick griddle like white on rice and so they start spraying the surface with Pam or they started adding melted butter. This is a mistake that takes away from the true flavor of the mancake. A good cast iron griddle, properly seasoned and pre-heated to the maximum temperature will produce easy to flip, perfect mancakes every time.

Last but not least, a real man knows that a pancake only need be flipped once. Along that same vein, he also avoids the premature flipping mistake that many a young man has been known to make. What I’m about to reveal to you is a great secret that will forever change the quality of your mancakes. When using a well-seasoned cast iron griddle set to the maximum temperature, it is NEARLY impossible to burn a pancake. With that key fact in mind, a real man patiently waits until the edges of his mancake are clearly cooked and the top of the cake has started to lose it’s shininess before making the ever so important single flip. The flip of the pancake is, in many ways, just for looks. If you’ve not prematurely flipped, your mancake will be all but done when you finally flip it. At that point, all you need to do is wait for the side that is now down to get a little golden brown color to it before removing it from your well-seasoned cast-iron griddle.

This post is not a pancake recipe. It’s not a step by step list of directions. However, if you heed these tried and true tips and warnings, you’ll be on your way to making the perfect mancake every time.

UPDATE: One other important thing to remember. I don’t know why they do it, but some men feel an intense urge to use their spatula to apply pressure and press their mancake down after the single flip. Don’t. After you flip that sucker, DO NOT TOUCH IT until you are ready to remove it from your well-season cast iron griddle. People want fluffy pancakes and the quickest way to disappoint those you feed is to press your mancake flat after flipping it. While Eddie Money, Alabama, and The Immortals (in a lesser known sweet reggae version) taught us that you can’t keep a good man down, a real man knows that you don’t press a pancake down.

Real Men and Fiber

The older I get, the more I realize the importance of fiber in a man’s diet.

According to the ADA, a grown man (i.e. a real man) should consume between 20-35 grams of fiber per day. Avoid this recommendation at your own peril, but I caution you, the short- and long-term side effects of doing so are not pleasant.

The great thing about fiber is that it’s both filling and (with adequate fluid intake) it moves quickly through our digestive system helping everything in there to function at optimum levels. There’s also been research that suggests a correlation between a high-fiber diet and a lowered risk for heart disease and diabetes. While a real man is not afraid of death, he does enjoy the benefits of a prolonged life by taking good care of his physical health.

Maybe not all men in this country suffer from too much isolation and rugged independence, but no one is exempt from the 20-35 grams of fiber per day rule. If you’re not already getting that and it hasn’t started to affect you yet, don’t worry brother, your day will come.

DISCLOSURE: I am not a paid spokesperson for the Fiber One brand, but I do like their toaster pastries and frosted wheat cereal.

No man is an Island Jack

In 1986, Robin Williams starred in a movie of great acclaim, Club Paradise. The title of this post, a line from that movie, is my homage to the film and to the fact that real men need other men.

This line has stuck with me through my life mainly because of it’s humor. There’s a scene in the movie where one of the characters tells Robin Williams (whose name is Jack) that, “No man is an island, Jack.” Another one of the characters hears this line, doesn’t realize there’s a comma in there or that it’s a famous quote, and immediately makes a song out of it. “No man is an island, Jack.” becomes “No man is an Island Jack” and Island Jack is born.

While the Club Paradise movie may or may not be the best inspiration for a blog post on what constitutes a real man, that famous line from it certainly is.

While times of solitude are certainly important for real men, a real man knows that he is not an island and that he needs friendships with other men if he’s going to make it in this life.

The problem with our culture in the U.S. is that too many of us are caught up in the false notion of independence as a virtue. If you don’t believe me, just take a few minutes and think about the title of the document that kicked off the revolutionary war that started our country. (The funny thing about the Declaration of INDEPENDENCE was that it actually required a great solidarity among men to make it happen and carry it out to fruition… but we forget that today sometimes.)

In today’s world, and for the last couple hundred years, men have been taught to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and to make their own way. It’s the whole, “Go west young man, go west!” idea played out to its worst extremes.

And yet the reality remains that men need other men. The earliest people to inhabit this earth knew this instinctively. As a matter of fact, for most of human history, with the last few hundred years being the exception, people lived together in tribes. In the grand scheme of things, the idea of the independent and self-made man is a relatively new (and largely unproven) idea.

Life is going to be difficult at times and the people who depend on us need us to be strong men who go to bat for them and get us through those times. When life goes to crap, we only have so much inherent strength within us that we can draw from to make it through. When that strength is depleted, where will you go to replenish yours? Don’t put that on the woman in your life. It’s not her burden to bear. No, when life requires more strength than we as individual men can muster, we need to draw from the fellowship of other men who have been through whatever it is that’s depleting our strength.

When life get’s tough, we need other men who know us to the core. We all have friends who know us to some degree, but when life requires great strength, we need men who know our strengths as well as our weaknesses. Men who will call us out when they see us on the verge of making a colossal mistake. Men who will lift us up when we fail and stand beside us in adversity.

Do you have men like that in your life? Does your life look more tribal or more nomadic? If you answered nomadic, I encourage you to find other men who also realize that life is a journey and that journeys are not meant to be taken alone.

I think this idea is part of what made the men of the Great Generation so great. The men of that generation went to war together. They fought the enemy and the elements together. At times they slept back to back in foxholes at night supporting each other. They never left another man behind. And despite how the horrors of war impacted many of them in negative ways, they developed a great appreciation for the value of fellowship with other men.

I want to be the kind of man who has deep bonds of friendship with other men. I want men in my life who know my struggles, who know my strengths, and who aren’t afraid to run out onto the battlefield and pull me back to safety when they see me wounded. And I want to do the same for them.

No man is an Island Jack but a group of islands is an archipelago… think about it.

*Thank you Jimmy Cliff for the sweet reggae.

Real Men and Body Hair, Pt 2

While a real man does not sacrifice his sub-clavicle strands of hair to the knife, he does take care of them when they die of natural causes. Like an honorable soldier going back for a fallen comrade on the field of battle, a real man never leaves his hair behind. Without further ado, please consider the following axiom post #2 in my series on what constitues a real man:

Real men don’t leave their fallen body hair in, on, or around: 1) the toilet seat, 2) the bathroom sink, 3) the bathroom floor, or 4) the shower.

Having been guilty of this myself in times past (and still from time to time in the present), I’m the perfect spokesperson for the movement against the eradication of strands of stray hair in the bathroom areas of men.

Listen guys, your wives don’t want to see the remnants of your beard or your little black curlies all over the place in the bathroom. Not only is it common courtesy to remove them, but let’s be honest here gentlemen, while the women in our lives may or may not find our body hair attractive when it’s on our person, THEY DEFINITELY DO NOT FIND IT ATTRACTIVE ON THEIR BATHROOM FLOOR OR FLOATING IN THEIR BUBBLE BATH.

It doesn’t matter whether you use a vacuum cleaner, the back of a piece of duct tabe, or a lent roller. What matters is that you take a few moments every other day or so to remove the evidence of your aging body and personal grooming from the bathroom area. Not only will your wives thank you for this small gesture, but you will thank me for the difference it makes in your long-term relationship with her.

Real Men and Body Hair

I’ve decided the only way I can have enough material to ever come up with at least daily posts is to do a series. The series I’ve come up with is going to be about my thoughts on what constitutes a real man. Without further ado, post number 1 of the real men series.

A real man never goes after a single strand of hair anywhere on his body below his collarbone with a razor, scissors, clippers, or any type of wax treatment.

Real men are OK with body hair. In fact, they’re quite proud that they’ve been endowed with a sort of manly fur coating. With few exceptions a real man never shaves his: arms, legs, underarms, chest, back, feet, hands, or anywhere else below the line of his collarbone.

Above the collarbone, everything else is fair game. In fact, a real man is a meticulous groomer of the hair that grows above his collarbone, taking great care to make sure that neither his nose nor his ear ever exude excess scruff. A real man is allowed to shave his head, his face, his neck, the back of his ears, and the insides of his nose. Everywhere else is off limits.

I even hesitate to include the neck in the free-shave zone, but as a man with moderate to heavy chest hair who appreciates the freedom a good v-neck tee offers, I feel compelled to spare the rest of the world from seeing my black curlies any time I want to dawn my favorite summer shirts.

As with most rules, there are a few notable exceptions to this axiom of being a real man.

Exception #1: Men who swim competitively.

Everyone knows that a swimmer must eliminate drag. If you swim competitively, I applaud your full body shaving. Way to give yourself and added advantage over the competition.

Exception #2: Men who run long distances regularly.

IF you run long distances regularly and IF you experience nipple chaffing, then by all means, shave your chest. Not that shaving your chest is going to help with your chaffing. However, it will make placing and removing bandaids from the affected areas much cleaner and less painful. If you run more than 12 miles a week, you qualify for this exception… shave away. After all, you’ve already proven yourself as a man by your personal discipline and dedication to staying fit.

Exception #3: Men who have surgery.

If a medical professional is involved in shaving any part of your body for surgery or other procedure, you are exempt from this rule.

If you’re already abiding by the no shave below the collarbone rule, you are well on your way to becoming a real man. If not, the good thing about hair is that it grows back. It’s never too late my friend.

6’4″ 28 220

It could be said that I am a big college football fan. It could also be said that I’m an even bigger University of Oklahoma college football fan.

My dad started taking me to games in Norman when I was a little kid and that tradition has continued into adulthood. In those rare occasions when I’ve been unable to make it to Norman for a game that is not televised, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to be a part of Bob Barry’s play-by-play color commentary on the radio for the better part of my life.

While there’s a lot I could say about Bob Barry and his style of radio announcing, the one thing that has stood out to me over the years is the way he introduces the players at both the beginning of the game and as they check into the huddle. After saying a player’s name and usually his hometown, Bob most always follows it with 3 numbers. For years I had no idea what the numbers were until one day a good friend cleared it up for me.

Each time a new player comes on the field, Bob says their height, age, and weight after announcing their name and the town they are from. Because I didn’t realize what that was until later in life, I always find it really amusing anytime I hear it now. For example, if I were walking out to the huddle for my debut as the starting left tackle for the University of Oklahoma, those listing to 107.7 KRXO FM in the greater Oklahoma City area would here: “Michael Mitchell subbing in for the Sooners from Oklahoma City. 6’4″, 28, 220.”

Amusing though I find it, those 3 numbers really do matter in the game of college football… sometimes (see story about Darren Sproles below). If you tell me a guy’s age, his height, and his weight, you’ve told me a lot about him as a football player. I can generally gage by his age the level of maturity and in-game instinct he’s going to have on the field. Obviously, his height and weight tell me a lot about his physical development and strength… how much power he’s going to pack. I like Bob Barrry’s system because I like making snap judgements and it gives me a very quick very simple shortcut to size a guy up.

As men, many of us are a lot like Bob Barry in that respect. We carry around numbers in our heads that are important to us and that we compare to the numbers of other men we know.

As we get older, the numbers we carry around in our heads are no longer our height, age, and weight… though for some men all three of Bob Barry’s numbers remain a big part of their identity.

And while it’s likely that you probably don’t really care too much about your height, age, and weight (unless you’re extreme in any of them to the point of medical danger), you probably carry around other numbers that you think ARE important.

For some men, it’s our salary. The more zeros at the end, the better, right? For other men, the number that matters is the number of letters we have after our names. For some of us, it’s the square footage of our homes or the number of toys our kids get on their birthdays. For others, it’s our golf handicap. And for some of us, it’s the dollar amount of our retirement account. (I do enjoy a good rhyme)

No matter what numbers you carry around in your head, the fact remains that as men a lot of us have a hard time being comfortable in our own skin without comparing ourselves to others. We place way too much value on numbers that really don’t matter.

The problem with the numbers we carry around is at least two-fold.

First, much like the game of football, no matter what number we like to use to base our evaluations of ourselves and comparisons to other men off of, there’s always going to be someone with a better number than us. In football, it’s usually the left tackle but even the biggest left tackle always has someone coming up behind him that is A) younger, B) probably taller, and 3) heavier.

Maybe my income has 6 zeroes in it (it doesn’t) but if it did, there’d be someone else out there who has 7. The same goes for my golf score (I don’t play), the number of fish I caught the last time I fished (less than my limit), the size of my home, the value of my investments, the horsepower of my car, my kid’s IQ, etc. etc. etc… the list could go on forever. And just like in the game of college football, there will always be someone with a better number.

The second way our numbers as men are similar to Bob Barry’s college football numbers is that often times they are both misleading and flat out DON’T MATTER. While age, height, and weight are a quick way of sizing up a college football player, often times they are actually not the most important factors. We’ve all seen those guys who dominated the game of college football despite seemingly meager numbers. As a University of Oklahoma football fan, the name Darren Sproles comes to my mind. Sproles, who now plays on Sundays for the San Diego Chargers, is listed at 5′ 6″ and 185 pounds. He’s beefed up since his college days.

In 2003, despite his tiny stature, Sproles shredded the undefeated and highly touted University of Oklahoma defense in the Big Twelve Championship game leading to a 35-7 upset. Since then, he’s gone on to have a pretty good career in the National Football League. And yet, if you look at the guy on paper, his numbers betray him. And while I’ve never met the guy, I get the feeling that the one thing that REALLY sets him apart is a number that is impossible (at least for us non-medical professionals) to judge… that is, the size of his heart.

As men it’s really tempting to get caught up in the game of evaluating and comparing ourselves to other men based on whatever numbers we or they have deemed important. However I’ve recently started to meet and read about men that don’t fit the mold in this area. Men who may or may not have impressive numbers but who just flat out don’t give a damn.

These are men who evaluate themselves on intrinsic things that can’t easily be sized up with a quick number. Things like the amount of passion with which they face life, the way they treat other people, their own level of self-discipline, etc. These men have a sort of strength that draws other people to them. Call it resiliency, call it the mountain man persona, call it whatever you want to call it but men like this don’t need numbers.

Despite the fact that these men probably have impressive numbers to boast, they find their value in simply being what they were created to be. Living life with gusto. Holding doors for little old ladies. Trying risky things even if it means failing more than they succeed. Taking care of their physical, mental, and emotional health. Taking care of their families. Making the decision to live a life of discipline. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day just because it’s difficult.

That’s the kind of man I want to be. Until then, I’m 6’4″ 28 220.