A Few Good Men

"Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?" Grandpa said, "No... but I served in a company of heroes..."

My son will turn 12yrs old on Tuesday. And so begins his first steps into the difficult splendor: becoming a man. We will celebrate his life on Tuesday with cards and gifts and his meal of choice - pot roast and potatoes. But I wanted to do something with him this weekend, just the two of us, to mark time; to begin the days.

A good man offered the use of his cabin nearby, so Will and I kissed the girls on Friday evening and drove away. We stopped at a local place and ordered a twenty-pack of wings and "killer seasoned fries." Then we snaked up hills until coming to our destination. It seemed a fitting place for us, as my friends use this cabin for their program of initiating boys into men - Training Ground.

After the meal which would leave us farting all night, we went upstairs and sat down for the main event - HBO's Band of Brothers, all of it.

Several months ago, I'd felt that we, my son and I, would need a common language or story to use as a foundation for his days ahead. I grew up watching westerns with my dad; it is our common story: Monte Walsh, the Cowboys, Lonesome Dove. At my father-in-law's house, over Christmas, Will saw one episode of Band of Brothers on the History channel; he sat transfixed. In that moment, I knew what our story needed to be.

A part of me is sad that my son has not warmed to westerns. I realize he may yet, but that genre does not stir him, not now. But I remind myself that the intent is not to help him become a cowboy or a soldier, but a man. The hero's journey is the same, whether it's hats or helmets. So off to Normandy we went.

I wanted the evening to be as natural as possible. I firmly believe that the soul of a boy, much like the soul of a man, is shy. You can slowly draw it out into the open and a jerky move can send it skittering back into the shadows. I fear our sometimes overt actions to help a boy "get it" do just that. That's what I'm interested in, my son's soul, that deepest part of his life. And, my son and I do a lot together, so it's not like an absent father coming in on furlough and trying to give him the goods before shipping off again. No, ours is as we go.

So we watched a little, talked a little, laughed a little, and cringed a little.

I watched to see what character he would be drawn to; just my luck, "Wild Bill" Guarnere, the toughass from Philly with a mouth to make even Southern Baptist mothers pray the rosary. Oh, he liked some of the others as well, but "Wild Bill" made his soul peek out. After a few episodes, I asked why he liked this character. He's a good man, dad. And I cried, just a little, and thanked the Grace that keeps this world for a moment when things seemed right. There aren't too many of those in this life; men know that.

And so we have our benchmark: a good man. That's what, in my better moments, I hope I am and that's what I pray my son will become. That's what my dad is. And it's what Will Bill was. I have heard, especially in the christian community, that it's not enough to just be a good man; that you've gotta be God's man or something like that. This grieves me; it's why I believe most of the loud male christian voices know little about the soul of a man. If you bristle at that statement, well, so be it.

There was a time when the world asked ordinary men to do extraordinary things. I believe we are still in that time. The world needs good men. And so we carry on, a little at a time, toward the mark.

This story shall the good man teach his son...
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers...

- Shakespeare, Henry V


  1. John, you are a good man, dude. Love that story, love that you did this with Will. Love the hunt for his heart. And you're a kick ass writer. Keep it coming.

  2. You're a good man, and raising a good one, too. How fun for you both. David and Doug need to sit down and watch BoB, too. I know that he must've seen the same episode Will saw over Xmas. Now that they've christened his 12.5 year old boyhood with Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Talledega nights, it's time for BoB.

  3. Well, it seems everything turned out as you'd hoped...the time together, the sharing, the farting, the laughing, the loving...what a great story and an incredible memory you created for your son!

  4. It is a beautiful thing - hearing the story of a man seeking out the heart/soul of his son. No one can do it perfectly; but not many do it as well as you do John. May your son continue to grow in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man.