The Art of Manliness 30 Days to a Better Man: Part I

I am not really sure when it was I first stumbled across the Art of Manliness. It seems like it has just always been there in the background of my life with my reading their articles and listening to podcasts. Its mission is “to encourage [their] readers to be better husbands, fathers, brothers, citizens — a new generation of great men.” Needless to say, given my self-help addiction, Art of Manliness is right up my alley. Plus, the fact Brett and Kate McCay, the married couple behind it, live in Tulsa is also something else I find nifty given most people I tend to follow are on the coasts rather than here in the Frontier Strip.

Back in 2009, the Art of Manliness launched its 30 Days to a Better Man Project. You can either check out the individual days on the website or download an eBook version (signing up for the site’s newsletter led to my getting a free copy). The challenge was something that I had entertained doing in the past, but for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. A couple of years ago I even downloaded the eBook after receiving it for free thanks to signing up for the e-newsletter, but there it sat in a digital folder collecting digital dust . . . until late March when trying to figure out a plan of attack for the month of April. Skimming through my Google Drive folder of articles, eBooks, essays, and other items downloaded from the Internet to either share with others or go back to read again (and sometimes simply go back and read for the first time) led to my eyes catching the title “30 Days to a Better Man.” The fact April had only 30 days seemed like it was meant to be, so starting April 1, I kicked off with taking on the challenge of becoming a better man.

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Rather than write about every day, the plan is to touch upon some of the adventures. Still, even the highlights lead to a super long blog post, so this is going to be a two-parter. Stay tuned for next week’s second half where more adventures from April will be covered.

Here are the challenges for the first 15 days:

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And Now for the Highlights . . .

Day 1: Define Your Core Values

Contemplation about my what values were my core came from a hotel room in Beaumont, Texas. A regional honors conference had led to my driving a van full of honors students 14 hours to the Texas town just a short drive from the gulf, and after a day of presentations, a river boat ride, and the evening dinner where the keynote talked about the value of the moon,  I was back in my room, considering possibilities and making a mess of a piece of scratch paper. That’s when I turned to my mission statement I had written a couple years ago on the flight home from another work trip for inspiration, which also serves as the background for my phone:

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From it and some many further thoughts came up with Lifelong Learning, Imagination, Community, Realistic Optimism, and Being Present all being the key components for my life.

Day 2: Shine Your Shoes

Then after a very long van drive back (which included a stop at Buckee’s, this amazing amusement park of a gas station found in the Lonestar State complete with a beaver as a mascot), I sat down and shined my shoes.

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Day 3: Find a Mentor

While the first two days were pretty easy going, the third one proved to be challenge thanks to many factors. First, I don’t like to be an inconvenience (as noted with last summer’s kidney stone incident and my not wanting to trouble people to come to the ER to get me (thank you, Bailey, once again for letting me bother you!) or to pick me up from the hospital after the surgery (thank you, Jason, once again for letting me bother you!)), which I fear would be the case unless the right mentor found me. I also don’t want to be that random guy who sends a mentor-seeking message to Tim Ferriss, Brett McKay, Adam Grant, Cal Newport, Tim Urban, Elon Musk, Bernie Dunlap, Tom Angelo, Justin Trudeau, and a few other guys more in the public eye I greatly admire for various reasons. Second, as a firm believer in Tim Ferriss’s often-stated line: “You are the average of the five people you associate with most,” all of my close friends have traits I admire and aspire to possess.  Therefore, in a way, my close friends are all mentors for my life. Third, not being sure about which of three potential roads to take my life leads to my not being sure what type of mentor would be best. Fourth, did I mention my not wanting to be an inconvenience to someone with an already packed schedule?

This all led to more scribbling of trying to decide what areas of my life needed mentorship (professional and personal were the ultimate decisions, so pretty much every part of my life was the answer). Then my core value of imagination created a mentor to help me along for the time being. His name is Ethan Bomer. He is basically the composite of my favorite self-help material with some influence of Matt Bomer thrown into the mix, another person I greatly admire for how he came out with class and his being a family man. Plus, Ethan is a higher education administrator who spent many successful years in the classroom (and continues to teach a class every semester), a father of two, a fantastic husband to a supportive partner, and a big believer in the power of people and community.

It’s been pointed out by some that creating a flawless individual who is the epitome of what I see as perfection in every way to serve as a mentor is probably not the best of ideas (Talk about the unreal expectations he sets for me!). Plus, my imagining (look at that core value being used again) I go on morning jogs with him might make me seem a bit crazy too, but don’t worry, for I am not talking out loud to someone who isn’t really there (yet). He also is not in complete agreement with what I do and think. Rather, Ethan is helping me gather my thoughts, think from another perspective, question my actions, and try to work towards achieving my goals to the best of my ability. Plus, even with his imaginary packed schedule, I don’t have to worry about inconveniencing him too much.

Day 7: Reconnect with an Old Friend

And now you are probably thinking I am going to reconnect with my childhood imaginary friends for this one, but I actually went with real people instead (Plus, I don’t think I had any imaginary friends). Three were on purpose and two happened more thanks to timing. Of the first three, I learned about Ian’s upcoming trip to the Daytime Emmy’s thanks to Red Bird being nominated for best Outstanding Digital Daytime Drama Series and Paul’s travels to China where the photos and stories he shared led to a few more places added to my list of places to see one day. The reconnection is yet to happen with the third old friend to whom I reached out, but I had also missed replying to her last message when she had reached out to reconnect with me, so one day . . .

Then for the other two, it just happened the day of the challenge was when the Mennonite Relief Sale was taking place at the Kansas State Fairgrounds and Ted and Jonny from the Omaha area just happened to be there to enjoy the festivities, which led to my reconnecting with the two of them as well as meeting Jonny’s amazing family while we enjoyed tasty German food at the Feeding of the Multitude. That evening also led to . . .

Day 9: Take a Woman on a Date

Except it was not with a woman, and it was not a romantic date. With no prospects for romance on the horizon at all (I honestly attempted to find one leading up to this day but failed miserably), it seemed like the best idea was to modify the Day 9 challenge and make it a friend date. While Jonny caught up with family, Ted and I explored Horse Thief Canyon at Kanopolis State Park, checked out Mushroom State Park, saw the sights from Coronado Heights, and experienced the charm of Lindsborg before getting him back a bit late for dinner.

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Sure, it wasn’t what Brett McCay probably pictured as a date when he came up with this challenge, but it was a great time to say the least, and the plan until the stars align for romance in my life will be many more great dates with friends.

Day 12: Create Your Bucket List

For the longest time, the number one item on my Bucket List was to see Banff and all of its glory. Last summer that happened which led to having a relatively empty bucket (see the Northern Lights), so this was a challenge that was in need of happening. What was fascinating was when I first started drafting the list, I would scratch out an item thanks to thinking it was too hard or unrealistic, but then thoughts of this being a bucket list came back to me as well as my plans of having a long life to achieve these items (Number 1 went from “Go on a hike in all 50 states” to “Visit all 50 states” to back to “Go on a hike in all 50 states”):

  1. Go on a hike in all 50 states
  2. Visit all National Parks in the United States
  3. Have a terribly romantic Hollywood-like kiss in the rain
  4. Be known as a writer
  5. See the Northern Lights
  6. Visit all of the continents and touch all five oceans
  7. Be debt free
  8. Be a father
  9. Life a full life as a great (gay) role model to others/be a mentor like Ethan Bomer
  10. Fall in love again

Day 13: Declutter Your Life

The month of March was all about becoming super organized (supposedly); however, it was April when I really began to contemplate the art of decluttering. However, this time, it was not really about my physical surroundings but rather it was about people in my life, my (lack of) ability to tackle small tasks efficiently) and my mental thoughts. That day I was on the phone listening to someone who had a horrible case of nonsermitis, which led to my thinking more about how some people unfortunately can become clutter. The same sort of thoughts started to form about small tasks I needed to achieve.

A picture of a doorway towards my future goals was imagined (I am on a role with this core virtue. Another imagined image was a bush needing to be trimmed), and these small tasks I can waste so much time accomplishing, the mental thoughts that hindered my progress, and the people who seemed to hold me back rather than help me go forward were all just clutter in the way of trying to get towards my desired destination. The same goes for the conversations on dating apps I know right away are simply a waste of time, but yet I still carry them on for who knows what reasons. By the end of the day, all of this started to become clearer as the clutter truly started to be cut out so my focus could be more on the truly important parts of my life, which my friends, selected family, and goals to improve the world around me and live a fulfilled life.

Day 14: Write a Letter to Your Father

It will be five years in September since my dad severed our relationship with his letting me know I was no longer his son. This is neither the time nor place to go into more details, and for those who are close, you already know the story. Over the last nine months, his and my paths have crossed twice for the first and second time since that fateful phone call that still sometimes haunts my memory. During both times, all went okay thankfully as if nothing had ever happened, but the door was not opened for my coming home for Christmas or for even a weekend. Needless to say, the challenge of writing a letter to him gave me pause, and before I started, I had no idea what would be created. In fact, when I was talking about that day’s challenge, a good friend of mine said he wanted to read it, for he was sure it would be seething. The thing, though, is I have no hatred in my heart for him, so the creation turned out to be quite the opposite and the whole experience was extremely cathartic.

Sure, it opened with “To pinpoint the very first time I disappointed you would be a hard thing to do. My life seems like one that would have repeatedly built up your hopes to just have them crashing down” before discussing how I don’t have many memories of him when I was young for he was always hunting or fishing. That, though, was only a page before getting to many pages of where I talked about all of the good times – his coming up with my first Halloween costume, his story of his picking up his weak and faint youngest son to rush him to the hospital before pneumonia took away his life, his making sure I saw so much of the country during our family vacations when we really did not have any money to take those kind of trips, his believing (as we sat in the Santiago airport) he bought my very first beer after he had taken me to Argentina to hunt doves to celebrate my 21st birthday, and his helping me fix up my house after I bought it. I also wrote about how he never really had a loving father himself – one who could have served as a role model.

The letter then moved on to how he has influenced my life in so many ways: “As you always said, you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family. Sure you may not have been the father I wish I would have had or the movie/TV version I like to imagine, and it would be great if we could have made more father and son memories, but you are the father I was given, and because of that, I am who I am today.” Finally, my closing was honest and captured the letter’s overall feelings:  “With much love and some understanding.”

While the challenge was to write the letter, thankfully it was not necessary that I sent it, and for right now, it will rest in a digital folder among other writings of mine that I revisit from time to time.

Day 15: Make a Meal

Then for the last challenge in the first half was a simple one: make a meal. The timing was perfect too, for my mother, who has always supported me through everything, was here for Easter. Although 90% of my meals I cook at home, when my mother visits, we tend to eat out the entire time, but this time, we had a tasty meal of a broiled steak and salad topped with fruit, mushrooms, blue cheese, and balsamic vinegar.

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And those are the highlights from my first half of my 30 Days to Becoming a Better Man. Stay tuned for Part II next week for recaps of adventures about my saving 8 baby opossums, playing, taking (and failing) the Marine Corp Fitness Test, starting a fascinating book, writing a love letter, and conquering a fear in front of everyone at Social Saturday as well as a reflection about the month as a whole.

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