Manliness exists on a spectrum. On one end are the Ron Swansons*: men who have a ton of useful, brawny skills that are under constant practice and development. They chop their own firewood, build their own furniture, make their own coffee, manage their own finances, and other stereotypical manly things. The key trait these folks have is that when they find a skill they do not have, but want to have, they go out and acquire that skill. Paying an expert to build a shelf or fix a toilet is laughable to these men. These men are typically strong and in shape. I refer to this group as “Manly Fathers.”
On the other end of the manliness spectrum are the Phil Dunphys: men who never fix even the simplest of repairs in their own homes, constantly worry about pop culture, and spend the American average of 4.5 hours per day sitting on their asses watching TV. Outside of their job, they produce little to nothing of value for family, and rely heavily on others who have skills they lack. Instead of trying to learn a new skill, outsourcing to more capable humans is the default choice. These men are also typically weak and out of shape. I refer to this group as “Doofus Dads.”
Given that manliness is a spectrum, don’t worry much about who you more closely resemble right now – worry about how you can move your position more towards the manly end. If you lack many skills outside of your job, don’t be discouraged by others who have more skills than you. First, focus on building a strong manly foundation for yourself, then worry about more advanced skills.
Let’s discuss the foundational mentality and technical skills associated with manliness. First, the manly mentality: if something breaks, you fix it yourself. If you don’t know how to fix it, you use the internet to try to learn how to fix it. If that doesn’t work, you can ask someone you know how to fix it. If you are still unable to fix it yourself, you may ask for help from someone you know. As an absolute last resort, and under extreme mental anguish, you may pay someone to fix it for you – and in doing so, you move down on the manliness spectrum and become slightly more doofus-like. This mentality also applies to raising your kids – the last resort is to have someone else do it for you. If they want to learn about woodworking, fixing things, fitness, etc., you may only have them take lessons after they have surpassed your level of expertise. If you lack expertise in a foundational manly skill, and, thus, unable to pass the skill on to your kids, your manliness level drops more towards doofus.
If you outsource all teaching of skills, you are a doofus dad.
So to summarize the manly mentality: you must do, or try to do everything for yourself. Only under great shame may you hire someone to do something you could do. Performing your own appendectomy is not manly (unless you are Leonid Rogozov), thus you are allowed some reasonable leeway when it comes to having others do things for you.
The hard part of becoming more manly is acquiring this mentality. Gaining technical skills is easy.
I gained some of my manly skills by accident. A wind storm knocked my neighbor’s dead tree over, and it clipped my chimney and gutters before finally landing on my deck and destroying part of it. I had homeowner’s insurance, and the insurance company wrote me a fat check that would have paid for experts to be hired to fix all of the damage (and remove the tree). At this point in time, I had a decent set of financial skills. I figured that I could buy all of the necessary tools and materials to fix all of the damage, and use the remainder of the check to cover my insurance premiums for about 5 years.
So that’s what I did.
I bought a miter saw, an electric chainsaw, a few other miscellaneous tools, and materials and fixed all of the damage and removed the tree. It was hard work, but when I was done I learned how to take down a tree, do basic carpentry, and metalwork. I also came away with a set of tools that I could use for other projects. And I did use the excess money to pay my insurance premiums. When we sold the house a few years later, it turned out that our net homeowner’s insurance premiums were less than $0. So, that annoying tree actually ended up paying for some tools, my insurance premiums, and paying for a set of manly skills for me.
If I had a weak mentality, I would have used the money to pay other men (who were more manly than me) to fix my problem for me while I sat inside and watched TV. I would have ended up financially poorer and more doofus-like. Unfortunately, this kind of decision making and behavior is actually normal in a rich country like the US.
So, back to foundational manly skills: every man should be able to cut wood and attach it to other wood, fix a toilet, install an electrical outlet, patch drywall, paint a wall without taping, and take care of their own lawn (cut grass, remove invasive species, etc.). These 6 skills should be part of every man’s repertoire. If you lack any of these skills, work on acquiring them before moving to other technical skills.
In addition to technical skills and a manly mentality, each man should also have a solid grasp of how to manage finances. I’ve written extensively about these topics in the past. If you are young or inexperienced with managing personal finances, I can summarize the foundation for you in one sentence.
Spend much less than you earn, and invest the rest in the low cost Vanguard Total Stock Market Index fund.
For people just starting out with getting their personal finances in order, finding out how much you spend is typically the hardest part. I would recommend the following strategies:
- Determine how much you make each year
- Use a single way to pay for everything (I use one credit card that gives 1.5% cash back for ALL purchases and pay off the balance in full every month)
- Determine the amount and interest rates of all current debts (mortgage, student loans, car loans, credit cards, etc.) and their corresponding minimum payments
- Figure out all of your expenses that don’t come up every month (insurances, license registrations, etc.)
After you collect this information, you can determine how much you spend each year (your spending, PLUS your debt payments), and how much is left for saving (or paying off debt).
Which is easier?:
- Make more money
- Spend less money
Duh, spend less money – as this is under your DIRECT control. I would advise everyone to do both, but strongly encourage you to focus first on spending less money. Only spend money on things that bring you joy (saving for your family’s future, paying off debt, etc.), and minimize spending on things that bring no joy (like insurance payments). Don’t spend money on experts to take care of things that you should be able to do for yourself.
Being on top of your finances is at least as important to your manliness as fixing a leaky toilet or hanging a shelf.
Doofus dads rely on others to take care their problems. If they lose their job, they lose their only source of self worth (income), thus their self esteem and survival are intrinsically and strongly linked to this job. Avoid being a doofus by fixing your own problems. Whenever a problem does arise, don’t look at it with contempt or disdain: think of it as an opportunity to learn and become more manly!
Tldr: Avoid being a doofus dad and aspire towards being a manly father by acquiring a healthy and manly mentality, mastering a few foundational technical skills, and developing productive personal finances.
*Don’t let the fictional characters I mentioned above be your sole definition of manly and doofus (both have admirable and imperfect traits).