Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Art of Manliness: My Tribute to My "Papaw," Mason "Junior" French

For the past few weeks I have had a lot of fun and have really enjoyed reading the articles over at The Art of Manliness, a blog that is dedicated to "recovering the lost art of being a man." Now, before you ladies start rolling your eyes (like my wife Christy did), the blog is authored by a husband and wife team--so this is not men being left to themselves to digress into regaling tales of machismo. Rather, this site is about helping men grow up and become more responsible, to be "better husbands, better fathers, better men." Brett Mckay notes that he got tired of reading Men's Health magazine because all they seemed to write about was sex and how to get six-pack abs. He also noted that there seemed to be a feminization to men, as well. Therefore, he saw a need for men to talk and learn about honorable manliness, to rediscover the "confidence, focus, skills, and virtues that men of the past had embodied and were a little lost." The blog has articles covering areas such as "Dress & Grooming," "Manly Skills," "Money & Career," "Relationships & Family," and of course "Health & Sports."

I have enjoyed The Art of Manliness so much, that I joined their group on Facebook. My wife Christy's response was, "I don't like the sound of this." So I am writing not only to promote a good site, but more importantly, to allay my wife's fears and explain why I have enjoyed it so much. And the answer is quite simple: it reminds me a lot of my grandfather who died when I was in the seventh grade. As I have grown up without him, I have always looked back at him as a paradigm of honorable manliness, and when I read the articles, it is as if they are able to take me back to him and bring my memories into clearer focus of a man I long to emulate. And I am not just talking about something obvious like when I read the post on How to Shave Like Your Grandpa. No, I'm talking about the less obvious ones that remind me of the man himself--who he was, what he liked, what he did, how he dressed, how he smelled.

As I read the article on the 15 Manlinest Smells in the World, I could smell his Old Spice, Brylcream, and his recliner that you could only sit in if he wasn't home. As I read the article on the importance of a Good Boot, I was reminded of his dress boots that zipped up the side, which he wore to church every Sunday and that I thought were so cool and swore I would own some day--dress shoes you could wear to church that were boots! When I read about how Every Man Should Carry a Pocket Knife, I was reminded of how his brown jigged bone case knife would emerge in a moment's notice to expedite some assignment and then disappear just as quickly back into his pocket. And in the other pocket? From there, a white handkerchief would often materialize for sundry tasks, which I learned was also something A Man Should Always Carry. (*Update: I wrote this post this morning, including the detailed description of the knife. This evening at dinner I was talking with my Dad and I didn't know it, but he had a knife that Papaw gave him. We found it and it is the one that I remembered as a child, which you see in the picture to the left. When we looked it up by the blade number and markings, we discovered that it is not a brown jigged bone case knife, but a brown imitation jigged bone medium, or junior, stockman case knife and was manufactured between 1965-69.)

**Update #2: After my Mom and Dad read this post, they filled me in on the history of this knife. When I was about 9, Papaw and Dad were working on something in the kitchen and they needed to cut something. Dad told Papaw that he didn't have a knife, so Papaw took this one above out of his pocket and took care of the cut. But after making the cut, he started to put the knife back in his pocket but stopped, looked at Dad and said, "Here, you keep it; every man ought to have a pocket knife." This transfer of the pocket knife affected my mother deeply, for she knew that a pocket knife was something personal and intimate, especially to her father. She knew that for Papaw to give that knife to my father was his way of embracing my father as a son.

Well, as of tonight, this knife begins a new stage in its history. Dad gave the knife to me! In the article Every Man Should Carry a Pocket Knife, the McKay's say:
The best pocket knifes to have are the ones with a sense of history. I carry around a pocket knife that my father gave to me. . . . It’s something tangible that reminds me of my father. One day I hope to pass it down to my son. So ask your dad if he has an old pocket knife that he can give to you. I’m sure he’ll be happy to pass it along.
They go on to mention honor of getting a knife from not only your Dad but even your Grandpa. Tonight, I am doubly honored. How exciting it is to have received my Papaw's knife that I remember as a child, that he gave to my Dad because "every man ought to have a knife," that my Dad has now passed on to me.

When I watched the videos on 7 Basic Knots Every Man Should Know and when I read about the 12 Tools Every Man Should Have in His Toolbox, I was reminded of all the hours I spent with him watching him work, especially the countless hours in his garage watching him wield his tools like a medieval knight; I would observe him, mesmerized by his ability to fix anything and everything. There was nothing he couldn't do, it seemed. When I read about How To Buy Your First Motorcycle, I was reminded of his love for "cycles" (pronounced as "sickles"). He always owned at least one and often several. I would sneak out into the garage and look at them, and touch them and then eventually climb on and imagine myself winning some great race or pretend that I was a motorcycle cop like on the television show "ChiPs." Then came that glorious day, I was around 1o years old, when he came in and found me on his dirt bike. When he saw what I was doing he just smiled and asked me if I wanted to ride it for real. My "papaw" taught me how to ride a motorcycle that day.

I recently read about how to Make the Perfect Cup of Coffee, which reminded me of how he always seemed to be fragranced with the aroma of coffee--probably because he always seemed to have his thermos of coffee with him. Just a couple of years ago, my grandmother shared with me that I reminded her of my grandfather with my coffee habits. She said that I hold my coffee like he did, and that he preferred it black like I do. She shared a story about how they were on a trip one time and stopped at a diner to get some coffee. My grandfather told the waitress that he wanted a black cup of coffee, to which the waitress informed him that all of their mugs were white. Then my grandmother shared a most interesting bit of trivia. When she was pouring me a cup, I asked her to only fill it half way. This request caused her to pause for a moment, at which time my mother and aunt Gloria also stopped what they were doing and stared at me. After a brief moment of silence, I was asked why. I told them that I prefer to drink my coffee half a mug at a time so that its always hot. My grandmother became extremely tickled at this while my mom and aunt Gloria looked at me almost stunned. Not understanding their reactions, I asked what was going on. My grandmother looked at me and told me that my Papaw preferred his the exact same way and for the same reason. My mother later shared with me that while growing up, it was just a given that you never brought Papaw a full cup of coffee and that she had never known anyone else who liked their coffee that way.

There is so much more that I could say. For example about how when I read about Becoming a Man and read about selflessness, consistency and humility, I was reminded of how when we would visit them, he would come home everyday from his construction job and give me his Star Crunch snack that he would save for me. And how when I was a boy and asked him why he had to go to work instead of playing with me, he said, "Papaw has to go to work so I can buy you some Ho Ho's."

And you know, there is also value to the obvious articles like the one I mentioned earlier on How to Shave Like Your Grandpa. Reading this article did remind me of one of the most significant days of my life with him. For many, they say that the first shave begins a boy's right of passage into manhood. Now, my Papaw did not help me to learn to shave, but he did play a major role in my initiation to shaving manhood. You see, the first time I shaved was the day of his funeral--I was a pallbearer and I wanted to look my best for him. The irony for me at the time was that on the day I was becoming a man, I cried a great deal. And I still cry at times when I think about him and how I miss him very much; in fact, I have cried several times as I have written this post. But as I've since learned, this apparently is a time When Its Okay for a Man to Cry.

The point is, there is a lot of good material, which does more than just provide helpful tips on how to "man up," it helps to bring into focus a lot of good memories. My grandfather was a godly man of courage and conviction, he was hard working and loyal, he was self-sacrificing and resilient, he was a patriot who served his country in war, and yet, he was also a loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather. Mason "Junior" French was the paragon of the Art of Manliness. Maybe, just maybe, if I continue to read, I will continue to remember him, and I will mature in the lost art of manliness.


  1. Hey David-

    Thanks so much for the email. Reading your blog about AoM really made my day! It's a great summary of some of our best posts.

    Your grandfather sounds like a really cool guy. A lot of what you said I could say about my gandpa, and he's definitely one of the major inspirations behind the site. And like you said, not just the obvious stuff about him but "who he was, what he liked, what he did, how he dressed, how he smelled." There was just something about men in that generation-it's hard to describe but that's what we are trying to capture on the website.

    At any rate, I'm glad you're enjoying the site and I hope your wife has warmed up to your love for it. Tell her that we have tons of femaile fans-everybody wins when men man up!

    Best regards-

  2. Shellie French MullinsNovember 1, 2009 at 10:54 PM

    I just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed your article about grandpa--I laughed and cried throughout it. A couple years ago Mason was over there and was cold-Grandma pulled out a jacket for him. It said Mason French on the inside collar--my Mason thought that was so cool to wear that! One of my fun memories of hi...m is sitting with him during football sunday watching the cowboys while he had on his huge foam cowboy hat--Mick and I are still cowboy fans because of him!! Thanks, David, for the wonderful memories!

  3. Word. I am a fellow art of manliness member as well. I really enjoy reading it for similar reasons.

  4. What great memories! I used to like sitting in the family room when he was in his recliner. I'd watch him watch the Cowboys. Do you own a pair of zip up dress-boots? I had forgotten about those until I read this. I used to love to find out what new contraption he had built for us to play with, it was like opening a present every time we went to visit. I also remember the coffee, and the smell of coffee on his breath. I couldn't wait for him to get home from work when we got there so we could get the oatmeal cream pies out of his lunch box! I wasn't as keen on the Star Crunch... maybe he knew that. He used to share strawberries with me all the time, too. And he'd let me 'steal' his strawberries when I ran out and he wasn't looking. I did see him cry once... he scolded me and we both cried! This was really neat... thanks for writing it.

  5. This is awesome, David! Thanks for sharing (for a lot of reasons). I strongly suspect that Papaw is very proud of the man you have become :D


  6. David, I found the article, AND IT WAS JUST BEAUTIFUL. THANKS FOR SHARING.