Perhaps I have been particularly fascinated by Kevin Jennings’ contention that, as a boy, he learned about the American ideal of masculinity from his adolescent older brother because I chanced upon it (if chance it was) the same week I’ve been studying the adolescent rage of various mythological heroes as part of my dissertation research. Each of those heroes—and not just the Greeks—must learn to tame his rage, to control his passions, before accomplishing the truly great deeds of his life.
Indeed, Herakles had to complete his celebrated twelve labors, in large part, because of his murderous rage. The murder was not seen as the apotheosis of his heroism, but as a hindrance to it. He needed purify himself of his wicked deeds.
It is striking that Jennings would suggest an adolescent boy could pass on the cultural ideal of masculinity. In fact, adolescent boys are those most in need of an education in mature masculinity. Anyone who has studied myth or rudimentary male adolescent psychology understands the seemingly untamable energy of boys on the cusp of adulthood.
And it is the taming of the energy which signals their our advancement into adulthood.
American males are not brought up to kill our fellows in order to prove our masculinity, but to stand up for ourselves in the face of obloquy and adversity, replying to our attackers in just measure and to our misfortunes with calm forbearance.
Had we greater access to myth, we might better be able to articulate this masculine ideal.