What should we teach our sons? That to live as a man, is to live as a human being, not a character in a film, not a soldier, not a profession. It is to live as a spontaneously charged entity, as all entities live. It is not to be an object. Your value does not come from what you do. You are invaluable, in fact.
With this reality comes the brutal truth about your dreams. That anything worth working for, anything worth achieving in this world, including love itself, comes at a sacrifice. It comes, actually, at a cost, and perhaps more than one cost. Life is a relentless set of challenges and trials. From one very material perspective, life is a struggle, a fight, and at times it is most certainly a war.
I have no patience for the New Age view that life is “a state of mind” and therefore it is whatever we make it. I believe that the essence of life is absolutely within our own mind's creative power, but any philosophy of ethics that does not face the truth about what it means to be alive, that does not confront the truth that death however real, is a tragedy, is not confronting the relevant experience of all human beings.
In fact, it is this kind of burying our heads in the sand, this collective delusion of deathlessness, that has emasculated generation after generation of men.
What we owe our sons is the truth. That life is a bitch, but upon acceptance of this truth comes liberation. The true warrior does not become obsessed or fixated on death. He confronts it, and accepts it and in doing so, the warrior transmutes himself into the poet, because he realises the delicacy of life. He does not live in a synergy of second hand ideas, he lives at the edge of his own mind, in the frontier of his senses, and in the full presence of his experience.
To be a man, is to be able to face life. And life is not easy. But neither is it a cynical cycle of hopelessness. Those who propagate this latter perspective like to think of themselves as intelligent, but really they are just avoiding the responsibility of their own sensuality. They are taking the easy route by somehow giving up, while at the same time living a half life in avoidance of death.
The truth is not cynical, and neither is it ever a concatenation of joys. Life is the experience of living threaded with the truth of death. Life is death, because to live is to die. Such statements come off grandiose or pompously poetic, but I am really referring to a simple fact of biology here. Despite its simplicity and primal veracity, we have built a whole culture around denying its weight, especially when it comes to masculinity.
Not only that, our modern culture of consumerism and self-satisfaction ignores it at all costs, because to sell something to someone, you have to sell the idea that they can transcend the truth of their existence somehow. And ultimately this means selling them the idea that whatever it is that you have to offer, it can help them beat death. They say sex sells, but underneath this self-agrandising wisdom is a deeper truth about a human being's inability to confront his own destiny.
For thousands of years, we have been enthralled by this need to avoid or conquer death, when the most sublime of truths has been staring us in the face: that to embrace the passing of things is to know the true beauty of living.
So how do we prepare our sons? We familiarise them with this fact. We do not shield them from the costs of life, but use those truths to display life in its true value. In doing so, we will hardly need to indoctrinate them with any system or code of ethics, because their ethics will spring from their apprehension of life in all its merciless fragility.