I have a theory about men: Men are empire builders.
I’m not talking about Nero, Constatine, or Caesar (though he created a great salad). Empire building on a worldwide scale kind of went out of favor in the 19th century… I’m talking about local empire building. I’m taking about men who build an empire in the immediate vicinity of their own being.
A man’s empire consists of the things he loves and values most. Most of his satisfaction and joy is derived from watching that empire grow.
Let me give you a few examples:
A home is a great start to a man’s empire. Most men spend countless hours and sweat great buckets of sweat expanding, renovating, improving and fixing their little empire up. They spend a lot of money and time doing projects they are probably ill equipped to perform in the name of improving the real estate in their empire.
I have a brother who is an awesome mechanic. He can fix anything and has a real gift for understanding the mechanics and inner workings of things. He has a great inquisitive mind and won’t rest until he understands how everything works. An important part of his empire is expressed by the number of tools, spare parts, side projects, and general stuff he keeps around the garage.
It’s all part of his empire.
This blog is a part of my empire. I really enjoy watching it grow, reviewing the things I’ve written in the past, reading people’s comments, and even tinkering with the look and feel of it. As it has grown over the last five years and has been a source of pleasure and happiness for me.
Money is a huge part of most men’s empire. Nothing gives some more satisfaction than to earn money, see their savings multiply, and to watch their net worth grow over time. I can say I personally enjoy logging into our financial accounts periodically, not so much to monitor transactions as to watch the trend line of our net worth go up (and sometimes down).
But there is still a larger, more important part of a man’s empire. The things I’ve talked about up until now are passing, fleeting parts of a man’s empire. Money and things can easily be here today and gone tomorrow. Certainly, nothing is more fleeting that money and things. People (relationships) are the part of a man’s empire that are the most permanent, most powerful, and which provide the most long-term happiness.
Yes, the ultimate expression of most people’s empire is their marriage and children. For most of us, the biggest accomplishment we ever made was to club-a-woman-over-the-head-and-drag-her-back-to-our-cave. That accomplishment feels pretty good for a while until children come along. Then, the pride of having reproduced your man-cub might even supersede the sense of accomplishment you had when you duped your wife into marrying you.
But seriously, the only people who will really remember us when we’re gone are our children and grandchildren. Religion and tradition makes the ‘human resources’ of a man’s empire kind of a big deal. It is a huge part of Mormon theology, which is centered around the eternal nature of the family relationships.
We recently had a family reunion for my mom’s family. As my last living grandparent stood to talk to the group of 60 family members who had come, you could sense a tangible feeling of awe and pride (the good kind) that he had in seeing almost all of his family members in one room together.
Family does seem to be the ultimate part of a man’s empire.
The topic of family and children has been on my mind recently. We’re over a year into our marriage and the topic has come up more than a few times among friends and family. While I’m quite impressed at the respect and deference that most people give to the subject of family planning (I think everyone knows someone for whom it is a very sensitive subject), there are still a few whose attitude toward kids has caused me to question their world view. (So here goes my big leap to assumptions…) Some people have led me to think that they genuinely believe that human reproduction is the single most important thing they are going to for the rest of their lifetime; that the end-all-be-all of their existence is simply to perpetuate the human race and then die.
Chances are, you are sitting there nodding your head. You are thinking about your children and grandchildren and thinking, “That’s exactly how I view my children. WhiteEyebrows just doesn’t know yet because he doesn’t have any kids.” And you’re right, I don’t know how it feels to be a parent. But stick around, I think I have a valuable point left to make…
I recognize that most people derive a lot of joy from bearing and raising children. It is the most challenging thing a person can do, and it can be the most rewarding as well. I also acknowledge the reality that most of life’s disappointments and challenges come because of those children as well; that while every child is loved by their parents, not every child is always liked by their parents.
As a parent, you get a couple of years to teach and train your child. In today’s world of emancipated prepubescents, that window constantly grows smaller and smaller, and parents are pressured to teach children more in less time before society and adolescence convinces them start ignoring their parents. The ‘parenting’ window of your life is actually quite small in comparison to the rest of your adult life. Those who become parents are invested in parenting for only a fraction of their life – maybe 20-30 years tops. Sure, you will always be a child’s parent, but as the child ages and starts making their own decisions, you will have less control over their overall direction, success, and potential happiness in life.
Which leads me to my point/question: what are you going to do with the rest of your life? If reproduction is the pinnacle of what you can accomplish, don’t you think you peaked a little early?
Of course not. There is more to do!
That’s part of figuring out what we’re going to do as we (as a human race) live longer, healthier lives. Certainly you will continue to be a parent for your entire life, though the nature of your role as a parent will change as your children grow, but there is so much else to be done that can have a real lasting impact and legacy on a local, regional, national or international scale.
We need great public servants in this country. We need help teaching and training in schools. We need innovation and invention that will keep our society at the forefront of the world. We need beautiful art and expression around us. We need substantive books to read and stories to be told. Now more than ever, we need the great, successful parents to not only work within the walls of their homes, but everywhere from the halls of our Congress to the halls of our schools. We need people who will leave a material legacy for our society to ride the next hundred years on, just as the great 19th and 20th century innovators of government and science have done for us.
We also need people who can leave a legacy in the life of someone else, who may not necessarily be part of their family. As a man extends his empire into the lives of others, establishing relationships with people he may not have otherwise, his sphere of influence is expanded and his life becomes that much more meaningful (both personally and from a societal perspective). While these passing relationships may not have the same permanence as a family relationship, they have the potential of having an ever greater impact.
As a man stands back to examine his manly empire, certainly his family can (and should be) the largest part of his general feeling of success, but there will also be a sense of what he accomplished in his community, in his congregation, in his country, in the world, and in the lives of others. No matter the geographical reach, a man (or woman) can be equally and genuinely proud of the total empire of relationships he created and nurtured over his life.