When I was a boy, fatherless but thoroughly mothered, fictional and real-life men alike showed and told me how to be a man.
I found these men in real life (Willy Ryken, a founder of our Summer Camp and Buddhist troublemaker, and many other father figures my mother connected me with), in history (Winston Churchill, FDR), through fiction (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Huck Finn, Tintin), baseball (Dave Winfield, Lou Gehrig), Buddhism (Trungpa), through basketball (Magic), etc. And, through the movies, some were bad boys—like Errol Flynn or Toshiro Mifune—but they were still inspired by higher causes, by being of service, by dignity and nobility. Some models of gentlemanhood were quieter, more humble or modest but still charming and fun, like Paul Newman or Robert Redford.
But say the word “gentleman,” and still no one comes to mind more universally, perhaps, than Cary Grant.
In any case—the word itself is imbued with power—the power of gentleness borne of self-confidence, of modesty and humor, of style, of service, of manhood fully realized.
Gentlemanhood is, as mentioned above, fundamentally about a lack of self concern, about taking oneself, and life, lightly—and yet allowing one’s experience, and life’s suffering, to be felt deeply, fully, bravely, tenderly. It’s both, therefore, about style and charm, on a personal level, and about being inspired to dedicate one’s days to a higher cause, to have the strength and generosity to be of service, on an outward level. And the mark of such service? Charm. Dignity, nobility. The outward signs we all recognize as that of a gentleman.
It’s about being good: and wearing one’s goodness lightly. As Cary Grant put it, it’s a work in progress:
“I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally I became that person. Or he became me.”
It’s serve even when one doesn’t feel like serving. It’s having the bravery, and kindness, to practice holding it all—good and bad, happy and sad—in our hearts:
“We could reconnect with the weather that is ourselves, and we could realize that it’s sad. The sadder it is, and the vaster it is, the more our heart opens. We can stop thinking that good practice is when it’s smooth and calm, and bad practice is when it’s rough and dark. If we can hold it all in our hearts, then we can make a proper cup of tea.” ~ Pema Chodron
Quiet confidence, embodied: