Don’t Be A Sissy!

Don’t Be A Sissy!

We live in a soft, sissified world. Yet, paradoxically, it is a brutal, harsh place at the same time. While Ebola reaps it’s merciless harvest in the mud huts of western Africa, the children (and adults) of America continue to weaken, huddled subserviently in the baleful glare of television and computer screens.

‘Twas a time when life was a grand adventure, a winged creature upon the back of which to leap and fly, laughter echoing in the spindrift. Now, affluent humanity has settled into a socio-materialistic morass of indolence, content to wallow in the mud of acceptance, resignation, and ignorance. We eat what is vomited forth by brainless daytime talk shows as if it were the living seed of wisdom’s fruit.

This is a battle cry!

Don’t be a sissy! Regardless of your social position, religious beliefs, country of birth, level of education or financial security; vamoose, skedaddle, scram from the mundane! When fleeting life has flitted by, do you want to be left sitting, sucking your thumb amidst a litter of discarded plastic toys? Me neither!

When I was a boy, the worst epithet that could be heaped upon my brother or me was: “Yer a sissy!” We reveled in the dream of sturdy manliness. Now, sissiness is glorified, albeit perhaps unwittingly, by a culture which calls dirt bad and thinks that 4 year-olds need smart phones.

I know kids who can’t do push-ups, for crying out loud!

You and I have been blessed with a remarkable body and brain, capable of scaling cliffs as we silently recite Shakespeare sonnets, running in the rain, polyalphabetic ciphers dancing through our heads, chopping wood while listening to Geddy Lee sing “Fly by Night”, night swimming, gusto-filled, in the breakers off Cape Hatteras!

And yet… don’t we too often content ourselves with YouTube and McDonald’s?

Sissiness is acquiescence to the status quo. Sissiness is saying “Yes” when we loathe the suggested action. Sissiness is weakness, physical, intellectual, and spiritual.  Sadly, we all have a grain of sissiness lurking in some cranny of our psyche. 

How, then, can we defeat the secret sissy within and emerge victorious?

Find Your Grindstone

“We are kept keen on the grindstone of pain and necessity.”- H.G. Wells

Pain and necessity, while not in themselves always desirable, forge strength. They enforce the development of what Granddad called “character”. I am not espousing self-injury or fanaticism, however, in industrialized society, “pain and necessity” are anathema; to be avoided at all costs. Could it be that a reasonable amount of discomfort could teach us something about the joy of life? Might we not benefit by exposure to the raw harshness of the natural world from which we often insulate ourselves?

I grew up in a home with no electricity. Never television. For a time, no running water. A lonely woodstove vainly attempted to pump out sufficient BTU’s on nights when the mercury cuddled itself at the -40F mark. My parents taught us that adversity is not an enemy, but a sparring partner.

We learned about responsibility as we watched Dad work a 12 hour day and then come home and fill the kerosene lanterns so that he could read to us before bed. We watched Mom’s forearms ripple with strength as she hefted 5 gallon buckets of water from the river. Once, at 20 below zero, at night, my Dad and I stood in the impossibly unfrozen river current struggling to repair a broken hydroelectric penstock. No matter how ferociously the black flies chewed on our necks on late summer afternoons, Mom wouldn’t let us stop picking blackberries until the pail was full! We filled the woodshed, shoveled Everests of snow from the driveway, camped out in the rainy Adirondacks, and cross-country skied through subzero moonlit forests.

Back then, all those things were simply life. Sometimes we hated it, sometimes we loved it.

Now, though, I look back and am ineffably happy that I had a grindstone! Why?

Because truth be told, I tend to be a sissy. I was never the first one to leap up when the bugle signaled action. I frequently had to be cajoled out of my teenage laziness to mow the lawn. “Pain and necessity”, though, little by little drove the sissy out of me.

The difficulties I endured built me, bettered me, and prepared me for combat with that oft-fickle creature called life with which we sometimes grapple, sometimes embrace.

I am convinced that we all need a grindstone. If it isn’t provided for you, seek it out! Maybe it is camping out in the mountains without a tent. Perhaps it is coping with the enervating struggle to pay off debt. Your grindstone could be eliminating television from your life, getting up early to exercise, or making peace with an enemy.

Embrace the grit, the dirt, the hardship!

Benefits of De-Sissification

When we overcome adversity, we overcome a part of ourselves that nags, “I can’t”. We convince ourselves that we are more than our genetic code, that we are stronger, mentally and physically, than the obstacle.

We develop courage,confidence, fortitude, tenacity, and spunk.

I am a better man today because yesterday wasn’t easy. I have a long way to go before I will be a truly “good” man, but we all improve as we defeat the internal sissy that urges us to give in to our weaknesses and cede to our vicissitudes.

De-sissifying makes a person tough, able to endure the sometimes harsh beauty of life.

Endurance is, according to Greek Scholar William Barclay “…the spirit which can bear things, not simply with resignation, but with blazing hope . . . It is the quality which keeps a man on his feet with his face to the wind. It is the virtue which can transmute the hardest trial into glory because beyond the pain it sees the goal.”

Thus, let the wind blow in your face, keep your footing, and don’t be a sissy!


  1. sandi

    had a similar experience picking blackberries in 2002 with your mom. We had an abundance of berries and I invited her over to pick and despite the fact that I was very pregnant and there were flocks of blackflies, we picked until all the berries were picked. It was nearly dark. Then, I had to freeze all those berries and make pies, and crisps, and jams. She is even worse with wild blueberries.:>

    1. Patrick (Post author)

      So true; they are smaller!

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