A Map for the Christian Family-Man
Man of the House: A Handbook for Building a Shelter that Will Last in a World that Is Falling Apart
By C.R. Wiley
Publisher: Resource Publications
Review Author: Barbara E. Rose
About a third of American children live absent their fathers. Another large group has fathers who have apparently abdicated their fatherly role in crucial areas and on a massive scale. Take just two statistics: a $1.5 trillion total student-loan debt, and the average teen’s 4.5 hours per day spent on social media and video games. These epic-scale problems are aggregations of millions of bad decisions — decisions that required but didn’t receive serious, courageous, and frequent correction by fathers. (Yes, mothers too, but for now we’re looking at fathers.) Suffice it to say that a plethora of troubles has sprung from fatherlessness and the loss of fatherly authority and guidance. If young men are deprived of life lessons from male elders, it’s no wonder so many are adrift, cycling through days in entry-level jobs and endlessly pushing off real commitment, intent merely on consumption of beer, Fortnite, and televised sports. Meanwhile, time and opportunity pass them by.
Enter Man of the House, a handbook wherein author C.R. Wiley confronts practical ignorance and replaces the failing modern script for men. Wiley speaks specifically to the young man who, after his school days are through, discovers that his daily life looks a lot like indentured servitude. “If you long for a greater measure of control over the things that bear most directly upon you,” writes Wiley, “a house of your own is the only way to go” — and by house he means household, or stronghold. Wiley briefly recounts the hazards of wage- and debt-slavery and reorients men to Being Your Own Man. Instead of frittering away his youth, a man needs to take charge of his livelihood and plan his own family-centered home economy. Wiley calls this type of integrated life a household.
A household begins with a covenant, a marriage, and via love and hard work builds from there to become a man’s basic, indispensable community. His choice of wife is a huge factor. As essential advice on this, Wiley goes straight to the paragon: the woman in Proverbs 31, who is trustworthy and puts resources to work. “She is industrious, working with her hands…she is generous, giving to the needy.” All in all, “she is wise and respected.” This, Wiley advises his readerly sons, “is the sort of woman you must get.” These level-headed, Christian women do exist. It’s a wise father who praises their type and shows his son where they can and cannot be found.
A healthy household economy is its own reward; it is “emotionally rich and densely meaningful because it is an economy of love.” This productive enterprise naturally includes children, who are the ultimate gift that keeps on giving. The household plan must also include an all-important but oft-forgotten asset: productive property. Wiley explains, “Ownership is freedom and wage earners are not owners.” He distills the essence of distributism — ownership of productive property — as the key to independence, and he appeals to man’s noble desire to use his time and talents to build up his own family (not his manager’s or his CEO’s family) and teach his offspring life lessons along the way.
A man needs to take stock of his work life, viewing the stagnant wages and evaporating benefits of our times as, in one sense, motivation to strive for independence. Even a guy currently in a decent job can start freelancing in order to master owning his own time. If a man can’t mold himself into an indispensable expert in his field, then learning a trade or acquiring real estate are viable options. The goal is eventually to fold productive property into his household. Wiley calls productive property “a school of virtue” because “it demands things of you,” like “determination, resilience, honesty, thrift, practical wisdom.”
Wiley pushes against the modern job market’s tendency to pigeon-hole a man, and he quotes sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein on the wide range of tasks a man should be able to do: “change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog…comfort the dying, take orders, give orders,” and so on. Living a human life requires a certain breadth. So, outside of work hours, a man needs to work at being a generalist. Wiley divides “general competence” into four sets: mechanical skills, organizational skills, people skills, and aesthetics. “A household,” he writes, “is a small, general-purpose institution. It can’t do everything well, but it can do many things well enough.” It is possible for every man, Wiley says, “to become very good at a few useful things, and passably competent at several things.” The end goal is to conserve income and avoid handing over too many daily tasks to “experts.” As a bonus, a man with in-demand skills is valued by his neighbors and so naturally builds ties with his community. Can you picture this well-rounded man who is a pillar of his neighborhood? Have our youth met him?
The household-building man needs to get his head straight about children. Our diseased culture treats the child as “little more than an expensive accessory.” But a child is an investment, with “a pay-in period in the near term” and a return in the long run. Wiley argues that “the ideology of individualism has turned your child into a liability. Since children are said to belong only to themselves, you are discouraged from thinking of them as assets.” Wiley clarifies this important point: If you pay someone else to care for, feed, and teach your kids, those people “have turned your kids into their assets.” A productive household values conservation of income and strong womb-to-tomb family ties when allocating time and treasure.
Wiley says all members of a household should be useful, by which he means helpful, needed, and engaged. Husband and wife “depend on each other for the basics — the dull-normal stuff of everyday existence,” and the same thinking applies to children — to their benefit. Allowing entertainment to monopolize their free time communicates to kids that “they have nothing worthwhile to contribute to either a household or the world at large.” Of course, the “job” of very small children is to play — ahem, screen time is not play — and responsibilities grow with the child. Older kids and teens are able to do plenty of useful things. To get in the habit of building up households, Wiley suggests, “Maybe we should stop asking our kids, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Instead we might ask them, ‘What do you want to depend on the rest of your life?’”
Most people have an innate sense of parental authority, but in our time fatherly authority is almost a foreign concept. One reason for this crisis of authority, Wiley writes, is that “everyone knows there is nothing to lose, because nothing is at stake.” Looking at companionate families living in bedroom communities, he asks, “Just what is the head of the house in charge of, the television remote control?” The remedy for reinvesting household headship with authority, he says, is in “giving households something worthwhile to do.” Said another way, “The head of a house puts people to work.” In this way, productive property, the home economy, and bonds of familial piety and religion become one integrated whole. And here’s the kicker: It’s the man, as leader, who must execute this grand plan because, Wiley says, “This is your role.” Lest the thought go to a man’s head, he clarifies, “The role isn’t significant because you are — you are significant because your role is.”
To exercise authority, a man must possess gravitas. Wiley knows men want gravitas, but it requires a change in thinking and actions: “Unless a man first believes he is worthy of respect, others will agree with him that he is not.” Further, “gravitas is for serious people. Serious people take things seriously and they expect you to too.” Acquiring gravitas requires self-mastery and self-knowledge. Wiley strongly cautions against pride, which, he says, “is actually a form of ignorance. There is no quicker way to shed moral weight than through contempt.”
A man’s honor is situated within a broader framework of honor. Wiley points out that the Ten Commandments “locate the honor due to parents just below the worship we owe God and just above the regard we owe our neighbors.” Parents, then, should expect honor not for an “ego-trip, but because it is through you that the members of your household will learn to honor God and neighbor.” A man can secure honor by right living, but he cannot — repeat cannot — demand it. If a man honors his parents, honors his wife, and honors even disagreeable authority, he helps himself. A man must also honor God, as all authority comes from Him. Wiley emphasizes, “The role you play in conveying the meaning of life to those beneath you is inestimable.” Further, “you cannot delegate the task of inculcating household piety to your wife — not because she lacks intelligence or desire — but because in the very act of delegating it you communicate something to your children. You say that piety is not important enough for a father to deal with directly.” This crucial point is backed by data on the passing of religion from one generation to the next: The father plays an indispensable role.
Households need to regain control of the beginning and the end of family members’ lives, specifically as regards childcare and eldercare. Wiley reminds, “Historically, women have shouldered the burdens for these things. Don’t be fooled though, even though we now farm these things out to the state, women still do most of the work — they just don’t do it from home or for people they love.” Heads of house “need to do a better job of honoring our mothers and daughters when they perform this often difficult and frustrating work.” Everyone should be busting butt to make the household the place that “binds the sexes and the generations together in a fruitful common life.”
Wiley deploys straight talk regarding one’s own eldercare. “If you’ve ever said, ‘I don’t want to be a burden to my children’ then you need to get over yourself.” If you live long, you will be a burden, “if not to your children, then to the children of other people.” Social Security, Medicare, even 401(k)s merely shift the burden, and it’s “the anonymity of the system” that gives the “illusion of independence.” Not so long ago, “aged parents were supposed to provide the very means needed to support them in the end,” oftentimes by way of property owned outright. With a little humility and forethought, workable arrangements can still be made. Wiley advises that a man plan for the assets he spent his life building — his legacy — to be handed down, via a competent protégé who manages the family LLC, in perpetuity. His well-planned legacy will go toward his descendants’ virtuous households, not the IRS, financial planners, casinos, or senior-care facilities.
Call them yeomen, tradesmen, small-to-midsized proprietors — these are the basis of a free and stable society. Wiley’s householders by necessity will stay put, get to know people, and contribute to the common good. Sensible neighbors will love them. These wise men will seek true friendships with virtuous people, and so will also build up the one institution dedicated to virtue and goodness: the Church.
Young men of today are starved for the kind of information Wiley imparts. Common sense, alas, is not common. Another source of life advice and self-betterment, author Jordan Peterson, has gained an enormous following of young men. His bestselling 12 Rules for Life (over two million copies sold) begins with (1) “Stand up straight with your shoulders back,” and (2) “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.” Wiley’s book, unlike Peterson’s, endorses an explicitly Christian belief system and gives straightforward, practical advice.
Wiley foresees a coming collapse — or a slow-motion decline, perhaps — and offers a plan for creating productive, meaningful households that will shelter Christian families in the coming storm. No matter the long-term scenario, Christian men and women may soon find no security in corporations and institutions that have already begun to label Christian doctrine as “hate.” Contemplating the existing job market, a young man needs to ask himself: Can I bank on finding a niche that entails no conscience concerns? And how will I be treated? Before resigning himself to a lifetime of wage-slavery, he’d best review this Bloomberg headline from August 2017: “We’re dying younger. That could be really good news for our employers.” It’s clear the 20th-century work/life paradigm is falling apart. Truth-seeking young men need new guidance. C.R. Wiley is ahead of the curve.
Teen boys everywhere, put down those Xbox handsets and get busy!
© 2019 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved.
Enjoyed reading this?
READ MORE! REGISTER TODAYSUBSCRIBE
You May Also Enjoy
I first became aware of the existence of Catholic social teaching when I was in…
“I suppose we better call an ambulance. The hospital’s gonna cry and moan, but it’s the best chance we got of getting this guy out of our hair."
In The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, Michael Novak sets out his case for the economic-political…