Ernest Hemingway, like all men, is a paradox. If we combine some of his better tenets we have a hero for boys and men of the next generation.
I discovered Hemingway in my thirties and was disappointed to have not met him sooner. If I had, I would have better understood some of my struggles and better ways to manage the good, the bad, and the ugly of my path.
“Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bullfighters.”
This one line from Hemingway’s the “Sun Also Rises” gave me permission to live a life with more risk. Risk is what parents spend exhaustive amounts of energy to attempt to eliminate in the lives of children, but risk is more of what boys need to become better men. Helicopter parenting has created a generation of men that have refused to grow up, get jobs, get married, and have children. Boys need a hero, and Hemmingway can speak to them from the grave.
Adventure, nature, friendship, danger, war, death, loss, love and coming of age are all themes young men should read.
So much of Hemingway’s work was inspired from his time in the woods of Michigan and from heroes of his day like Teddy Roosevelt. Within his writings men can discover masculine examples and “code heroes”. “Code heroes are men and women who share certain qualities: honor, courage, uncomplaining, stoicism, dignity. You’ll find the code hero, male or female, young or old, in most of his stories,” wrote Clancy Sigal in his book “Hemingway Lives.”
When reading the countless short stories of Hemingway, a reader will encounter his reincarnated character Nick Adams in many forms. As a boy, a rebel, and a father and will connect with his experiences.
“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
Words from “Farwell to Arms.” Hemingway’s experience in war is throughout his writings. The shell-shocked characters of “The Sun Also Rises”, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Farwell to Arms” keep us grounded in the cost of freedom, the scars of battle, and the difficult realization that adversity leaves us changed, not always for the better.
But in adversity, his code heroes show us how to “man up.”
Hemingway was tough. He was injured in battle, managing countless illnesses, prone to injury, and always placed himself in the middle of dangerous situations. We need tough men like Hemingway.
The other side of the Paradox is difficult when we see the womanizing, racist comments, political views, and the difficult story of the end of his life. These failures can be identified and called out for the time he lived in and his personal poor choices. They should not keep us from his stories.
Give your sons “The Old Man and the Sea” and send them off on their discovery of adventure and risk. Then as they are coming of age let them engage with Hemingway’s stories of war, broken lives, and a lost generation.