Interview Series: Stephen Marshall

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Stephen Marshall found himself at age 40 with 4 kids, having been an attorney for ten years, being very good at certain things but not having many masculine skills.

My life was pretty good, but I'd never shot a gun. I wasn’t handy around the house. I didn’t do a good job fixing cars and knew nothing about hunting. So I started to think about the things that men have done historically that I wasn't that great in. And it got me thinking about how society does not require men to be good at the things that men have traditionally been good at, or been forced to be good at. And so maybe it was ego. But I just got to the point where I didn't want to be one of those guys who wasn't good at being a man. So I started trying to learn about things that I didn't know about.

I grew up in South Central Kentucky in a small town. I came to the University of Kentucky in 1992 as an undergraduate. I had always intended to go to law school, but I got my degree in education. [When I was growing up] being a lawyer was a respected profession along with being a doctor.

[Fast forward to today and Stephen now has a private practice now with two other partners]. My practice represents landlords in their issues with tenants. I'm in court every morning doing evictions. And then my day is split into fifteen minute increments, putting out fires that landlords are dealing with.

In your words, you said you were cruising along. So what prompted this question of masculine skills?

I'm not 100 percent sure what prompted it. I'm not one of those guys who says there's a war on men. But I do think the way that traditional gender roles have been blurred got me thinking about what it means to be a man. What's a man supposed to be in the year 2010?

Now as all that's happening internally, all of a sudden we're having random shootings that are getting reported everywhere. And that made me think, all right, look, you're a father that's got four kids. You’re a pillar of the community. You've got a responsibility to take care of people. If you're not gonna do it, who's gonna do it? You know, we can't just outsource everything to professionals to be responsible. The men of communities have to be responsible for keeping those communities safe.

And I realized that I wasn’t able to do that. And I didn't want to be in a situation where I run into one of those wackos and I'm just bait. I wanted to be somebody who had enough skill to try to make a difference. So that got me started down the path of trying to become better at being a man. And honestly, as I did that life got better. I was very content, great marriage, great kids, and great job. But as I started pushing myself and challenged myself to learn new things, man that sense of adventure inside of me made life better. I was just more excited about things than I'd been since I was a young guy. So that got me thinking there's probably tons of people in my very spot. When I go to court, I see tons of people dressed up in suits carrying papers that can make good arguments, that can write good documents that can communicate well, but who probably can't change their own oil or probably don't know which end of a gun to load.

So that was [also] the impetus behind starting my website, The Man's Life, which is to give encouragement and direction to guys who are stuck now. I'm in the corporate world and so I can probably identify with those guys a little bit more. There are some guys that may have grown up in rural areas that are fantastic at having physical skills and maybe where they need to grow is on the intellectual side. But in our society, which has become increasingly digital and technologically driven, I think there's more guys that need to get back to the tangible, be strong, be courageous, develop physical skills that allow you to do the things that men have traditionally done. So that's what I've tried to gear my blog towards.

Many men in that age group find themselves in your situation. How did you start adjusting your lifestyle?

The first thing I started with was trying to build my skills, and I think that's where most guys need to start. Because, most of my skills had to do with pushing buttons on a computer and talking to people and those are great skills to have. But you need more than that.

I'd had buddies that for years wanted me to go to the gun range. I always told them, “Man, I'm not into that.” But all of a sudden when the light clicked in my head, I was calling those guys back and saying, “let's go to the gun range!”

And they were like, “What got into you?”

And then I called one of my buddies who I knew was an avid hunter. And I said, “Zach, I'm interested in hunting. Let's have coffee on Monday.” He said “I don't have time for coffee. But block off your schedule the next day. We're gonna go shooting this Tuesday”

He's a big time, big shot financial advisor. But he was also an avid hunter. And so he took me out with another guy and we started shooting. And we started small and worked our way up till I was shooting the most high powered rifle that he had. And it was uncomfortable. It was loud.

But my heart was pounding.

And he actually gave me two books to read. And he invited me two weeks later to come down to his farm where he has a deer camp every year and he brings in new people and teaches them how to hunt. And then probably four weeks total after texting him, I was sitting in a deer stand in pitch darkness at five o'clock in the morning hunting deer.

And a couple days later, I killed my first deer. And so that's kind of how this whole process has gone.

And then I've had some other friends who've kind of jumped in with me trying to figure out how we can be competent with a handgun. And so we took some classes at our local gun shop. And we just practice all the time. And then we all went and got our concealed carry license last spring. And so my process has been identifying some skills that I want to learn, reading everything I can get my hands on, but then taking action towards those either through people I knew who could teach me or just getting together with friends and figuring it out ourselves, or taking classes.

How were you able to go hunting in the middle of the work week?

One of the beautiful things about my job is I have tremendous flexibility. I'm one of the three partners. The managing partner has never looked over my shoulder. He's never asked, what are you working on? What time did you get in? What time did you leave? It's always been: You take care of your work. I'll take care of mine. And as long as the numbers add up, it's all good. So that type of flexibility has always been the case. Part of what's kept me at my job.

I also find it interesting that you still have one foot in the intellectual world while pursuing these hobbies.

When I get into something, man, I'm trying to read everything I can get my hands on to figure it out.

I started reading some stuff on what it meant to be a man. I read Jack Donovans book, The Way of Men. I read Wild at Heart. And the things that Eldridge talks about in that book just stirred my heart. People in the corporate world are not wild. They're just not there. They're buttoned up and always looking nice.

You said you learned how to fix things around the house. Tell me more about that?

Well, YouTube is wonderful in that you can figure out how to do about anything. I try to get on there and figure stuff out first. There's always a video of how to do something on there. I ask myself if I mess it up, is it gonna cost us a lot of money? Or am I gonna hurt myself? If it's something that, if I don't do it right, worst-case scenario is we're just calling somebody to come fix it. I'm gonna take a stab at it first.

I've become more competent around the house. And the first thing I do every time I get a vehicle, I change the oil the first time and try to figure it out myself.

Once he learns how to do something, he can decide to call a mechanic next time. What’s important to him is the option to fix things himself if he needs to. “I want to have well rounded skills”

Did this change the way you thought about parenting as well?

Yes certainly it changed how I looked at the things I wanted to instill in my kids. One of the first things that we started doing during spring break and fall break, was to go camping. We’d get kids outside in a new place because I wanted them to be comfortable outside. I wanted to be comfortable in the dark. I want them to be comfortable pushing and challenging themselves to new things. I wanted them to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Get outside where it's cold. Where you don't have air conditioning or heat. Where you're going to sweat all day long and there's going to be bugs crawling all over you. Just get used to stuff like that. It's gonna be rainy.

They may not want to go camping when they grow up, they might rather stay in a hotel. That's fine. But they're gonna know how to set up a tent. They're gonna know how to navigate a trail. They're gonna know how to work a flashlight. They're going to know how to find north. They're going to know how to read a map and they're just gonna be used to being uncomfortable. I'm not making them be any particular type of thing, but they're going to have the skills to be a lot of different things.

Are there things that you took from the way your dad raised you?

I hear my dad's words coming out of my mouth all the time. There's no doubt about it.

My dad was incredibly intelligent. He was constantly reading something. And he instilled in me a love of reading, and learning new things.

Now, the way I raise my kids as far as certain masculine skills is different than what he what he instilled in me. But the values that he instilled in me are almost exactly what I try to instill in my kids.

Tell me about your book coming up

It's tentatively titled Manhood in the Hero's Journey.

The hero's journey is based on Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces. It's the idea that every piece of literature or movie takes the same arc. You have a character who is just living his life in the usual way, who gets called out of his ordinary world to go on some adventure.

And the adventure is scary to him. But if he goes on it, he'll end up finding a mentor to guide him. And ultimately he's gonna have a test. And in the movies, he always passes the test. And in passing the test, he gains something that he's been able to use to benefit other people.

The final step of the hero's journey is called the Return with the Elixir. He goes and gets this thing and brings it back in. Everybody benefits as a result of him doing it. And that last step of the hero's journey is the thing that I think that men need to add. We've got to make other people's lives better. Otherwise, it's just a selfish, narcissistic journey where we're trying to self-actualize. If a man can do that his heart’s going to be full.

You can go over to The Man’s Life to learn more about the book.