Who are The Ten Best Men you know?
If you are reading this it’s because I trust and admire you or someone who trusts and admires you has sent this to you.
It may have come to you from one of The Ten Best Men I know.
I seek your trust and opinion.
Trust is earned. If I could shake your hand, I would shake your hand. Because I cannot, I am writing this letter, telling this short story, and sending it out through trusted friends in the hope that it may be helpful to you and others you may know.
I am writing to you as a man. If you are a man, there is a particular element of goodness in you because you are a man. Our society needs us to be as authentically masculine as we can be because our society is in dire need, now, of men.
In fact, so is the world, for that matter.
You are reading this as part of an experimental project I have started. It’s called The Ten Best Men Project.
First, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Shannon McGurk. I am the happily married father of 11 children. Four daughters and seven sons. My wife, 10 of our children and I live on a farm in Virginia. Our oldest son lives on the West Coast. My story, or parts of it, can be found at www.shannonmcgurk.com . It may be similar, in some parts, to your own.
I have failed many times. In business, in my attempts to build relationships, in my attempts to heal those I have hurt.
I hope you will answer the questions I ask at the end of this short note. To do so you can reply directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on my website www.shannonmcgurk.com
Forward this to men you know. Ask other men to do the same. Answer the questions and tell me what you think.
I am the product of divorce. I, myself, am divorced. I have been a single father. I married a second time and cherish my wife. I have many regrets in life, but I cannot change them, so I seek to be a better man in ways I can change, now.
I seek to be a better man.
I was a soldier for 20 years. I served in Ground Cavalry units and as a China Foreign Area Officer. After the Army I worked in a series of large corporations… chief among them: IBM and Northrop Grumman. I started some businesses. I had a brief stint in the salon industry. One business was successful but I crashed it. The others were excellent learning vehicles. I know I will start other businesses because in this economy that is the only way to thrive.
We must. Thrive. To protect our families.
My wife and I suffered catastrophic set backs in 2007 due to cancer in one of our children but also due to my errors in judgment. We have had to re-build our lives.
I am thankful for all the setbacks, now, but it’s very hard when you fail. The men I am about to tell you about helped me to stand up after hard falls.
Food, Conversation and Fire
In November I turned 53. My bride asked me how I would like to celebrate my birthday. I knew immediately: Invite The Ten Best Men to dinner and conversation around a fire to thank them and introduce them to each other, for they made me who I am today.
I reached out to that short list of men—the ones I respect the most. With some minor exceptions (extreme distance or previous family commitments) each man said yes. I asked each man to bring a cigar he liked and one to share. We gathered at a local Italian restaurant for dinner. As each man arrived I introduced him to the others. We had a great meal. Following dinner we gathered around a fire. We told stories.
We talked about family.
We talked about being husbands.
We talked about fatherhood.
We talked about our professions.
We talked about the world around us and how it is changing.
Some of us smoked cigars. Some of us had a drink. We all benefitted, perhaps I most of all because it was an opportunity for me to say thank you.
It was a simple gathering. It has had a profound impact on my life. I have learned that many of us need the encouragement of other men like ourselves.
We strengthened each other.
One of my mentors says, “Each of us needs all of us. All of us needs each of us.”
The Ten Best Men
Throughout my life I have worked with exceptional men. Giants, really. But the pace of my life has been pretty brisk. Frequently I find myself looking back at a time in my life, thinking,
“Whoa. What a great man. I wonder how he is?”
Here’s what would happen. I would start a new phase of my life. I would meet an exceptional man I admired. He would help me see my life, myself, more clearly. He would help me see my life from a better perspective. He would simply be such an impressive man that I would ask myself as I confronted my own difficulties how he would handle that problem.
The answer would get me through. Then, as I stood triumphantly on the other side of the problem, I would want to thank him and those others like him who set such a good example.
So, for my 53rd birthday, I did.
For my 53rd birthday I invited ten of those men to dinner and a conversation around a fire. None of them had ever met the other nine. It was a remarkable evening for me. Here’s how that evening came about.
What the Ten Best Men Have in Common
I started thinking about what these very different men had in common. Here are the qualities they share:
1. Confidence. These men are confident. They know precisely who they are—in their own environment. Outside their own environment may be another question but in their wheelhouse you know to defer to them. The problem is that the environment is changing for all of us.
2. A Sense of Humor. From their confidence comes a sense of humor. It can be irreverent. It can be aggressive. It has an unapologetic quality. If you have ever experienced it it’s like nothing else in the world– laughing with confident strong men who know who they are.
3. Decisiveness. When something must be done, they do it. They don’t complain. This also leads to clarity. In some situations, it carries over to a sense of, “I won’t tolerate it,” where “it” would be something that was simply unacceptable. It’s a decision that implies here is a man who won’t back down. I call it Selective Irrationality. Something matters to him personally. You know: “Here, he isn’t going to give. No matter what.”
4. Protective. They are mentally prepared to do whatever it would take to protect those they love from any external threat. I heard one of them tell his wife over the phone, “No, you call 911 second. You call me first.” Trust me, it wasn’t bravado. He knew he was better trained than anyone else. It was a matter of self-respect.
5. Edgy. Most of these men—not all– are more dangerous than the average man. I will explain this more clearly later. The willingness and ability to force a resolution to a problem is essential to these men.
6. Kind. Without exception these men are capable of extreme kindness. It is because they are strong and know themselves; their kindness descends from strength. They are magnanimous.
7. Devoted. Each is devoted to something greater than himself. An organization, a specific group, or an ideal. All of them are devoted to their families.
8. Authentic. If I had to choose one word to sum up all the others it would be this. Authentic. Once you get past the formalities and earn his respect, you know you have a connection that will hold. You’re talking to the man himself, not a fake cut-out.
9. Community. They enjoy the company of men while enjoying another pleasure—a meal, a cigar, a strong cup of coffee or a drink. This seemed to cement the bond.
10. Improvement. They want to be better; better fathers, husbands, brothers, friends.
OK, one example: I served in China. While there I forged a friendship with an exceptional man who helped me very much. He helped me answer a lot of tough questions during a tough time. We laughed a lot and I admired his expertise, discretion and courage. I admired that he wanted to be a better man.
I served in some large Defense Contracting organizations. I met some other men while doing this work. These were men from the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Army and the FBI who put their lives on the line in dangerous situations here and around the world. Exceptional men.
Finally, I belong to a community of strong families and I married into a large family. In these two communities I have encountered other men I admire. Business owners, entrepreneurs and civil servants who have the qualities above in considerable measure.
Ask the right questions and you get the right answers. There are many questions we could ask each other to get to know ourselves and each other, but here are the five that I use now to find out what is on men’s minds.
What is the single biggest problem you face in your life?
What men do you trust and confide in who will help you with this problem?
What do you admire in other men and why?
What role does fear play in your life?
Do you know what it is in yourself you would like to improve?
I am testing the waters. Do we need Authentic Men?
Here’s what I think: we need more confident, authentic men in this world. We need men who can strengthen and teach others. We need men who model qualities others admire and can rely on. In so doing we will strengthen our communities, our workplaces, our families. To do this, we should strengthen each other in all walks of life—business, family, professional, social. I invite you to learn more about The Ten Best Men Project. Join me around a fire. I am hosting a bonfire each month for the next 6 months. The first bonfire is on March 15th. The Ides of March.
You can learn more and sign up to join us by Googling “Nokesville Authentic Men’s Group Meetup”
Join me and others like ourselves around a fire.