Why traditions are built by brick and mortar
I’m not going to pretend that this isn’t some type of covert and subtle way to disguise an advertisement for Knob Creek within an article centered on tradition and masculinity in the modern age. That is exactly what this is.
You know what, though? That’s fine. Actually, it’s better than fine. It’s going to help me tell this story.
Booker Noe, Knob Creek’s creator and larger-than-life personality, once famously said about their Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, “This is the bourbon the way that it used to be. The way that it was meant to be.”
Their product is bringing back Pre-Prohibition tastes, because they believe in the proper way of doing things. They know that even though whiskey ages well, tradition ages far better.
But I don’t want to talk to you about bourbon.
I want to talk to you about my Dad.
After getting his college degree, my father did what many men with lots of education but little life direction do: he enrolled in law school. He was a decent student, but he found the material to be – for lack of a better term – a real drag. Instead of miserably grinding it out, though, he quit, and instead he became a bricklayer.
During my childhood, I can remember him arriving home from twelve hour days, knuckles wrapped in grey duct tape and stained maroon with dried blood. Even though he’d come through the door grinning and eager to greet us, I’m sure he must have been absolutely exhausted from a day of mixing mortar, erecting scaffolding, and laying bricks.
The masonry trade ran in the family, actually. His father, my grandfather, was one as well. For a number of years, my dad worked alongside a crew of Irish contractors and friends, while my grandpa managed the jobs. From every story I’ve heard about those days, he ran a tight ship. Tough, but fair. As long as the work was respected, and you kept up with the pace, there’d be a place for you.
During that time, the craft of bricklaying was passed onto my dad. He learned through experience that it was hard, honest work: beautiful in its own way. I’d suppose it was when they were both perched atop the scaffolding, father and son stacking bricks and hauling pails of mortar, that they learned everything they needed to know about one another. In the silence of the job, my dad would later tell me, you find out what’s at the core of a person: their trust, patience, and work ethic were laid bare. It wasn’t your appearance or what you said, but your actions that defined you. There was simply no room up there to hide what kind of man you were.
After my grandpa retired from masonry, my dad continued on for a while, even founding his own small business, before a notable construction company offered him a position in management. Rather than brickwork, they specialized in building enormous distribution facilities. The physical toll of bricklaying was replaced by contract negotiations and paperwork; the sore knees, sore back and bloody knuckles began fading away. Whereas my dad had once laid bricks with a trowel as artfully as a painter with a brush, now he oversaw massive concrete walls erected using the latest in perfect cement pour engineering. It was a different world.
On the weekends, when he wasn’t working in the new office, he’d take my brother and I back onto job sites. Some were his, so that he could put extra money in the bank, and some he’d show up to in order to help a friend. He taught us the elementary aspects of the craft and stressed that there was a “right way” to do things.
I can recall him instructing us how to properly carry multiple 2 x 4’s at once and the exact ratios for water to mortar mix. Once, when I gave an admittedly lazy-as-hell effort sweeping up a site before leaving, he told me not to start a job if I wasn’t going to finish it. Most of these lessons had an awful lot to do with laying brick, but I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t think it was his way of passing on the same principles of work ethic and pride that he had learned from his old man. He was imparting values that we could carry with us for life.
Times change. Simple as that. You can’t go back to the way that things used to be, but you can respect them. You can acknowledge how years of tradition and knowledge have passed on through generations and gotten us to where we are now.
Today, few of us are in occupations that epitomize the old notions that once upon a time were attributed to “manliness.” I doubt many of us could ever build a log cabin that’d meet Ron Swanson’s approval. But that’s okay, because as a society we’re beginning to understand that masculinity can’t be judged by dated markers like profession or pay grade or the amount of weight one can lift above one’s head. Instead, we now accept men through measurements that don’t exclude those not fitting into that ridiculous stereotype of a “real man’s man.”
That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to build a log cabin though. To be clear, log cabins are awesome.
There’s a recognition now that actions – and more importantly, sound values – are the foundation of masculinity.
Values passed through generations: learned, applied and refined over time to match a man’s identity. It’s only then that you can call yourself your own man, and know exactly what that means.
You know what’s “manly?” Having the courage to constantly take on new challenges. Standing up for what you believe in. Being compassionate and putting others before yourself. Admitting faults and then working to correct them as best as you can. Honoring those who taught you the way forward. Respecting that sometimes the old way, the hard way, is the right way.
Those take a real man.
Brought to you by the big, full flavor of Knob Creek® Bourbon