“Okay,” he said, slowly, patiently, “now, squeeze.” A father with a .22, teaching his son how to shoot: A memory evoked by Frank Miniter’s The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide, published in 2009 and now, ten years later, followed up with The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide to the Workplace. (In these casual times, a clue comes from the cover depicting a necktie.) Miniter’s original Survival Guide is ever close by, like Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, reminding me of the great gift of being taught important lessons by my father and grandfather, and even now, when at the range, my father long gone, I hear his voice: “Okay, now, squeeze.”
Now in his late forties, Miniter is a graduate of Norwich University, a private military school in Vermont, and he has edited various magazines, from Outdoor Life to America’s 1st Freedom. Miniter is an avid hunter and fisherman, and he learned how to box from Floyd Patterson. His idea of fun has involved spelunking and running with the bulls.
For me, having been hit by a motor vehicle while I was walking across a street, daily small-town life can be risky enough. Likewise, growing up in the 1970s near Three Mile Island and then being in a monastery on September 11 when Flight 93 went down not far away indicate that living a quiet life can be beyond one’s control. All the same, it’s good to have a Survival Guide written by a man who seems to know that few things taste better than bacon fried in an iron skillet over a wood fire.
Miniter’s original Survival Guide covers six headings: Survivor, Provider, Athlete, Hero, Gentleman, and Philosopher. Throughout this book Miniter offers brief profiles of men illustrating his six categories. One man is Scott O’Grady, a U. S. Air Force pilot who in June, 1995, survived being shot down over Bosnia. Then there are more well-known figures, from Socrates to Winston Churchill, as well as some of Miniter’s mentors, like Floyd Patterson and Shingo Matsubara, a Japanese fisherman. Among these profiles is Tecumseh, with his wise words, “Show respect to all people, but grovel to none.”
To help with the reader’s ongoing education, Miniter appends an annotated list of one hundred films to see and one hundred books to read. Miniter’s film guide leans towards classics like It’s a Wonderful Life (1947) and Ben-Hur (1959), and his shelf of books ranges from the Bible to The Hobbit.
As a companion volume, the new Survival Guide contains seven chapters and a list of fifty films and fifty books. Miniter recommends his previous Survival Guide and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, while Miniter’s films come mostly from the last thirty years, with a few classics such as Citizen Kane (1941) and The Fountainhead (1949). Once again there are short profiles of men Miniter admires, from Charlton Heston to Frank Sinatra, from Will Rogers to Ernest Hemingway.
Above all, in these two books Miniter wants to see a renewal of the ideals of chivalry, of being a gentleman, well-rounded and well turned out. Very likely, Miniter believes, more men behaving like gentlemen will mean far fewer cases of sexual harassment. Among Miniter’s concerns are skills he believes every able-bodied man should know, from fixing a flat to mixing a drink, from reading a map to using proper etiquette. Along with good grooming and practical knowledge of tools, whether a pocketknife or a handgun, Miniter focuses on a man’s inner life, his growth in virtue and his code of honor.
Amidst his historical exemplars, Miniter unexpectedly features a fictional character, Raymond Chandler’s mythical hard-boiled detective, Philip Marlowe. “He dresses well,” Miniter notes, “out of self-respect and respect for others, but he is not a dandy, and his office is spartan.” Marlowe plays chess and is a good shot; he reads novels and has a taste for bourbon. As Miniter sums him up, Marlowe “is a gentleman who knows how to use the gentleman’s tools” and yet “knows that the gentleman’s greatest tool, what makes him most useful to others and to himself, is having a stainless steel character.”
Miniter’s list of suggested role models calls to mind two men he somehow overlooked, William Tell and James Dozier. From the pages of Swiss history strides the figure of William Tell, famous from an opera by Rossini (1829) and then in a classic children’s book, The Apple and the Arrow (1951). The story goes that in 1307 William Tell stood up for Swiss liberty and against the tyranny of the occupying Austrians led by the local governor, Albrecht Gessler. With a warped, sadistic sense of justice, Gessler claimed he would grant Tell’s demands if Tell shot an apple from atop the head of Tell’s young son. Tell took aim with his crossbow and split the apple.
Of more recent vintage is General James Dozier. Born in west-central Florida, Dozier graduated from West Point, served with distinction in Vietnam, and attended the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In December, 1981, at age fifty, Dozier was serving as a deputy Chief of Staff of NATO, when he was kidnapped by terrorists from the Red Brigade in Verona, Italy. For more than a month the reds locked him in a room in Padua; his rescuers from Italian special forces found him shackled hand and foot, gaunt and unkempt. Undaunted, once free, his first words were, “Get me a razor.”
Even to a fifteen year-old following this harrowing news story, the lesson was clear: A man’s natural vanity, not to mention his atavistic barbarism, requires taming through daily discipline. Since the days of clean-shaven William McKinley, and on through those of John Wayne and James Stewart, of Cary Grant and Robert Mitchum, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, flea-dipped shagginess was for the likes of Rasputin and Che Guevara.
Every summer, when spending a week at a cinderblock cabin in northern Pennsylvania, my father, ex-Army, still shaved every morning. Again, the Miniter-like lesson was clear, albeit unspoken: Even in the middle of nowhere, a man’s standards don’t get lowered. Such a belief transferred to the seriousness and care taken with dangerous tools that could put food on the table or protect life, liberty, and property. Our target was never an apple on top of my head, but I always knew that if need be, my father could have hit that apple.
Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B., is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno. He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary. Today his father, Jacob L. Heisey, would have been eighty-five.