The Importance of a Man’s Presence Stephen Mansfield

Stephen Mansfield is a New York Times bestselling author and a popular speaker who coaches leaders worldwide. Stephen contributed his definition of masculinity in a modern world in TRIM’s latest eBook entitled “Resurrecting the Modern Gentleman” — which explores the age-old idiom of “Being a Man,” and what that means today. Read his excerpt below, then download the entire eBook at Noisetrade

-Mike Zeller, Creator of Resurrecting the Modern Gentleman & Founder of TRIM Fashion

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There is a feature of manhood I have observed with total fascination over the years. You rarely hear about it because it is so difficult to describe and not particularly easy to live. Still, it is one of the great powers a man has for doing the good he is called to do. Remember that one of the Manly Maxims we are digesting in these pages is “Manly men tend their fields.” The aspect of manhood I’m about to explain here grows from this Manly Maxim, the second of our four pillars. I have learned that when a man is a genuine man and tends his field with devotion and to the glory of God, he receives both authority and grace for that field. He has weight in that field, occupies it for the good of others. He stands within it and some- how permeates it at the same time. He has rank. His spirit covers it.

I like to say it this way: true men radiate.

I mean nothing occult or from the pages of science fiction in saying this. I simply mean that part of the grace given to men who tend their fields is they radiate— what is it? Power? Protection? A benevolent force field?—for the good of all they are responsible for. This is easier to illustrate than it is to describe. In the days when I routinely picked up my children from school, my daughter noticed something and mentioned it to me several times.

You should know that my daughter is a real beauty. On the occasions when I would go inside her school rather than wait in the parking lot, I would often see her talking to a boy. This was certainly nothing unusual. Sometimes the boy would have his back toward me, and Elizabeth, who was facing him, could see me over his shoulder. She has told me that nearly always, when I entered the room and began walking toward her, something about the boy’s approach to her would change. It was not that the boy was being inappropriate; she would not have allowed that. It was that the boy became gentler, a bit more respectful, even a bit bashful. Elizabeth knew the young man couldn’t see me but she believed he somehow felt my presence.

Now, I’m Elizabeth’s father. Everything that concerns her is in me and in my field of responsibility. Of course a boy will feel something different when I’m in the room and he’s talking to my daughter, even if he doesn’t know I am there. I radiate authority and protection, particularly toward Elizabeth, my only daughter.

I think this is a feature of righteous manhood.

The most dramatic example of this radiating I ever witnessed was during the unforgettable day I spent with the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. It happened completely by accident. I attended a fairly well-known university during my undergraduate days and on a spring morning in 1978 I was awakened by a call from the school’s vice president of public relations telling me that John Wooden wanted to tour the campus. Would I accompany him?

Perhaps you can imagine how eagerly I shouted, “Yes!”

I had followed Coach Wooden’s career enthusiastically, had read his wonderful book They Call Me Coach, and had tried to live out his philosophy. I mean, there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think of one of his maxims or motivate myself by remembering one of his stories. To spend some hours with this builder of young men felt like a gift from heaven. I remember almost everything about that day. He was with his sweet wife, Nell, and they must have sensed that I was a homesick college student. They took me under their wing for about six hours, and it changed me in ways I am still discovering.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. There I was, riding around in one of the school’s golf carts with the John Wooden and his wife while they asked questions of me and gave me advice. Coach even spoke with me about Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul Jabar as if we were all buddies. I was nineteen and probably never stopped yammering once Coach allowed me into his world, but he was nothing but gracious. I’ll tell my grandchildren about that day, but what I will be most eager for them to understand is the power of John Wooden’s presence.

It wasn’t just me who felt this, either, starstruck teenager that I was. I remember
that we walked into the school’s athletic facility and stood way off the center court
to watch basketball practice. It was not five minutes before one of the lead players started walking our way. We weren’t standing in the direction of a locker room or anything that player needed. He was pulled. In later years when I saw the movie Field of Dreams, I knew what one character meant when he said, “People won’t even know why they are coming. But they will.”

I know it sounds odd, but this player started toward us with no purpose at all and in the middle of a practice. He was completely shocked to see the greatest basketball coach in the world standing just off the court. This happened over and over again. Coach would enter a room—say, the school’s main student cafeteria—and he would pull to the side, out of the way. I would see people with their backs to us straighten in their chairs and start looking around for the source of what they felt. I had never seen anything like it at the time. I’ve seen it many times since, now that I know what it is.

What I was feeling, what nearly everyone nearby was feeling, was the emanation of the life Coach had lived. It was as though the good and noble of all his life experience and of all his powers of command distilled into the spirit that radiated from him.

No wonder you felt the man’s spirit before you saw him. No wonder a day in his presence changed your life. I wasn’t alone in what I experienced, though. My favorite story about him is one he often told himself with a laugh. It seems a star player had gone on from UCLA and Coach Wooden’s tutelage to play professionally. This man had done well and become both rich and famous. He appreciated Coach’s influence and said so often, but he had also begun to see himself as an equal.

This famous pro returned to UCLA after some years and spent time with his old mentor. When the player arrived, he announced to Coach that he felt it was more appropriate for him to call Coach by his first name. After all, this player had become
a man of status. So for the first hours of this visit, it was, “John this,” and “John that.” The player just wore out Coach’s first name in order to assert his own sense of importance.

Coach was gracious and interested, as he nearly always was with his players—and nineteen-year-old tour guides. But it all became too much for the visiting player. He finally broke down and blurted out, “I can’t do it. I just can’t!” “Can’t do what?” Wooden asked. “I just can’t call you by your first name. It just isn’t right! You are Coach. You always will be. Trying to call you John is just pride. I’m sorry.”

Later, this player said, “You just feel this force coming from the man and the last thing it makes you want to do is be all chummy with him. You want to do what he tells you to do. You want to please him. You might even want to fall down and worship. What you don’t want to do is call him John.”

In my own small teenage way, I knew what this wealthy pro basketball player was saying. John Wooden radiated something powerful, something that arose from his life, something that surrounded you, something that drew you in and made you better. To be with him was to be in his world, even if you were actually standing in your own world. He was a great man, a great spirit, and you felt it every moment you were in his presence.

Gentlemen, I tell you this story not to brag about my moments with a man who probably did not remember my name forty-eight hours later. I tell you because I believe that all these examples, Coach Wooden’s in particular, set a benchmark for righteous manhood.

Men stand. Men radiate. Men carry something holy and strong for the good of all they’ve been assigned.

It isn’t automatic. It comes from doing manhood over time, in the same way John Wooden radiated the essence of what he had become over time. But it comes. And, my God, it’s a beautiful thing.

WHAT THEN WILL YOU DO? HOW WILL YOU SHOW YOURSELF A MAN?

1. True masculine authority does not come from having a penis or a position. It comes from prayer. It comes from a history of investing. It comes from manning the ramparts of your field. How do you stack up against this definition? Get with some friends and explore these matters carefully in one another’s lives. Then, you know what to do. Get busy. Repent. Rebuild. Reengage. Repair. And, in the appropriate ways, reassert.

2. Without saying much to anyone outside the band of brothers I’ve mentioned, walk the invisible walls of your field, your home and family first. Are there holes? Is someone tormented? In decline? Under attack? Swept away by some unclean force? You know what I’m asking. Then again, you know what to do. Patch the walls in prayer first, then in whatever is required of a loving, gentle, secure, powerful man.

3. Keep this in mind. Being replaces excessive doing. You know how important doing is, if for no other reason than what has been said in these pages. But in the same way you can mess up a golf swing by overswinging, and you can damage your car by overservicing, you can overdo in manly duties. Being replaces excessive doing. Not normal doing. Excessive doing. But first, act wisely. Don’t try to compensate for insecurity by doing. It won’t work, and it won’t bear righteous fruit.

“We convince by our presence.”
—Walt Whitman, from “Song of the Open Road,” Leaves of Grass (1900)

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-Stephen Mansfield