When I was a kid, I loved military movies. I thought men were forged by running toward gunfire and by making sacrifices for a cause greater than themselves. That’s why eight days after I graduated high school I shipped out for Marine Corps boot camp—to become an infantry Marine and the man I wanted to be.
I’m deeply thankful for my time in the service, and the Marines certainly did teach me a lot about manhood, but the lessons weren’t the ones I expected. The reality of military life is much less sexy and much more boring than the films I had always watched. It’s getting up at the break of dawn for a miserable run. It’s practicing drills day in and day out until they become almost automatic. It’s using every period of dead time to study some aspect of modern warfare, it’s little disciplines that have no other purpose than gaining self-control.
At first I didn’t understand why they put the new recruits through all of this. Was it just to mess with us? The mindless, repetitive activities drove me crazy. I hated the tedious work and didn’t see a point to all the blind discipline. But then I went on my first deployment, and I realized how useful all my training was. I did learn that a man does make sacrifices for causes bigger than himself, he does keep cool under pressure and have the courage to run toward gunfire. But those things don’t make a man. A man is made in the tedious grind. Commitment and self-control make him capable of heroism on the battlefield.
And it’s not just about one guy’s commitment. Great things are accomplished by a team. When things got hard, none of us quit. We encouraged, supported, and challenged each other to be the men we wanted to be. I’ve seen the military produce great men. I’ve also seen guys serve a full contract in the military and still be the same selfish, adolescent boys they were when they joined. The difference is always whether a person is willing to practice the discipline of submitting himself to the daily, boring, work.
Combat doesn’t make a man, character makes a man. Character is something all of us can forge in our own circumstances, and it’s something that I think is vital in any circumstance. You don’t need to join the Marines to find battles to fight or causes to sacrifice for. Just as I was able to serve my country, now I want to be able to serve my wife and kids. I know my ability to serve them well depends directly on my level of character. That is built not in the dramatic moments but in the daily grind.
Building character largely depends on finding men who will support me and challenge me when things get hard, instead of just encouraging me to walk away. It’s a lot less glamorous than I thought, but that discipline has made me the man I am today. As a husband and father, I need to be prepared to take care of my family no matter where life takes us. It’s a challenge, but one I think I’m more prepared to face.