To win a great woman a boy must become a great man. The question then becomes: does his father know how to help him become a great man? How can an ordinary father grow a great son?

Many a man has known a great woman, yet did not win her because, out of fear, he failed to pursue her.  Every man understands this, both the brave man who has risked it all (and won or lost) and the timid man who did not dare.  The battle to take the great action required at these “make it or break it” moments is won or lost privately, deep in the heart.

The great man is “a big-hearted man” in the way the Greeks meant it: magnanimous.  “Magnus animus,” a great soul, a soul capable of daring great things.

The Greeks thought that magnanimity, “great soul-ness,” was a virtue meant only for extraordinary men capable of taking on great things.  For Aristotle and the Greeks, the ordinary man was not capable of being magnanimous.

But Aquinas expanded Aristotle’s understanding of magnanimity, explaining that the “ordinary man” can be magnanimous by doing ordinary things extraordinarily well for noble reasons.  Thus, an ‘ordinary working man’ can become a great father by doing fatherly tasks very well. Playing ball with his three-year-old, he can lead his little boy to pitch or kick the ball with all the flair his three years are capable of.  By enjoying his son’s efforts (the boy will sense any indifference) the father becomes magnanimous. He develops a bigger heart and soul in himself and in his son by humbly placing himself at the service of the heart of his young son. As he looks at his three-year-old he sees within a powerful twenty-year-old in the making.

In his lecture The Virtue of Masculinity Dr. Tim Gray tells a  story that brings to life this magnanimity in small things.  His 8-year-old son is on bat in the last moments of a Little League baseball cliffhanger: opponents ahead by one; he is the last hope of his team and now with two strikes, carries the honor of his team in his last swing. Will he be daring or fold in fear? He gives it his all and smacks it squarely. He is the hero of the hour.  In the crucial moment he pushed aside his fear of failing and went for the full-bodied swing.  Magnus animus. If he keeps this up, 20 years from now he will have won a great woman.

In the Father Son Project [a theme of the MARRI blog] the whole purpose of the sexual formation of the son is to help him become a great husband (a great lover of his woman) and a great father (a man capable of making his children great).  Therefore, the Father Son Project is also about growing a great heart in each father, urging him and teaching him how to lean into these small “make it or break it” moments with the hearts of his children.

Pat Fagan is the director of the Marriage and Religion Research Initiative at The Catholic University of America. He is publisher and editor of Marripedia.org. Republished from the MARRI blog.

[2] This lecture is an insight-laden response  to the subversive  “Toxic Masculinities” project of the American Psychological Association.

Patrick F. Fagan

Dr. Pat Fagan has been a grade school and college teacher, a therapist specializing in child, family and marital issues, executive director of a small think tank, a Senate staffer, the Deputy Assistant...