A recent blog post I wrote for Tune In Not Out, reviewing perhaps the most honest book I’ve ever read.
John Marsden’s “Secret Men’s Business” is one of the greatest coming-of-age books ever written. It is a straightforward guide to how to be a man. And not just a stereotypically hyper-masculine sort of man, but a real, genuinely mature, responsible bloke that people will have reason to respect. Although I’d say it’s aimed at young men between 14-16, males of any age would get a lot out of reading it. I read it when I was 20 and it changed my understanding of myself and the sort of person I wanted to be as I grew older. It’s a book I can’t recommend highly enough, but if you’re still not convinced, read on.
Part of what makes “Secret Men’s Business” so great is that Marsden is totally transparent in the advice he gives. For example, if you want sex, he tells you how to get it. Not by manipulating some girl into having it with you, but by entering a mutually respectful relationship that makes your life better. If sex is all that you’re after though, he gives you advice on things like how to find a brothel and what you can expect once you’re inside. It’s that kind of straightforward honesty that makes you know you can trust what he has to say.
And he’s got so much to tell you. In order to be a real man, you don’t just turn 18 or get married or join the armed forces (which are all thought to be rites of passage in societies past and present). Being a man has nothing to do with birthdays or showing off property or skill. It’s more of an attitude to life, and it requires the persistent effort of being the best person you can be.
And it’s bloody hard work. There are all kinds of barriers and challenges young men have today that prevent them from growing into the men that they could be. Teachers want to force young people into subservient, student roles. Father’s feel threatened that their sons are becoming physically stronger and more capable than they are. Mothers feel terrified that their sons are becoming independent of them. Immature friends and other role models are often too childish and self-obsessed to grow up and take responsibility for their lives and the lives of others. But these challenges are an important part of growing up – if we truly wish to see what we’re made of, we need to rise above the obstacles in our path in order to grow.
Marsden also breaks down some “modern rites of passage” – goals that young men need to achieve before they truly mature into adults. I cannot possibly do them justice by simply listing them here, but he lists a number of life events and decisions that can truly challenge you to face the world as an adult. These are things like leaving the sheltering (and smothering) nest of your parents, to learn which rules are okay to break, to explore your feelings about death and spirituality and so on. By understanding who we are and where we came from, we can master our beginnings and make choices for a better future.
He also spends a chapter talking about the myths that are told to young boys for various reasons. Concepts like “hard work brings rewards” and “your parents know what’s best for you” are broken down and explained honestly in relation to the real world, not what adults want us to believe to make us more manageable to control. That’s not to say adults aren’t worth respecting, but often they convince themselves of a number of myths to make life easier for them, such as “young people are rude, drug-addicted, loud, have no respect for anybody and won’t do what they’re told”. In a world so complicated by myth and illusion, Marsden’s direct honesty is a breath of fresh air.
He also writes quite extensively about several specific issues young men have to come up against throughout their maturity. These are things like having a good father (or father figure), drugs, puberty, sex and women and the many assorted challenges that young men might face and what to do about them. He provides unbiased information and honest advice, and armed with this, it helps young men decide the sort of person they want to be and the choices they want to make. “Secret Men’s Business” is the most comprehensive guide for how to not only survive being a young man in this world, but how to be the best damn man that you can be.
I reiterate: this is the greatest book a young man could read, and men of all ages would benefit greatly from reading it. I wish all high schools made it compulsory to read this book in Year 10, and perhaps again in Year 11 and 12. It changed my life, and I genuinely believe that if more people read it, it could change the world. Hit up your local library and get yourself a copy.