Man Of Steel And Velvet: A Guide To Masculine Development, by Aubrey Andelin
It is hard to do a book like this justice. If one seeks to be generous and judge it for its good intentions, for dealing with a serious issue, and for being a relic of its time , one can be accused of condemning it with faint praise, given that many people almost swear by this book (for reasons that are fairly easy to understand), but others are highly critical of this book, for good reason as well. There are reasons to praise this book and reflect upon it, and plenty to find fault in as well. Finding the balance between the good and bad, sifting the wheat from the chaff, is one of the responsibilities of a thoughtful reader. It was hard to read this book and not feel insulted at some parts of it, and easy to be encouraged by other parts of it, while a bit unsure exactly what intentions the author had in mind.
Part of the larger issue with a book like this is balance. This issue of balance manifests itself in several ways. One is the fact that while the title of the book places steel and velvet as coequal qualities importance to the development of a mature manhood, the book spends about three times as much space on steel as it does on velvet. Perhaps this is because the author views the lack of strength of character in ‘contemporary’ American men (he is really hard on American men, and rather stereotypical in his ethnography as a whole) as a vastly bigger problem than the lack of understanding and refinement among men. There is also a difficulty in balance of tone between his pointed criticism of men (the likely audience for this book) as well as his obvious desire to encourage and goad men into, well, manning up and taking responsibility for the well-being of their families. Like many books about manhood, this book assumes that its audience is composed of married men (especially fathers), and the book struggles as well between its desires to present a model of godly masculinity while confusing what is godly and what is merely traditional, even to the point of misquoting scripture on occasion.
That said, this book has a lot to offer, even despite its antiquated and sometimes offensive approach. A lot of what the book has to say is accurate–this book is demanding and complete in its model of complete manhood, presenting a wide variety of qualities that need to be mastered for someone to be a mature and complete man. The book tries to straddle the balance between pointing out that manhood is not about superficial appearance but about internal strength of character and pointing out the need to project confidence (which appears a bit dishonest) that one does not truly feel, while pointing out that possessing this sort of ersatz confidence is a result of faith. The book’s commentary about the need to show attentiveness and tenderness to women, to show appreciation, to have a youthfulness and love of adventure, to be understanding and compassionate to others is spot on, and the book ends far better than it begins. I am glad that I gave the book a chance, despite my own misgivings over its contents. In order to gain the most accurate appreciation for this book, it is best to be somewhat generous, and to seek what one can apply, or what moving poetry one can appropriate from this work. It is worth a sympathetic read, even after all these years, and despite its flaws, and that is good enough.