The Blueprint for Style and Substance

Years ago, while looking for a poem to memorize for a class in jr. high or high school, I came across a poem by Rudyard Kipling.  It was rather long, as I judged poems at that time in my life, and was rather intricately written, so the memorizing of it was a challenge.  Being somewhat competitive, I relished the idea of a challenge, and I took after it with some excitement.
I loved Rudyard Kipling, primarily because of the story “Rikki Tikki Tavi.”  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.  Of course Kipling also wrote many other works, perhaps most notably Captain’s Courageous and The Jungle Book.
If you are familiar with Kipling, you will likely have guessed that the poem I am referring to is “If” sometimes listed as “If, for Boys.”  Nearly every young man has seen this poem, perhaps on a birthday or graduation card given from a parent, grandparent or beloved relative.  Most of us, perhaps, remembered more the money that was tucked inside the card than we did the actual words of the poem.
That description may have matched me at one point.
But over time, things have changed.
Over time, I have begun to see his poem as one of sublime insight, powerful inspiration and comforting encouragement.  At various times in my life, I have experienced all of the ups and downs that he eloquently describes, with all of the accompanying celebrations and tears.  I have read and re-read the poem at some of the darkest and most difficult times in my life, reminding myself that, while my particular circumstances may be unique, being challenged by life is nothing new.  And when the challenges have come as a result of success, as the poem counsels, I have likewise studied the poem for an indication of how to best keep moving forward while keeping myself free of the arrogance that can so easily accompany successes.
Recently, in connection with this blog, I have come to realize that the poem provides a solid foundation piece of what it means to be a man of style and substance.  A blueprint, if you will.  In that vein, I offer it here, now, for you to review and reflect upon.  I hope it helps you as much as it continues to help me.
If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Go forth and conquer!
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The Five Best Pieces of Newlywed Advice

My oldest son recently got married.  It was a fun ceremony, completely representative of both my son and his new bride, filled with swords and medieval costumes and swords and Star Wars.  I loved it, and so did most of the attendees.
But now, it has been over two weeks.  They have had a honeymoon, opened presents, and begun the process of caring for one another.  They are currently living with us while they find a house to move into, so we are more than a little involved in this first phase of their lives.  And, because they are here and so are we, I have naturally been thinking about all the things that I would like to tell him about now that he is a husband.  But of course, I can’t really do that without being invited.  That would be borderline meddling.
But I can write a blog post!
What follows, then, is the advice that I feel is the most important advice that I would like to pass on to my son, and to other husbands around the world.  I doubt any of this will be particularly revolutionary; much of it has been tried and tested throughout hundreds of years and thousands of strong, resilient, happy marriages.  And that is, I think, why I feel so strong about passing it on.
Put the marriage first. In the first few months of marriage, it is fun to be thinking about your spouse, wondering what she is doing, thinking about all the things you would like to be doing with her.  It is absolutely likely that you have gone out of your way to find things and adopt activities that keep you together as much as possible.  However, as months go by, you may find yourself starting to think of what you miss.  Times going out with the guys, all night movie marathons over pizza, road trips, perhaps even career goals that are ambitious and demanding.  All of that is fine and healthy until they begin to take a primary focus in your life, away from the love, care and support of your wife.  Many husbands have learned, and some of them too late, that the marriage relationship is fragile.  If not treated with constant care, if not placed first in your priorities, you will likely find that it doesn’t matter what you replaced it with.
Combine and cleave.  This goes along with the first, but in my mind specifically deals with finances.  Finances are one of the primary things that spouses tend to quarrel over.  Sometimes the quarreling becomes so intense that it chases all of the joy out of the relationship.  The surest way I have found to head that off at the pass is to ensure that finances are combined early on.  farther you can get your minds and hearts away from the yours/mine perspective, the more fully you can see that the intertwining of your lives is what brings true joy.  In this way, you cleave to one another, you are intertwined.  In my experience, couples who did not combine finances as part of the conversation did not enjoy the same feeling of solidness and commitment in their marrriage as those who did.  It isn’t a promise of peace, but it is one of three critical issues.
Appreciate the little things as big as you can.  You’re just starting out, so you aren’t going to have a lot of resources.  But that doesn’t mean that little expressions of love and support don’t deserve the biggest expressions of appreciation that you can manage.  Make every day together a day to be celebrated.  Pull out the best dishes for a beautiful meal.  Hug her extra tight and long on a day that she does something unexpected.  Don’t let you circumstances determine the enthusiasm of your heart.
If and when you fight, fight fair.  Right now, I’m sure you can’t imagine that you and your lovely bride will fight.  Believe me when I say that it is not only likely, it is probably inevitable.  You are different people, with different ideas, histories and approaches to life.  There will be conflict along the way.  That is okay.  fighting isn’t evidence of a weak relationship, it is evidence of strong people prioritizing a relationship.  Just remember that, during the heated discussions over little things, keep the little things little.  I have learned through my own life that when I try to bring up old issues previously resolved or if I ever questioned my wife’s commitment to me and to our marriage, I regretted it.  Fight over things, but fight from a perspective of finding the best way for the two of you to move forward.  Never question motives or bring up  the past; that just isn’t fair.
Never stop trying.  Never stop trying to demonstrate your love and adoration of your lovely bride.  Never stop finding new and imaginative ways to express your feelings.  Never stop working on your own self, striving to be the best you can, because that is the greatest gift you can give her.  Becoming a better man, a man of solid substance with a style all your own will make you more able to support her during the difficult times that will certainly come to you.  If you never stop trying to be the best you can be, you will be ready for those times.
Well, there it is!  The advice that I think every young husband should get.  Do you have anything to add?  Put it in the comments below!