As a young boy I was always intrigued by my grandfather’s world. I’ll never forget the beat up workbench in his garage with old screws and parts crammed into glass jars. There was a distinct smell: the wonderful, yet odd combination of oil, old wood, fishing tackles, and rusting metal wafting through the air like a true masculine cologne for the ages. My favorite memories with him were when he’d take me to the hunting and fishing club in the country. We would drive up to the old wooden lodge where we would grab a few glass soda pops from an old-timey pull-knob vending machine, and he would take me down to the end of the dock and start dropping worms onto my hook. As a kid, I couldn’t fully appreciate what I was being invited to experience. But soon he would pass, their house would be sold, and it would all become a memory when sports, girls, and partying became prevalent as my busy life developed. Years later, exploring those memories, I’ve realized how truly precious those times were.
The hustle of today’s culture and the passing of time have blurred the way things used to be. Now, the world constantly calls for us to find something new and trendy, destroying appreciation for things timeless and classic.
I mean, look at the latest evolutions in fashion…
This is what we can show for our culture today? The same clothing company that once outfitted our grandfathers with guns and riding coats, even supplying Teddy Roosevelt, now sells pictures of a shaved pool boy’s abs with the word “Fierce.” I wonder what Teddy would’ve thought about that. I imagine he’d have a lot of questions for us, and would probably be carrying a big stick over to the Abercrombie office. These idiotic trends have taken American culture so far from what it used to be that words like “heritage” and “Americana” are now actually being used by the folks in New York trying to bring us back to our roots and capitalize on the latest look. What does that Americana package look like? How about embellished gold heritage jean shorts…
You can’t embed authentic heritage on a pair of pants any more than you can put Roosevelt’s portly figure on a cologne bottle. True heritage can’t be packaged, only experienced, passed on, and lived out. It is that true heritage that we need to continue to rediscover in our fraternities…getting back to our roots. The good news is it’s all right there (for us at least). We are part of one of the greatest American traditions, and we need to ensure we retain our timelessness. Men came together with the ideals to build a community of better men, and our fraternities were formed as a result. It didn’t begin with us and it won’t end there either…
I was hiking a few years ago down Bright Angel Trail at the bottom of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon when I saw a sign: “Carried on the shoulders of men.” It was a plaque explaining how the steel cable lines of the bridge at the bottom of the canyon had been brought on men’s shoulders down the same steep and narrow trail I had just descended to be laid across the Colorado River.
That phrase has stuck with me. “Carried on the shoulders of men.” Isn’t that what those men who came before us have given us today? Look at the marvels of western expansion, industrialism, free markets, democracy, dedication, hard work, and the courage of our military. They’ve made us what we are today. We stand on their shoulders, and we need to honor them with something other than Heritage Gold Jeans and Fierce Cologne.
As you stand in the halls of your fratcastle and stare at those fading composites, I think it’s important to remember we carry the next generation on our shoulders. There was a cost for us to be here now, and we pay the cost for others to be here tomorrow. These thoughts are what recently encouraged me to step back into those stories of old. I recently discovered that the lake I fished as a boy was purchased by my grandfather and seven of his closest friends. They were hard working blue-collar men of the greatest generation, and with their own sweat they saved the money required to purchase the land that gave me some of my fondest memories.
I’d encourage you to explore your history, learn more about your fraternity’s story, your local chapter, and explore the mission behind the rituals and ideals. Don’t just blindfold a pledge and fill his head with all the names and years of the fraternity history without really knowing who those men were. Tell your historian to take his job seriously, and educate your pledges in a way that would make your founders proud. Dig up old fraternity pictures from years past and display them. Put them on the wall and take pride in those trophies rusting with age. These young guys need to be invited into those old stories and experiences.
I’m proud to be with you in one of American’s greatest traditions—the college fraternity. Let’s keep it alive for another 100 years and continue to rise up as great American men.
By guest columnist Xan Hood, CEO/Founder Buffalo & Company