Red Hook author Frank Miniter will bring his unique take on manhood and nature during Millbrook's 5th annual Literary Festival June 16. His Ultimate Man's Survival Guide aims to restore dignity and honor within contemporary society, traits Miniter believes have fallen by the wayside. "The desire to learn and grow takes a lifetime to develop. Today, we see a lot of corruption and not enough personal accountability. We live in a world where too much is done for us and we've lost our self-reliance," says Miniter.
The author has gathered tips, from how to start a fire without matches to surviving wildlife perils, and worked to present a definitive guide to assist a boy's journey to manhood. Rites of passage such as how to shop for a suit and how to conduct oneself as a true gentleman are carefully chronicled for today's generation, a generation Miniter feels has become increasingly confused. "People say our kids in urban areas grow up too fast but I don't think they take responsibility soon enough," Miniter says. "Put a 12-year-old on a nature trail and they learn a sense of accomplishment. When I was working in Wyoming, the kids came from ranching life and learned how to be one with nature and develop survival skills. The commercials I see today are not showing men being manly, but acting more like boys. There is a fine line between being confident and being disrespectful and cocky."
The Wallkill High School graduate credits his Norwich University drill sergeant Richard Pelletier for humbling him and teaching him to abide by a code of honor, ultimately transforming him and challenging his beliefs. "It was a rigid system and it's very alive today," says Miniter. "I don't call myself pro-draft, but there are many ways to abide by codes of honor—for instance, looking to a sports coach or even an employer. Unfortunately, we don't herald the strong figures as much as we did before."
The guide gathers heroic codes from the US Marine Corps to the Seven Virtues of Bushido.
Miniter serves as an editor with Outdoor Life and American Hunter magazines, and both have given him the ability to travel extensively and develop diverse views of nature. He praises sportsmen for their dedication and respect toward nature and clarified common misconceptions. "It's very important to be in balance with nature. When I'm hunting I notice how much respect for nature the other hunters have. You take a kid fishing and he or she learns the value of an ecosystem. Even vegetarians owe some respect to farmers who worked to control populations and preserve their crops. There is no law saying where wildlife has to live; we're all part of the same community."
Despite the guide's title and its celebration of manhood, Miniter affirms that he's received positive feedback from women readers and recalls early responses to his book. "I was surprised when I received calls during a radio interview from women wondering where these stand-up guys were, the ones I chronicled in the book," says Miniter. "They saw it all very clearly and said men were degrading and more boyish than manly. You cannot have a successful marriage if men don't take responsibility, and there's a difference between being a gentleman and being sexist."
The upcoming paperback edition of The Ultimate Man's Survival Guide features a new chapter dedicated to respectfully treating women. "How can someone call himself a real man if he has to put a woman down to prop himself up?" asks Miniter, adding, "Years ago young boys were taught to always hold a door for a lady or give up their seat to a pregnant woman. Even gently pushing in a woman's chair is not as common as it once was, and I feel we've lost our way."
With a media saturated in violence, corruption, and amoral activity, Miniter believes that positive individuals can still shine if one takes the time to look. He recalls his time in the boxer's New Paltz gym and Patterson's influence on his spiritual development. "I boxed there when I was 14 and learned physical conditioning and the strength of inner spirit. Patterson was such a stand-up guy and I thought about how he transformed himself. He was a petty thief in New York City, but when he came out of reform school he said he could be anything. That really stuck with me."
Miniter may have run with the bulls of Pamplona and hunted bear in Russia, but he affirms that a man doesn't have to push the envelope to live a life of dignity and honor. "When I first worked on the survival guide, I learned that there's a void out there, a need for something positive like this. Looking at successful shows like 'Deadliest Catch' and 'Survivor,' people are interested and want to develop skills. There is no single way to become a man, but I think the guide offers diverse ideas to help people along. If it helps create positive dialogue, I'm happy to be part of that."
The Millbrook Literary Festival will feature dozens of authors participating in panel discussions, readings, and signings on June 16 from 10am to 4pm at the Millbrook Free Library. Millbrookbookfestival.org.