Review & Reflection: Man of the House

PrintThere are many different types of books which one might read. For example: if you’re reading a book that talks about things like covenants and the church then you’re probably reading a book on theology. If you’re reading a book that talks about family life, fatherhood, and children you’re probably reading a book on parenting. If you’re reading a book that quotes regularly from Aristotle, Plato, and the Western intellectual tradition you’re probably reading a book on philosophy. If you’re reading a book that talks about economics, property, and using tax structures to increase your prosperity you’re probably reading a book on business or entrepreneurship. If, however, you’re reading a book that does all of the above, chances are that you’re reading C.R. Wiley’s new book Man of the House: A Handbook For Building a Shelter That Will Last In a World That is Falling Apart.

Man of the House is a unique book. In some ways, Wiley’s project is remarkably simple. As Leon Podles says in his foreward to the book: “Chris Wiley provides practical advice for a man to live up to his role as father. […] Wiley helps us see what is necessary to manage a household and its economy well, to provide and protect for a family and to ensure its stability generation after generation.” The idea of “the household” is vital to Wiley’s project. While we tend to water down the concept to reflect some benign image of family life as pictured in The Cosby Show or Leave it to Beaver, Wiley is thinking about something more robust. To comprehend how Wiley uses the term we have to understand how the household has changed over the last 200 years. To quote the book: “We don’t think of our households as centers of productive work. That’s because the economy has largely moved out of the house. During the Industrial Revolution steady work in factories replaced the home economy, and many people were forced to leave home to make a living. In the process the household was reduced to what we think of today – a haven in a heartless world – a place to sleep and eat and maybe watch television” (pg. 30-31).

As he explains elsewhere in the book: “To the old way of thinking, a house was more than a physical building. It’s bricks and sticks were a metaphor for something immaterial, but still very real. […] We don’t think of houses that way any more, largely because the economy has moved out of the house. One thing we can say for modern life is that it has a way of cutting things up. We work downtown, we get our food a the grocery store, we go down the block to learn at school, and we get on a plane to go somewhere and relax. Our lives are divded up among highly specialized institutions. But a household is a general-purpose institution. Before we segregated everything in the interest of efficiency, houses were not only economically productive; they were schools, and nursing homes, and dozens of other things. This is a book about building an old-fashioned, general purpose shelter – a real house – not a house made out of sticks and bricks. This is a good time to build one too; the conditions haven’t been this favorable in a long time” (pg. Xvi-xvii).

Wiley’s book is as much prescription as it is description. He goes beyond mere analysis to provide a road-map for action. This is a paradigm-shifting book. It provides an entirely new (though actually very old) way of looking at households, fatherhood, family life, and work. Though short the book is packed full of solid content. Wiley’s writing is pointed and persuasive. Each chapter is brief but profound. Few will agree with everything Wiley says, but few will be able to walk away from the book without having their ideas challenged and changed by what they read.

Man of the House is a book I want to give to every young man I know who is transitioning into manhood. I’ve never read a book like it, but if Wiley’s ideas can be picked up by a new generation perhaps they won’t seem so unique after all.

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