Even as the cultural spotlight shines on the darker corners of modern manhood — a sludge of malfunction we’ve dubbed “toxic masculinity” — Americans still value traits that are associated with a more traditional idea of masculinity. We still like bold. We still like determined. We still like independent.
In short, we still like men that take action. We want to raise boys to do just that.
But the men who best model a productive sort of masculinity, who push themselves forward rather than pushing others down, aren’t necessarily engaged in the discussion. They are focused, instead, on modeling good behavior and pursuing excellence. To speak to most accomplished mountain climbers, race car drivers, and outdoorsmen about raising children is to hear a common refrain: Example is everything.
To that end, Fatherly spoke with 11 of the world’s great doers about how they model masculinity for their children in an age when that can feel like an impossible task.
- Cooper Davis, World Champion Bull Rider
- Matthias Giraud, Skier and BASE Jumper
- Land Tawney, Hunter and Angler
- Tom Rosenbauer, Fly-Fisherman
- Laird Hamilton, Big-Wave Surfer
- Frank Grillo, Action Star
- Sebastian Copeland, Arctic Explorer
- Coss Marte, Former Inmate and Personal Trainer
- Danny P. Thompson, Land Speed Record Holder
- Hélio Castroneves, Race-Car Driver
- Ami James, Tattoo Artist
Cooper Davis, World Champion Bull Rider, 23
The Feats: In 2016, Cooper Davis, then 21, became the top bull rider in the world, winning the Professional Bull Riding World Finals with a wild (and technically proficient) 8-second ride that ended with a head butt from a bull straight to his chest. “I grew up around bull riding,” says Davis. “I’d always watched the sport on TV, from the time I was little. I’d tell my parents I wanted to ride bulls. They tried to push me in any direction but that.” But bull riding pulled him anyway and by the time he was 15 years old, he was damn good — expert enough to make a very successful career of it.
The Father: The same year Davis won the Pro Bull Riding Championship, his son, Mackston (“Mack”), was born. While he’s only two-years-old, bull riding is already something of an obsession for him. “He’s got chaps, a helmet, a vest, and a blow-up bull that he bounces around on all day,” says Davis. He also rides — calves and sheep, for now. “We went out the other day and he got on a sheep and it took off running. He hit the dirt and he thought it was the coolest thing in the world, getting up and throwing his helmet, and celebrating like he had scored 90 points,” he says. “He’s a cool little dude.”
The Man: Mack travels with his dad on tour, and as such, he is constantly surrounded by bull riders — who are all men. While raising a boy in such a masculine environment, Davis puts an emphasis on, very simply, showing kindness. “I show him how to be nice to people and respect everybody and respect yourself. If I can instill those in him then I did my job as a dad.”
Matthias Giraud, Skier and BASE Jumper, 34
The Feats: A professional skier who lives to jump from very high places, Matthias Giraud has married skiing and BASE jumping in a way that would have been unfathomable to almost everyone a decade ago. Take his GoPro footage from a few years ago where, outrunning an avalanche in the French Alps, he launches off a cliff face, hangs for a moment in the air, pulls a chute, and looks over his shoulder to spot a mountaintop of snow suiciding off the cliff. He has completed similar acts on Telluride’s Ajax Peak, Oregon’s Mount Hood, and Switzerland’s Matterhorn — all firsts because, frankly, no one dared to do it before. One might be tempted to call him fearless, but Giraud would disagree with that assessment. “I wouldn’t say that I have no fear,” he says. “I experience fear, but I’ve become good at managing fear. It is a powerful tool.”
The Father: Giraud has one four-year-old son, Sören, who can already carve on skis, drop into six-foot half pipes on a skateboard, and pull a mean fake ollie. Giraud, not surprisingly, pushes him to practice, focus, and pay attention to his surroundings, so that he can master his early passion. ”I’m not an expert in parenting but what I notice is that a lot of time a lot of parents out there don’t have expectations when it comes to their kids because they think they can’t. I’m sorry, but a kid is the definition of a superhero. A kid is always doing better. If you set the bar high and help them to do their best, they’re going to do their best.”
The Man: “A boy grows into a man once he has the courage to live by his own standards,” says Giraud, who grew up in France with three sisters. “My role as a dad is to prepare Sören for his emancipation by helping him set high standards and not settle for mediocrity.”
Tom Rosenbauer, Fly-Fisherman, 63
The Feats: Fly fishing is a sport for participants, not audiences. It doesn’t make headlines and has no real fan base to speak of, which is why Tom Rosenbauer is such a standout. If you fly-fish, you know of Rosenbauer — you’ve read one of his books or used his gear or, if you’re really serious, been on the river with the man. For more than three decades, Rosenbauer has presided over the sport as a guide, author, inventor, and inspiration, using his long-time position as marketing director at Orvis Rod & Tackle to make this specialty sport a growth industry.
The Father: Rosenbauer has a son, 13, and older daughter, 30, who never expressed much interest in fishing, despite, or because of, the fact it was something he did day in and day out. “I never believed in forcing my kids to go fishing with me,” he says. “I waited for them to beg me. The problem is, neither of them begged.”
Laird Hamilton, Big-Wave Surfer, 53
The Feats: As the inventor of tow-in surfing and conqueror of what’s been dubbed “the heaviest wave ever ridden,” Laird Hamilton has pushed the sport of surfing into unknown, dangerous, and thrilling places. He is equal parts athlete and survivor — having ridden countless waves that were too high and heavy for a miscalculation. While Hamilton is confident he is not likely going to die surfing, “if I did,” he says, “it wouldn’t be the worst.”
“As a male, having a mission, having a hunt, having a pursuit makes us more complete. Which at the end, gives us an ability to be better men for our woman, for our partners.”
The Father: Hamilton says that being a dad to three daughters, ages 10, 14, and 23, has taught him real fear. “An interesting thing about being a father is that your fear of your children being okay is far greater than your fear of you not being okay,” he says. And while being okay for himself often means survival, for his daughters, it means learning to be happy with life decisions. “As a dad, my greatest goal will be to try to raise a content human, because I don’t see very many out there.”
The Man: Hamilton believes his lifelong mission to carve ever bigger waves, quixotic as it might seem to mere mortals, makes him a better man. “As a male, having a mission, having a hunt, having a pursuit makes us more complete. Which at the end, gives us an ability to be better men for our woman, for our partners.”
Frank Grillo, Action Star, 52
The Feats: Frank Grillo has played every variation of onscreen “tough guy” imaginable. The action star has thrown punches as the villainous Crossbones in Captain America: Civil War, an outgunned police sergeant in The Purge: Anarchy, and, most recently, as the antihero getaway driver in Netflix’s Wheelman. Those punches might be staged, but they’re no joke. Raised in the Bronx, Grillo’s trained in boxing, jiu-jitsu, and MMA since he was eight years old. “I was an aggressive kid,” he admits, adding that it took years for him to figure out how to make his aggression productive.
“We’ve tried to homogenize and emasculate men, make them feel like being aggressive is not good. I want them to be comfortable in their physical being so they can be gentle in their lives.”
The Father: At home with his three kids, Grillo’s tough guy act remains. “I sit them down and I’m very stern,” he says. “I can be their best friend and I am most of the time. But they know when I sit them down and I’m in their face, they’ve done something.” And while his star power grants his kids more comfortable childhoods than the kind he grew up with, he believes it’s important to give them perspective. “It’s important to pay forward anything that you have that you’ve been blessed with. I think my children are witness to what’s necessary when you’re successful and how you make other people’s lives better.”
The Man: Grillo sees aggression as a trait with which men are born, but one that can be molded into a useful tool. “I think what we try to do is breed it out of ourselves through being civilized. Of course, you don’t want to walk around being aggressive. But I think it’s innate. I want to raise [my kids] to be able to walk through the world and not be afraid,” he says. “I think the problem we have a lot of the time, is that people react to things out of fear. We’ve tried to homogenize and emasculate men, make them feel like being aggressive is not good. And there is a time and place for it. I want them to be comfortable in their physical being so they can be gentle in their lives.”
Sebastian Copeland, Arctic Explorer, 54
The Feats: Insofar as there is a type, Sebastian Copeland is not your ordinary Arctic explorer. He started as a fashion photographer and music-video director (Hall and Oates’ “Don’t Hold Back Your Love”, anyone?) and, from his very first expeditions, mixed extreme adventure with activism. He has kite-skied across Greenland to raise awareness about climate change and crossed Australia’s Simpson Desert unassisted to shed light on water scarcity. He has completed a host of journeys throughout Antarctica and the Arctic, documenting places that are as endangered as they are deadly — something he found most recently when a freak cold spell with temperatures that hit -90 C nearly took six frostbitten fingers and cut short an attempt to reach the North Pole. ”If it’s a worthy expedition, it’s gonna be very difficult,” says Copeland, “Success and failure are born from the same effort and sacrifice.” Then, after a beat, he adds, “I never anticipated I could make a living in something that was so fun.”
“I don’t consider masculinity in the way that my father had inherited that from past generations. I do what I do because I love being out in nature and feeling the strength and the joy that it gives me.”
The Father: Sebastian Copeland has two daughters, three-year-old Lilou-Grace and near-two-year-old Bella-Rose. Between diapers and bedtime stories, school drop-offs and sleepless nights, he is grappling simply with how to connect. “I try to communicate fundamental things, to not be so serious, and still have a gravitas.” He has little doubt they will follow his lead in some aspects of life (“My girls are going to be powerful entities, eco-warriors in their own right,” he says casually about his infant and toddler). But he is more reticent about the two following his adventure-seeking footsteps. “I don’t know how I would feel if I raised two girls that got up to what I did growing up. There were a lot of bruises and broken things — limbs and otherwise. I would have hated to be my parent.”
The Man: From Ernest Shackleton to Roald Amundsen, polar exploration — stemming from its late 19th to early 20th century heyday — has historically been a man’s profession, and Copeland was inspired by the letters of such men. “While my personal pursuit has been male dominated, I don’t know if it’s masculinity or character [that drew me]. There’s no question that the loner aspect — communion with nature, putting yourself in harm’s way, and measuring your limitations in the natural context — is incredibly compelling to me.” Now that he has two young daughters, that draw has met some resistance. “I don’t consider masculinity in the way that my father had inherited that from past generations. I didn’t jump into the fray and decide that I would be an explorer and a father. If I were to tell my daughters why I do what I do, it’s because I really love being out in nature and feeling the strength and the joy that it gives me. That would be a very simplistic, but also philosophically pure.”
Land Tawney, Hunter and Angler, 42
The Feats: Land Tawney is a fifth generation Montanan who, no surprise, grew up hunting. He was on his dad’s back in the woods since he was two and in the duck blinds and hiking up snow-covered mountains on elk hunts before he could carry a gun. “It’s part of who I am rather than something that was taught to me,” says Tawney. He also believes lessons taught in the wilderness are distinctly moral. He credits his upbringing for becoming a conservationist for the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and now, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, where, as President and CEO, he has become one of the most outspoken, articulate voices in an era of land grabs and very public fights over public lands. “These lands belong to all of us. Their establishment didn’t happen by accident, and it won’t be carried forward by accident”
The Father: Tawney is the father of a five-year-old son and nine-year-old-daughter who are being raised much like he, and his dad, and grandfather, and great grandfather were — in and around the wilderness. “Mother nature is the great equalizer,” he says. “It teaches us we need to be part of that system versus trying to fight it.” And that is just what he hopes to impart on his kids. By way of example, Tawney cites a recent backpacking trip to the Frank Church Wilderness in Idaho where he and his daughter hiked along miles of dry, hot, hilly terrain — which brought on exhaustion, tears, and his daughter facing her mental limits. “The grit at that moment, she doesn’t get that in life,” he says. “There’s not many situations where all the chips are against you and you get to make a decisions on what you’re going to do about that. From a young age now she’s learned, you put your shoulders back and you face adversity. No matter what goes on, the woods don’t care. “
The Man: Hunting is a male-dominated arena, and so when Tawney found out his oldest child was going to be a girl, he was given pause, and then he moved on. “I decided to do everything I would have done with a son. When she gets older, do I include her in some trips where there’s all dudes there? I’m not going to insulate her from that.” The hunters he knows are not the trophy-hunting few that give his sport the bad rap. “I think the biggest misconception is that hunters are just takers. We’re beer drinking men shooting out the window who don’t care about the wildlife that we’re pursuing. We’re not observers, we’re participants. With that comes responsibility. And a connection with the outside world.”
Coss Marte, Former Inmate and Personal Trainer, 32
The Feats: By the age of 19, Coss Marte was making $2 million a year as a drug kingpin in New York City. At 23, he was arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison, where he retreated into isolation. “You can’t show any type of softness around other inmates,” he says. “You can’t cry, you can’t share deep emotions with another person. It’s really difficult to live years like that.” There, Marte faced his past mistakes — as well as his high blood pressure, obesity, and declining health. He developed a workout behind bars that helped him lose 70 pounds in six months, and after being released, used his experience to found ConBody, one of New York City’s most popular fitness studios. Marte knows how difficult getting a job with a record can be, which is why most of ConBody’s instructors are former inmates themselves.
The Father: Marte struggled to raise his then one-year-old son while he was in prison, but he is thankful that his son was able to witness his transformation. “I don’t frame my past and what I do to my kid in any way. I tell him the truth. He knows what I’ve been through. He saw me in prison during visits and he remembers that. I tell my son that we all come from different places, and we’ve got to learn from that,” he says. “We should be happy that we get the opportunity to be what we want to be.”
The Man: Did prison harden Marte? Certainly, but not as a dad. His time in prison showed him the value in teaching that being tough and being caring aren’t mutually exclusive. “I used to feel like I couldn’t be soft,” he says. “I couldn’t show any kind of emotion. Everything had to be hard. But what I’m expressing to my son is completely the opposite. You don’t have to be that way. I give him a hug.”
Danny P. Thompson, Land Speed Record Holder, 69
The Feats: Danny P. Thompson and his late father, Mickey Thompson, are both intimately familiar with the bone-rattling sensation of traveling in a vehicle at speeds in excess of 400 MPH. That speed would put the two in a club that counts no more than a dozen individuals and has cemented them both as certified racing legends. Marion Lee “Mickey” Thompson was a dragster champion and by the age of nine, his son was doing what dad did best — winning races. For Danny, this meant beating kids on a midget track adjacent to the drag strip run by his father. Years later, Danny Thompson began his own storied career in motocross, sprint cars, and stadium trucks. He had plans to eventually “retire” by chasing land speed records with his dad, but in 1988, before they got to work together, Mickey Thompson was murdered. Twenty-eight years after his father’s death, Danny Thompson picked the dream back up and went after the land speed record in a revamped version of his dad’s 1968 Challenger 2. He blew the competition away, with a 406.769 MPG average speed. “I put this on the shelf for years. And, I thought, I need to finish this.”
The Father: “I was always ‘Mickey’s son’ — at least until I got married and had Travis,” says Danny, referring to his now 30-year-old son. Once Danny had a kid of his own, he worked hard to be there more than his father was for him. So he quit racing circuit and “from then on, I don’t think I ever missed a soccer game or speech tournament.”
The Man: What does it mean to raise a boy around a dangerous, adrenalized, male-dominated sport? “I don’t think it’s so much like sitting down and talking about this and that, I think it’s about how you live your live your life and what your mannerisms are and how you treat people. When they grow up with that and they see it every day, you don’t have to try to pound it in their head. It comes back to the parenting — showing what you think is morally right and how you treat people.”
Hélio Castroneves, Race-Car Driver, 42
The Feats: Hélio Castroneves is the only active race-car driver to have won the Indy 500 three times, finishing first in 2001, 2002, and 2009. Castroneves started his career go-karting on the streets of Brazil, and had already been racing for almost a decade when he premiered with Penske Racing at the age of 24. “I always knew I wanted to race. I don’t see myself doing anything other than being a racer.”
The Father: Hélio has one daughter, 8-year-old Mikaella. Born into a racing family, she’s used to accompanying him to traveling and competition. “She’s been to Brazil, Australia, Japan,” boasts Castroneves. “She’s more of an artist than a driver, which is great. I’d support my daughter no matter what she wants to do. I want to try to help her to do something else because I know the dangers of the sport and because it might be in her blood, but it’s not in her mind or in her heart.”
Despite wanting Mikaella to forge her own path, Helio still wants her to learn from the challenges he’s faced. “Racing is the challenge of man versus machine,” he says. “I have to understand what the car is telling me, what I want and what it wants. And if you can connect to a machine, you can connect to anyone or anything.”
The Man: As he racked up championship wins, he became known for his hotshot attitude – and wild victory celebrations. Fans have nicknamed Helio “Spider-Man” because of his tendency to scale the fence after winning races. “What can I say?” he laughs. “I get excited.”
Ami James, Tattoo Artist, 45
The Feats: Sure, he is covered in bold tattoos — dragons, skulls, demons — but Ami James is more about art than toughness. While he’s in quiet concentration, his needle to another’s skin, his daughters running around, he’s in flow state. That’s why James is one of the best-known tattoo artists in the U.S. — well, that and a recurring role on Miami Ink and hosting The Tattoo Shop, which just premiered on Facebook Watch.
The Father: James has two daughters, Shayli Haylen James, nine, and Nalia, five. “I always wanted to have kids,” he says. “I opened a shop on the beach in Miami, everything was starting to go well for me financially, and there was nothing holding me back.” So he had one kid, and then another, and brought them up around the shop. “They grew up in this culture. I wouldn’t be shocked if my kids don’t end up getting tattooed, or liking tattoos, just because that is ‘daddy’s thing’ and all of daddy’s friends have tattoos. My wife doesn’t have any tattoos either.”
The Man: “I believe that being a man means doing whatever you decide to do with your whole heart, and providing for your family and taking care of everyone around you to the best of your ability,” says James. “I try to instill that in my daughters. Being a woman shouldn’t mean that they are limited in any way, any wish or desire is obtainable. I want them to know that family is everything and I am there for them every moment of the day.”