Speak the Truth With Grace

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Meet Mr. John Marks (@theamericantraditional) from Manhattan, NYC, working in the Private Education sector.

John, what does it mean for you to be a Modern Gentleman?

That’s a great question and relevant for the times.
Ultimately, I think a modern gentleman is one who speaks the truth with grace. I think the worst thing an active member of society can do is refrain from speaking truth in all aspects. In many situations we find ourselves withholding the truth out of fear of retaliation, or hurting others’ feelings. If we aren’t speaking truth, then we aren’t committed to upholding healthy relationships, ideals, and institutions that we value. And from that, we fail to develop character and leadership skills.
But as we commit to speaking truth, doing it gracefully is key to avoiding the deleterious aspects of honesty.

A modern gentleman should also be committed to family values, being involved in his community, and working to be the best version of himself for purposes of serving these commitments. Abandoning these commitments have devastating effects on generations. So practices a healthy balance of selflessness and self-preservation.

Besides, what good is a well-groomed gent if his relationships are broken and his character defunct?

When it comes to style, where do you mostly get your inspiration from?

Early on, most of my inspiration came from films.
When I was young, I struggled with a physical disability that left me bed-ridden for long periods of time. So naturally, I was raised in front of the television, watching a lot of movies! I was enamored with gangster films, showing mid-century styled mafioso in NYC. I sort of romanticized the elegant style of that time, even though the figures were deeply flawed. Then I began watching western films and gained an affinity for the American Southwest style. I think a lot of young men were/are inspired by the styles of these eras. Nowadays IG is a great place to find inspiration, but it can lead to constant imitation rather than finding one’s own voice.

Today, travel has the greatest impact on my style. Every trip abroad deeply changes me and broadens my horizons in many ways, style certainly being one of them. Even domestic travel within the US has a huge impact on my style. Moving to NYC in 2016 has been a pressure cooker for finding my personal style. You’re exposed to so many influences in such a short amount of time, it forces you to constantly change and assess what’s meaningful to you, or what speaks to you. Clothing is the most visible representation of the impact geography has on personal style, but it also influences your style in how you approach things, cultivate relationships, and even the way you think.

From all of these influences, I now find myself fluctuating between a ‘fresh-midcentury’ and ‘modern western’ styles.

What’s your personal style signifier?

Definitely my silver clasp bracelet made for me by my grandfather. He passed in 2017 so it’s very precious to me. He was a master at everything he did. Inside he inscribed, “If God brings you to it, he’ll bring you through it”. It’s always an encouragement for me and I love the style.

Other personal signifiers are high-waisted pleats and knitted long-sleeve polos with loafers – perfect combo in my opinion.

What are your favorite wardrobe essentials?

For me, the classics are essential – loafers, cowboy boots, high-rise trousers/jeans, linen sport coats, knitted polos, tennis sweaters, shetland sweaters, OCBD’s, and a Barbour jacket. Everything else is a bonus.

What are your main passions and how do you cultivate them?

I’m very grateful to have a lot of passions and interests. Some of them include quality time with friends, exercise, traveling, reading, photography, cinema, roasting coffee, cooking, and writing. I call these the ‘Life Arts’, haha.
Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society describes it perfectly when he says we do these things “…because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for”.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the daily grind and neglect your passions, so I have to carve out time each week to practice these. I’ll plan projects for these, collaborate with friends, or just lose myself in them. My blog, The American Traditional, has been a great way to stay committed to these passions.

In reality, all of these are ways to cultivate learning and growth, which is what I’m ultimately committed to. Rigidity makes a person old. I aim to set that example for my students. I want my family to be able to look back at the life I lived and be able to see that I was always learning and growing. Case-in-point – I’m currently 33 and working to start law school this year, a drastic career pivot. I don’t let obstacles stop me from pursuing my passions!

Tell us what can never miss in your liquor cabinet.

To be honest I’m not a drinker, aside from celebrating an occasion with champagne. I find alcohol ultimately slows me down. I’m rather a devout coffee enthusiast, it’s a life source. I love experimenting with brew methods and extraction timing. I also love to roast my own coffee using raw green coffee beans. It’s a lot of fun and it satisfies my obsessive personality while keeping my bar stocked with the freshest coffee possible.

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