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The Three Kings in a Man's Life

Brian Smith


There are three kings in every man’s life. This is a theme that has been traced through myths, traditions, and religions worldwide. This concept was brought forward in modern times through the work of Robert Bly and his translations and interpretations of Germanic myths.

The Three Kings

First King

The first king in a man’s life is his father. The father is in complete control over a young boy’s life. If a father chooses to ostracize his son from the family, leave him on the side of the trail, or physically harm him, there is little that a young boy can do to defend himself from his father. This is some of the first control and dominance that we learn as boys. Because of the control our fathers have over us as children, nearly everything that we do is in service of winning our fathers’ approval or making them proud. We wish for them to approve of us, accept us, and, ideally, love us. Age alone does not graduate a boy from this first kinghood. There are many men who live their entire lives still firmly rooted in first kinghood. These men live striving to make their fathers proud even decades after their father has died.

Second King

The second king in a man’s life can take many forms. Historically, the second king position may have been a village elder or a man under whom is the boy is apprenticing. Today the second king can take many different forms. It may be a football coach, a boss, a teacher, a friend, or someone whom they interacted with, even briefly. The second king can also take the form of something that represents a person or an idea, such as Facebook likes or the amount of money in his bank account.

Often, we find that we serve different people as kings in different areas of our lives. For example, your athletic ambitions may be driven by the influence of the coach you had when you were in high school. Upon deep reflection, you may recognize that the energy and effort you put into your athletic training is in hopes of making this coach, with whom you no longer have any contact, proud. You may find that the way you dress, or the cocktail you choose to drink, or the cars you choose to drive are influenced by a desire to be accepted by a person or group. The influences can appear in all sorts of ways. In my case, I found that the way that I smile for photos is influenced by somebody in my past with whom I no longer have any contact whatsoever. In any event, no matter who or what you’re serving, you are not in control. You’ve given control up to the second king.

Third King

The third king in a man’s life, is himself. This is one of the most commonly misunderstood concepts in masculine development. Up to this stage, a man has been serving others, whether his father, someone else in his life, or representation of others. Following this natural progression, most men assume that they will be in command and will be served by others when they themselves become king in this third stage. These are erroneous assumptions. To address this disconnect, let us first to examine the role of the king.

Kings reign. They do not toil, they do not work. They make difficult decisions for the benefit of their kingdom. Kings harmonize their kingdom, unite opposites, and maintain order. The king acts as the connection between his subjects and a higher power. Through the king, his subjects access something greater as a group and within themselves.

The Tao Te Ching describes it well:

The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware.
Next comes one whom they love and praise.
Next comes one whom they fear.
Next comes one whom they despise and defy.

-Tao Te Ching, Verse 17, as translated by John C. H. Wu, Shambhala Pocket Classics, 1990

To achieve this third stage kinghood, which is the “highest type of ruler” described by the Tao, we must be acting in service of a higher power. Our kingdoms may be as large as the English empire, or as small as just a few people. No matter how large your kingdom is, our role as king is to serve our subjects and act as the conduit to a higher power.

Kinghood takes many different forms. Kinghood for you may be as a football coach serving high school students and their families. Or as a vintage vacuum repairman who can fix even the most obscure machine. You may even find your kinghood as CEO of a company - but don’t be fooled. Just because you have a company of people following your orders does not mean you’ve reached third kinghood, no matter how successful your organization may be at making money. In my experience, those who believe they are in the third stage - especially those who have assembled an organization or group around themselves - are most often locked in the first or second stage.

To ascertain where you may be in the progression, ask yourself “Who am I serving? From where do I derive my power?” Be honest with your answer. Ask others to answer these questions for you. You may be surprised to learn who or what you serve.

If you’re interested in learning how you can take control of your own pathway into kinghood and experience life more fully than ever before, consider joining one of my upcoming mens groups.