Advice for men: A history of dueling, and how to parent adult children.

Under What Circumstances Should a Gentleman Fight a Duel in 2014?

Under What Circumstances Should a Gentleman Fight a Duel in 2014?

Answers for modern men.
March 26 2014 6:48 PM

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

How do you fight a duel in 2014? Also: Advice from the Gentleman Scholar’s mom.

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But what if you’re on the receiving end of a challenge? Can you correctly decline? No, you cannot. There’s a chance that your antagonist will post the news that you are a poltroon and, whoops, there go all your dinner-party invitations. What to do?

First, select your second. You need to pick a friend with proven talents for diplomacy to act as your representative in negotiating the terms of duel. With luck, he and the challenger’s second will swiftly mediate the dispute such that no one loses face or any other body part. Second, get your second to insist that you get to choose the weapon. It could be smart to proceed according to the Code Duello. Those rules, set down in Ireland in 1777, mandated flintlock, short-barreled, smooth-bore pistols—guns that are, very importantly, not terribly accurate. (Dueling only hung on as long as it did because the mortality rate was fairly reasonable.) Third, follow the advice of The Art of Duelling (1836) and, when rising early on the day of the duel to meet your opponent among the morning mists, keep breakfast simple: “I do not advise his taking more than a biscuit and cup of coffee.” Coffee means coffee here, for real: Are you prepared for your last meal to involve a hazelnut cappuccino?

I have nearly finished raising a son to gentlemanhood and need some advice about how long I can continue to correct and guide his behavior.


The son in question is in college and is about average in terms of being responsible and taking care of his own business. His mother, my lovely wife, trusts him less than I do and requires frequent updates on the status of various tasks, from making a dentist appointment to checking in after reporting a minor illness. He often neglects to report, for whatever reason. Maybe he's behind schedule, maybe he's busy, maybe his phone battery ran out, or maybe he's got other things to do besides check in with Mom. Regardless, I am the one who hears about his transgressions and is often called on to explain them.

To what degree should I intervene and for how long? If I ask him to check in for the sake of my personal peace, is that out of line? If I ask her to let it go and allow him to make his own choices and mistakes, am I stifling her voice? And if I just lay low and keep out of it, am I a coward and a weakling?

Thank you for your question, which I forwarded to my mother, whom I owed an email anyway. I believe that I’ve been able to condense her 915-word response without losing its gist.

Hi Troy. I appreciate your confidence in asking my opinion. …
I think most women need the son's father (or another older male relative) to facilitate and translate the communications (verbal and non-verbal) between mother and son. …  
Son doesn't seem to feel that he should have to check in with Mom and his not doing so is his passive-aggressive way of telling her so. Or maybe he has a life and simply forgets to check in when he's been a little sick. Mom gets worried and maybe—depending on her personality—she is even a little hurt. She has that maternal urge to feel his forehead and can't understand why he keeps turning away. Mom should be encouraged to release minor things completely and accept her son's growing independence. … Dad should not feel at all guilty about explaining to Mom that it's time to allow Son to make his own choices and mistakes. …
However, I don't think it's out of line for Dad to intervene or, as I prefer to put it, interpret on behalf of Mom and Son and for the sake of keeping the peace and demonstrating to Son some valuable skills that will come in handy when Son has his own household to maintain. …
I hope at least some of this makes sense. Good luck with your article!

Troy Patterson is Slate’s writer at large and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.