the (not so) final word on manhood

While there certainly is much more that could and probably should be said about manhood, I think I’m about done with it.  Other people have had plenty more to say about this topic (as evidenced by the number of “man” books available at your local Christian bookstore).  If you are interested in reading more, here are the three that I have spent some time with in the last year.

Raising a Modern Day KnightRobert Lewis
Wild at HeartJohn Eldredge
To Own a DragonDonald Miller (It has been brought to my attention that this book has been reworked some and re-released as Father Fiction.  Of the three, this one – unsurprisingly – resonated with me most.)

Each one is good in its own way, but they are also very different from one another.

And I think it’s this variety that is in itself a clue about the nature of “man-making.”  The different ways proposed by “expert” men points to that which we already know at a gut level.  Boys become men via numerous well-worn paths.  I know that this eclectic way of looking at this subject isn’t nearly as cut-and-dry as most men (and for that matter, women) would like for it to be.  Most of us tend to prefer things to be a tad bit more concrete, and so I would suspect that my suggesting that there isn’t one definite path to manhood is more frustrating than reassuring for many (myself included at times).  And yet, that seems to be the nature of life.  Life is rarely cut-and-dry.  Rarely simple.

These caveats aside, I offer up a few summary reflections.  I realize that it isn’t much. But in proper man-style, my points are at least numbered.

1) There is no “one” way. I think I just said this, but for the sake of clarity, I’m saying it again.  Going through some six-week (or twenty-six week) program doesn’t insure that a person will become a man.  Not reading books.  Not memorizing definitions.  Not going camping.  Not “I love Jesus” chants.  I realize that it sounds like I’m knocking (or mocking) these things, but I’m not.  They are all fine things to do.  At certain times, they are even necessary.  They just aren’t the end-all-be-all.

The reason I’m not writing this stuff off is that each of these varied experiences does hold out the promise of at least one thing…

an opportunity.

In each retreat, seminar, reading, or _______, there exists the possibility for a man (be he young or old) to more fully grab hold of what it means to a man.  But it is just that, a possibility.  Not more, not less.  Which leads to the next point…

2) There are no guarantees. Just because the opportunity is out there, doesn’t mean that it is going to be taken advantage of.  Simply showing up to something isn’t the “fix” that a man needs to become more a man.  Each man chooses to let an experience be something that will move them deeper and closer to the essence of man-ness…  or not.  And while not everyone will respond to the challenge or experience (regardless of what it is) some will… and some do.

3) It involves a community of men. While I would certainly maintain that fathers bear the primary responsibility of ushering sons into manhood, there are plenty of situations where the father isn’t around or is unwilling to engage a son on that level.  That doesn’t mean that those young men don’t have a chance.  Plenty of other men can and do step into that role.  But…  even if a son has a great father, they (both the father and the son) will need more than one man to be in it with them.  For something as weighty as this, it stands to reason that God wouldn’t have put all his proverbial eggs in one predictably flawed basket.

4) The outdoors play a role. No need to rehash what I touched on yesterday, but I would say that spending time in God’s proving ground is at least as helpful as a book, or class, or definition, or whatever.  Being outside isn’t everything…  but it ain’t nothing.  So the value of it shouldn’t be undersold.

5) It is a process. I’m not sure when a young man is able to say, “That’s it! Today, I became a man.”  Pinpointing the exact moment that this happens is a futile exercise.  Instead of a single place and time, it is more likely the case that there are a series of moments.  Some small and seemingly insignificant.  Others immeasurably freighted with importance.  All of these combining and continuing to exert their influence long after the moments themselves have faded.  In fact, one could say that it is the memory (and the remembering/retelling/re-living) of the moment that determines its significance as a shaping event.

I’m seeing that take place in my thirteen year-old, as he struggles to both leave childhood behind while simultaneously clinging to certain aspects of it.  I see it in the students I work with nearly every day, as their hearts and souls expand to match their frames.  And, of course, as I look back on my own life, I see how the combination of crises, people, and experiences brought me to a time when I was willing to shoulder the mantle of manhood.  Even if it rests uneasily at times.

So much more could be said about his topic…  the role of mentors, living with tension and hardship, taking responsibility for oneself and others, what the Bible has to say, men in the church, etc…  So until the book (and workbook, and dvd series, and retreat) becomes available, this will have to do.

4 Replies to “the (not so) final word on manhood”

  1. “I see it in the students I work with nearly every day, as their hearts and souls expand to match their frames.” Great sentence, great thought, great post. Print these out and put them in a folder for later.

  2. I haven’t read “Raising a Modern Day Knight”, but I think your points have a lot of validity. I read to “To Own a Dragon” a couple of years ago (gift from the little sister) and it really resonated with me.

    One of my favorite quotes from the book:

    “Walking through the park one night I realized I was operating out of a feeling of inferiority. Deep inside, I believed life was for other people – that joy was for others, and responsibility was for others, and so on and so on. In life, there were people who were meant to live and people who were accidentally born, elected to plod the globe as the despised.

    These thoughts are illogical, I realize. There isn’t any proof that a guy who grows up in a family with a good dad is any better than a guy who grows up in a family without one. Still, a logical argument isn’t able to change the heart… For many years, all I could do in the healing process was recognize I felt inferior and tell myself this feeling was a lie. For a long time, I couldn’t go any further than this.

    …There were times I would watch John [MacMurray] interact with [his son] Chris and I would get jealous. I’m not saying I was jealous of Chris, and I don’t even know if jealousy is the word I am looking for. I only mean I would feel a sense of unfairness. The idea that I mattered had not been instilled in me the way John was instilling it in Chris. Chris will never have to learn he matters, or at least he will not have to swim up a stream of lies.

    The MacMurray family dynamics allowed me to picture what should have existed in my own life. It’s not that I wanted John to pick me up and set me on his lap. But it did make me wonder why God would allow me to grow up without a father saying he loved me or was glad I was around.

    It’s odd to be talking about this as an adult. But as I’ve begun to process the consequences of growing up without a father, I’ve realized the incredible hole in my heart this absence has left. I wish my father and I had a friendship, and that he would call once every couple weeks and tell me I was doing a good job. I hunger for this. I don’t actually like thinking about this stuff, but I have a sense that wounds don’t heal until you feel them…”

  3. Thanks Bob. In the timeless words of Salt-n-Pepa, you’re a “mighty good man.”

    Gar, to say that I connected with that book (and that particular quote) would be quite the understatement. Little Gideon doesn’t know how good he’s got it. May he have the privilege of grasping that one day.

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