Turning Boys into Men

Sports talk radio is not my normal stop when looking for solid theological content and cultural commentary. However, I found a little of both this week on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike.” The story du jour was the video of Ray Rice hitting his fiancée and knocking her unconscious in an elevator. Nothing new was said about the facts, but the commentary from Hall of Fame wide-receiver Cris Carter was impeccable.

When Mike Greenberg asked if football players need to learn how to turn the violence switch off when they step off the field, Carter responded by saying that was the wrong perspective. He immediately turned the conversation to the lack of fathers in our culture, especially among the current NFL players, and a lack of understanding what it means to be a man. He then recounted his own story of being reared by a single mother along with his three sisters. He credited his mother for teaching him how to treat women, but he bemoaned the absence of fathers in boys’ lives.

I have one son (and three daughters), and I have been thinking lately about what it means to lead him into manhood. He’s five years old right now, so we have a long way to go, but there are things I can do now as a father to teach him how to be a man.

Set an Example

The big issue with the Ray Rice situation is that he treated a woman in a way that no woman should ever be treated. But how can I teach my son how to treat women? The first way is to set an example in the way I treat my wife.

Scripture instructs me to love my wife just as Christ loves the church (Eph 5:25) and to show understanding and honor to her (1 Pet 3:7). I do not do these things simply for the sake of showing my son how to be a man. I am to treat my wife in this way because she is my wife and she is made in the image of God. In fact, most of the time that we spend interacting with one another, we are not consciously aware that our children are watching. But they are.

My son is a perceptive little boy. He recognizes the differences in tones and inflections of voice. He listens to the words others use and employs them in his own vocabulary. He sees the way adults act toward one another and mimics them. He also recognizes the difference between genuine actions and pretense.

When I show genuine love, care, and concern for my wife, my son learns how to treat the women in his life. If he sees me act foolishly or disrespectfully, he will imitate that behavior as well. Thus, I need to focus not so much on what he might see, but instead I need to concentrate on loving my wife as Christ loves the church. In doing so, he learns to be a true man by watching a man.

Be There

You might have heard someone remark that it is not the quantity of time you spend with your children but the quality of time. Honestly, I think that is false. Absentee fathers are not simply the ones who live in another city and shirk the responsibilities of fatherhood. Absentee dads could live in the same house as their families. Just last night I spent the evening with my family at a baseball game. My son and I held down the “boy side” of our row for several innings. There was no grand teaching moment. He ate his hot dog and peanuts. He looked at the game program. He had a good time. We enjoyed just being together.

I am thankful for a flexible job that allows me to spend time with my family. It is important for me to be with all members of my family, but I think it is especially important for my son to see me involved in our family life. How else am I to set an example unless I am there?

I understand that some fathers have responsibilities that require them to be away from their families for extended periods of time, but I could never do that. I would rather give up career advancement for the sake of being there for my family. Even now I intentionally limit my travel so that I am not gone more than my wife and I agree is healthy for our family.

What does my son see when I am there? He sees a father who loves him and wants to spend time with him. He gets a dad who comes to his t-ball games. He gets a man who is there to encourage him to be strong and courageous. That is why I want to be there with him.

Teach Them

The final and most important aspect of turning boys into men is to teach them God’s Word. Scripture is replete with admonitions to fathers about teaching their sons to follow after God. A constant refrain in the first seven chapters of Proverbs is for a son to hear his father’s instructions. Solomon wrote these words for the benefit of his son.

One of the most well-known passages regarding the instruction of sons comes in Deuteronomy 6 where we read:

Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. . . . These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:1–2, 6–9)

As fathers, we have a responsibility to teach our sons. We teach them through our words and actions how to love God and be men. I am still figuring out what this looks like in our family, but at the very least, I need to be there to teach my son about God.

In a day where more than 40% of all children born in the US are born to unwed mothers, the trend of absentee fatherhood seems only to be getting worse. If we want boys to become men, we need to redouble our efforts at encouraging a biblical model of fatherhood. Be a man; take responsibility; set an example. This will help us stem the tide of grown men acting like boys. Fathers play an essential role in the development of boys into men. And when we are not sure what to do, we can look to the best example—our Heavenly Father.

The Prince and the Golfer

*Co-authored with Waylan Owens.

Hunter Mahan and Prince William. Not two names you would put together naturally. But the two have caused a stir in the name of fatherhood by their respective decisions that place family ahead of their other responsibilities.

We applaud the commitment to family exhibited by Mahan and the prince, and we think it will be helpful to look a little more closely at what the two men did and what all this means.

First, Prince William announced that he was taking two weeks of paternity leave, an option provided in Britain by the government that comes with a $210 per week stipend. We doubt William was after the money, so it is obvious that he wanted to be with his wife and child.

Then, Hunter Mahan learned that his wife was about to give birth to their new daughter, Zoe, and went to her side. That is not so unusual, except that Mahan was firmly in the lead, halfway to a $1,000,000 payday in the RBC Canadian Open golf tournament. “Would you give up $1,000,000 to see your baby born?” has been the question of the day for sportscasters and news anchors alike.

A poll by NJ.com asked the question, “Do you applaud Hunter Mahan for leaving golf tournament for baby’s birth?” At the time of this writing, an astounding 92% had responded yes.

So how do we view all of this as Christians? Is it “great news” of a world returning to its moral, family underpinnings? Or is there something more to these stories?

Embracing Fatherhood

The first observation we can make is that both men seem to have embraced the idea of fatherhood fully. In a day where more than 40% of all children in the United States are born out-of-wedlock, most of whom do not have fathers in their lives, we can rejoice that Prince William and Mahan have accepted their responsibilities as husbands and fathers for rearing their children in the context of marriage.

Scripture is replete with references to a father instructing his children. Six of the first seven chapters of Proverbs begin with Solomon telling his son to listen to his words (Prov 1:8; 2:1; 3:1; 4:1; 5:1; 7:1). He then proceeds to give specific instructions to his son about pursuing wisdom and avoiding folly. The contrast between these two paths is then highlighted in 10:1 where Solomon says, “A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother.”

While simply being present at the birth of a child does not insure that one will instruct his child faithfully to pursue wisdom, it does offer an initial indication that a father is taking an interest in the development of his child at the earliest stages.

Family Over Profession

Our second observation is that they appear to have placed family over professional success. While William’s actions do not bring any detriment to his future as king of England, Mahan certainly suffered the loss of potential earnings and ranking in his career.

Many men find their identity primarily in what they do. When asked to describe ourselves, many of us start with our profession and may even include some of our accomplishments. However, the role of husband and father is even more important than a career. For Mahan specifically, he sacrificed the advancement of his career to care for his family.

In Psalm 128, the blessings of the Lord are defined in terms of family. The psalmist writes, “How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways. … Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house, your children like olive plants around your table. Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord” (Ps 128:1, 3–4).

Sacrificial Love

A third observation must be made. While a prince took a brief maternity leave, he did not leave his wealth and luxury behind. We have a King who did. Jesus left it all behind in Heaven to live with us, not for a few weeks, but unto his own death. He did not turn away from his family. Rather he died for his family. And even now, he is working to prepare a place to “receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also,” for all eternity. (John 14:1-3)

Two unusual allies, a prince and a golfer, have turned the world’s focus toward a man’s responsibility to support his family by his presence and engagement without suggesting that a man should shirk his obligation to support his family by his hard work and ingenuity. We join in calling all fathers to note and to honor their examples. And we call all people to note that Jesus beat them to it, that he is with his children always, that he works on his family’s behalf, and that soon his children will be with him forever.


Follow Waylan Owens on Twitter @WaylanOwens and check out his blog at http://waylanandbetsyowens.com/.