What I Want My Grandsons to Know About Men

Phoenix (7), Judah (7), and Decker (4),  

You are a bit young to think about manhood but from the perspective of your 60-year-old grandpa, it’s just on the horizon of your life.

Our current culture has developed an allergy to masculinity, either claiming it’s toxic (some going so far as to blame meat eating on male toxicity, who knew?), or that you would be better served to learn to emote and talk more like girls. (Your brain isn’t wired to emote and talk the way a girl’s brain is wired. But you are uniquely wired to emote and communicate in your own masculine way!) Here’s the truth about men:

Men are capable of great good:

  • Good men have laid down their lives for centuries in order to protect their families, their tribes, their countries, and their beliefs.  
  • Good men have put their lives at risk to build the infrastructures of society (92 percent of all work related deaths are male…).
  • Good men have created systems of government with the intent to provide freedom and equality for all.
  • Good men have always been and continue to be caring dads, husbands, employers, employees, and grandparents.

Men are also capable of great destruction:

Though writing about boys, these words from my friend Dr. Michael Gurian, speak directly to this downside of masculinity--

…nearly every social problem we face in our civilization today—unemployment, income inequality, incarceration rates, religious extremism, domestic abuse, mental illness, health care inequalities, and painful violence against women—intersects in some way with the state of boyhood in America. (Saving our Sons, p. vii.)

Yes…some men are destructive. Some men damage the lives of others. Some men seek to harass those of a different race or religion or political persuasion or gender. Some men are bad men.

But many, if not most men, are good men. As your grandpa my hope and prayer is that as you grow into manhood, you number yourselves among the good guys.

To give you some guidance, here’s a picture of what a good man looks like (with special thanks to Dr. Gurian for his great work on this framework for manhood from his book, The Purpose of Boys):

A good man is:

  • Honorable: He does the right thing, even when it’s the harder way.  He treats all people with respect.  
  • Enterprising: He doesn’t give up easily.  He fights for the good of others while at the same time maintaining a core belief in his worth as a good man.
  • Responsible: A good man lives to serve others.  As Martin Luther King Jr. put it: The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.  The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.
  • Original: A good man knows who he is.  He’s aware of his strengths and weaknesses.  He knows what his unique gifts and talents are.  And he uses them to help build a better world through his family, his work, his citizenship, and his faith.

Boys, that's the kind of men I want you to be: Heroic men who show the world that good men exist and that good men are essential for building strong families, communities, and a better society.

What I Want My Granddaughters to Know About Men

Dear Clover (8) and Mathilda (2),

Over the last 50-60 years (mainly during my growing up years) women and men all around our country have been fighting for you!

They’ve been working hard to ensure that you grow up in a world where you are treated equally with men.

It may be that when you enter the workforce in 15 years or so that that may seem quaint—that equal pay for equal work and equal opportunities will be so deeply ingrained in our culture that your generation has no memory of anything else.

In a remarkably short period of time the storyline of girls and women has changed dramatically, mostly for the better—again thanks to many good women and men.  

For example:

  • In the early 1960’s girls were behind boys in school. But by 1982 girls not only caught up, they soared past boys. Girls now do far better than boys in virtually every area of education from pre-k through graduate school.
  • Increasingly the pay gap is shrinking. There’s still a lot of debate about this one. Some say that women make 80 cents or so for every $1 a man makes. This isn’t really the whole story. When you get down deep into the numbers and all of the factors that go into who works where and why, the gap is much, much smaller. There are certain job segments where the gap is huge and we still have work to do but again, a lot has changed in your favor over the last 50-60 years.
  • You are growing up in a world of unprecedented opportunities for women. When I think back to the opportunities your great-grandmother had (again, this was in my lifetime!) to what is possible for you now…it’s breathtaking!

I could go but I want to get to my main point.

This new world for women has not come without a price for men. You are not only growing up in a world fighting for equality for women, you are also growing up in a world that has become increasingly disdainful of all things masculine.

Here are two recent book titles:

  • Is There Anything Good About Men?
  • Do Fathers Matter?

Can you imagine anyone having to write a book with a title like that about women?

  • Is there Anything Good About Women?
  • Do Mothers Matter?

Unfortunately, some men contribute to the negative masculine stereotype. And we’ve been seeing it rear its ugly head lately through a series of powerful men being called out for sexual harassment. In fact, many believe we have reached a tipping point—one hopefully of high impact—that will bring to light this dark side of masculinity and protect our daughters, wives, sisters, and colleagues from it.

As your grandpa I’m sickened on the one hand, and heartened on the other hand, that this has become a public issue. For your sake, I pray that God will protect you from sick men who simply don’t deserve the title, Man.

However, the actions of a sick and powerful small group of men has given some in our culture the chance to pile on. Men, some in the media are saying, simply by being men, are complicit or guilty.  They are all monsters. 

For example:

Jennifer Berdahl, a professor in the business school at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who studies the harassment of men, says harassment is also about gender and how society defines it. Males learn a sense of superiority over females from the time they are children, she says. Being a man means being superior to a woman and dominating women sexually or otherwise; sexual harassment is taking that (thinking) to an extreme, Berdahl says...Men are socialized from the age of 3 to think of themselves as being a ‘real man,’ defined as dominating women.

That is simply not true.  It is vastly overstated and not only demeans men but the many good women who raise these boys into men.

As a man, and as your grandpa, here are some things I want you to know about men. You will be surrounded by them all your lives so I want you to see men as their Creator sees them.

1) Yes…some men are bad men. They are sick. They are contemptible. They bring shame to the masculine side of the Image of God. But they are not the majority of men or even close to it.

2) Good, noble men do exist in the world, lots of them…and the world needs them.

3) A good man is one who uses his gifts and talents to help build a better world. And many men have done just that: Countless dads working hard to provide for their families and invest time in their children. Men faithfully loving their wives. Men protecting our country, often at great personal sacrifice. Men building the infrastructures of our nation. Men educating our children and youth. Men creating works of art be it music or literature or dance or film. Men doing their jobs with integrity and excellence.

4) While, as my friend, Dr. Michael Gurian, says, almost all of the challenges and ills a society faces trace themselves back to troubled men, at the same time, many, many of the successes and strengths of our society are built on the backs of good men.

5) The overwhelming majority of men not only want what’s best for women, they actively fight for it. These women are their daughters, wives, sisters, moms, aunts, friends, and co-workers. Men care deeply about these women in their lives. They neither want nor condone masculine domination of women.

6) Masculinity in and of itself is not toxic. It is a good, God-created, sacred gift, just as is the feminine.

7) Men are wired to experience the world differently from women. Our brains work differently. Our thought processes works differently. Our chemical make-up is different. That doesn’t make us better than women. It doesn’t make us inferior. Women and men are equal but different, and those differences make the world a better place.

8) Again, a real man is a man who uses his unique gifts and talents, and his uniqueness as the Image of God male, to serve those he loves and the world around him. And again, those men are all around us.

Your Daddies are good men. Your Grandpas are good men. The men in your church are good men. You will interact with far more good men than bad men throughout your lives. May you discover the blessing that men can be as you grow into the women God created you to be.

Calling Out the Super Hero in our Boys

Faster than a speeding bullet. More fidgety than a rabbit with an itch. Able to run circles around mom and dad for hours on end. Look, in your living room...in your classroom...in your church…it’s a boy!  

Where does all that energy come from? In a word: Testosterone. Testosterone in an energy hormone. An action hormone. A get something done hormone. A risk-taking hormone.

Michael Gurian, in his book, The Wonder of Boys, offers these insights into testosterone:

  • Because of their dominance by the hormone testosterone, aggression and physical risk-taking are programmed into boys. It’s important to distinguish between “aggression” and “violence.” As psychologist Aaron Kipnis has put it, “Violence is not hard-wired into boys. Violence is taught. Aggression is hard-wired.”  (p. 6)
  • A little boy (on average) will turn toys into guns or swords more frequently than girls will…He will tend less toward empathic first responses to other’s pain and more toward provocative first-responses. He will generally be more competitive than his sister and especially in the few activities in which he perceives the potential to dominate over or be superior in…He will seek rough-and-tumble play… (pp. 7-8)
  • When a boy hits puberty, the influence of testosterone on his body and brain will increase manifold. His testosterone level itself will increase in quantities ten to twenty times more than girls. (p. 10)

Testosterone is the energy that causes boys to fidget when they sit too long, that demands movement to learn and to bond, and that enables boys to laser focus on a particular item but makes it difficult for them to multi-task. Imagine experiencing a surge of that volcanic energy 7 plus times a day! That’s the story of boys as they begin to move into puberty. And they often leave in their wake frazzled moms, dads, grandparents, and teachers.

That, of course, begs the question: How in the world do we help our boys harness that energy productively?

It begins by giving our sons a vision for their lives.

Testosterone offers us and our boys a powerful insight into the overarching purpose for the boys in your life: To save the world.

Testosterone is the fuel of superheroes. Testosterone is the energy that motivates a boy, when forged in healthy ways, to positively shape life around him. Every boy begins life wanting to be a superhero…to fight the bad guys, to save the world. To make the world a better place. When harnessed for good and noble purposes, testosterone is the power that energizes our boys for greatness.

Managing the force of nature that is the boy in your life can be a daunting task. But it is a noble, sacred call—the opportunity to raise a boy who can change the world.

Here are some things you can do to begin to forge your son into a world-changer:

  • Let him be a boy. If the boy in your life is a testosterone tornado, give him space to exercise his super hero powers. Let him fly. Let him explore. Let him breathe. Let him move. Let him build.
  • Give him boundaries. Boys need strong men and women to harness the energy of boys. While you want to give a boy his head (to use a horse training metaphor) you also need to let him know that you are the boss and that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to use his energy. Boys thrive in hierarchies. As dad and mom, you are at the top. Teachers in the classroom or youth leaders are at the top as well when the boys are with you. Loving, compassionate, safe boundaries will teach a boy how to use his powers for good.
  • Hold up models to emulate. Teach boys about heroic men, men of different temperaments, personalities, race, and religion, to give them a vision of what’s possible. Washington, Lincoln, Patton, MLK Jr., Fredrick Douglass, Jesus, Gandhi, Grandpa, Dad, and so on give our boys insights into men who used their energy for good. To say to a boy—This is the line of men you come from—energizes him with a noble vision for his life.
  • Affirm his super hero actions. Whenever your boy does something honorable, responsible, good, or sacrificial, pat him on the back in a variety of ways. Keep affirming in him his power to do great things and he will live into his purpose for saving the world as a man, a dad, a husband, a brother, a co-worker, a boss, and a citizen.

Imagine a world filled with boys living out their purpose of changing the world!