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.

Does Telling A Boy to Be a Real Man Destine Him for Prison? A Rant

I try hard, at least I think I do, to stick to the facts about what’s happening in the lives of our boys and to inspire people to fight for them, as we are doing for our girls.  But for a blog or two…I’m going to rant.  It’s my blog and I can rant if I want to…

I recently wrote a column for the Community Section of the Arizona Republic entitled: What AboutEquality for our Boys?  

I received some very nice, even compelling, words of thanks from men and women who have personally experienced the challenges boys face in the 21st Century…and our collective lack of attention to the boy crisis.

I was, however, expecting another response…a response that would lightly agree that we have a boy crisis and then diss the whole boy crisis by saying that our girls are really the ones in trouble.

(By the way, my point is not that we don’t have work to do for our girls—I have two granddaughters I’m fighting for—but that lots of attention is being given to them, along with a lot of good work.  There is little national/collective work being done on the issue of boys.  But there are some who fear that any attention to boys robs our girls.)

I got my response.  The following week this was the title of the column: What About Equality for our Boys and Girls?  The author, a mom of three girls, lightly suggests we need to care about boys but then twists my words to suggest that the real issue is the struggles our girls face in life.  Unfortunately I can’t find the article on line but here are two of the many head scratchers from the column (with more in a follow up post):

Pastor Wright correctly states there are more men in prison than women.  Men commit violent crimes trying to be “real men” and to “man up.”  This is what we teach boys.  Violence is how they prove their masculinity.  Boys are more likely to be victims of violence (as I said in my article…boys are twice as likely as girls to be victims of violence…), but it’s from other men…

Men are taught to betray their values of what it means to be “good,” in order to prove they are “masculine.”

She later says we need to fight to free our girls and our boys from restricting stereotypes…

Like the stereotype about how trying to be a real man or to man up means a man is violent?

1) Does calling a boy to be a real man or to man up automatically set him up for a life of violence and prison?

Or are there other reasons—Like, for example:

Over 85% of the men in prison come from fatherless homes.  Could it be that one result of the father wound is a tendency to act out violently?  Or that the lack of a good male role model might rob a boy of what it means to be a real man who then tries to hide his insecurities as a man behind violence?  (Not all fatherless boys become violent, but the percentage is far higher!)

How about the role of poverty?

Or the fact that boys, because they are increasingly falling behind girls in every level of education from pre-school to grad-school, are undereducated, underskilled, and therefore frustrated because they can’t find work?  Or the fact that the top 17-18 growing job fields skew more to the way a woman’s brain is wired (verbal/emotive)—leading, again, to a lack of meaningful work, which leads to frustration?

These are not in any way meant to be excuses for violent men, but real solid explanations rather than the general statement that trying to be a real man leads to violence.  That’s nonsense. 

Calling a boy to be a real man is a call to nobility, honor, goodness, productivity, heroism, love, and grace.  It is the exact opposite of a violent man.

To buy into the big stereotype that masculinity is inherently violent is destructive to our boys and girls.  But, as the author’s column suggests, many buy into that stereotype and the underlying cure: make boys more like girls.

2) Does the fact that the violence done to boys is at the hands of men lessen the fact that boys are twice as likely as girls to be victims of violence?  That that makes it ok?  That that somehow downplays their pain and makes the violence done to girls even worse?

To quote her: One third of women will experience violence from a male partner.  Men are the overwhelming perpetrators of damaging violence toward others.  This is terrible but it is not the fault of girls (is anyone anywhere saying that it is?). 

Any violence done to any child by a man (or woman, for that matter) is wrong, sickening, and depraved.  It is not done by a man who is trying to man up or be a real man, but by a male pretender—one who is violent for a whole host of reasons, some of them just mentioned.  And again, there is no excuse for it!

Boys need our help.  To suggest so is based on all kinds of evidence, including a 2015 World Health Organization finding that men and boys all around the world are falling behind girls and women.   The call to help our boys is not a call to patriarchy or male privilege.  It is not a call to put girls in their place or to blame girls.  It is the call to fight for our boys the way we have been and are fighting for our girls!

For the life of me I can’t understand why that’s such a difficult concept to get our brains around.

But wait…I’m not done…more to come!

How to Speak Man: A Brief Tutorial for Church Leaders Who Want to Reach Boys and Men

Men and women are different.    

That’s my starting point.  If you can live with that, then I invite you to continue on.

It’s no secret that men have dropped out of the Christian Church in droves.  It’s no secret that homes without dads face higher rates of poverty, they suffer more emotionally, and are more likely to be held back in school.  It’s no secret that the US prison population is made up of 93% men, 85% of whom grew up with no father figure.

Pastors and other religious leaders called to make disciples of all people, including men, often find themselves at a loss as to how to reach men.  Patrick Morley, author of No Man Left Behind, says that ministry to men is like rocket science, perhaps even harder.

While there are many systemic issues that we need to address in calling men to follow Jesus, a good starting point is to learn how to speak Man. 

Researchers tell us that are at least 100 differences between a woman’s brain and a man’s brain.  This is nature stuff.  This is hard-wired into the brain stuff.  Nurture is a different matter.  As my friend Michael Gurian observes, often the challenge with understanding males and females comes from trying to start the discussion with nurture.  When we do that we tend to impose a more female way of relating to the world onto men.  Instead, Michael says we need to start with nature—how it is that men are wired to relate to the world and build from there.

A few examples:

Men tend to process events and experiences on the left side of the brain—the rational side of the brain.  Women, on the other hand, process events and experiences on both sides of the brain—on the rational and the emotional sides.  As a result, women can almost instantly access an answer to the question: What are you feeling?  It can take a male anywhere from minutes to several hours to grab that answer.  (It often proves easier for a man to answer the question, What are you thinking?  But see the next point.)

Because of the way a woman’s brain is wired, she is generally more verbal-emotive than a man.  She consumes almost twice as many words in a day as does a man.  Men tend to be more spatially oriented—they remember things where movement and action are involved.  Men, generally speaking, use their words sparingly, which can be maddening for highly verbal people.

Because men tend to use only one side of the brain, they are able to focus on a specific task better than women.  Another way of saying it is that men can enter a focus-cave where they can tune out everything else.  Women, on the other hand, take in more with more senses at once.  They are better able to juggle many tasks at once.

Because of testosterone, men tend to bond through activity.  Because of oxytocin and estrogen, women tend to bond via words and emotions.  Men work off stress through physical activity.  Women tend to work off stress through talking.

With that small background, here are a few ways to speak Man:
1)   Men speak action.  Much of church language/discipleship language today is relationship language.  Are you experiencing intimacy with Jesus?  Do you have a vibrant relationship with Jesus?  Jesus wants to live in your heart.  Women tend to gravitate more to this language because of how they are wired brain-wise and hormone-wise.  Men, however, are wired for action.  That’s not to say that they don’t invest in relationships, but men want to be called to do something.  Jesus spoke the language of action: Follow me. 
2)   Men speak problem solving. The default for most men is to move into the fix it mode.  They want to put the pieces back together.  Women focus more on the process and the relationship along with words to bring about a resolution.  Congregations that build disciples only through small (talking) groups with no call to take the mountain and build a better world will not inspire men to follow Jesus.
3)   Men speak competition.  Competition stimulates a man to action.  It energizes him.  It releases his creative juices.  Most churches downplay competition replacing it with a strong emphasis on nurture and getting along with everyone.  While a church needs both, God created men with a competitive spirit for a reason—to stimulate them to get God-stuff done.
4)   Men speak hierarchy.  Men tend to respond best to a leader/follower model.  Again, notice Jesus always called people to follow him.  Hierarchies tend to scare the average church leader because they can create confrontation and competition.  These are often deemed anti-Jesus-like behaviors.  Women tend to seek more egalitarian models, emphasizing equal participation and interaction among all.  But men want to know their place in their organization, they want to know who they follow or who follows them, and they want to go!
5)   Men speak command. Meaning, men tend to get to the point. They don’t use as many words as do women so when they speak they get to the point quickly and directly.  And they want that same kind of communication aimed at them.  Where women tend to be more inviting—What do you think about this?  Would you mind doing such and such…? men prefer a direct word or command that they can hear and respond to.  In a highly relational church, commands and direct speech don’t come easily.  But you may be missing men because of it.  Look at how Jesus often spoke:  Follow me!  Love your enemies!  Turn the other cheek!  Love one another!  Be merciful as your father in heaven is merciful!  Ask anything in my name and you will receive it!  (Note: for you law/Gospel Lutherans—this is a communication style, not a proclamation of law!  J)
6)   Men speak risk.  Testosterone is a risk-taking hormone. On average men take many more risks than do women.  A safe church, often more comfortable for women, repels men.  Men want to be a part of something grand, world-changing.  Jesus is the greatest risk taker of them all.  I will use you to fish for people! Go into all the world…Want to reach men?  Build risk into your ministry.  What’s one thing you can’t do unless God makes it happen?
7)   Men speak sacrifice.  Men are wired to rush into burning buildings, to leap tall buildings in a single bound, to lay their lives on the line.  What’s the great cause that will speak to the men in your congregation? Greater love has no one than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Jesus knew how to talk man.   What language does your congregation speak?

(For more on how men and women relate to life and each other, check out my friend Michael Gurian’s excellent book: Leadership and the Sexes: Using Gender Science to Create Success inBusiness)