You have a son but, are you raising a man?
If you are like many dads, you might have flinched just a little at this question. So effective has the culture been at defacing the idea manhood, we often lack confidence and courage to be identified with it.
This is the 21st Century. We’re not supposed to be hung up on concepts like manhood and masculinity, are we?
Well, that depends.
It depends on whether or not we are going to take the politically “correct” approach and attempt to offend no one or the biblical approach and order our lives according to the priorities, principles, and teachings of the Bible regardless of the consequences.
Many are surprised to discover the Apostle Paul tells Timothy, essentially, “Act like a man. Be Strong” 1 Cor. 16:13
The biblical commission of raising sons to be men is serious business. If the issue is side-stepped, or ignored altogether, and you are raising a man-boy instead of raising a man, you are a force of destruction in the very culture you inhabit. And many fathers who identify themselves as “Christian” are doing just that – destroying the culture through the neglect of their office.
“You Aren’t Raising a Boy, That Will Happen All By Itself”
You aren’t raising a boy – that will happen all by itself and tragically, too often does. Adult adolescents wandering around with no plans, no sense of purpose, sense of themselves, or sense of self-respect has become a common scene in practically every Church gathering. Is this characterization disparaging? Not if you ask them.
A recent conversation I had with a 20-something young man is hardly exceptional. With no intention of being critical or derogatory, “man-boy” is the phrase that best captures the essence of the person who sat across the table from me – someone, incidentally, who I care deeply about. He didn’t look like a man. He didn’t talk like a man. He didn’t act like a man. He had absolutely no idea where he was headed in life and all for very good reason. He wasn’t a man. He was a boy in a man’s body.
A 20-something boy who has a pain so deep in his heart from failed fatherhood he wouldn’t dare think himself a man is a bad thing, and even worse when, as in this case, he is from an avowedly Christian family.
Thankfully, you don’t have to take my word for it. The clarity of this near 30 year-old’s self-assessment was astounding. He didn’t need me or anyone else to tell him he hadn’t entered manhood. He already knew, full well, and openly said so. He desired manhood but didn’t feel legitimate in the company of men – didn’t feel he measured up and certainly didn’t know how to get from boy to man.
Consider some further comments from other men – some single, some married, all between the ages of 20 and 60:
“When in the company of other men, I’m always embarrassed to think of or refer to myself as a “man”. I feel like I’m setting myself up for someone to challenge me on that point.”
“Before I was 40, whenever I was around mature men I always felt like they were all looking at me and thinking, “Who let that kid in here.” I know they weren’t but it’s a feeling I couldn’t shake.”
“I’ve never felt like a man. Never felt I had the right to call myself a man.”
“It is impossible for my father to think of me as a grown man. I don’t think of myself that way either.”
“I feel like such a kid, even though I’m in my mid-twenties.”
There are many reasons boys don’t mature and take up the mantle of manhood and sometimes, if rarely, those reasons have little to do with who raised them. The focus here is for fathers: Are you raising a man or a man-boy? And, it’s not a question dads get to take a pass on. We are raising our sons, even if we’ve chosen physical absence, emotional distance, simple neglect, or in our ignorance believe it will just happen.
Silence won’t stop the process, either. Your powerful influence goes right on working in the heart of your son whether or not you are there for him.
Fathers of wayward, rebellious sons understandably don’t want to own their part in the arresting, derailment, or destruction of the boy’s journey to mature manhood and there are many influences other than a father which play a part in the building of a life. But, the most formative relationship, by far, in the construction process from boy to man is that of the father: It is you and me, Dad.
Our sons, not exclusively but in large part, will become who they are because we are their fathers.
So why did all those men shrink from being thought of or from referring to themselves as a man?
As fathers, the starting point is one of perspective. We need to recognize and embrace the fact that we are actively and powerfully engaged in the forming of our son into the man he will be – for good or ill.
Dad, You are a Powerbroker in the Life of Your Son
Yes, Dad, your influence is powerful. And it doesn’t much matter whether or not you feel powerful. It is simply the case.
“Son, You are Becoming a Man and I think that’s Awesome!”
Billions are spent every year on advertising for one very simple reason . . . it works. And, why do you see the same ad over and over? Because multiple impressions are critical to achieve the outcome the advertiser desires.
The same principle is true in parenting. Speak the “future of manhood” into the heart of your son. Give him a vision of his future. Help him see, even if he is very young, that he is in the process of becoming a man. It’s a message that needs to be reinforced often, throughout the years of a son’s journey to manhood.
Statements of affirmation and approval of the process he is in go a long way to focus his mind on the future of the man he is becoming. But, there’s one more foundational element in the development of a strong, positive relationship with your son.
“Son, I Really Like You and Want You to Spend Time With Me”
Welcome your son into the company of men, starting with your company. Young boys may not express it verbally but they have a place deep in their souls that harbors the need to feel wanted – to feel accepted. A son needs to feel he has a legitimate and secure place beside his father.
Question: Do you like your son?
I didn’t ask if you love him. What father would answer “No” to that? I’ll take it for granted that you do love your son. My question is, “Do you like him?” To which you may answer with equal intensity: “Of course I do!” But, is this truly the case anywhere else other than in your own mind? Is it true in the most important place? Is it a true statement inside your son’s head?
The perception sons have of whether or not their fathers like them is a powerful force in the development of their own self-esteem.
“I never had any trouble with my father. He was a basically good man but, for my young boy’s heart, it wasn’t enough. It’s just that I never felt he wanted me around or cared about what I was doing. It is a powerful feeling to grow up as a young boy believing that your father never thought or cared much about you. I spent many years projecting this feeling on every other male relationship in my life. It created a great sense of insecurity and made me feel unworthy around men.”
How ironic is it that not one of these statements was technically true?
The truth is this young man’s father is quite proud of him and likes him a great deal.
But all that doesn’t really matter does it? How you and I may feel internally about our sons doesn’t change what our sons “know”.
Unless and until you communicate to your son, “I like you, a lot!” in a manner he believes is true right down to his bones, your true feelings, however positive, are of no consequence. And, don’t forget those advertising billions . . . multiple impressions are necessary to effectively communicate a message. Our sons need to hear this often, throughout their lives.
Although a challenge to consistently employ, the principles are simple. Young boys need to know what they are becoming and that they are truly valued as individuals. But, these messages aren’t just for young boys. Every man whose comment was registered earlier in this article needs to hear them, too. Even if your sons are older, they still need to hear these things from their fathers.
When we give our sons a vision of where they are headed (Son, you’re becoming a fine man!) and communicate to them that they are well liked and that their presence with us is desired, we are building the foundation of a strong relationship for all that a father must teach his son.
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P.S. A Word to Single Moms
First of all, God bless you. The principles in this article can be used by any parent. You have a particular challenge, fulfilling the roles of both parents but, you can raise a godly, mature young man as many heroic single moms have done. Are you looking for a great resource to help support you in your role as a mom of boys? A great place to get connected with is M.O.B. Society (Mothers of Boys) a first-rate group of women who personally understand the challenges you face and provide excellent resources for moms from every background.
Matt Jacobson is a biblical marriage coach and founder of FaithfulMan.com a biblical marriage, parenting, and discipleship ministry providing written and audio teaching, as well as couples marriage coaching. He is the co-host (with his wife, Lisa) of Faithful Life Podcast and is author of the bestseller, 100 Ways to Love Your Wife. Matt is pastor of Tumalo Bible Fellowship and is married to Lisa, founder of Club31Women.com (they have 8 kids!).