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Incest & Sexual Abuse–the Oldest Taboos

One of the oldest taboos in the civilized world may be that of incest. The Bible addresses this issue in 2 Samuel 13 with the story of Amnon and Tamar. Amnon was King David’s firstborn son. Tamar was his younger sister for whom he lusted. Amnon devised a plan to fake illness in order get the virgin Tamar to come to his residence to cook for him. He then lured her to his bedroom and raped her. Once finished, his lust turned to hatred. (This may be common in instances of incest, as it absolves the attacker of blame and places it on the victim. It also probably involves some transference of self-hatred as well.) He cast her out and shamed her. The passage says she “remained desolate in her brother Absalom’s home” (NKJV). Interestingly, it says that when David found out what Amnon had done, he was angry, but it doesn’t say that he took any action to provide justice for Tamar. That would have compounded the feelings of betrayal, injustice, and humiliation she must have felt. Several years later, Absalom murdered Amnon for his transgressions.

Approximately 90 percent of sexually abused children know their abuser. Incest is the cruelest betrayal of trust between a child and parent and understandably has emotionally devastating consequences. When an older sibling or relative is involved, it’s just a damaging. Sexually violating children is probably the worst evil most people will ever experience. When people who are supposed to protect you end up violating you, it is thoroughly destructive. Statistically one in three girls and one in six boys will suffer unwanted sexual experiences before the age of eighteen. That number is probably higher, as it is estimated that a high number of people never tell anyone they have been molested. Regardless, those conservative estimates alone translate into about 60 million people in our country having been victims of sexual abuse. Literally, everywhere you go, you will be in contact with someone who has suffered this fate. Look around you. In a room full of women, at least a third of them have been sexually abused as a child. This has to stop. If this is your legacy, you can stop it in your lineage by following some of the steps detailed throughout this book.

It’s estimated that up to 90 percent of all incest victims never tell anyone. Why? Because they are afraid of breaking up the family. Susan Forward and Craig Buck say, “Incest may be frightening, but the thought of being responsible for the destruction of the family is even worse.”

And the damage is even worse if the victim experiences any pleasure from these acts as their shame is magnified. Our bodies are designed to be sexual beings. In addition, it is biologically programmed to respond (often as a form of physical protection) to sexual acts even in cases of non-consent and assault. This causes many victims to feel responsible for the event. Understand, as a child you were always the victim, whether you derived pleasure or not. The adult is always the one to blame in those circumstances.

Additionally, people do not tell anyone because incest abusers are very adept at psychological manipulation and fear-mongering. They use threats and manipulation to keep their victims quiet.

Threats Used by Incest Abusers

Tell and I’ll kill you.

Tell and I’ll kill your parents/siblings/grandparents.

Tell and no one will believe you.

Tell and your mommy will be mad at (or hate) you.

Tell and people will think you are crazy.

Tell and I’ll go to jail and there won’t be anyone to support the family.

Survivors of incest often report feeling worthless, bad, dirty, and damaged. Depression is a common result of incest. Women especially may allow themselves to become overweight as adults. This serves two purposes: (a) she imagines it will keep men away from her, and (b) the body mass creates the illusion of power and strength. Like many victims of abuse, incest survivors frequently self-medicate their pain with drugs and alcohol.[i]

Men who have been sexually abused have a special set of challenges to deal with, as it strikes at the heart of their masculinity. Men are not supposed to be assaulted, vulnerable, dominated, raped, or controlled. They may feel emasculated or that they are destined to be a homosexual.

Men generally find themselves uncomfortable dealing with and expressing emotions. In part, it’s how they’re brought up. Any form of sexual abuse creates intense emotions. Here are some common emotions men feel in these situations:

  • Dehumanized—They feel like they have no value and constantly compare themselves to other men.
  • Shame—They transfer false shame and guilt to themselves.
  • Ambivalent—They can understand the emotion of anger, but not love. During the abuse they were feeling horrified and scared but also aroused. Their mind was saying, “This is not right,” but their body is designed to respond when stimulated.
  • Impotent—A word no man even wants to think about. They believe they have no voice—that no one will listen to them.
  • Disrespected—They don’t feel other men will respect them. That they will make fun of them. That they never measure up. Often they will become very promiscuous in an attempt to prove their masculinity (to themselves and the world).

Understand that incest affects its victims in very subtle and damaging ways. This is another type of abuse that may require very intense counseling in order to heal from. Don’t wait! The longer you put it off, the more difficult it becomes.

[i]Susan Forward, with Craig Buck, Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life (New York,: Bantam Books, 1989

 

Excerpted from Rick’s newest book, Overcoming Toxic Parenting: How to be a good parent when yours wasn’t, by Revell Publishing.

What Happens to Children When They are Abandoned?

Not receiving the necessary psychological or physical protection a child deserves equates to abandonment. Being abandoned tells a child, “You are not important—you are not of value.” Abandoned children then develop a deep sense of toxic shame. They grow up to believe that the world is unsafe, people cannot be trusted, and they do not deserve love and care. Abandoned children often believe that they cannot live up to their parents’ expectations (which are often unrealistic), that they are held responsible for other people’s behavior, and that the parent’s disapproval is of the child’s personhood rather than their actions. Common beliefs include:

  • It’s not okay to make a mistake.
  • It’s not okay to show your feelings.
  • It’s not okay to have needs—everyone else’s needs are more important.
  • It’s not okay to have successes—accomplishments are not acknowledged or are discounted.[i]

My wife was abandoned by both her father (whom she only met briefly twice) and by her mother, who quit parenting her at ten years old (she subsequently left home at age thirteen). Hence she had great abandonment issues when we got married. She didn’t trust that I wouldn’t abandon her, and she jealously guarded her heart. Being abandoned again was her greatest fear. She even had a tendency to try to push me to the point where I would leave (probably an unconscious attempt to test my level of commitment). It has taken the better part of three decades of modeling commitment on my part for her to start trusting that I will not abandon her. My level of commitment has at best healed and at worst scarred over the jagged wound of abandonment in her heart.

Our ministry works with hundreds of boys and girls (and adults) who have been abandoned by their fathers. To a person, they struggle with issues like self-esteem, self-confidence, risk-taking, trying new things, fear of failure, and developing intimate relationships.

These problems manifest themselves in several ways. Like girls, who so ache for a father’s love, they willingly accede to the sexual advances of the predatory (and equally fatherless) boys who eagerly take their love before tossing them aside like used tissues. One of the effects of being fatherless is boys trying to feel like a man or cross the threshold of manhood through sexual conquest of girls. The effects of fatherlessness on girls is just as damaging, resulting in the longing and desperate search for affection through sexual encounters with boys. What a damaging collision of the effect of fatherlessness.

One woman said this about her childhood: “I think the biggest wound is abandonment from a father. Mine left when I was fourteen. This was especially devastating because our home was really a ‘happy one.’ We all got along, and there were no signs of problems. But then, midlife crisis hit my father. And he was gone. Everything fell apart.”

For this woman, abandonment has plagued her entire life: “Abandonment has been the greatest issue for me. Divorce and abuse plagued my life. Believing I am worthy and capable of a peaceful life has been a challenge. My core unhealthy belief I came to believe from my brokenness . . . I will never measure up to others expectations, therefore I’m not worthy of love.”

We even see children adopted into loving homes who still struggle with abandonment issues well into adulthood. Kids who are abandoned develop attachment disorders and fear close relationships. Sometimes even with God. If an earthly father (or mother) does not love you enough to stay, how devastating would it be for a heavenly Father to abandon you as well?

[i]Claudia Black, “Understanding the Pain of Abandonment,” Psychology Today, June 4, 2010, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-many-faces-addiction/201006/understanding-the-pain-abandonment.

 

Excerpted from Rick’s newest book, Ovecoming Toxic Parentimng: How to be a good parent when yours wasn’t, by Revell Publishing.

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Inside the Abusive Family

Our family constitutes our entire reality as a child. It teaches us who we are and how we are supposed to interact with the world. Good families give us the skills and encouragement to interact successfully with the world and other people. They teach us to lead a successful life. Toxic families teach us survival skills that may or may not translate into leading a successful life. Because of this, many abused people make self-defeating choices like believing they can’t trust anybody, that they aren’t worthy of being loved, or that they will never amount to anything. They are programmed to conform to the dysfunctional behaviors of the family. People from abusive families are taught that to be different is bad—they must conform and obey the rules of the family at all costs. To be different is to be a traitor—and being a traitor or turning on the family is high treason in abusive families.

Many families take on role-playing to perpetuate the family system. For instance, if Dad’s role was to drink, Mom’s role was to be codependent, and the children’s roles were then to be the parents in the home. Children from dysfunctional homes often take on specific roles in the family.

Here are some common roles (my three siblings and I fit into these roles pretty clearly):[i]

The Rebel gets into trouble and is known as the “bad boy” or “bad girl.” Their behavior often warrants attention, distracting everyone from the real issues at home. They are also known as the “scapegoat.” They are ashamed of their family life and often the first to get into “recovery.”

The Mascot/Clown uses comedy to ease tension and calm explosive situations. The humor helps a family in pain but is a temporary balm. This child is kind and goodhearted but never seems to grow up.

The Good Girl (or Boy) or Golden Child is dutiful and respectable. They get good grades, don’t make waves, and are often a confidante of a parent. They are fixers of the family but never get their needs met. They can be rigid, judgmental, and controlling. They are very self-sufficient and usually very successful in life but lack emotional intimacy.

The Lost Child becomes invisible. They stay out of the house by escaping into activities, friendships, or sports. They escape from reality but are generally very sad and angry, which they deny and avoid.

How Toxic Parents Cope

Toxic parents react to threats to their balance by acting out their fears and frustrations, with little thought for the consequences to their children. Here are some common coping mechanisms:

  • Denial—Denial that anything is wrong or that it will never happen again. Relabeling is also denial—an alcoholic becomes a “social drinker.”
  • Projection—Abusive parents frequently accuse their children of the very inadequacies they suffer from.
  • Sabotage—In dysfunctional homes, other family members assume the roles of rescuers and caretakers. If any family member begins to change or get healthy, it threatens the balance of the home, and the other members may unconsciously sabotage their chances of success so that things get back to normal.
  • Triangling—One toxic parent may enlist a child as a confidant or ally against the other parent. The child is pressured to choose sides and becomes an emotional dumping ground for their parent’s discomfort.
  • Keeping Secrets—This turns families into private clubs. Children who hide abuse by saying she “fell down the stairs” are protecting the club from outside interference.[ii]

Parents are godlike in their positions in the home. They provide sustenance and shelter, make rules, and dole out pain, whether it’s justified or not. Without parents, children instinctively know they would be unprotected, unfed, and unhoused. They would be in a constant state of terror, unable to survive alone.[iii]

Abusive homes tend to have common characteristics, including the appearance of normalcy, emotional isolation, secrecy, neediness, stress, and lack of respect.

All children have certain rights. They have the right to have basic needs met, such as being fed, clothed, sheltered, and protected. They also have the right to be nurtured emotionally, the right to make mistakes, and the right to be disciplined without being physically or emotionally abused. Unfortunately, these rights are seldom honored in abusive homes.

However, most people (especially abused ones who crave parental nurturing) still have a need to deify their parents—no matter how bad they were. Many victimized people still believe their parent’s behavior was justified: “I guess I probably deserved it” or “Sure I was beaten, but I turned out okay.” Abusive parents have a propensity to deny that any abuse happened or they justify it. Just because inadequate parents “didn’t mean it,” doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt and cause harm. Intentionality is not a prerequisite of abuse. We hear people excuse these parents by saying things like, “they didn’t mean to do any harm” or “they did the best they could.” Too often inadequate parents expect their children to somehow take care of them and meet their needs—tasks children are not capable of fulfilling. I truly didn’t believe that many of the behaviors my parents exhibited were abusive until enough counselors and friends pointed it out or asked if I would ever treat my children that way.

Since many of us either deny we were abused or justify our parent’s behavior, we will look at some specific types of abuse in upcoming posts. It’s hard to break a behavior (and heal a wound) if we are not aware of it or refuse to acknowledge it.

[i]Lisa A. Miles, “Early Wounding & Dysfunctional Family Roles,” World of Psychology, PsycheCentral, August 8, 2013, http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/08/10/early-wounding-dysfunctional-family-roles/.

[ii] Forward with Buck, Toxic Parents, 169–70.

[iii]Ibid., 15.

 

Excerpted from Rick’s newest book, Overcoming Toxic Parenting: How to be a good parent when yours wasn’t, by Revell Publishing.  To find out more or to get a signed copy, click here.

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Encouragement For all You Struggling Writers

I recently read a book titled, “teacher” The Henrietta Mears Story, by Marcus Brotherton.  In the Introduction section, Brotherton is describing the influence Donald Miller’s highly successful book, Blue Like Jazz, had on his friend’s widow shortly after he had passed away.  He talks about our simple and small influence in people’s lives being so alive it “thunders with reverberation even after a passage of time.”

In tracing the influence of ministry he uses Miller’s book as an example.  Miller’s first book, Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance, sold so few copies that Miller considered giving up writing as a career.  What many people do not know is that his second book, mega hit Blue Like Jazz, also floundered desperately when it first came out—until Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as CRU) got a hold of it.  A staffer at CRUread the book and they soon ordered a total of 125,000 copies to put in their college Freshman Survival Kits.  This was a staggering launch forward for any young writer and solidified Miller’s writing career from then on.  The founder of CRU was Dr. Bill Bright.  CRU has reportedly touched the lives of over 3.4 billion people.  Bright also championed another young author, Ted Dekker, who went on to be the bestselling author of many novels.

So who influenced Bill Bright?  One of the major influences in his life was an elderly Sunday school teacher that no one has ever heard of (Henrietta Mears).  She had a major influence on the lives of many men such as Bill Bright and Billy Graham.  Because of her influence those men went on to influence billions of lives.

You never know who or how God is going to use your influence to make a difference in the world.  If you are a struggling writer, do not despair.  It only takes one person to change the fate of your book and the lives of all who come in contact with it.  Not only that but you are influencing unknown numbers people you will meet.  The question to ask yourself is, “Who are you being influenced by?”

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Why Males are Angry

Many boys and men in our culture today are angry.  They are angry for a variety of reasons; some justifiable and some not so good.  For instance boys raised without the benefit of a father to teach them how a man acts, thinks, solves problems, and relates to the world around him are at a distinct disadvantage in life and thus are understandably angry.  Other males are angry for reasons more related to how they internalize the world around them—lack of hope, childhood wounds, and a culture that seemingly tells them they are unnecessary or at least need to change to become some things that they were never meant to be.

Males generally are not very adept at understanding their emotions nor very comfortable dealing with them.  Emotions are powerful and often uncontrollable.  That’s why many males keep such a tight lid on their emotions–once released they are difficult to predict or control and often result in a situation ending in vulnerability.  The one emotion however that they are relatively comfortable with is that of anger.  Anger for many men is an old friend; one they call upon in a variety of circumstances.  Like all powerful emotions it can be used destructively or for good.  For instance anger can be terribly destructive in relationships.  All we need do is look at the devastation caused to women and children through a man’s uncontrolled wrath and anger.  Anger can lead to emotional, psychological, and even physical abuse.

On the other hand anger can be channeled into productive pathways.  Anger can be used to motivate a man to achieve more than he might otherwise be able to accomplish.  It can be used as a mechanism to encourage perseverance under duress or in grueling circumstances.  Many a boy accomplished some difficult task all because they got angry when someone told them they couldn’t.  When teased many males use that anger to motivate themselves to “prove” their offenders wrong.  One method in coaching sports is to get young men angry in order to motivate them to perform beyond their self-imposed limitations.  In fact, many men propel themselves with anger and grit to succeed in life because a father-figure constantly told them they wouldn’t amount to anything.  Warriors often used anger towards their enemies as motivation to succeed in battle or even a school yard fight.

Anger produces a physiological arousal in males.  It creates a state of readiness and heightened awareness.  It creates energy that can be directed outward in the form of protection or even as a weapon.  Anger causes a fight or flight response designed to protect us.  It is frequently a powerful tool for boys and men to use to cover actual or perceived inadequacies.  Many young and even older males react with anger when they become overly frustrated or are hurt emotionally.

The surge of adrenaline and associated arousal can be addicting to some males.  Young males need to be taught how to deal with and control their anger.  In order to do that, they must learn to own their anger and identify the source of that anger.  Then they can learn to determine how to choose to respond to their anger.

Regardless of how it is used anger is the emotion most familiar to males.  Oftentimes anger in males is a secondary emotion used to cover underlying emotions such as fear, hurt, or frustration.   Anger is used by males to cover or mask other emotions.  For instance, certain emotions such as fear, anxiety, vulnerability, or distress often produce a feeling of humiliation in males.  Humiliation is considered a weakness by males.  Remember, for most males to show weakness is to be vulnerable and open to criticism.  To be vulnerable is an invitation to be attacked.  But anger is a defense against attack and may even be a weapon to attack others.  Very angry men and boys are seldom messed with, even by bullies.

Rather than feel humiliated by these “unmanly” emotions, many males instinctively and automatically use anger to cover those feelings.  Even pain (physical or psychological) can be covered by anger.  Notice how most males react when they hit their thumb with a hammer.  They’d get mad than cry.  Most men also get angry rather than depressed or hysterical when faced with an emotional crisis in a relationship.  Again, this is a protective mechanism for their fragile egos; egos that are often covering secretly ingrained feelings of inadequacy and incompetence.

Sometimes anger is even used consciously.  I was raised in an alcoholic and abusive home.  I can distinctly remember at about the age of 12 when I first discovered that if I just got angry I didn’t have to feel that humiliating emotion of being afraid.  In typical naive boyhood fashion I told myself, “This is great.  I’ll never be scared again for the rest of my life!”  However, this was foolish as I just spend a significant portion of my adult life being angry.  Angry because I was really afraid because I had never had a positive male role model show me how a man lives his life and faces his problems in a healthy manner.

Young men who are not taught (generally by positive male role models) how a man acts, what his roles in life are and how to fulfill them adequately and competently are very often angry.  They are angry at life and at the world.  They take this anger out on others, hoping to hurt them before they themselves are hurt; even if that hurt is just humiliation from their own ineptness.  When that happens men have a difficult time being the kind of loving, caring fathers and hubands that they want to be.

One solution?  Let’s provide boys (and men) with healthy male role models to teach them how a male processes his emotions.  We’ll explore that topic next week.

 

Excerpted from That’s My Teenage Son, by Rick Johnson, Revell Publishing.

Cody, Qualities of a Good Man

Today’s guest post is from Perri Zepeda.  It’s a wonderful tribute to the man she loves–one any man would be proud to read about himself.

 

The following description of my life partner, Cody, was written because I was so moved and prompted to write about him just after I finished reading the author Rick Johnson’s book, “The Man Whisperer,”—now re-published with a new title, “How to Talk so Your Husband will Listen and Listen so Your Husband will Talk.”

In the spirit of focusing on Cody’s strengths, I was highly selective and only listed those best qualities I know he lives most consciously by. I encourage others to do this same exercise. I also scanned other lists of character traits from other sources that reflect ethical values. There are dozens more qualities I did not list, and as I reflect on that notion—it certainly is clear to me that we all have our best character traits—as well as other traits that could be developed with increased awareness, love, and support.

I am reminded of my deep gratitude to have Cody in my life and for him being the person who I most wanted to write about—who immediately came to mind throughout reading Chapter Three, “Nine Qualities of Good Men” in Rick Johnson’s book. I was also grateful to see very little of him in Chapter Nine, “The Top Ten Things that Drive Women Crazy.” There always will be needed “whispering” or “gentling” for any of us—to create the safe and loving space that brings out more of our best. Why wouldn’t we want to be our “wise” self (and not self-sabotage)? I think of this journey of learning to be a better human being in our relationships—as an obligation to our soul—to our self dignity, first.

And, I truly thank Rick Johnson for his outstanding and vital work to support men and sons, and the women in their lives. Also, I am inspired to have written this as I, too, am interested in our growth as a human race and the positive character traits that impact our relationships and level of happiness.

                                                                        Perri Zepeda

January 2016

In Honor of you, Cody,

            I am inspired to write these qualities that I know you possess—the values that I see you live your life by—because these are many of the most important character traits I deeply admire and am attracted to in anyone. These are perhaps your greatest strengths as I see you. You are a genuinely decent man and human being. I feel deeply grateful and honored to know you as I do—as your closest friend, ally, and partner.  To know someone as I am able to know you is an enormous gift to my soul, my healing, and my peace. May we continue to grow together and bring out the best in each other. I love you, Cody.

Perri

 

Strong Work Ethic

            Cody is self-motivated with great determination and initiative; he is proactive and industrious. His work ethic is based on a higher purpose, finding personal meaning in his life and work. He whole-heartedly cares about himself, his life, his domain. He absolutely has a clear set of values that drive all his behavior and goals, and he holds himself true to those. Curiosity and learning are integral to his work. He appreciates the importance of discernment, problem-solving, and a job well done. He pushes himself to accomplish greatness in all important areas of his life.

Leadership Skills

            Cody enjoys teaching others and leading others in the direction of learning important knowledge and skills—based on clear values. His intentions are in setting standards of high quality and excellence for himself, and he encourages others to do the same. He values competence building and autonomy—and the blessings of all the players that bring work to fruition. He excels in his stewardship and stamina. Perhaps his greatest quality of leadership is his example.

Honesty, Integrity

            Cody and his life stand for honesty and integrity. I have never heard him lie or try to pull an unfair deal on anyone. In this light, he is courageous, truthful, and ethical. His word is his honor. His genuineness is—“what you see is what you get”—the real deal.

Vision

Cody thinks big—large—expansive. He not only thinks big in just one area of life, but in all areas of his life. What he is interested in and cares about he goes far and above most people in creating what he desires. He believes in divine guidance always helping him be his best. His vision is rooted in the aspirations of his youth, his faith in spiritual values, and the wisdom of the great unknown.

Accountable, Responsible

            I have never second-guessed Cody being responsible and being fully accountable. He is certainly his own critic for any oversight. He always cleans up after his own messes (of any kind or size) and does not expect anyone else to clean up after him. He has learned to be more open to accountability in how he communicates with me and others, to be more sensitive in how he says things in order to be heard and respected. He is consistently diligent and dependable.

Respect

            Cody cares what is best and healthiest for everyone, and for nature and the land. He is a respectful caretaker at heart. His respect is a daily practice of conscientiousness. He requires self-respect. His soul dictates to respect all of life. Respect is his soul nature.

Perseverance

He is always ready and taking the next step in whatever the need or concern is—to problem-solving, to taking care of business—inextricably a part of his vision and work ethic.

Loyalty

Cody is loyal to his values, and has always proved loyal to me. It is evident in the fact that he is always “there” for me. He has been my faithful support on many levels, and continues to strive to be more so. He is my rock.

Self-Discipline

I have watched how Cody takes care of himself and everything else he takes care of on a daily basis. He does not falter, and whatever is on the back burner, it is still in his sight to be taken care of, and will get taken care of.

Honor

            Cody lives his life with honor—that is, whatever he says and does, he knows he is responsible for, and cares that his name is tied to him and his dignity. He will humbly and respectfully make things right.

Sense of Humor

            Cody loves humor and to feel the lightness of laughter. Not a day goes by that he does not have a wise crack “line”—usually one I am familiar with—a “standard” saying that fits the situation. I most enjoy his spontaneous original wit that causes me to laugh out loud, or when he is able to humbly laugh at himself (or at least shrug and grin).

Creativity

            His creativity is an intrinsic part of his vision and goals, and an ever-present desire to create beauty as is revealed in his caring for the land, his home, and designing custom cars. His efforts in creativity are his way of honoring life and contributing the immense love in his soul, and hopefully impact others with joy and respect for life. Being open, resourceful, and practical enables his gifted ingenuity to shine.

Orderliness

            Cody says he was born orderly and has always cared for his belongings and his own affairs with great respect. Orderliness is distinctly tied to being responsible. He has taken order and organization to be not only respectful and responsible, but to be efficient and effective. He deeply values security and peace that come with orderliness. Caring this way reveals his personal dignity.

Friendship

            Cody is one to be a great friend if only the same virtues of healthy relationships are reciprocated. In respect for having a real friend, it may take years to prove their worthiness. In turn, he looks at the qualities in people and how they live their lives—with honesty and integrity a must. In all his relationships he is respectful and trustworthy, the foundation of a true friendship.

Peacefulness

            Cody has created a peaceful home and environment in the beautiful, natural surroundings of countryside; the opposite of drama and chaos. In this peaceful ambience, he knows his heart and soul can thrive in the powerful healing process, his highest purpose in co-creating his life. He regularly fulfills his desire for peace and meditation, and carries that spirit into all of his work and relationships. At High Serenity Ranch—where he has made his home—he feels abundant grace and deep gratitude.

 

Perri began to write children’s stories at age 13, beginning with A Pig’s Tale highlighting instincts and how a piglet might feel being separated from family and lost. At twenty-four, she wrote and self-published, Vilcabamba, in Ecuador, a realistic adventure story for “tweens”, and where she soon immersed herself in volunteer teaching children and experiencing many wonders along the Andean corridor. She explores creative writing in poetry, essays, short story, memoirs, and now the workbook. She has two books in progress, one on parenting, and a self-coaching life skills workbook, Jumpstart Your Life: Making Peace with Life Business, that accompanies a course she designed to support the passage into purposeful and responsible adulthood or a new chapter of life. Some of Perri’s poetry can be read and heard at www.oregonpoeticvoices.org. Other pieces of hers are published in the anthology “Ripples and Reflections from the Basin” sold on Amazon.

Talking to Boys–Simple is Better

Every year, our Better Dads ministry hosts an annual Single Mom’s Family Camp. We bring about 25 single mothers and their children to a free, three-day camp. During the camp our male volunteers play with the children during the day while myself and other speakers provide education, insight, and spiritual development during classes for the moms.

At our most recent single mom’s family camp, we had many more teenage boys attend than was usual in past years. One of our male mentor volunteers, Jon, was in charge of the teen boys group and related on a deep level with them. In fact, by the time camp was over they were hanging on every word he spoke, seeking to gain wisdom from a man on how to be a man. They listened enamored as he told them secrets from a lifetime of experience as a man. He taught them how to use a pocketknife, catch and clean a fish, and build a birdhouse with their own two hands.

Jon’s wife, Susan, also helped at camp. Susan (who with Jon has raised three lovely daughters) told a story of how the camp had impacted her. She told about seeing Jon at the river with the group of teen boys. As they started to leave, two of the teen boys said they did not want to go and weren’t leaving. Jon slowly drawled, “Well, that’s your choice. But it is against the rules of the camp for you to be here by yourself. If you choose to stay you and your mom will probably have to leave.”
With that Jon turned and calmly started walking up the trail away from the river with the rest of the group. The boys looked at one another, shrugged, and followed him up the trail.

Susan said what was stunning to her was that if a woman (a mom) had been in Jon’s situation she would have spent 20 minutes discussing the boys’ feelings as to why he didn’t want to leave and still would have never resolved the issue. She was shocked that Jon’s communication method worked so well with the boys.

Jon was so successful because he did two very important things when communicating with teenage boys. He kept his sentences short and to the point. And he gave them options. Teen boys need to feel like they have decision-making capabilities and some control over their life. If you back them in a corner with no choices they will likely rebel. If Jon had ordered them to leave they might have challenged him just to see what would happen. They might have eventually complied but would have been angry and resentful for the rest of the camp. Giving them the option to choose allowed them to feel like an adult and in control of their circumstances.

Now it is important to understand that the choices we give teenagers are all choices we want to happen. I noticed many times when my kids were teenagers that if I just gave them two or three choices in a situation, even if they were choices that favored my desired outcome, they were much more willing to acquiesce and settle for a solution that was positive. You’ll notice one of Jon’s choices for them was not to stay at the river with no consequences. He gave them choices which guaranteed to lead to a solution that he wanted to end up with, while still allowing them the final say.

Excerpted from Rick’s upcoming book, That’s My Teenage Son, due for release in Jan. 2011.

What is a “Real” Man–Part 2

Seek justice
Encourage the oppressed
Defend the cause of the fatherless
Plead the case of the widow
Isaiah 1:17 (NKJV)

In the first part of this article we looked at what authentic masculinity was not—now let’s look at what it is. I am optimistic that there is a new kind of masculinity taking hold in this country. Men want to lead more rewarding lives and are recognizing that living for others is the path to true satisfaction.

An authentically masculine man puts aside his needs, desires, wants–and sometimes even his dreams–for the benefit of others. He does this without fanfare and frequently without anyone even noticing. His life is not about his individual rights, achievements, or happiness; it’s about making life better for others. His sacrifices are part of his character and give his life significance. He meets these sacrifices with the stoic nobility that God granted all men by right of their birth gender.

A real man has honor. He stands tall as the fierce winds of adversity blow around him. He cherishes and protects women and children. He knows he has an obligation to mentor those who follow in his footsteps. He recognizes his sphere of influence and uses it for good. He understands that life does have fundamental truths and lives his life according to a firm set of principles. He uses his God-given warrior spirit to fight for justice and equality. He stands for something. Too many men today stand for nothing—they are directionless.

Men who exhibit authentic masculinity live lives of significance. They lift up others to help them achieve their potential. They make sacrifices in order to make a difference in the world–for everyone, not just their own family. They have passion and vision and are genuinely interested in giving of themselves for the betterment of others. And they probably don’t make a big production out of doing it either. Men like this are other-centered, not self-centered. They are other-focused instead of self-focused. Authentic men live to a higher standard in life.

In the movie, Kingdom of Heaven, a young widower blacksmith first meets his father as he travels to defend Jerusalem during the Crusades. His father introduces himself to his son for the first time and asks forgiveness for never having been a part of his life. With nothing to keep him in his village after the death of his wife and child, the young man follows his father and trains to become a knight. In the short period they are together before his father’s death, the young man flourishes under his father’s tutelage and follows in his footsteps, becoming a man of honor. Throughout the movie the young knight relies on his father’s instruction and example. In one powerful scene near the end of the movie while he is preparing the city of Jerusalem against attack by overwhelming forces, he endows knighthood upon the city’s commoners defending the city by quoting the same oath that his father did to him:

Be without fear in the face of your enemies,
Be brave and upright that God may love thee,
Speak the truth even if it leads to your death,
Safeguard the helpless.
That is your oath!

The local high priest admonishes him by saying, “Who do you think you are? Can you alter the world? Does making a man a knight make him a better fighter?”

As the knight looks him in the eye and boldly proclaims, “Yes!” you can see all the men who have been charged with the challenge to greatness swell with pride and determination. They do in fact know that the expectations and exhortations of greatness can make a man more than he would be without the knowledge of God’s vision for his and every man’s life.

Manhood as defined by the Bible requires men to put the needs and best interests of others before their own. It’s about living sacrificially. A man uses his strength and influence to help others and defend those who cannot defend themselves. Read how manly this verse sounds and how it speaks powerfully to a man’s heart:

“I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him…I made the widows heart sing…I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.” Job 29:12, 13, 15-17 (NIV).

God gives men a mandate throughout the bible to protect women and children and be His representative here on earth. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this; to look after orphans and widows in their distress” James 1:27 (NIV).

We believe that our Better Dads ministry has the anointing of Isaiah 61 over it, but especially the first verse, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners” Isaiah 61:1 (NKJV). We believe that by helping others we are making a difference in the world, and thus justify our existence on earth.

Authentic men are passionate, fierce, and noble—they care. In fact, they are a little dangerous, but it’s a good dangerous. You might not see this passion on the exterior, but it’s bubbling under pressure just beneath the surface, forcing its way into every area of his life. They have a spiritual longing for adventure, for a battle to fight that’s bigger than themselves, for significance in their lives. Like modern-day gladiators they stand in the ring facing the challenges of life with courage and passion.

When you see a man with a passion for something bigger and nobler than himself, you are looking authentic masculinity in the eye.

For more on this subject pick up a copy of Rick’s book, The Power of a Man: Using Your Influence as a Man of Character, at www.betterdads.net.

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What is a “Real” Man?

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you are just naturally drawn to a certain man? People like being around him. You can’t quite put your finger on what it is, but you know you like it. When he comes into a room or walks down the street people automatically notice him—they see something different about him. There’s something invigorating and compelling about him. It’s exciting and even a little dangerous to be around him. He’s calm but confident, relaxed but prepared, kind but authentic, and bold but compassionate. You feel safe and better about yourself in his presence.

You’ve just encountered authentic masculinity. It’s rare, but it’s out there.
One of the most misunderstood questions today is, “What is a real man?” In this two-part article we’ll look at some false attributes our culture thinks a “real” man possesses and then we’ll investigate what authentic masculinity really looks like.

Our society typically ascribes a dismal role to men, with low or no expectations of nobility or greatness. Few portrayals of men in the media are positive. Television shows and commercials often cast men as bumbling idiots with their wives as the competent ones in the family. This subtle attack on masculinity (all done under the guise of humor, which makes it acceptable) serves to make men question their worth and value.

I recently spoke at a church on the topic of “Why Men Matter.” This was an inspirational talk on the value of men in families and our society. Afterwards an elderly man approached me and said, “For my whole life as an adult man, over 50 years, all I’ve ever heard was the faults of masculinity. I’ve never been told I was important and valuable. To think I wasted all these years feeling bad about myself–thank you so much for telling me I mattered!”

Our culture patterns a somewhat perverted stereotype of what a man should be. Young men raised without fathers are especially confused by the images projected to them by today’s professional athletes, rap stars, and movies actors (many who were also raised without positive male role models) that model men as being self-indulgent, self-focused, hedonistic, or even violent.

Hollywood’s version of a man’s man is a kind of “leader of the pack,” alpha male; the kind of man other men look up to and try to emulate. He is typically a womanizer or at least able to charm all women into bed at will. He’s rugged, handsome, and tough. He can win against all odds and he doesn’t need any help from man or even God.

We learn early in life that to be successful we have to perform well. Cultural masculinity appears to hinge on the combination of the ability to make money (lots of it), have power, the adoration of many females, and sexual prowess. Here’s why these “performance” myths are false and even dangerous:

First of all hear this clearly. Money and power mean nothing. Men, you already have unprecedented power just by virtue of your gender. God has given each man the ability to change the world by himself! How you choose to use that power is another issue.
Secondly, money is just a tool. Making money is not hard. Anyone can make a lot of money. I’ve made a lot of money and lost a lot of money in my lifetime. Having owned several businesses I understand that making money is not difficult if your objective is just to become wealthy. For instance anyone could start a pornographic web site and make tons of money. You can cheat on business deals and take advantage of employees as a business owner and make lots of cash. However, making money with integrity is more difficult; becoming successful while maintaining your moral compass is more of a challenge and requires significant effort. Some of the most miserable men I know have a lot of money.

Third, having sex with scores of women is not difficult either. Many women, especially those reared without a father or who have been abused by men early in life, are easy targets for men without scruples. They are vulnerable to words that they wish to hear. These women desire masculine affection and validation so much that they willingly (if unwittingly) confuse sex for intimacy. But using women to confirm our manhood is a particularly non-effective tactic many men fall into. Unfortunately, femininity cannot ever bestow masculinity upon us, only masculinity can bestow masculinity. We know this in our heart—it’s why men raised by only women are often frustrated in the world of men. In the same way that a mother cannot bestow masculinity upon her son, a woman cannot bestow masculinity upon a man by sleeping with him. In other words even though we often consider sexual conquests or even the first act of sexual intercourse as the mark of manhood, a woman (even through sexual union) cannot grant that mantle upon a male. Some of the most immature, childish, and unhappy men I know sleep with a multitude of women.

Too often we men settle for judging ourselves by our sexual accomplishments, acquiring material possessions, conquering challenges, or sleeping with women in order to prove our manhood. Generally we do this when we have not had authentic role models to show us how a man acts. We then turn to posturing to try and show the world that we are in fact a “man.”
We have to find a way to give boys and young men a vision of masculinity that is greater and more inspiring than just making a lot of money or sleeping with as many women as possible.
We’ll address that issue in the second half of this article.

For more on this subject pick up a copy of Rick’s book, The Power of a Man: Using Your Influence as a Man of Character, at www.betterdads.net.

Tips For Moms Raising Sons

• Boys need clear, unambiguous boundaries

• Boys need to be held accountable for their actions and decisions

• Boys need to learn the correlation between taking risks and success in life

• Boys need to not acquire the habit of quitting early in life

• Boys need positive male role models in their lives

• Speak to your son in simple, short sound bite sentences

• If you need to discuss something in depth, take a walk or other physical activity with your son

• Women have much better communication skills than a boy. It is intimidating to sit across the table, eye to eye from someone so much more skilled in an area than he is

• Start discussing sexuality early in your son’s life—it will be easier later on

• Don’t be discouraged–millions of good men have been raised by just their mothers.

Find out more in Rick’s book, That’s My Son—How Moms Can Influence Boys to Become Men of Character, by Revell Publishing. Go to www.betterdads.net for more information.