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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.

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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.

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20 Books all Boys Should Read

20 Books all Boys Should Read

Here’s a list of 20 books all boys should read (in no particular order).  Consider reading these aloud with your son:
Treasure Island, by Robert Lewis Stevenson

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

White Fang, Sea Wolf, and Call of the Wild, by Jack London

The Jungle Book and Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling

Tarzan, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Endurance, by Alfred Lansing

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel DeFoe

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Shogun by James Clavell

African Queen by CS Forrester

King Solomon’s Mines by H.R. Haggard

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkein

List from Rick’s book, Better Dads Stronger Sons.  You can get a copy here:  www.betterdads.net

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Raising Boys to be Leaders

If we want to raise boys to become leaders, we have to teach them to have courage.  It is virtually impossible to be an effective leader without courage. Leading a family, operating a business, going to school, and even volunteering your time require courage in various degrees.
Courage is not the absence of fear but the conquest of it. Courage (especially in males) is the willingness to fail. Courage is the defender and protector of all other virtues. Courage emancipates us and allows us to move with freedom and vigor.
So, how do we teach our sons to have courage?  One way is to teach your son that being “nice” isn’t the highest aspiration a man can live up to. In fact, sometimes I think niceness is the enemy of courage. Many times in life a man, husband, or father is forced to make decisions in the best interest of his family or society that do not appear to be nice on the outside. I’ve been forced as a father to make decisions that my children perceived at the time as heartless, mean-spirited, or just plain stupid. But they were always made with their best interest in the long run in mind. If my goal had only been to be nice (or to have been liked), I would have not been able to make the hard decisions that were important to their long-term healthy growth and development.
Our culture promotes being nice as the highest virtue a man can achieve. Many of the newer “guy” movies inspire males to be lovable slackers, with no aim in life but to smoke pot, bed women, and get by without working. But the young men are very “nice,” so it’s okay. And many young women today seem drawn to soft, passive, quiet men who do not ruffle feathers and who do what they are told. It’s a nonthreatening but uninspired vision of manhood.
Niceness and meanness are feminine concepts. You seldom see men complaining that another man is mean or not nice. On the outside, that desire for niceness in males would appear to be a noble goal. However, it’s really a way of neutering masculinity. Being nice takes away the power of a man to lead. It removes passion, conviction, and courage from a man’s soul. Nice guys might not always finish last, but they seldom run the race at all.
You cannot be a leader without at least some people getting mad at you. In fact, you cannot accomplish anything important in life without having someone get upset with you. By its very nature, leadership will offend or upset a certain percentage of individuals. If your son grows up to care too much about what others think of him or whether he inadvertently upsets someone, he will never accomplish anything significant with his life, including raising exceptional children.

Want your son to be a leader?  Teach him to be courageous.  Remember–parents who exhibit courage produce courageous children.
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Does Political Correctness Increase Bullying?

If you are like me you are sick of hearing about this topic.  But that begs the question: is bullying becoming a bigger problem within our culture, or does the media just sensationalize it because it is the topic du jour?  If it isincreasing maybe one reason is the constraints that political correctness forces upon young males.
Perhaps because our culture has somehow minimized (or even demonized) the majestic qualities of manhood, many of our boys today seem a bit softer, perhaps more feminized, than in the past. They seem a bit gun-shy—with a deer in the headlights look about them. They stay in puberty longer and delay launching into manhood later than their predecessors. (Why become a man when being a man is bad?)  Others, perhaps because they have been caused to be ashamed of being a male, overcompensate by acting out in dramatic caricatures of manhood—they are overly macho, violent, and sexually promiscuous.
Young men today also have a certain amount of repressed anger. This may contribute to the seeming increase in bullying in schools, but also in a more escalated level or degree of violence among young males. This is possibly caused by not allowing young males to solve their social issues as they have for thousands of years—on their own. In the past when two young males disagreed about something, they went to the playground and tussled around until one or the other acceded.  Generally they both just got too tired to continue and quit. They then shook hands and forgot about it. In fact, many boys I fought with went on to become my good friends. Today, however, with adult interference, boys are not allowed to solve their own problems. They are taught that any kind of aggression or (gasp) violence is bad. So they are forced to repress those feelings of disrespect, humiliation, and injustice, which eventually cause those feelings to fester into frustration, anger, resentment, and bitterness—far more powerful emotions than they were originally faced with. Eventually those powerful repressed emotions spill over and explode into greater levels of violence evidenced by the shootings and stabbings we see of young men across the country.
A big mistake that our culture currently makes with boys is that we unconsciously combine aggression and violence into one behavior. From a males’ perspective the two are not the same. Boys and men see aggression as useful—it is constructive of the self. Violence is just the opposite—it is destructive.  So when our schools, courts, and social service workers confuse the two it does a disservice to boys who actually need aggression in many areas of their life. Our culture just generally assumes now that the more feminized traits like being quiet, sitting down, being contemplative, and nurturing are the right way to act, and the more masculine traits like anger, aggression, confrontation, and one-upmanship are wrong—in every circumstance! That’s not true and does a great disservice to our boys. There are times when it is appropriate to be angry and confrontational instead of passive or gentle.
Our schools and culture’s knee-jerk response to male violence (or even just natural aggression) of establishing a “no tolerance” policy has probably been more detrimental than helpful to young males. (If there is any question that our public educational system has been “feminized” we need look no further than this policy.) One reason is because it’s actually less frightening for a male to “act out” (physically fight) when he feels threatened than it is to have the self-control to face the issue head on. So for instance when a boy gets made fun of on the playground, his sense of honor requires him to respond. But perhaps because he does not have the maturity or coping skills to understand that the more mature thing to do would be to confront his attackers in a non-violent way, he responds emotionally and strikes back. When we condemn his action or response as being “bad” we send the message that his honor is not worth fighting for. And yet he has an innate ego response mechanism that causes him to seek justice when he is disrespected. To not allow him to respond or to require he get someone else (like an adult female) to advocate for him tells him he is powerless, disrespected, and dishonorable. Respect is a key attribute of the core of a male’s psyche. When he does not feel respected or is allowed to be disrespected without recourse, it rots his pride and weakens his level of self-respect.
I’m not promoting that we should teach young males that violence is the way to solve problems. But the myth that “violence never solved anything” is just that, a myth. Violence solves lots of problems—especially violent problems. If someone is trying to murder your wife and children, appealing to their sense of compassion is probably not a good strategy to stop them.
Back in the “old days” when a gym teacher had two boys who had problems with each other (which is inevitable) he put boxing gloves on them both and told them to settle their differences in a supervised environment. Afterward, they were made to shake hands and moved on. Even in the most adversarial unsupervised playground scuffle seldom was anyone injured beyond a bloody nose. Males always respect their opponent after doing battle with one another and frequently become good friends because of the respect they earn for one another. We did not see the problems then that we face today with high levels of violence and the killing of our young men.
However, our more feminized world of total tolerance does not allow a young man to seek justice, which causes him to be resentful and angry. Males are taught it is bad to fight or even be aggressive over any insult no matter how egregious the offense. This frustrates their sense of justice.
Again, I’m not promoting violence, bullying, or unchecked aggression, but this kind of “feminization” of young males not only results in a more intensified level of aggression, but also produces passive men who often internalize this anger and frustration, which then manifests itself in passive-aggressive behavior, which can be just as destructive.
I watched this play out with a group of young males at the local high school the other day. Their horse-playing was becoming somewhat aggressive as young men are wont to do. Several teachers observed this and sounded the alarm that a “fight” was about to happen. This, of course, got all the adults in a dither, running around the building, sounding the alarm. It was obvious from the boys’ reaction to this that they enjoyed the control they gained over the adults who were responding to their “gang fight.” You could virtually see the gears turning in their heads as they somewhat tongue-in-cheek continued the escapades until the teachers and administration had worked themselves into a near panic, at which point the boys quietly disappeared into the sunset with smirks on their faces.
We do our boys a disservice when we do not allow them a certain amount of aggression and autonomy in solving their own social problems. Males are physical beings—they solve problems through action, not by talking about their feelings. (Frankly, to talk about your feelings after having had your honor disparaged does not seem like adequate recompense.) Males often bond with one another through aggression. This means males are biologically wired to be more physically active, more aggressive, and more likely to need physical activity to blow off emotional stress.

Want to stop bullying?  If we want to eliminate physical aggression and fights with young males, we need to find find physical competitions or other direct challenges for them to engage in when they have issues with each other. In addition, directing them into battles that they can use their natural aggression in a healthy way (fighting against sex trafficking, abuse, or other injustices) gives them a more noble vision of their roles in life.  This teaches them to be true warriors who use their power to lift up others, rather than becoming bullies who abuse those weaker than they are.
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Michael Gurian: If I Were a Parent of a Boy…

For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21stCentury.  Twice a month these writers will be posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers.  Today’s post features New York Times Best-Selling Author Michael Gurian, whose book, The Wonder of Boys, is credited with launching the modern boy’s movement.

                In working with her family therapy clients over the last twenty years, my wife, Gail, has said, “If I were a parent of a boy, I would really be worried.”  She is referring to her fear for the social, economic, emotional, and spiritual lives of America’s boys.
As we raised our daughters, we asked our girls what they thought of the gender landscape around them.  Gabrielle (then 16) came home from school in 2006 and said, “We had a discussion in social studies about boys and girls—everyone was talking like girls had it hard but boys had it easy.  They were in denial.” 
Davita (then 19), came home from college for the holidays last year and reported a discussion with her college friends.  “I’m really glad I’m a girl, not a boy.  The boys aren’t sure what to do, but the girls are doing everything.”
These discussions were anecdotal, of course. Both girls and boys, and women and men, can experience suffering in our world.  Girls don’t have it easy.  Women don’t have it easy.
But it is also true that boys and men are in substantial trouble today.  They increasingly fill our principal’s offices, ADD/ADHD assessment clinics, and rolls of the homeless and unemployed.  Boys and men are more likely to be victims of violence than girls and women, commit suicide at four times the rate of females, and suffer emotional disturbance, behavioral and other brain related disorders in higher numbers. They are suspended or expelled from school in much higher numbers than girls, receive two thirds of the Ds and Fs in schools, and lag behind girls in standardized test scores in all fifty states.  They abuse substances and alcohol at higher rates than girls and are incarcerated at exponentially higher rates (for more data in all these areas, please see www.whitehouseboysmen.org).  
Especially telling, the majority of government and philanthropic funding for gender friendly-programming goes to programs and innovations to help girls and women. The existence of this funding is to be celebrated, but the disconnect between the reality males face and the social justice attention males get needs to be examined by each of us. 
We are in denial about our males.
I believe this denial will continue (and we will ultimately rue and mourn the dangerous, socially debilitating consequences) unless we change our academic, media, government, and philanthropic programming to include a new ideological truth:  just as the traditionalist paradigm regarding girls and women needed to be deconstructed and replaced by the feminist paradigm in the last century, the feminist paradigm, especially as it regards boys and men, needs to be deconstructed and, at least in part, replaced now if we are to meet the needs of both genders
Why does it need to change?  Because it posits that females are victims of a masculine society that oppresses them systematically, and this isn’t true in the developed world anymore.  While individual girls and women can be dominated and demeaned by individual boys and men (and vice versa), we do not live in a culture that systematically teaches girls and women that they are second class citizens and boys and men that they are superior.
While some areas of life are still male dominant (mechanical engineering, senior leadership at some corporations and some areas of government), other areas of life and work are female dominant (management, medicine, education, mental health professions).  The original feminist paradigm posited systemic male dominance in our culture, but male dominance is only systemic in small pockets of the culture and female dominance also exists in others.
Can our culture open its mind to our new reality?  To answer yes, we will need to make a distinction between gender issues in the developed world and the developing world.  In many countries in the developing world, systemic and brutal patriarchy does prevail and the feminist model of male dominance/female victimization is essential for encouraging social justice.  My own parents, while they served in the State Department, helped build schools for girls in Afghanistan against impossible odds.  In that world, systemic degradation of females was and is prevalent.
But in the developed world, we can’t keep operating out of a gender lens that blinds us to reality.  If we do continue to remain blind, we will continue to avoid fulfilling our most human of imperatives:  to take care of our children.  If we do not fix what ails our sons–if we do not love them in the ways they need to be loved–we will create an increasingly dangerous society for girls and women, too.  No parent of either gender wants that.

Copyright Michael Gurian 2013
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The War on Men

Guys, we need to stop being ashamed of being men. Virtually every behavior that is natural to a man is now being criticized and we are made to feel ashamed about being our gender. Perhaps if we spent more time uplifting men instead of trying to annilate masculinity, we’d have better men.

 I recently posted this comment on a social network site. Not a huge fan of Men’s Health Magazine, but this ain’t bad advice: “You can’t be a topnotch man unless you’re deeply grateful. For what? Glad you asked. For the gift of your gender. For those muscles in your back. For those neurons in your brain. For your mirth. Your lust. Your courage. For your possibilities. A man in full appreciates the twist of fate that made him so strong, so cunning, so stalwart, so alert, so sexually skilled, so fully equipped, so good to go. Live the appreciation, by using it all.”

 The point was that men should have an attitude of gratefulness. Is there anything wrong with a man being grateful? Hardly—I’d say it’s one of the foundations of authentic masculinity. Men were almost embarrassingly silent regarding the post, but a number of women responded with snarky comments like, “so humble” or “vain,” or “very prideful.”

 Really? Are we so threatened by passionate, proud masculinity that we (as a culture) are programmed to immediately take steps to keep it squashed down. After all, if we can keep men ashamed of themselves, we can keep them docile. And docile men are easy to control. We’ve raised a generation of docile sons and we now call them slackers. If I had posted a note encouraging women to be proud of how they were created I’d have been lauded as an enlightened and highly intelligent human being.

In the past, men’s conferences such as Promise Keepers were met with criticism and distain by the media and women (even Christian women). They were portrayed as men getting together to plot and scheme with some ulterior motive to dominate or control women, putting them back under the thumb of oppression. Recently a Christian men’s conference focusing on inspiring men to act more manly has been heavily lambasted by Christian men and women in the media as being chauvinistic and rather stupid. Comments such as “Why do men need a conference to teach them how to be men anyway?” were cavalierly tossed about intending to humiliate the men who attended (yet interestingly national and local conferences that teach women how to live fulfilling and satisfying lives as wives, mothers, and women are thriving).

As a culture we seem to be highly threatened when groups of men get together so we do all we possibly can to demolish (or at least integrate with females) men’s clubs, boys groups, or any other male-only domains. After all, we wouldn’t want men getting together without the supervision of a female—who knows what might happen? When men have gotten together in the past they’ve only done things like, oh, put a man on the moon, or write the Constitution and Bill of Rights for the greatest country ever created in the history of the world.

 Men are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they make no efforts to improve themselves they are criticized as being lazy and self-centered. If they do try and improve themselves by learning from other men they are accused of trying to usurp a woman’s rights and it’s assumed that there must be some nefarious motive behind what they are attempting. And when they do good and right things (like the young Catholic men in the photo above who were praying together to protect a Catholic cathedral from vandalism) they are mocked and chastised.

 Guys don’t buy into it. You need other men in your life. Learn from them what healthy (and unhealthy) masculinity looks like. And when you make mistakes (which you will) learn from them and don’t be ashamed. If you are not making mistakes (and getting criticized by someone), you’re not accomplishing anything.

 Now go out and figure out how to accomplish something great!

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Does Niceness Destroy Courage in Males?

Our culture currently promotes being “nice” as the highest virtue a boy or man can achieve. After all, like the bumper stickers say, “Mean people suck.” It is easier to drift along with the current of the culture than to try and swim against it. All the newer “guy” movies inspire males to be lovable, “nice,” slackers, with no aim in life but to smoke pot, bed women, and get by without working as much as possible. But they are very “nice” so it’s okay. And young women today seem drawn to soft, passive, quiet men who do not ruffle feathers and who do what they are told. It’s a nonthreatening, but uninspired vision of manhood.

While on the surface this may seem like a grand virtue, niceness may not serve your son’s best interests in the long run. Teach your son that being “nice” isn’t the highest aspiration a man can live up to (mom—I know this goes against your nature but bear with me). In fact, sometimes, I think niceness is the enemy of courage. Many times in life a man, husband, or father is forced to make decisions in the best interest of his family or society that do not appear to be “nice” on the outside. I’ve been forced as a father to make decisions that my children perceived at the time as heartless, mean-spirited, or just plain stupid. But they were always in their best interest in the long run. If my goal had only been to be nice (or to have been liked), I would have not been able to make the hard decisions that were important to their long-term healthy growth and development. Niceness and meanness are feminine concepts. You seldom see men complaining that another man is mean or not nice. On the outside that desire for niceness in males would appear to be a noble goal. However, it’s really a way of neutering masculinity. Being “nice” takes away the power of a man to lead. It removes passion, conviction, and courage from a man’s soul. Nice guys might not always finish last, but they seldom run the race at all. I recently sat next to two men–one older and one younger than me—who are both very “nice” guys. We were having a discussion about a recent upheaval at our church. The older man made the comment, “I really don’t want to know the details behind what is happening because then I will be forced to make a judgment.” The young man agreed and said he would rather not have to face the problems because then he would be forced to choose a side. I was shocked and not a little disgusted in their responses. They’d rather stick their heads in the sand than have to take a stand and be perceived as being judgmental. They lacked the courage to stand up for what they believe in. When did judging the value of anything become such a sin in our culture anyway? Anything except whether a person is nice or mean, I guess. You cannot be a leader and not have at least some people get mad at you. In fact you cannot accomplish anything in life without having someone get upset at you. That’s part of the problem with today’s politicians (besides the media) is that they try to make everyone happy. They water down their message and policies until they are so inoffensive that they end up accomplishing nothing. By its very nature, leadership will offend or upset a certain percentage of individuals. If your son grows up to care too much about what others think of him or whether he inadvertently upsets someone, he will never accomplish anything significant with his life, including raising exceptional children. It’s not that being nice is bad. Men should be nice, polite, compassionate, empathetic, and understanding as often as possible. But when men are only nice, they live shallow, frustrating, and unfulfilling lives—as do those around them. To accomplish anything of significance in life requires us to offend at least some people. Men who are only nice are not willing to offend anyone—they never take a stand. A man can have many attributes that can make him successful in life. But if “niceness” is the most dominant character trait he has, he is probably not someone who can be depended upon to be a strong leader. I know several very nice young men who are struggling with issues like lust, faith, relationships, careers, and a variety of other issues. We talk about them and I give them some strategies and new perspectives on how to deal with these issues, but the truth is that all men deal with these struggles. I think at some point it becomes a matter of courage (or lack thereof). Are you struggling with lust? Well welcome to the club—all men struggle with lust. Don’t mope around about it. Get some stones and deal with it. Good men struggle with sin and vice just as much as bad men—they just have the courage to deal with it in a productive manner. Don’t sit around analyzing it to death. Lack of courage causes us to become paralyzed and not take action in order to solve problems. I tell these young men to stiffen their spine. There are three billion men on the planet and almost all of them deal with the same issues, especially lust. Some deal with it productively because they love their wives and children; others deal with it by engaging in prostitution, viewing pornography, or having affairs. Which kind of man do you want your son to be? This is an excerpt from Rick’s book A Man in the Making. You can find out more at www.betterdads.net

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Training Up Leaders


Pray not for lighter burdens, but for stronger backs.
–Theodore Roosevelt

As a culture we are losing our most valuable resource—male leadership. Young men have grown up in an age of cultural suspicion, and they have found that it is difficult to exercise any kind of leadership without raising someone’s ire.
Cultures that allow families and communities to exist with no stable, healthy male authority and leadership devolve into chaos. Healthy masculine leadership protects the weak. It uses its influence and power to provide safe, life-giving encouragement and provision.

A healthy man doesn’t shirk his responsibilities. He undertakes tasks with a “can-do” attitude and does not gripe or grumble when they become difficult or times become tough. He provides for his family as part of his manly duty. He takes pride in solving his own problems. He willingly shoulders his duties and doesn’t face his responsibilities sullenly. Aubrey Andelin says, “His acceptance of this responsibility adds substance to the faith his wife places in him when she leaves the security of her parents’ home to make her way with him.”

Boys need to hear words like strong, brave, talented, and noble in order to assimilate their duty as leaders. They need to have the adults in their lives intentionally speak affirming language that inspires and uplifts them to willingly assume the mantle that leadership imposes upon him. They need to be taught to relish the satisfaction that duty and honor bring to a man.

I am blessed and fortunate to continuously see the fruits that my ministry labors produce. To live a life where people frequently contact you to say that you made a difference or changed their lives and the lives of their families is an awesomely gratifying experience that carries with it great responsibility. Many men who know me look at my life with envy, but few are willing to make the sacrifices or take the risks necessary to achieve it. We need to encourage boys from a young age that God has a special plan for their lives. We need to train them early to be leaders and prepare them for the responsibility that comes with that role. We need to be intentional in equipping them with a bigger vision of what life is about rather than just letting them “settle” for whatever life throws at them. We need to inspire them to use the gifts and powers that God has endowed them with to make a difference in the world.

When we do that, not only will men become men again, but the world will be better because of it.

Question: What does being a leader look like to you. Talk with your son about the burdens of responsibility.

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Boundaries Teach Boys Self-Discipline

This past season, several high-profile college head football and basketball coaches have been vilified and lost their jobs due to the perception that they harshly enforced disciplinary methods upon a player or players in their program. I’m not defending these coaches’ methods as I do not know the situation, but here’s what I do know. Many young men today, especially talented athletes, have been raised without a father or any other form of accountability or boundaries in their life. They have gotten whatever they want their entire lives. They do not understand the value of true leadership or the concept of respect. These young men rebel against any kind of discipline and despise authority figures. Even though they may in truth crave discipline, they have steered their own ship for too long. They have learned to do what they want, when they want, and so any kind of restrictions—whether it is healthy for them or not—are very uncomfortable. They instinctively resist accountability and become self-focused and self-absorbed. Without willingly acceding to the mentorship and authority of other men, young males with this attitude will struggle their entire lives, creating problems in the lives of those who love and depend upon them.

Teaching boys’ self-discipline is difficult and requires effort on your part. Like most things worthwhile in life, it is hard. Boys learn best by what is modeled for them, not spoken to them. Teaching them self-discipline requires that you be disciplined. Constantly indulging your son in his every desire isn’t good for him. It doesn’t mean you have to be harsh, but you do have to say no sometimes–even frequently. For some parents today, pushing their sons to teach them self-discipline almost feels like child abuse. But the truth is that the more you can teach them to have a strong sense of self-discipline, the happier and healthier they will be throughout their entire lives.

Boundaries are a must during the teenage years. Boundaries help instill self-discipline. Without boundaries boys do not know what the rules are and what is expected of them. They may rebel, but remember no matter what they say, the very fact that you thoughtfully and consistently enforce rules of behavior makes them feel loved and valued. They might complain to their friends that you are mean and tough, but they will say it with a sense of pride too. I’ve known many at-risk young men who have told me that they wished their parents had loved them enough to make them follow a set of guidelines designed to keep them safe.

Recognize though that boundaries need to be flexible to grow and change as your son does. Just like your son is constantly growing and changing so too his boundaries should be dynamic. To hold a seventeen-year-old young man to the same boundaries he had as a thirteen-year-old boy would certainly cause rebellion at best and psychological damage at worst. As he shows more maturity and responsibility, his boundaries should be loosened to help him continue to grow in his decision-making and critical thinking skills process. Our goal is to help him become a healthy, functioning adult by the time he is out from under our umbrella. By not allowing him to grow, we are doing him a disservice by ensuring his failure in the world.

That said, all children (even teens) need clear-cut rules, structure, and guidelines in order to develop self-discipline. They thrive under firm supervision and guidance—they need strong boundaries and discipline from adults. They don’t need you to be their friend. They have plenty of friends. They need you to teach them the things they will need to be successful in life. And sometimes that requires courage on our part. Teens (especially strong-willed ones) know how to push buttons—they are developing their critical thinking skills so they like to argue. They are masters at manipulation. They wear you down—it’s part of their battle strategy. That’s one reason it is important for a husband and wife to be on the same team. They must work together to ensure that a child is raised with consistency and with the same agenda. The bane of many divorced families is that Mom and Dad have a differing value system in their respective homes. Kids are confused from week to week as to what is expected of them.

Discipline comes in two forms—internal and external. Internal discipline or self-discipline is what we strive to teach our kids by applying external discipline. External discipline is applied in a variety of forms—allowing them to suffer the consequences of their actions, teaching them the pleasures of delayed gratification, understanding the relationship between hard work and success, and through personal accountability. Kids, who are not subjected to healthy discipline while growing up, tend to live unhappy lives and create chaos in the lives of those around them. When we discipline our kids, we are actually preparing them for much more fulfilling lives.

Think of it this way. Self-discipline is a gift you give your son that will benefit him his entire life. It will benefit your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren as well. Like all things that are important in life, though, learning self-discipline is difficult and requires hard work. One of the most effective ways to teach boys self-discipline is by holding them accountable for their actions and choices. The sooner they learn that every decision they make (or don’t make) has consequences associated with it, the sooner they start making disciplined and healthy choices. This will be extremely important when he becomes a man and his choices have magnified consequences to both him and his family. Want to see this in action? The next time your son wants an item from the store, tell him, “Sure, you can have it if you buy it with your own money.” You’ll quickly see what he places value on when he has to be responsible for purchasing it himself.

Excerpted from Rick’s book, That’s My Teenage Son” by Revell Publishing. To find out more visit www.betterdads.net.