Turning Boys into Men

Sports talk radio is not my normal stop when looking for solid theological content and cultural commentary. However, I found a little of both this week on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike.” The story du jour was the video of Ray Rice hitting his fiancée and knocking her unconscious in an elevator. Nothing new was said about the facts, but the commentary from Hall of Fame wide-receiver Cris Carter was impeccable.

When Mike Greenberg asked if football players need to learn how to turn the violence switch off when they step off the field, Carter responded by saying that was the wrong perspective. He immediately turned the conversation to the lack of fathers in our culture, especially among the current NFL players, and a lack of understanding what it means to be a man. He then recounted his own story of being reared by a single mother along with his three sisters. He credited his mother for teaching him how to treat women, but he bemoaned the absence of fathers in boys’ lives.

I have one son (and three daughters), and I have been thinking lately about what it means to lead him into manhood. He’s five years old right now, so we have a long way to go, but there are things I can do now as a father to teach him how to be a man.

Set an Example

The big issue with the Ray Rice situation is that he treated a woman in a way that no woman should ever be treated. But how can I teach my son how to treat women? The first way is to set an example in the way I treat my wife.

Scripture instructs me to love my wife just as Christ loves the church (Eph 5:25) and to show understanding and honor to her (1 Pet 3:7). I do not do these things simply for the sake of showing my son how to be a man. I am to treat my wife in this way because she is my wife and she is made in the image of God. In fact, most of the time that we spend interacting with one another, we are not consciously aware that our children are watching. But they are.

My son is a perceptive little boy. He recognizes the differences in tones and inflections of voice. He listens to the words others use and employs them in his own vocabulary. He sees the way adults act toward one another and mimics them. He also recognizes the difference between genuine actions and pretense.

When I show genuine love, care, and concern for my wife, my son learns how to treat the women in his life. If he sees me act foolishly or disrespectfully, he will imitate that behavior as well. Thus, I need to focus not so much on what he might see, but instead I need to concentrate on loving my wife as Christ loves the church. In doing so, he learns to be a true man by watching a man.

Be There

You might have heard someone remark that it is not the quantitty of time you spend with your children but the quality of time. Honestly, I think that is false. Absentee fathers are not simply the ones who live in another city and shirk the responsibilities of fatherhood. Absentee dads could live in the same house as their families. Just last night I spent the evening with my family at a baseball game. My son and I held down the “boy side” of our row for several innings. There was no grand teaching moment. He ate his hot dog and peanuts. He looked at the game program. He had a good time. We enjoyed just being together.

I am thankful for a flexible job that allows me to spend time with my family. It is important for me to be with all members of my family, but I think it is especially important for my son to see me involved in our family life. How else am I to set an example unless I am there?

I understand that some fathers have responsibilities that require them to be away from their families for extended periods of time, but I could never do that. I would rather give up career advancement for the sake of being there for my family. Even now I intentionally limit my travel so that I am not gone more than my wife and I agree is healthy for our family.

What does my son see when I am there? He sees a father who loves him and wants to spend time with him. He gets a dad who comes to his t-ball games. He gets a man who is there to encourage him to be strong and courageous. That is why I want to be there with him.

Teach Them

The final and most important aspect of turning boys into men is to teach them God’s Word. Scripture is replete with admonitions to fathers about teaching their sons to follow after God. A constant refrain in the first seven chapters of Proverbs is for a son to hear his father’s instructions. Solomon wrote these words for the benefit of his son.

One of the most well-known passages regarding the instruction of sons comes in Deuteronomy 6 where we read:

Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. . . . These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:1–2, 6–9)

As fathers, we have a responsibility to teach our sons. We teach them through our words and actions how to love God and be men. I am still figuring out what this looks like in our family, but at the very least, I need to be there to teach my son about God.

In a day where more than 40% of all children born in the US are born to unwed mothers, the trend of absentee fatherhood seems only to be getting worse. If we want boys to become men, we need to redouble our efforts at encouraging a biblical model of fatherhood. Be a man; take responsibility; set an example. This will help us stem the tide of grown men acting like boys. Fathers play an essential role in the development of boys into men. And when we are not sure what to do, we can look to the best example—our Heavenly Father.

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This article first appeared on the blog of Evan Lenow, assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Follow him on Twitter at @evanlenow.

Evan Lenow

Evan Lenow

Associate Professor of Ethics, Director of the Center for Biblical Stewardship, and Director of the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Lenow is an Associate Professor of Ethics and teaches in the School of Theology. He is married to Melanie and has four children - Molly, Elizabeth, William, and Laurel.
Twitter: @evanlenow
Website: evanlenow.com
Evan Lenow

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