A recent article in The New Yorker asked the pithy question, “What’s the Matter with Men?”  The article describes men as floundering – in schools, relationships, and workplaces – and postulates reasons for this social phenomenon.  The conclusions are a mishmash of social theory, secular perspectives, and moral judgments which fail to produce definitive answers.  Doing so is also beyond the reach of a short blog post like this.

Men and boys, particularly in western culture, are in crisis – that part of the article seems clear.  While solutions to their problems are complex, they seem grounded in one fundamental observation about men and boys.  They function best when cultural expectations reinforce men taking responsibility for themselves, their families, and their communities.  For Christian men, their churches could be inserted between families and communities on the list.

As a mother of two sons, who was herself raised with limited influence by men, my wife had to develop expectations of her sons which facilitated their developing healthy masculinity.  She developed this simple definition: “a man takes responsibility for himself, his family, his church, and his community.”  The essence of her definition was takes responsibility

Applying this definition led us to mandate and enforce our sons taking responsibility – for their clothes, rooms, chores, conflicts, etc. – from early in their childhood.  One later started a business in middle school; the other had a job all through high school.  Although we had enough money and they did not “have to work,” we knew they needed to learn the discipline of taking care of themselves and others.  We also pushed our sons to make independent decisions – like choosing their own church when they were in high school.  We rewarded them for serving others, not just for personal accomplishments.  We made them do their own laundry, learn to cook, and get their driver’s licenses the day they were eligible.  In short, we pushed them to be as independent of us as reasonable and possible.

Teaching boys to be men isn’t about stereotypical behavior or activities reserved only for men.  It’s about teaching boys they are responsible for themselves, their families, their church, and their community.  It’s teaching them to lead – by taking responsibility to serve others – which, according to Jesus, is the highest form of leadership.  Doing this is not a simple answer to all the things that are going wrong with how boys are raised toward manhood in our culture – but it is a foundational aspect we must rediscover.  Coddling boys and expecting them to become men is a misplaced, even foolish, expectation.


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