The posts this week on the blog by Amy and Kendra have been incredibly helpful. But what about those of us who are raising boys? And more accurately, raising boys who soon will be men?
Author John Eldredge comes quite close to the truth, I think, when he says the question every young woman asks is “Am I captivating?” While the question every young man asks is “Do I have what it takes?”
Sure, we live in a culture where teenage boys shave their chests and tone muscles for hours on end in the gym. But I don’t think that’s where guys really rise and fall. Underneath our style (or lack of it, which is also a style) there is a question I think every man eventually asks: Do I have what it takes? Am I good enough? Do I measure up?
I think most men start out believing that this question can be answered by proving ourselves. So we:
strive to be the best on the team.
become an expert at something (from karate to chess club).
try to mark out our space in the marketplace.
drive nice cars or buy toys that make us feel like we’re something (what lipstick is to a woman, cars, guns or toys are to a man – they make us feel complete…for a short while).
become dominant at something, even, sadly, if it means the only arena in which you are dominant is your home.
All of these things (and more) pretend to answer the question “Do I have what it takes”, but the older we get we realize that none of this is ultimately satisfying. That all of it leaves us empty on the other side. And after multiple conquests, we are still left unsatisfied.
And that’s where our use of power falls short. That’s where our understanding of strength fails. If that’s what it takes to be a man, we will always be boys.
So what is it that makes us men?
I think there may be more than one answer to the question, but here is mine.
Power is best exercised when used in service of others.
Left unchecked, us men most naturally use power to advance ourselves. But when we see power taught and modeled to use in the service of others, we realize that power is best used to serve others.
All of us know this instinctively:
It’s why we commend the man who holds the door open for those behind him.
It’s why we admire successful people known as much for their charity as their title.
It’s why we celebrate heroes, who put themselves at risk to save the life of others.
It’s why people who aren’t even Christian admire Jesus, who laid down his life in service of others.
It’s how God uses his power. Maybe the key to being a man does indeed have something to do with power. More precisely, it’s about how we use power.
So how do you encourage boys and young men to use their power this way?
1. Model it. How do you as a dad serve your wife and children? How have they seen you use your power for their benefit? Do you use your strength and power to serve your wife, or do you rule over her?
2. Teach it. I had never heard this teaching until I was an adult. Explaining to your sons why power is best used can be a powerful shaper.
3. Practice it. Encourage your ten-year-old to rake leaves for a senior adults neighbor (for free). If he’s a good student or athlete, have him come someone else who is struggling in that same area and befriend and encourage them.
4. Give something away. What you do (and they do) with money is critical. Surplus isn’t designed to fund excess. Share it with those in need.
Fathers, if we can train our sons to use their power in service of others, we will indeed have raised strong men. What have you done to help your sons use their power to help others?