Every man's question is “Am I good enough?”; “Am I a man?”. During the civil rights movement in the US during the 1950s and '60s, some of the banners that people would carry during their marches proclaimed "I am a man!" Why? What does publicly affirming your manliness have to do with civil rights? Well, quite a lot really. For years black men in the US had been called 'boy', which, for them, was yet another degrading term depicting them as inferior to white men.

Rowland Croucher says that when he speaks to men's groups, he always asks them a question. He asks them to put up their hand if, when they were between the ages of 11 and 14, the primary person in their life with whom they exchanged verbal communication was their father. After years of asking this question to thousands of men, he has found that the proportion of men who can put up their hand is one in 50. That means that 98 per cent of men had an 'absent' father when they most needed him. Their father was absent either physically or emotionally; the latter meaning he was there but he wasn't present.

Men

THE FATHER HEART: Jesus showed as us that being a man - and raising our sons as men - means realising our manliness depends on "the One from above who became a man Himself". PICTURE: Cris Watk (www.sxc.hu)

 

"In a society where the elderly are shoved away into nursing homes so we can keep on worshipping at the fountain of youth, we have lost what it means to be taught how to be a man by the older men in our community. We need to know in the core of our being that we are men made in the image of God. Knowing that helps give us a proper image of ourselves. And often it is only another older man who has gone the journey ahead of us who can teach us that."

For my birthday a few months ago I was given a book on manhood called Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. In the book, Eldredge talks about the male wound and how every man wants to know he is a man, wants to be affirmed in his manhood. 

One of the many quotes in the book is from C.S. Lewis' description of Aslan, the great lion of the Narnia tales. When told that Aslan is a huge lion, the children ask if he is safe. The reply is “Safe? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good”. 

That's the type of man many of us long to be - wild at heart but good at the same time. Other worthwhile books on men are Manhood by Steve Biddulph and Iron John by Robert Bly. All of these books affirm the struggle of a man to grow out of being a boy. And they all affirm the wild nature of a man and how he needs other men, particularly older men. In a society where the elderly are shoved away into nursing homes so we can keep on worshipping at the fountain of youth, we have lost what it means to be taught how to be a man by the older men in our community. We need to know in the core of our being that we are men made in the image of God. Knowing that helps give us a proper image of ourselves. And often it is only another older man who has gone the journey ahead of us who can teach us that.

It may shock some, but even Jesus needed affirmation as a man. And we are told as clearly as night follows day that He received that affirmation. The voice at Jesus' baptism gave Him strength. It said “This is my son”. It was like an affirming “You can do it son. I love you.” It was not the demeaning, discouraging voice of the detached father who says “You better pull through on this”. It was the encouraging, affirming voice of Someone who believed in Jesus. How many men have never had their father say to them “You can do it son. I love you”? I suspect quite a lot of us.

The movie Good Will Hunting is the story of a young man from a rough background. Will also happens to be a mathematical genius. But he hides his gift from the world to maintain the bravado of the tough guy from the wrong side of the tracks. As a child, his father would come home in an alcohol-fuelled rage and beat Will. And so, little wonder, Will becomes a fighter, and finally ends up being arrested for being in yet another scuffle. He gets taken to a psychologist who becomes the first man older man in Will's life who actually cares for him. After many sessions together, the psychologist asks Will to enter into his deep sadness about his upbringing. The psychologist starts to tell Will “It's not your fault”. First Will brushes him off. “Yeah, I know”. But the psychologist doesn't back off. “It's not your fault”. “Alright! I know!”. “It's not your fault”. Suddenly the penny drops and Will breaks down and begins sobbing uncontrollably as he falls into the psychologist's arms. That moment is the making of Will. It is his moment, the moment when he starts to become a man because he is facing his deep pain and is no longer running from it.

Father's Day is a time of much mixed emotion for so many of us. For some, it is a time of rejoicing over a father who really was there for us. For most though, it is a time of sadness and deep resentment, as we are faced with the pain of what we didn't have. How we long for the embrace of the most manly man who ever lived, Jesus, who faced not only His own pain but ours as well, and showed us that being a man is about facing life on life's terms, about not being afraid to cry, about taking the bull by the horns and moving forward, and about moving on in courage despite our fears. 

Being a man is about realising that we don't have to always be right, that we don't have to always try to fool the world into believing we have it all together. It is actually about admitting that we are needy, though not in a clingy sense. It is about realising, like Jesus did, that our manliness depends on the One from above who became a man Himself and showed us what manly love and sacrifice is really all about. May our prayer this Father's Day be that we men become more like that Man.