A Real Man’s Criteria for Masculintiy

I couldn’t have said it better myself:

“Masculinity, first and foremost, ought to be defined in terms of relationships. It ought to be taught in terms of the capacity to love and to be loved. If you look over your life at the end of it… life wouldn’t be measured in terms of success based on what you’ve acquired or achieved or what you own. The only thing that’s really going to matter is the relationships that you had. It’s gonna come down to this: What kind of father were you? What kind of husband were you? What kind of coach or teammate were you? What kind of son were you? What kind of brother were you? What kind of friend were you? Success comes in terms of relationships.

And I think the second criterion – the only other criterion for masculinity – is that all of us ought to have some kind of cause, some kind of purpose in our lives that’s bigger than our own individual hopes, dreams, wants, and desires. At the end of our life, we ought to be able to look back over it from our deathbed and know that somehow the world was a better place because we lived, we loved, we were other-centered, other focused.”

Joe Ehrmann (quoted from the book Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx)

Well said mountain of a man sir. Well said.


Masculine Journey: The Sage Stage

This is the sixth and final post in a series on the masculine journey, which is based on the book, “The Way of the Wild Heart” by John Eldredge.

In many ways, this is my favorite stage to write about. Not because I have any experience with it. Not because it rhymes and is fun to say. OK… partly because of that, but only nominally so.

No, this is my favorite stage to write about because I believe the role of the sage is one that all men gladly accept when the time is right and one that most of us aspire toward whether we realize it or not.

For most men who are fortunate enough to become sages, this stage begins in the latter years of their time as a king. For most men who find this stage, it happens in their sixties or seventies.

To quote the book:

There comes a time when the King must yield the throne. This does not mean failure. It mean’s its time to become a Sage and let another man be King. Too many kings hold on to their thrones too long, and they litterally fade away once they have lost them (which tells us they were drawing too much of their identity from their position). It will appear at this stage that a man’s “kingdom” may be shrinking — he retires from his career position, perhaps moves into a smaller home or apartment, lives on a fixed income. But, his influence should actually increase. This is not the time to move to Ft. Lauderdale, “wandering through malls,” as Billy Crystal described it, “looking for the ultimate soft yogurt and muttering, ‘How come the kids don’t call, how come the kids don’t call?’” For now the man is a mentor to the men who are shaping history.

A few examples of sages from biblical and non-biblical literature listed in the pages of the book are: King Solomon, the apostle Paul, Merlin the Magician, and Gandalf.

Picture King Solomon, in many ways the wisest man to ever live, sitting on his throne dispensing wisdom as people from his kingdom come to seek his advice and settle their disputes.

Then there’s the apostle Paul who’s letters from jail provided sagely wisdom to churches all across the known world of his day. He was a mentor to young Timothy and many others.

For Merlin, think back to the Disney film “The Sword and the Stone” where a seemingly crusty old magician takes a scrawny young boy under his wings and helps him turn into a legendary hero.

Finally, there’s Gandalf, the sage of Lord of the Rings story. He is the one that nearly every king/hero looks to throughout the books. He walks with the hobbits along their journey. He crowns Aragorn when he becomes king. It is to him, that all all of the other good characters in the book look for wisdom and counsel.

That’s what being a sage is all about. It’s giving back. It’s helping shape the minds of tomorrow’s leaders.

And do you know what connects all these men? Gray hair.

Now obviously I have no clue what the two historical characters on this list actually looked like. But I do know they were old men at the height of their wisdom and the old men I know all have either gray hair or no hair.

Don’t get me wrong. I know several men who have yet to watch their hair turn gray and/or fall out who I like to look to for wisdom and counsel. Jesus was in his 30’s and no man has ever lived up to his sage status. Surely we can all think of men who we’ve known who’s sagely wisdom was apparent long before his hair changed color.

However, while it’s not technically a requirement that a man be aged and gray to fill the role of the sage, there are just some things in life that we can’t know or fully understand until we have actually lived through the years that it takes to turn our hair gray.

The sage is that man who’s life experiences make him a calming presence to men fighting to make it through the sometimes chaotic milestones that come with the other stages of their masculine journey. The sage has been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, and lived to tell about it.

And tell about it he does, but usually only when asked. Though some sages will offer their wisdom unsolicited in the stories they tell, in the books they write, and in the way they live their life, the most effective sages make themselves available and wait to be asked before dispensing their wisdom. For the sage knows that it is only when a man is truly searching for wisdom that his words will make any real difference.

And that is the challenge for those of us who want to be mentored by men in their sage stage. Before we can benefit from their wisdom, we have to identify who they are and then ask for their advice or opinion or counsel.

I think more than any of the other roles of the masculine journey, the sage is the one that is ingrained the most deeply in all men. Who of us doesn’t like to share our battle stories with someone who seems to be on a similar journey? Who of us, when asked, will ever hesitate to share what he thinks about some particular subject?

And so the sage is with us from the earliest stages of our masculine journey. We see it come forth each time we get some lesson from our past off the shelf, dust it off, and begin re-telling it to some younger man at a different place on his path. And yet, we have to be seasoned by life before our words have much meaning. Until then, we’re just pontificating. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with pontificating (I do it all the time on this blog) it is not the same thing as and should not be mistaken for filling the role of the sage.

For the younger men (men my own age) who read this blog, I challenge us to identify, approach, and engage with the sages in our lives who are just waiting to help us out and offer their strength and wisdom to us on our journey to become real men. For the older men, I challenge you to hold back less and be more open when the opportunity presents itself to share your wisdom with the next generation.

And that, my friends, is my take on the stages of the masculine journey.

Real Men and Bouldering

Last weekend, I went bouldering at Joshua Tree National Park. If you are unfamiliar, as I was before last weekend, with what exactly bouldering entails, let me enlighten you.

Bouldering, by definition is “a style of rock climbing undertaken without a rope and normally limited to very short climbs. It is typically practiced on large natural boulders or artificial boulders in gyms and outdoor urban areas. However, it may also be practiced at the base of larger rock faces.” Thank you Wikipedia for that one.

In the simplest of terms, bouldering is basically just walking around, up, down, over, and under a bunch of big rocks. Rocks like these:

Or these:

Or like the ones behind these Joshua Trees:

Though it’s not nearly as strenuous or dangerous as rock climbing (helmets, rope, and hooks are not necessary) it was still quite challenging for a guy like me who’s lived his entire life in a state known for being flatter than a pancake. Then again, I have been doing quite well on my push-up challenge so I managed OK.

Despite my novice bouldering abilities, I had a really great time climbing, walking around on the rocks, and exploring Joshua Tree.

And do you know what made it such a great day?

It wasn’t the 105 degree heat. It wasn’t the amazing scenery. It wasn’t even the feeling of accomplishment that came with climbing up a rocky cliff to the point where I took the first picture in this post.

What made the day so great is that I had the privilege of bouldering and hanging out with a man, 20 years my senior, who I consider to be a great friend and mentor. Every time we get a chance to hang out, he ends up challenging me to be a better man in some way. We talk about manly things. We talk about spiritual things. We talk about our struggles. And we even talk about things that have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on our lives but that are just fun to talk about.

In addition to being a really great guy and wise man, my friend is also somewhat of an avid rock climber. A few weeks ago, he took a group of about 100 men out to Joshua Tree for a weekend retreat of climbing, camping, and just good ol’ fashioned male bonding. You don’t lead trips like that if you don’t know your way around the rocks.

It was great being out there with him because all I had to do was watch him, follow him, and step where he stepped. If he hesitated from one boulder to another, I hesitated. If he went fearlessly forward or up, I went fearlessly forward or up. If he balanced himself on a boulder that looked a bit suspect to me, I balanced myself on the same boulder.

What made it so awesome was that on my own, I would have been full of apprehension. I wouldn’t have known which boulders to step on and which ones to avoid. However, with him guiding me, I avoided the dangerous ones and was able to use the solid ones to get higher. I didn’t have to worry one bit because I knew that I was following a climbing expert and as long as I did what he did, I’d be in good shape.

And that’s the point of this post.

As we were making our way up, over, and around the massive crags (I show my novice by likely misusing that word), I couldn’t help but think about how what we were doing was a great analogy for manhood.

As a man, there are a lot of boulders I’m going to have to scale in my life. If I try to climb them myself, I may have some success, but the odds of getting completely past them on my own without stumbling, losing my footing, and getting hurt are pretty slim.

And yet, when I take the time to cultivate relationships with other men who have likely faced similar challenges in their own lives, I don’t have to scale those boulders on my own. I can ask for help, advice, and wisdom. I can follow in their footsteps. I can avoid the things they learned to avoid, even those things they learned to avoid by trial and error.

This is not the first, nor is it the last time you will read the following words on this blog, but that’s exactly why I think men need other men. Men who’ve been there, done that in the ways of life.

That’s I why I like spending time with men who are 10, 20, 30, 40 years my senior. Maybe I’m weird, but I love listening to older dudes tell stories that start with the phrase, “When I was your age…” or “The first time I…” Sure, sometimes those stories have absolutely no relevance for my life. But sometimes I walk away from conversations like that with a new perspective on some challenge in my own life.

A real man is intentional about observing, learning from, and sometimes following the footsteps of other (more experienced) men. I have what I consider to be a really good relationship with my dad. I also have a handful of other older men who I occasionally look to for advice or wisdom. And I have a handful of really good friends my own age that I know will always be there should I need to call them for help. Even so, I need to be more intentional about seeking and cultivating friendships with other older, more experienced men.

How to spot a king

Talk to the people who work for him. Do they feel they are simply building his kingdom or do they feel like he is serving them? Are they growing their own talents and abilities, joyful because they are cared for — excited about their place and future in the kingdom?

If a man is married, take a look at his wife. I’m not talking about how attractive she is or the clothes she wears. Look at her eyes. Are they tired? Does she seem stressed and overlooked or does she seem refreshed and confident?

If he has a family, what about his kids? Are they flourishing? How much energy does he spend trying to get them to behave versus understanding their hearts and looking for ways to bless them?

When you look at the lives of bad kings, men like Saul, or Herod, characters like Commodus in Gladiator, the contrast becomes clear. Life is all about them. The kingdom revolves all around their happiness. It’s obvious they didn’t wake up in the morning asking, “What good can I do for someone else today with the power and wealth at my disposal?” That’s the question a good king asks, but it requires a holiness that most men (myself included) don’t possess.

A good king brings order to his realm. Just like God brought order out of chaos at the beginning of creation before handing the project over to Adam to rule in the same way. Not as a tyrant or a micromanager, but offering his strength to bring order to the realm.

Want to spot a king? Just look at the people around him.

*This post is basically my paraphrasing of a quote from page 168 of the book, Fathered by God.

Masculine Journey: The King Stage

This is the fourth post in a five-part series based on the five stages of the masculine journey as described in the book, “The Way of the Wild Heart” by John Eldredge.

I started this series over a month ago intending to finish it within a week or two. For the most part, I jumped right in and was able to do that, but for some reason I’ve been stuck on this one. It’s been sitting in my drafts for quite some time now and I couldn’t figure out why I was unable to just sit down and write the thing. But a few days ago it hit me. The reason I’ve not been able to write this post is that I really have no personal experience with being a king yet. It’s hard to write about being a king when you’re still figuring out what it means to be a warrior and a lover.

With that in mind, I will lean more on the words of the book for this post (and probably the next one as well) so that I’m not speaking out of turn on things which I know not.

The king stage takes place (hopefully) after a man has experienced, at least in part, all of the previous stages of his masculine journey. In many ways, the king stage is the goal of the masculine journey — the purpose for which God has been preparing and fathering a man for since his birth.

When everything works the way it’s supposed to, a man becomes a king after he’s proven himself in the warrior stage and after he’s learned to appreciate beauty and love others in the lover stage.

Though the word king is not used as much today as it was in times past, men fulfilling the role of king can be found in many different roles in our world today. A king may be a father of a household, manager of a department, minister of a church, coach of a team, or leader of a country. Different roles, but the same heart is required by them all… a heart that puts others first, that leads selflessly and with the wisdom that only years of battle tested experience can provide.

To wield power responsibly. To influence for good. To guide the affairs and lives of others. These are the reasons for the king stage. As a stage of the masculine journey, it’s as great and noble a calling as it is difficult.

The purpose of the king is to protect, serve, and care for the people who depend on him. Whether those people are his family, his employees, or the people of his nation, his role is the same.

Even so, one of the big lies of the king stage is that the man now has enough knowledge, power, wisdom, etc. to operate out of his own resources. As the book which inspired this series so eloquently put’s it, this is simply not true. As a king, a man will be faced with new challenges, bigger challenges, and the stakes are higher than ever before. Many lives hang in the balance for the man who is a king.

In many ways, because a king has such a great responsibility on his shoulders, this is also one of the most dangerous stages of the masculine journey for a man.

The two biggest dangers during this stage are very different, but have equally powerful consequences.

The first danger occurs when a man is made a king before he is ready… before he has been initiated by the other stages of his masculine journey. A man who’s boyhood was robbed from him or who was never the beloved son will have a hard time as a king because he won’t have those experiences to draw from as he tries to fulfill the fathering role of a king. A man who skipped the carefree adventures of the cowboy stage will have a hard time as a king because he won’t have those experiences to draw from when the time comes to take risks. A man who is thrust into the role of a king before he’s been a warrior may not have the confidence of his people or the wisdom of battle to draw from as he makes important decisions. And a man who has not known the beauty of the lover stage will have a difficult time ruling from a perspective that is anything but cold, calculated, and pragmatic.

The other danger for a man who finds himself a king is idleness or complacency. When a king is complacent, he often becomes idle. When a king is idle, unless he is extremely careful and the exception to the rule, it is only a matter of time before he falls. Unchecked by the rule of others, a king is usually only limited by his own character. And when left to his own devices, with unlimited power, unlimited resources, and great influence, a king who is idle will invariably start to test the limits of his power. When that happens, you get a repeat of the biblical story of David and Bathsheeba or the modern day tale of Bill and Monica. Same story, different kingdoms.

One of the main sources for problems in our world today is that we have so few kings. Sure, we have men in positions of power and influence, but few are true kings, that is, men who ascended to their position of power through initiation and with reluctance. Men who rule their domains out of a sense of duty and love for others rather than out of selfish ambition and/or lust for power.

A few examples cited in the book of kings who’s hearts were right for their office were Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. Churchill and his unyielding fight against the Nazi’s, the pacifists and his own government. Lincoln and his unrelenting effort to preserve the union. Two men in two very different periods of history who both stood up for what was right despite severe opposition and consequences.

Becoming a king is something a man should accept out of a posture of obedience, his heart reluctant to take the thrown, but willing to do so on behalf of others.

As a man who thinks the king stage is one of the most noble callings a man can answer, I want to be prepared should I ever be thrust into that role. As a man of faith the kind of king I want to follow (and the kind I want to be should my life require it some day) is the man whose heart is in tune with God. I want to led by a man who checks in regularly with his creator, who submits to him, who yields his plans to the greater purpose of God’s will.

Moses was a perfect example of a man like that. He did not want to be king, but he eventually accepted the role out of obedience to God. He did not lead the Israelites from his own wisdom, though it was certainly available. No, instead Moses’ leadership style essentially consisted of simply doing (sometimes reluctantly) whatever it was God told him to do… one step at a time.

How many kings do you know in business, families, churches, or other realms who lead that way? I don’t know many. I’m certainly not there yet in my tiny kingdom. And yet, that’s the kind of man I want to follow as king. That’s the kind of king I want to be some day.

Regardless of age, position, or natural abilities, a man is only ready to be a king when his heart is in the right place… that is, completely yielded to God.

Guest Post: When does manhood happen? Part 2 of 2

The words below are a continuation of a guest post from fellow manhood blogger Ellis Hackler whose resume includes over 35 years of serving Christian men in various capacities, including but not limited to working as a marriage counselor, church men’s director, author and teacher.

Part 2: The Masculine Journey, When Does Manhood Happen?

Male adulthood can be a confusing mystery. That is why every budding man needs a guide, an adult male who has successfully made the masculine journey and has no more confusion as to whether he is a man or not. This male is ideally the youth’s father, but in today’s society, it will just as likely be a stepfather or a surrogate dad who has come alongside the youth to help him make the trek. Every man needs tracks to follow. As much as we admire and respect the noble attempts of women to raise their sons, and many have been left to do it alone, moms cannot accomplish–with all their trying–what dads can do automatically.

Additionally, men need other men. The neophyte male needs someone, or several someone’s of their own species to affirm manhood in them. Women cannot do that for men. Women do so many other things, things that only they can do; but men confirm men. It is not only true in the melting pot of modern America, but in every age all over the world. Men need men. To deny a man the temporary exclusive company of other men is to deny the essence of his life. That is why, even in modern times, men go fishing, hunting, camping, sailing, or mountain climbing with other men. This is the explanation for the “out with the guys” problem that many wives and girl friends do not comprehend. According to best-selling author, John Eldredge, in order to discover the secret to his masculine soul, every man needs adventures to experience and causes to champion.

In the early days of this great nation, men grew into adulthood in close proximity to the male adults in their lives. A boy’s dad, uncles, older male cousins, and neighboring men worked close together in farming communities where the adult male roles were sharply contrasted to those of women and little boys.

Unfortunately, that has not been the case over the last few years. For approximately eighty years in America, young men have been getting their manhood clues from the neighborhood streets, the media, and the public schools instead of the neighboring farms. The modern street presents a much different visual than the simple rural community of yesteryear or even the relatively innocent suburbs of post World War II America. Gangs now constitute the teenager’s peer group in many inner city neighborhoods. Drug-pushing older teens and young adults now represent many teenagers’ surrogate role models in the absence of their real dad, who either never was there, or who has abandoned them for some greener pasture or other. Boys in wholesale numbers have been left to grow up on their own. They learn about sex in the bathrooms of the projects. They learn about women from the abandoned, brokenhearted big sisters and cousins who are out looking for love in all the wrong places. They learn about money management from drug salesmen, failing rock band members, or loan sharks. The absence of a role-model-dad has left an ugly scar on the face of America. The home of the brave is being replaced by the house of the coward; the land of the free for many young men is the battleground of the trapped. It’s time for a change, don’t you agree?

I really appreciate what Ellis has to say on this topic and couldn’t agree more that it’s time for a change. The first time I read Hackler’s post, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between what he was communicating and what I was attempting to express here.

His post came first and I didn’t plagiarize, so it gives me hope that maybe we’re witnessing the early stirrings of a new movement of men in this country who are thinking critically about what it really means to be masculine – men who will help usher in a new era of manhood that is not based on the fleeting definitions of machismo set by popular culture and action movies.

Whether or not you had the benefit of a strong father figure in your life growing up, if you’re serious about raising the bar of manhood above the level set by popular culture, it’s time we all start being more intentional about calling other men (both our peers and those younger than us) to a higher, more noble standard of manhood – one that is based on the timeless virtues of honor, integrity, kindness, love, authenticity, courage, sacrifice, loyalty, resolution, resiliency, and action.

Guest Post: When does manhood happen? Part 1 of 2

The following is part one of a two-part series from fellow manhood blogger Ellis Hackler of Raising Christian Men.

Hackler has been serving Christian men in various capacities for over 35 years including work as a marriage counselor, church men’s director, author and teacher. He writes on his website that:

…men have the right and the obligation to stand tall and fulfill our God-given privilege of leadership and creativity. But the most important leadership role in the world is in your individual family unit. If the next generation of men is to lead… then fathers have to step up to the plate today and be men of integrity, men of strength and men of courage. Men are warriors, explorers and defenders of truth, justice, and integrity. The godly dad is not afraid of anything except failure to live up to his Christian manhood goals. He is strong, he is tough, and he is unashamed of his masculinity. Yet he is tender and kind, and he does everything in love. His manhood does not come out by abuse, verbal or physical…

As I’ve been writing about the masculine journey, I’ve been researching what other men have had to say about this topic and really enjoyed Hackler’s perspective on when manhood actually happens. As I’ve said before, I think the absence of socially normed concrete rites of passage in our society today is a real barrier to the process of helping boys become men. I know that if I become a father to boys some day, I hope to be intentional about creating experiences for them that serve as rites of passage throughout the various stages of their lives. Enough of my uber-long intro. Without further ado, I give you:

Part 1: The Masculine Journey, When Does Manhood Happen?

When does a boy become a man? Ever try to answer that question? If you are a man, you have struggled with that question since way back in junior high. Some men look up from their deathbed asking the silent question, did I make it? When buying that engagement ring or showing up at the natal ward with a pregnant wife… men wonder. When facing danger, war, or competition, the question lurks deep inside, am I man enough? The question is if I am a man when did I cross over from boyhood? When does it happen?

Everyone knows when it is not. It is not when a boy can father a child–multiplied thousands of abandoned children will attest to that. It is not when he can palm a basketball, and it is not when he can drive a car. The first drink of alcohol or the first smoke cannot be it. Thousands of neophyte males are released upon our nation every year with no understanding whatever of what it is to be a man. It is obvious to tell when a boy has not yet become a man; the problem is we do not know when it is. And that really is a problem.

The missing ingredient in most American communities is a realistic coming-of-age ceremony for young men. The lack of a specific, memorable event that marks the moment when a young man passes from boyhood into adult manhood has created confusion and doubt in the minds of both youth and adults. Some religious cultures celebrate a rite-of-passage, such as the Jewish bar-mitzvah, for example; however most Rabbis will admit that boys are rarely marked as adults by that ritual. When a young man is not sure of his manhood, he will try almost anything to establish his adult power, in his own mind and in his peers’ minds especially with his peers. Many youth-related acts of violence, gang relationships, or rebellious defiant actions are misguided attempts to display some form of the adult masculine mystique. This mystery of adult manhood is often referred to as “machismo,” which researchers on the subject have traced to Greek origin, meaning “Battle,” or to the Spanish word for “machete.” When we say a guy is macho we give him the title our society demands he earn without any real mentoring or training. That is why many a young man, through some idiotic, usually capricious and truly un-manly act, tries to prove his manhood. Irresponsible acts such as impregnate a woman but not marry her, or shoot an enemy gang member are ways this is often manifested. Juvenile police files are filled with crimes that, if the truth were known, were done in the name of proving manhood.

I couldn’t have said it better myself sir. Tomorrow, in part two, Hackler explores the evolution of manhood, why men need close friendships with other men, and the importance of having another man’s footsteps to follow.