In an August 2012 New York Times article, author Greg Hampikian made the point that “women are both necessary and sufficient for reproduction, and men are neither.”
“Ultimately,” he asks, “the question is, does ‘mankind’ really need men?”
Men used to at least have a recognized value as the primary breadwinners and providers for their families, but that’s no longer always the case. In many households in our nation, women have become the primary providers. While that has been wonderful for unleashing the talent women bring to the workplace, it has sometimes had a secondary effect: Another unspoken message that men have lost their significance.
When I’m not sure of my own impact as a man, I raise an eyebrow and wonder if these questions of male significance are accurate. When I’m reminded of the God- design of my heart and the potential I have for good in the lives of others, I want to disprove that message. When I’m listening well, I hear the longing for real men to “step up” that lies just beneath the surface of statements condemning men.
Do men really matter? That’s not a question I learned to ask until recently. But as I was growing up, I sometimes asked myself an even more personal, yet related, question: Do I have what it takes to be a man? And, by the way, what does a real man actually look like?
How Did We Get Here?
Recently a friend who is a world-traveling businessman, and an honest struggler with his marriage and family, shared his frustration in an email:
Craig, I find the following:
- Lately I tend to be real quiet in family gatherings, in some ways like my father. After all, “even a fool who keeps his mouth shut is
- considered wise.”
- My family does not seem to listen when I chime in on ongoing conversations.
- My older children seem to want to correct me on a variety of things, including listening in on me when I’m talking wit
- house/dinner guests.
- It seems I receive more respect for my role at work than I do at home.
- I get lots of rejection when I try to pat my older sons on the back and speak positive blessing and encouraging words to them.
- They purposely sneer and jerk out of reach.
- It seems my older boys are angry with me. They enjoy my blessings of tuition help, buying meals and cars, etc. But I do not
- sense that they enjoy me as their father. They even question me about why I claim them as a dependent on my federal taxes.
- Perhaps my kids are responding in the same emasculating way my wife does in front of them or to our church pastoral staff.
- My boys always give my wife a hug and a goodbye when they leave, but tend to ignore me.
Succinctly, I really do not feel like I matter …
How can it be that we would literally be asking, and needing to defend, the question, “Do men have value?” Partly because we haven’t been real men. We have fallen to our own worst stereotypes:
- The Worker Bee Male who makes career his foremost responsibility, downgrading his roles in his home, community, and church.
- The Couch Potato Male who goes inert at home and in the community, seeking refuge from the stress of a workplace that depletes his soul.
- The WWF Male who struts and poses his way through life, using intimidation and anger to keep others in fear and under control.
- The Cyber Male who spends nearly as much time online as in the real world and who has deeper relationships with virtual people than those with flesh on.
- The Lost Male who lives as though stranded on a remote island with no hope of rescue. He has no idea which stereotype is the authentic one. He dabbles in or rejects all of them.
Why do we default to these stereotypes? Every one of them is a different version of the same conviction: I’m not sure I really matter, so I’ll compensate in ways that keep me safe or that impress others.
Men matter precisely because the consequences of the character choices they make differ so significantly. Good men bring generational blessing to families and society; wicked men bring multiplied destruction.
Roughly half the world’s population is male. We might assume then that roughly half the rapes, murders, thefts, and other acts of violence are perpetrated by men, and half by women. We hardly need to refer to evidence to know that assumption is absurd, but here it is: The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime data show that worldwide, 85 percent of people convicted of assault are men, and 96 percent of murders are committed by men. Men are by far the principal perpetrators of rape, war, torture, incest, sexual abuse, sexualized murder, and genocide.
I am utterly convinced those same men have the opposite potential for an equally significant impact for blessing, provision, and protection. My conviction is that nothing provides a foundation of significance for men (or women) more than knowing these two truths: The God of the universe made you on purpose and for a purpose, and, Jesus, the Son of God, died for you, even though you may not believe it.
These two truths can change everything in a man’s life when he believes them.
Doubt and Deception
Despite the doubts some may have, the deep truth is men do matter. But it’s just as true to acknowledge that many men don’t think so.
I know this seems counter-intuitive. After all, we see so many examples of men who certainly don’t seem to have any problem with self-esteem.
There are sports stars who have all the acclaim and hardware the world can give them. There are plenty of ultra-wealthy businessmen managing their impressive portfolios and flying from one crucial board meeting to another. We rub shoulders with countless men who own the houses, drive the cars, and wear the clothes culture tells us are the signs of success.
Early American philosopher and author Henry David Thoreau had it right when he stated over 200 years ago, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” That’s just as true today as it was in his time. The only difference is that today the desperation is just not as quiet.
How else can we explain the unbelievable risks so many men of power take to pursue that forbidden affair, to pad their wallets while others lose jobs, to bilk others of billions of dollars in pyramid schemes?
If we look beneath the surface of many successful men we see clues that even they doubt their significance:
- How many Tour de France races does a champion need to fix through illegal blood doping until he’s sure he matters? Apparently, more than seven.
- How many billions does a hedge fund manager need to swindle from people who trusted him with their life savings until he carest in his significance? Enough to land him in prison for decades.
- How many bedrooms, cars, suits, or affairs do we need until we can sit back, smile, and say, “That’s enough”? Too many of us live in such a way that communicates, “At least one more.”
Why are we doing this? Because there are two things in life men deeply long for:
Significance: To know we have impact, that our life matters, that because we lived the world is different. Our world teaches us that the main way of attaining significance is to accrue power (how much we control), possessions (how much we own), or prestige (what others think of us, or at least, what they think of our image). The route to all of these is performance.
Respect: To know that other men who know us not only like us, they respect us; they want to hang out with us. We want some kind of affirmation from other men that we are in the club, that we fit, we make the grade, we measure up as a man. Our world teaches us that the main way to do that is to promote what’s impressive about ourselves, and, one more step, hide what’s broken, fearful, or shameful.
Sadly, many Christian men fall for the same deceptions. Except that we also learn one more lesson: The last place to tell the truth about who we are, what we experience, what we fear, and where we fail is church.
Why is that? Because while non-Christian men can revel with each other in their sexual appetites and conquests, or their self-gratification with alcohol, drugs, pornography, or other vices, we Christians feel compelled to demonstrate absolute victory over all of these.
We may not actually have victory; in fact, we may be as tempted and seduced by the world as the next guy. But we can’t risk the shame, condemnation, or judgment that honesty might bring from our brothers.
As a result, we perform like crazy and we hide in fear. When our performance just doesn’t seem to measure up, or worse, clearly results in failure, we think we no longer matter. When in isolation, we live in the shame of our own hypocrisy, lies, or self-condemnation; we are certain we no longer matter.
Shame tells us, “You not only did something bad, your core-defining identity is you are bad. You’re more defective than anyone else.”
Christians who know they have erred spiritually hear this message of condemnation most piercingly. But men who might deny any faith at all also hear it. Each conscience hears its own negative soundtrack. Don’t forget …
- what you did to those women in college.
- what that man did to you as a child.
- the abortion you insisted your girlfriend get.
- that your dad said he was ashamed of you.
- the middle school teacher who told you, “You’ll never amount to anything good.”
- the coach who demeaned you in front of every other guy who mattered to you.
Men matter. We just don’t think so. The voices of our culture, our teachers, our churches, and even our parents have far too often convinced us we don’t count. In response we make choices that may seem understandable but are superficial and ultimately doomed to fail:
- We perform through production and perfectionism.
- We impress through intimidation and violence.
- We feign invulnerability through passivity and apathy.
- We numb ourselves with pleasure and self-gratification.
If you’re a man, I have good news for you, and I have sobering news for you.
The good news: You do matter. Despite the questions our society often raises about the value of men, and especially fathers (think Homer Simpson), you have a deeply important calling as a man. Your presence and your words have an enormous impact on those around you.
The sobering news: You matter. Your words and presence have impact, but that impact can go either way. It can bring life, security, and blessing into the lives of others, especially wives and children; or it can bring fear, shame, and violence.
Men Who Mattered
When a man questions his own value, he completes these self-fulfilling stereotypes. BUT when a man understands the charge he has been given by God, he enters into his calling. He changes internally and has deep impact externally.
Here’s the truth: In God’s plan you have significance and meaning simply because you are a son of God. Let that sink in. You may like the way it sounds, but question it. You may doubt it outright. That’s OK. It’s still true. Men matter … and God has given you a calling that impacts the world.
Mr. Ledbetter was the first male teacher I ever had. He was the teacher all the seventh-grade boys hoped to get. He spoke to us like men. When he addressed the boys alone in the room, as he did one morning, he said, “Gentlemen, I noticed a condom lying on the school grounds this morning. Do any of you know anything about that?”
And then he would move into a lesson about life responsibility and discipline. “Gentlemen, I expect more from you.” And you know what? He got it.
Mr. Schultz was my friend’s dad. He was the president of his own company, an elder in the church, good looking, a cool dresser with a classy wife. I was on the swim team in high school. Most people at my church didn’t notice. Mr. Schultz did. More often than not, on Sunday mornings during the swim season he’d come up to me and ask, “Craig, any races this week? How’d you do?”
This drew me to him like a moth to a light. I always knew where Mr. Schultz was.
If you took a minute, you could come up with your own stories about men whose words stood out to you. One way or another. They may have spoken shame, or they may have spoken significance. But I know you remember them.
Why is that?
The words of a man are like the voice of God. Throughout Scripture God used men to anoint and bless others:
- Abraham blessed Isaac.
- Isaac blessed Jacob.
- Jacob blessed his sons.
- Eli blessed Hannah and Samuel.
- Simeon blessed Jesus.
Those who understand the hearts of men know that the only ones who can bestow blessing and anointing to men are other men. Women can provide comfort, companionship, inspiration, intimacy, and joy, but only men can bless other men. It takes a man to convince a man he’s a man.
Short of a miracle, another man’s words will be the closest thing to God’s blessing we will hear this side of Heaven.
Men, God has given us a high calling. We matter. Our presence, our words, and our actions touch lives and change the world.
Originally published in the September 2018 issue of Citizen magazine.