Semper Virilis Part 3: The Gift of Manhood to the Next Generation
Once a definition of manhood has been decided upon, whether it is the one offered in the previous post or another, the real challenge begins for men – passing that knowledge on to the next generation. Robert Lewis identifies three issues that have faced fathers over the past few decades, “First, we have failed to deliver to our sons a clear, inspiring, and biblically grounded definition of manhood…Second, most fathers lack a directional process that calls their sons to embrace the manhood they should be able to define…a third shortcoming involves the loss of ceremony.”
With a definition of manhood firmly in hand the focus will now turn to the other concerns Lewis mentions; instilling authentic manhood in the next generation, and initiating them.
Biblically, Deuteronomy 6 offers God’s strategy for transmitting faith from generation to generation;
These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:6-8).
While this passage is not gender specific it does lay the foundation for passing faith on to children and grandchildren. To do so, God calls parents to be intentional and consistent in their instruction of their children.
In their excellent work on family discipleship Tedd and Margy Tripp describe a method of discipleship called “formative instruction,” which is to, “instruct our children about what we believe, how to think from the Scriptures and how to live…It is not a single event, but a lifetime of interaction that is based on God’s revelation.”
The primary means which God has put in place to instill an authentic understanding of manhood in boys is parents, fathers in particular. This does not happen accidentally or sporadically. It must be an intentional strategy that is carried out over the course of a boy’s life.
The Importance of “Dad”
While our culture is dabbling in untenable notions of gender there is an epidemic happening concurrently which is the absent, or uninvolved father. Dobson notes, “boys without fathers are twice as likely to drop out of school, twice as likely to go to jail, and nearly four times as likely to need treatment for emotional and behavioral problems as boys with fathers.” These statistics are staggering and largely avoidable if men will answer the call of God to be fathers.
Naturally, there are some unavoidable circumstances when father’s die, or are deployed overseas with the military, or are in prison. In these circumstances and others, there are many thousands of single mothers who have stepped into the gap in their son’s lives and done remarkable things. These women are to be commended, but theirs is not the ideal situation. The truth is, boys need fathers.
Fathers are uniquely positioned in the family to give their sons what they need to become men. Boys inherently want to emulate their fathers and “Dad” will typically be a boy’s first hero. Therefore, if a father can set the example to follow by displaying a thirst for God, servant-leadership, and sacrificial love his son is more likely to grasp authentic manhood. Dobson observes,
If character training is a primary goal of parenting, and I believe it is, then the best way to instill it is through the demeanor and behavior of a father. Identification with him is a far more efficient teacher than lecturing, scolding, punishing, bribing, and cajoling. Boys watch their dads intently, noting every minor detail of behavior and values.
Steve Wright echoes Dobson when he states, “The presence or absence of dad drastically affects a child’s intellectual development, key relationships, self-image, future plans, and even his or her view of God. A dad’s influence is unparalleled.”
Men must understand that the character of the next generation of men is going to be reflective of the current one. If fathers put the things of God low on the priority list, then the logical result is that their sons will share that prioritization. If dad only goes to church when nothing better is happening, then the son is likely to show at least the same amount of apathy towards the fellowship of believers.
For years the church has been talking about the loss of young people once they graduate high school. Usually the statistic quoted is something such as 80 percent of students abandon their faith after high school graduation. Generally, blame is laid at the feet of the youth pastors, pastors, public schools, or a fallen society in general. The uncomfortable truth is that the blame may lay much closer to home, literally. By extension, if a generation of young men is rising up that does not embrace biblical, authentic manhood, it us most likely due to fathers not setting the example, or properly initiating them into manhood.