In his book Zero to One, investor and entrepreneur Peter Thiel talks of a question he asks all of his interview subjects: what do you believe to be true that others do not?
Here’s my answer: that our boys need to be intentionally taught how to be good men. Even more, they need to be taught, just as intentionally, how to be a Christian man.
My wife and I get to run a summer camp. It’s a beautiful spot up in the woods and rolling hills of Pennsylvania. Each summer, we have 700 children and 220 staff come in to enjoy six weeks of community, fun, and learning.
Alongside our dedicated, incredible year-round staff, we plan out as much as we can in a highly detailed and intentional manner.
How the kids load the bus on the way to camp, how they meet their new bunk mates, where their beds are located in the bunks, each meal and snack, the music we play and when…. You get the idea.
Little is left to chance over the 45 days we have our campers. Everything is done to lead up to their tearful moment of departure. They don’t want to leave and can’t wait to come back next summer. (We want that, too… and a nap!)
Thankfully, this approach has worked well. We have experienced increasing enrollments every year along with increasing retention rates for both campers and staff.
If this intentional planning approach works so well with camp, why don’t we do it for the most important things in our boys’ lives – their growth into manhood and their relationship with Jesus Christ?
Coming of Age
In almost every major and minor culture until the modern age, boys of a certain age were pulled aside and taught the skills they needed to be a contributor to their society as they aged into adulthood. Several of these rites of passages still exist: the bar Mitzvah, the Maasai passage, and more.
In modern culture, however, this intentional training is very few and far between. And, to my mind, the results have been disastrous – rising incarceration rates, more violence, increases in ‘failure to launch’, and more.
Being intentional doesn’t mean it has been a full-blown class – though it certainly helps. While I did not benefit from a specific class, there were a number of very specific lessons that were communicated at different times.
My mother was specific in how I was to treat a young lady – with respect, interest and kindness. My father communicated the same but by example rather than words. (I do remember a few very specific – and effective, I might add - threats when I first started dating from him.) I also had a number of improvised lessons from coaches and teachers – both men and women – that left impacts.
(While it would not eradicate all boorish and awful behavior, I can’t help but imagine the #metoo movement would have less to report if all young men were taught how to treat a lady.)
Sadly, many young men are growing up without a father or one whose actions hurts rather than helps. Father Greg Boyle in his wonderful Tattoo’s on the Heart writes “in the soul of almost every homie I know, there is a whole that is in the shape of his father.”
Thankfully, as a Christian, there is always a loving Father who can fill that void. The young man just needs to know He's always available and always welcoming. And that is up to his loved ones.
You Are What You Are Made
Early in the movie Gladiator, Emperor Marcus Aurelius is near the end of his life. In one scene, he notices his daughter overlooking the court from afar.
When she seems her father and bows, Aurelius says to her, “A pity you were not born a man. What a Caesar you would have become. You would have been strong. But, I wonder… would you have been just?”
“I would have been what you taught me to be,” she replies.
The same goes for our sons. Our plans to teach and lead and build our boys into men will be flawed… as are we. However, God has His own plans and it started with giving you – and no one else – your son.
But, I have no doubt that we parents have a huge impact. We need to teach our sons to become the men full of ‘fruit of the spirit’ so that they may reflect God’s love to all around them. In order to give ourselves and our boys the best chance of getting to that end, start with some questions:
Can I clearly define what I feel is most important for my son?
Do my actions, choices and words lead to this result?
Does my son know what I feel is most important for him?
Does my son know that God loves him and will always be chasing after him?
Let's work together to build our sons into the men God wants them to be: loving, kind, humble, patient and full of self-control. He'll be better for it and so will the world around him.
*Photo by Tanalee Youngblood on Unsplash