I lived much of my life as a boy.
Deep down inside, driving my masochistic forays into twenty years of obstacle course and adventure racing, triathlons, sporting competitions, and brutal workouts was a deep-seated desire to prove to the world that I was a man.
At home, driven by a fear of rejection and resentment by my wife and children, and a preference for people-pleasing, I was loose-handed in discipline or “laying down the law” in any sort of authoritarian fashion. God forbid I would ever be remembered as some kind of tyrant or dictator of the home, so it must be far safer to simply be a likable pushover of a father, right? As a result, my role in the home was as a bit of a Homer Simpson-esque buffoon, a jolly and joking yet ultimately feeble Peter of the Family Guy cartoon, or Phil Dunphy of the Modern Family sitcom.
For years, I considered it a noble act to elevate my wife's status in the home to matriarchal Queen mother and caretaker of the household, yet this simultaneously allowed me to step into the shadows while allowing her to bear the burden of everything from breaking up arguments amongst our boys to ensuring the family was in time for church on Sundays to planning out the family's weekend activities. She was the Queen while I was the happy-go-lucky boyish jester whose presence in the household was more of a third son to her rather than a rock, a foundation, a father, a leader, and a king. After all, I figured it's far better for dad to be “cool” and accepted by his kids than to take on the responsibility of being a strong and inspirational patriarch of the family.
I was a weakling who shirked leadership.
I was afraid of being judged by my family.
I was amiable and charming, yet fragile, delicate, and soft.
But over the past few months, I have been observing the world around me and dwelling upon the way I was “leading” my family and experienced a stark realization: I needed to grow up. Permanent adolescence is a plague upon our society and our families that is threatening to unravel the quilt of culture in the very manner we are now witnessing. You're about to discover why, and what you can do about it—so pay attention, especially you fellas.
Our Fatherless World
When it comes to the way that the world perceives the ideal father, times have certainly changed, haven't they?
For example, while I've never been much of a television and pop culture enthusiast, I have seen old American TV programs from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, such as “Father Knows Best” or “Leave It to Beaver,” both of which—despite their often unrealistic portrayal of the perfect, idealized, nuclear family—depict relatively respectable father figures who lead their families in a strong, responsible and respectable manner. Next came the 70s, where fathers began to be portrayed much like the loudmouthed, uneducated bigot Archie Bunker of “All in the Family.”
Then over the years leading up to our current era, Hollywood's portrayal of a father devolved into the Homer Simpson, the Peter Griffin, and the Phil Dunphy—buffoonish and irresponsible fathers who are largely clowns, pushovers, and weaklings.
Unfortunately, the modern household father has fared no better than the Hollywood father. Not only are fathers more inspired by these type of television portrayals to be likable, funny friends who call their kids “bud,” but they also tend to be present on the smartphone while relatively absent in their children's' lives, able to escape family life via workaholism enabled by a hyperconnected home-office scenario, loose-handed with discipline in fear that a social worker may come knocking on the door asking about 7 am burpees in the driveway, and stricken with the angst of possibly being depicted as sexist, chauvinistic, dogmatic, or any other negative term used to describe a dad who dares to be a strong, hard, dependable, manly, male figure.
Just listen to the shock and awe response of many of the children immersed in my friend Joe De Sena's recent bootcamp for kids he organized as his home in Vermont and described on the Joe Rogan show, and read some of the comments of his description. God forbid children be pushed by older male figures, and exposed to hardship, cold, lifting heavy objects, getting up early, and learning to be tough! I highly doubt the same response would have taken place if adolescent rites of passage were woven into our culture as they had been for eons of time (a topic I address in this podcast), but frankly, most boys never even have an opportunity to experience this ceremonial recognition of their passage into manhood and subsequent societal responsibilities of protecting and providing for their family, their village, their community, and their country.
This modern backslide into male weakness is accompanied by the same censorship of true, honorable manly strength that got former president Theodore Roosevelt fired from his Sunday School teacher position. While at Harvard, Roosevelt actually taught Sunday school at a local church, but apparently he was too much of a muscular Christian (read more on his flavor of muscular Christianity here) for the church body. Case in point: One day a boy came to class with a black eye. He admitted he had been in a fight, on Sunday, no less. A much bigger boy had been pinching his sister and he got into a fistfight with him.
“You did perfectly right,” said Roosevelt and proceeded to give him a dollar. The church vestrymen thought this was going too far and subsequently removed Roosevelt from his position as Sunday school teacher. (These days, I imagine Roosevelt would not only have been removed, but also vilified and canceled on all his social media accounts, and lambasted by women's rights organizations for implying that small women somehow need to be defended by their older brothers.)
But it gets worse. In many households today, not only are fathers not being the kings, leaders, and men they need to be, but there is often no father presence whatsoever, which leads to an even more serious problem.
See, children in fatherless homes begin life at a significant disadvantage. For example, statistics show that the majority of prison inmates come from broken families and that those broken families are most often fatherless families. Furthermore, when fathers aren't present, an entity must step in to take the place of protector and provider. Sadly, that is most often not the local church or parish stepping up to the plate to care for the widows and fatherless, nor a grandparent or other loving family member, but instead, the government.
In other words, fathers aren't present. So government welfare has stepped in to replace the role of a father. Boys raised in such a home grow up without a rock, a foundation and a male leader, and thus rinse, wash, and repeat a vicious cycle—venturing out into the world without a strong sense of responsibility or rite of passage into manhood, knocking up a few ladies, producing more unwanted babies, and propagating a continued cycle of aborted babies and/or fatherless homes.
If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency. More than 20 million children live in a home without the presence of a father. Millions more children have fathers who are physically present, yet emotionally absent. You can click here to read plenty more statistics on the sad extent of fatherlessness.
In his book, Hearts of the Fathers, author Charles Crismier notes that many children today who grow up in a fatherless home lack a “God-ordered earthly anchor for soul security”, noting that “It is well known but seldom discussed, whether in the church house or the White House, that fatherlessness lies at the root of nearly all of the most glaring problems that plague our modern, now post-Christian life.” He goes on to point out that children living in female-headed homes have a poverty rate of 48 percent, more than four times the rate for children living in homes with their fathers and mothers.
Another author, Paul Vitz, in his book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, writes that—in stark contrast to the fruits of a fatherless home—strong spiritual leaders often had remarkably positive and present fathers or father figures. In one television interview, he states: “I would say the biggest problem in the country is the breakdown of the family, and the biggest problem in the breakdown in the family is the absence of the father. Our answer is to recover the faith, particularly for men, and we’ll recover fatherhood. And if we recover fatherhood, we’ll recover the family. If we recover the family, we’ll recover our society.”
In his recent essay noting the sad state of the church in America and its failure to step up for clear constitutional rights during the COVID quarantine, Doug Wilson says: “The reason why the streets of Chicago are filled with violence is fatherlessness. The reason why so many young people flock to the false allure of socialism is fatherlessness. The reason why there is massive contempt for our institutions is fatherlessness, and the reason why our institutions have become so contemptible is fatherlessness.”
But the fact is, your own home does not need to be fatherless, physically absent of a patriarch, or without the presence of a male figurehead to experience the same issues.
To destroy your legacy, continue to make our nation's families weak, continue to propagate the cycle of poverty and violence, and continue to create a culture of Homer Simpsons, Peter Griffins, and Phil Dunphys, all you need to do is keep being a boy. Your home simply needs to have you, the supposed father, mentally and spiritually absent: a likable, soft-boned buffoon.
How To Be A Man
So what can you as a father do to break this vicious cycle, become a true reflection of the ultimate man that God created you to be, and create a culture of strong, responsible males who will step up for their rights and protect and provide for their families?
I have three suggestions for you.
1. Be a king.
Quit operating in your home as the court jester. Sure, you can be likable, amicable, and a pleasant, kind and joyful presence in your household, but don't take it so far that your children or wife don't take you seriously because you haven't a drop of stoicism or seriousness in your body.
So what is a king, exactly?
Just look up the definition of king in a dictionary…
…a male sovereign or monarch…
…a man who holds by life tenure, and usually by hereditary right…
…a person or thing preeminent in its class…
…or here's the way I like to think of it: Picture Aslan, the great Lion of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles Of Narnia. Aslan is depicted as the King of Beasts, the son of the Emperor-Over-the-Sea, and the King above all High Kings in Narnia. He is awe-inspiring and a bit frightening, but unquestionably benevolent and kind, with unmatched power and unlimited goodness. That is the king you should aspire to be.
Or consider the words of Robert Greene from his book 48 Laws Of Power, in which Law 34 commands those who seek power to “Be Royal in Your Own Fashion – Act Like a King To Be Treated Like One”. Greene explains: “The way you carry yourself will often determine how you are treated: In the long run, appearing vulgar or common will make people disrespect you. For a king respects himself and inspires the sentiment in others. By acting regally and confident of your powers, you make yourself seem destined to wear a crown.”
So act royally if you want to be treated royally and taken seriously. Be sober, be confident, and command respect. If you plan to step up as the king of your family, begin to act like an actual king. How does a king act? Read Proverbs 31: 3-9, in which King Lemuel dictates to his son what it takes to be a true king:
“Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb! Listen, my son, the answer to my prayers! Do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings. It is not for kings, Lemuel— it is not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish! Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
A king must remain alert and in possession of all his faculties at all times. A king cannot afford to let himself fall into a stupor that will erode the respect of others and have devastating consequences should an attack of the enemy occur. A king cannot afford to be careless and sloppy.
Titus 2:2 in the Bible teaches that: “Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness…”
So are you such an older man, a king, and an inspirational figurehead for your family, or are you still a sober-less, undignified, weak-willed, faithless boy?
Do you need to quit smoking weed and crashing on the couch at night?
Do you need to stop sucking down your “microdoses” of plant medicine and wine and crawling into your basement man cave to escape your responsibilities?
Do you need to begin to speak up for what you know is right and a full expression of your true, authentic self, rather than who you think the world expects you to be or what an unconstitutional silly government clothing, living and shopping mandate being shoved down your throat dictates?
Then do it. Be royal. Be stoic. Be taken seriously. Stand up for what you know is right. Be a king.
2. Be a leader.
Quit lazily allowing your wife (as I did for so many years)—no matter how strong a woman she may be—to step into a position of leadership that places undue stress upon her shoulders and removes responsibility from yours. It is your position as a father to create a culture in your family that inspires respect, love, joy, peace, and trust.
What does being a strong leader of your home look like?
Establish family values and create a culture in your household by leading your family in spiritual disciplines such as meditation, prayer, gratitude journaling, clear identification of purpose statements, and the other practices I teach you about here.
Be present, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Put down your fucking phone. Look your children and wife in the eyes. No good leader is an absent leader.
Create traditions and build a legacy. Remember: you aren't just raising your children, you're raising your children's children, and everything you do in your home—from how you wake to how you eat to how you speak to how you compete to how you create—will all be observed and copied very closely by your children and future generations.
Create calendars, systems, and accountability for your home. Use Google Calendar, use an app or platform like Habitory to hold the family accountable in their daily practices, set up schedules so that family dinners become prioritized and begin to think of yourself (not your wife!) as a manager and chief operations officer of the home, and don't just show up where you're told. Instead, you decide who shows up where and when.
Consider a rite of passage for your boys. Options abound. As I mentioned earlier, I delve into rites of passage on this podcast. Many organizations, often in the realm of wilderness survival and nature immersion, exist to systematize the process of a rite of passage for a young man. Begin by Googling a term such as “wilderness rite of passage NAME OF YOUR CITY for boys.” My own boys will have multiple solo, ego-dissolving days in the wilderness between the ages of 13 and 15, accompanied by a ceremonial coming of age led by the people I trust at Twin Eagles Wilderness School. Following that rite of passage, they'll also experience their first responsibly facilitated use of plant medicines to further dissolve the ego and prepare them to become kings, leaders, fathers, and husbands for life. The rite of passage for your own boys doesn't need to be the same as mine, but hopefully, this gives you some ideas of where to start.
And finally, lead with love. You are not a soulless dictator. You are not a grumpy general who barks orders each morning. You are not a ruthless authoritarian. You gaze at others deeply in the eye, you smile kindly, you hug, you snuggle, you prepare wonderful nourishing meals, you teach with patience, you sacrifice time to be fully present, and you respect your children and your wife. Remember: be an Aslan.
As Doug Wilson says in his excellent book Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families:
“What are fathers called to? Fathers give. Fathers protect. Fathers bestow. Fathers yearn and long for the good of their children. Fathers delight. Fathers sacrifice. Fathers are jovial and open-handed. Fathers create abundance, and if lean times come they take the leanest portion themselves and create a sense of gratitude and abundance for the rest. Fathers love birthdays and Christmas because it provides them with yet another excuse to give some more to the kids. When fathers say no, as good fathers do from time to time, it is only because they are giving a more subtle gift, one that is a bit more complicated than a cookie. They must also include among their gifts things like self-control and discipline and a work ethic, but they are giving these things, not taking something else away just for the sake of taking. Fathers are not looking for excuses to say no. Their default mode is not no.”
So be the father and husband who makes wild love to your wife at night, wakes early in the morning to bake your family chocolate chip cookies for the evening family dinner, then rips your boys out of bed to go lift heavy kettlebells in the garage and drag sandbags up and down the driveway—followed by dirty, sweaty bear hugs afterward. But don't be the father and husband who stays absent and distracted with “noble” e-mail and social media work all day, then gathers the family round Netflix in the basement in the evening so they can eat takeout while you have an excuse to dink on your phone some more as they're distracted by their own giant screen.
3. Be a man of God.
Finally, to be a true leader and true king, you must seek your own spiritual fitness diligently and daily. In Father Hunger, Wilson also says:
“… men must seek to be Christians first. If they love Jesus Christ more than mother or father, or wife, or sons, or daughters, then they will be in fellowship with the source of all love. If they make an idol out of any one of their family members, then they are out of fellowship with the source of all love — meaning that the “idol” is short-changed. A man’s wife receives far more love when she is number 2 after God than she would if she were number 1. A man’s children will be fathered diligently when they are loved in the context of a much greater love.”
In other words, you must seek and experience God's love to be able to give full love to your family. You must steep yourself in God's word and be in full union with Him daily.
How is that going for you?
Are you caring for the one component of your human existence that is so often shriveled, shrunken, and neglected inside? If not, listen to this podcast episode I recorded about the Spiritual Disciplines, then, in addition to daily immersion in the Bible, delve into books such as:
- Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster
- Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney
- Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele A. Calhoun
- The Jesuits Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin, SJ
- Solitude: A Philosophical Encounter by Philip Koch
That ought to be enough to get you started in your path to spiritual health and becoming a man of God. Now take action. Once the kids are in bed, turn off your phone at night and start reading books like those above. That's what I've done for the past four years and it's been absolutely transformative.
Fortunately, we have a complete manual for being a father in an increasingly fatherless world: the Bible—and I'd be remiss not to finish with what we can learn from the world's only written source of absolute truth. What does the Bible tell us about being a father who reflects the full greatness of God the Father? Plenty! As a matter of fact, fathers are so important in the Bible (beginning with God the Father) that the words “father,” “fathers,” and “forefathers” appear 1,573 times.
Psalm 23:1-6 says: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflow…”
The Lord is our shepherd, and we as fathers should be the same for our family. You should want to be the father who can walk your own children through fear, through death, through shadows, and through evil, then train them up to be that same kind of shepherding father.
Proverbs 3:11-12 says: “My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”, Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”, Colossians 3:21: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” and Psalm 103:13: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”
So we are to be firm rocks who provide discipline, but always in kindness, compassion, and love—because we delight in our children and wish them the very best. As you look to Scripture for patterns of masculinity, you will find them manifested perfectly in the life of Jesus, who set the ultimate pattern for love and courage in living out the ideal Hero's Journey that I describe here.
Beyond the Bible, there are other resources besides those I have already mentioned above that I recommend to you and encourage you to read if you want to continue in your evolution to becoming a true man, a king, a father, and a leader in your home—including Be A Man! Becoming the Man God Created You to Be by Larry Richards and Future Men: Raising Boys to Fight Giants by Doug Wilson (who wrote the equally good Father Hunger cited earlier). In addition, here's a link to an Amazon list I created two years ago. It contains several other titles that I'm reading with my own boys—titles I chose to make boys great men and men greater men.
How about you? Do you plan to step up to the plate and accept the responsibility of your role as a father, a leader, and a king? How are you rising to the occasion for your family and being a rock and a foundation for your wife and children? What resources have you found helpful? If you are a woman who is patient enough to still be reading, what do you want to see men doing more of? Leave your comments, thoughts, and replies below. I read them all.
Finally, do me a favor: Share this post far and wide. We need strong men, and I have a hunch—said in full humbleness—that it will make a difference if more people read essays such as this.