Sometimes the simplest gesture can make a big statement. I remember the weekend when I first brought Merry to meet my family in Oregon. My parents took us to a college basketball game, and it was raining hard when we arrived at the arena.
We had only one umbrella, so Dad dropped us off so we wouldn’t get wet. That really impressed Merry—she thought if my father had that type of servant attitude, some of it must have rubbed off on me.
And though I confess that I haven’t always followed my father’s example, I did learn much from him about being a husband, a father, and a man. I’m fortunate to have a father who modeled how to take responsibility—he provided well for his family, he loved my mother, he was involved in his church and community, and he worked hard at helping raise my sister and me. He was consistent, stable, and wise—and he was there for us.
In fact, he still is.
I’ve been thinking about my father lately as I’ve thought about men who won’t grow up. For example, Merry is involved in a ministry to business women here in Little Rock, Arkansas, and she has met many women whose husbands reverted to adolescent behavior after years of marriage. They decided to leave their wives and children to pursue the excitement and adventure they felt they were missing.
Then there’s the “Peter Pan Syndrome”—the growing phenomenon of young men who don’t seem to want to grow up. They drift from job to job, live with parents or with a crew of buddies, and focus much of their energy on drinking, carousing, watching sports, playing video games, and chasing women.
What makes this generation of young men different from previous ones is that many are delaying marriage longer than before, and our culture is encouraging them to prolong adolescent behavior. In his recent book, Guyland, sociologist Michael Kimmel writes:
Guyland is the world in which young men live. It is both a stage of life, [an] undefined time span between adolescence and adulthood that can often stretch for a decade or more, and … a bunch of places where guys gather to be guys with each other, unhassled by the demands of parents, girlfriends, job, kids, and the other nuisances of adult life. In this topsy-turvy, Peter-Pan mindset, young men shirk the responsibilities of adulthood and remain fixated on the trappings of boyhood, while the boys they still are struggle heroically to prove that they are real men despite all evidence to the contrary.
It’s as if these young men have developed a warped idea of manhood. They think becoming a man means getting to do whatever they want. So for them, starting a family means giving up their cherished independence. With that type of mindset, you wonder what type of husbands and fathers they will be when they finally set aside their childish ways.
But my father showed me that being a man means taking responsibility—for your choices, for your family, for your community, and for the next generation. And a key step to becoming that man is to find a wife and raise a family.
Our sinful, human nature craves independence; we want to go our own way, and avoid the responsibilities of commitment to God and to other people. As Isaiah 53:6 tells us, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”
We live in a culture that celebrates youth and beauty and independence—even at the expense of growing up. Many young men today immerse themselves in a world of media entertainment and diversions that tell them it’s okay to live a self-centered lifestyle, free of commitments to anything beyond endless and mindless pleasure.
In a world like this, where can men—young and old—learn how to become real men? The simple answer is: From other men. Whether we are young or old, we need other men in our lives who will teach us, model for us, and encourage us to make the right choices.
Husbands and fathers need to step up and take responsibility for raising the next generation.
Boys growing up without fathers need men who will step into their lives and mentor them.
And young men who refuse to grow up need peers and mentors who will exhort them to act like men.
As Dennis Rainey, president of FamilyLife, writes, “While none of us ever outgrow the need for having other men to mentor us, it is an absolute essential for those who would admit that their teenage tendencies are still pretty strong inside. If you find yourself grown but still exhibiting immature, adolescent behavior on a fairly regular basis, you need people around you who can call you up and out.”