There are countless issues that are robbing young men of a shot at true manhood today, but none more pervasive and powerful than pornography.
Consider the barrage of sexual images our sons (and daughters) are exposed to as they grow up—on television, in movies, on the Internet, and now on their cell phones. Shockingly, most see hard core pornography during their elementary school years, with many becoming addicted to online pornography as teenagers. It isn’t a matter of wondering if they will see pornography; it’s more of a question of how much they’ve seen and how much of a grip it has on their lives. In innumerable ways they are told that the mark of a real man is his sexual experience.
Is it any wonder that they grow up with a selfish, warped perspective of their sexuality? That they carry those views into their twenties and thirties, and ultimately into their marriages? That their sexual experimentation eventually impacts and undermines their marriages and families?
I’m still not sure what caused me to ask my 14-year-old son the question, but years ago around dinnertime I said, “I’ve been thinking about you recently and I was just wondering if you’ve been looking at any stuff you ought not to be looking at?”
He knew exactly what I was asking.
He looked at me like I was omnipresent and said, “Well, as a matter of fact, today at lunch as I was eating my sandwich in the classroom a couple of guys brought a Playboy magazine into the room and asked me if I wanted to look at it.”
I tried to be calm as I asked, “So what’d you do?” He responded, “I wrapped up my sandwich . . . and walked out of the room!” At that point, I broke into a huge grin and shouted, “Yes!” as though my son had just scored in the Super Bowl. He had.
Today we still have centerfolds, but they are not just found in smutty magazines. Through the Internet, young men today have easier access to pornography than ever before. They are also bombarded today by sexually aggressive girls texting and “sexting”—sending inappropriate pictures of themselves to young men’s cell phones.
This is not the time for our sons to be isolated. We cannot afford to allow them to sort through this complex issue alone. If you had to face it alone as a teenager, I’m truly sorry. You know how destructive this issue can be. And you also know how much you needed your dad during those days. But I urge you to let your experiences motivate you to protect your son from those entanglements. Join him in battle. Step into his life. Check up on where he’s gone on the web. Ask him questions. Probing questions. It is your business because he is your son.
Standing outside the door
Fred Stoeker is a man who knows very well the need for fathers to guide their sons through this issue. And he’s a man who learned that sometimes the most courageous thing a man can do is to simply open a door.
When his son, Jason, was 11, Fred began to think of all the changes and pressures and temptations his son would be facing as a teenager. Fred wanted to begin meeting regularly with Jason to take him through a book on preparing for adolescence, but Fred worried about how Jason would react.
For five nights in a row, Fred stood outside Jason’s bedroom door, wanting to talk with his son, but unable to summon the courage.
Yet Fred knew he needed to do something to help Jason avoid the same mistakes he himself had made as a teenager.
He remembered that his grandfather had been unfaithful as a husband.
He remembered seeing his father’s pornography hidden under the bed. He remembered reading a letter his father was writing to a mistress. He remembered the time his father wanted to teach him about sex by setting him up with a prostitute.
Despite his repeated vows not to follow in his father’s footsteps, Fred couldn’t live up to those ideals. At one point as a young stockbroker in California, he was juggling four women, sleeping with three of them and engaged to two.
Miraculously, God lifted him from his sex-infested lifestyle and eventually brought him into a relationship with a godly woman—who became his wife—and settled him into the role of husband. And father.
And so Fred found himself standing outside his son’s bedroom, grappling with a responsibility familiar to all dads of teenage boys—opening a father-son dialogue about sex. He didn’t know exactly how to do it, but he couldn’t shake the conviction that it was time to, in his words, “put a stop to this corruption in the family tree.”
And finally, tired of acting like a wimp, he knocked on Jason’s door.
Talking from the heart
After a few seconds of forced small talk, Fred realized he was doing nothing to disguise the fact to his son that he was there on serious business. So taking a deep breath, knowing he was too far in now to back down, he tossed aside his fears and just started talking. Straight. From the heart.
“Look, son, you’re entering a time of life when things are going to start being different. Your body will be changing. Your friends will be having more influence on you. You’ll start noticing girls in a different way. It’s just going to be totally new.”
“I know, Dad. It’s called perverty, right?”
Fred laughed. “Well, no, it’s called ‘puberty’ actually!”
He went on to say that it would be a little hard to understand sometimes. He didn’t want Jason to figure this thing out all by himself, or to piece it together from what he heard from his friends. He wanted to begin meeting to talk about it together and read the Bible together and pray for God to help him handle what was ahead.
Fred expected Jason to roll his eyes and mutter, “Yeah, sure, whatever.” So he was shocked to hear his son say, “Dad, I really think it’s a good time for us to be going through this . . . I’ve been scared lately.”
“Son, what are you scared of?”
“Well, I’ve been having a tough time saying no to my friends lately, and I don’t understand it, and I’ve just been scared that I can’t say no.”
Tears came to Jason’s eyes, and Fred saw that his son really needed his father. That began a new chapter in their relationship, as Fred began helping Jason understand how to trust God through the issues he faced during adolescence.
Fred wonders what would have happened if he had never gone into Jason’s room that night. He thinks Jason would have been left to face “perverty” on his own—just like he had done so many years before.
Fred wrote a book titled Every Man’s Battle, in which he described his own slide into sexual immorality, which started when he was exposed to porn as a young boy. His experience shows the importance of a father’s involvement.
As fathers we face many moments like the one Fred experienced, standing in the hallway outside his son’s bedroom. Moments when we need to set aside our fears and step up.
Our adolescent sons need men in their lives. Dads who are willing to be there and listen. No-baloney dads who will cut straight to the chase and get down to it.
This is the courage required on the hidden battlefield of the home.
Without this courage, we abandon our sons to fight the culture alone.
Do you want that happening on your watch?
Adapted by permission from Dennis Rainey’s book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood, FamilyLife Publishing, 2011.