FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Defining Manhood

with Robert Lewis | June 5, 2006
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On today's broadcast. pastor Robert Lewis, author of the book Raising a Modern-Day Knight, talks to fathers about the important task of raising boys.

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  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • On today's broadcast. pastor Robert Lewis, author of the book Raising a Modern-Day Knight, talks to fathers about the important task of raising boys.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Robert Lewis talks to fathers about the important task of raising boys.

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Defining Manhood

With Robert Lewis
June 05, 2006
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Bob: One author has said that, as dads, we shouldn't look at our sons as boys; we should see them as future men.  Here is Dennis Rainey along with Robert Lewis.

Dennis: Being a father is worth it.

Robert: Yeah, there you go.

Dennis: And being a strategic father is, indeed, a glory.  It is a privilege.  It is an unspeakable honor to have raised two sons and had an impact on their life.

Robert: Yes, "No greater joy than this," John says, "than to see my children walking in the truth."  And I think no greater joy for a dad than to see his son standing tall as a man.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, June 5th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Today we're going to talk about what it takes to turn boys into men.  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  I'll tell you what, it is interesting – it seems like people are starting to get their heads up and looking around and going, "You know what?  There are some issues with boys that need to be addressed and, really, the person who can most effectively address those issues is a dad."  I'm thinking of Dr. Dobson's book, "Bringing up Boys," that came out a couple of years ago.  "Newsweek," a few months back had an article called "The Trouble with Boys."  All of a sudden, people are starting to notice we've got some issues going on here.

Dennis: That's right, and a number of our listeners have already purchased Robert Lewis's book, "Raising a Modern Day Knight," and they know that if there's ever been a time when dads and, for that matter, moms, need to be equipped to know how to help a young man grow through boyhood to true, authentic manhood, it's today, and Robert Lewis joins us on FamilyLife Today, and, Robert, I want to welcome you back, because you – he may be the guest who has been on FamilyLife Today the most number of times.

Bob: We were talking about this before and back in the days when we were really hungry and desperate, we used to have Robert on a lot, didn't we?


Dennis: Welcome to the broadcast, Robert.

Robert: That's right, that's when I come in – when you're hungry and desperate.

Dennis: Robert, for a number of years, was my pastor at Fellowship Bible Church here in Little Rock.  He is the founder of Men's Fraternity.  He and his wife, Sherrod [sp], have four children, and they are expecting …

Robert: … our first …

Dennis: … their first grandbaby.

Robert: And we are celebrating.

Dennis: I had a chance of seeing your son-in-law when I got my eyes checked the other day.

Robert: Oh, is that right?

Dennis: I went over, and he had just found out and gave him high fives, and I thought, "Good for Robert and Sherrod."  They need to be grandparents because there is a dusting of gray on top there.

Robert: That's right, I'm starting to look like one, aren't I?

Dennis: We are, we are, no doubt about it.  Robert, this has been a theme of your life, this subject of building into men, helping boys become men, and today this subject is more relevant than ever before, isn't it?

Robert: It really is, Dennis. This whole issue of raising boys, I am glad has finally reached the national spotlight.  Bob just mentioned a moment ago the "Newsweek" article entitled "The Boy Crisis," in which it addressed the question of why are boys falling behind in every area of education?  But then there's this unbelievable statement made by the Secretary of Education who made the statement that a boy without a man is like an explorer without a roadmap.  And what we have today is a whole generation of young boys growing up that have no vision, and without a vision boys get out of control.

Bob: I think the article said 40 percent of young men are growing up without a father figure or without a dad in the home, right?

Robert: That's right, without a dad in the home, and then there's another 40 percent of boys who tell researchers they feel no emotional closeness to their dads.  So what we're doing is effectively launching 80 percent of our young boys into society visionless.

Dennis: I've never forgotten a message that Robert gave – it has to be 20 years ago, and it was a message about men and women and how they are created by God differently, and, Robert, remember the sign you held up in front of the church.  This was back before we even had a facility to meet in.  We were in a theater.  Remember the sign you held up?

Robert: That's right, "I love women."

Dennis: The sign said, "I love women."

Bob: You were not simply declaring your heterosexuality at that point, you were about to say some hard things.

Robert: Well, back then, 20 years ago, to speak about the issue of men created a natural stirring in women who were feeling at that time that they needed to flex their own independence and muscle, and it invaded the church and rightfully so.  There were a lot of things women needed to expand into with new rights and new freedoms and hopefully, for our society, new sensitivities.

 Interestingly enough, though, here we are in the 21st century, and the pendulum has swung the opposite direction, though I still think there is a very, very strong feminine consciousness that pervades our society.  Underneath it, unaddressed, is a masculine crisis.

Bob: Define that for us. What is at the heart of the masculine crisis?

Robert: It is lack of definition of what masculinity is all about and the inability in that vacuum to then translate to boys and men vision that focuses their undefined energies in a positive direction.

Bob: So you're saying dads aren't clear about what they're supposed to be as men and, as a consequence, they can't cast a vision for their sons, and the sons are growing up with all of this masculine energy, and instead of being channeled productively toward a godly end, it's being diffused in a myriad of different directions.

Robert: And here is why – years ago a sociologist made this statement, which I thought was profound.  He said men are filled with undefined energies only.  Women have a natural focus point in child-rearing that starts them on their way and actually anchors them in some ways.  But men are filled with undefined energies only and unless they get focus, those energies are expended in a myriad of ways, most of which are not positive.  And I think in light of where we are today in America, without a clear concept of what masculinity is, and the inability of dads to know it themselves and deposit it into their sons' hearts, you get a whole generation that's going every direction except the right direction. 

 If they get the new freedoms, if a woman gets the new freedoms of the 21st century without a man, they'll still be unhappy.  What we need is those new freedoms coupled with true masculinity, but in order to do that, someone has to step up and step into that vacuum and define what masculinity is.

Bob: When you wrote the book, "Raising a Modern Day Knight," you provided a definition for masculinity, and then you encouraged men to mark along the path some ways to initiate their boys into masculinity.  And I think some people focused on the ceremonies but may have missed the bigger context, which was that those ceremonies need to be a tool in your toolkit.

Robert: Anchored to a vision.

Bob: But the assignment is bigger than just accomplish the ceremonies and you will have done the job.

Robert: That's exactly right.  The ceremonies are a vehicle, they're a means to an end, and at the core of the end is a clear definition of what masculinity is all about in a concise way.  But then has a further fleshing out of what those things mean in the everyday of life, which you can keep coming back to a core statement like, "accept responsibility," which is part of the definition I have of masculinity that I see in the Scriptures, but you can tell your son a real man accepts responsibility when he's dating a young girl.  You can use it about his academics as I just did with my college-age son; you can use it in the course of just things around the house.  But it keeps timing back to a vision, and that's what's missing in masculinity today – a vision that's compelling that inspires young men and old men alike to define their energies or focus their energies in that positive direction.  And when that happens, the good news is that great things happen, and I've been able to experience those good things with men all across America and in other parts of the world.  But it's most exciting when it begins with a dad depositing to his son, because that is what I call "proactive parenting," and it builds in help that lasts for a lifetime.

 A lot of the work that, unfortunately, I've experienced even through Men's Fraternity is a ministry that uncovers new truths about masculinity to the men and then men feel, at first, regret, because they're 40 years old with a 40-year-old track record of woundedness, wrong direction, mistakes, and then they get this new vision, and it begins to redirect their path.  But then they'll always say to me these words – "I wish I'd heard this 20 years ago." 

 And the place that they were really longing for is to have heard it from a dad, their dad.

Dennis: Robert, as I think about you, our friendship goes way back to the University of Arkansas.  For some of our listeners who have never been there, that's the "Harvard of the Ozarks."

Robert: And only a select few attend there.

Dennis: That's exactly right – an elite few.

Bob: The few and the proud.

Dennis: That's right, that's right.  But as I think about you, and as I've watched this vision for manhood emerge through your life and ministry, you're a pioneer, and this goes back to when you were a young man, and you talk about in your book a couple of pictures that were snapshots that really captured your relationship with your father.  Do you know what pictures I'm talking about?

Robert: Two pictures that still reside in my home – one is the picture of a moment in time when Sherrod and I were married, and at the reception after our marriage, there was a picture of all the family, with Sherrod and I in the center, as you normally take at wedding ceremony, and there we are with everybody in the family except my dad.  And my dad's missing, and he was AWOL for my wedding because my dad suffered under chronic alcoholism and the pressure of a wedding was too much for him.  And so rather than attend, he simply drank himself into a stupor.

 And so that just left a huge wound for me.  It was a series of wounds where my dad was AWOL from our lives, the three boys' lives, with a retreat into someplace that he needed to go because he couldn't deal with issues within his own life.  And I don't know what all those were even to this day, but it left the three of us emotionally disconnected from a dad.  And that was one of those moments that just, I think, summarized my experience.

Dennis: In other words, you didn't have a father painting a vision; the canvas was blank.

Robert: The canvas was blank.  It even had some dark streaks on it because, in some ways, at least in my case, I had to be kind of the caretaker of my dad.  I became a father to a father, which is very unnatural and really unhealthy.  I think the other picture you referred to, the one I have still on my dresser, is a small picture in a little, small tin frame, of the three boys meeting for the last time with my mom and dad, and we're out in the back yard, and my mom wanted to take a picture.  And it shows the three boys, my oldest brother was about to go into the Vietnam Conflict, and my younger brother was about to go off to Colorado and find himself, and I was in seminary, so we're standing there, and this beautiful crystal clear sky and the sunlight is right on us, and it's kind of art imitating life.  We're in the full bloom of our young manhood, and my dad's standing behind us, but the way the picture captured my dad is a shadow was over my dad, because he was standing under a branch of a tree, and it blotted him out from the picture.  So he's there, but you can't see him.

 And that pictured how we were raised – with a dad who was there, but we just couldn't see him, and he left a huge void in all three of our lives.

Dennis: But instead of being a victim, as a young man growing up, you decided to turn that loss, that wound, into what our mutual friend, Dan Jarrell, calls a "holy scar."

Robert: Right, and I think Dan would admit that a holy scar is by the grace of God.  It's not because of some brilliance on my part, even though I did go to Harvard of the Ozarks, it wasn't any brilliance on my part.  Really, really, it was by the grace of God that I found Christ my freshman year in college, and I think the process was a painful, at times, process of trying to rediscover who I was in Christ first, as a Christian, and then in a sudden turn that was unexpected for me, and there were things that brought this about that we probably don't have time to talk about, but then in a journey to discover what it meant to be a man. 

 See, I think that for a lot of men, after being a pastor for 30 years, I think, for a lot of men, they wouldn't consciously say this, but they think of Christian – just Christian – if they don't have the "man" part, they think of Christian as a little bit weak or even a little bit feminine.  And suddenly, when you begin to paint a portrait of Christian with a masculine veneer and color, it's like it comes alive for them, and it becomes adventuresome, daring, courageous, bold, and they get excited.  That's where I've seen more change in a man in Men's Fraternity in one year than I've seen with a lot of guys that just sat in church under me for 20 years.  And I tried to figure out why. 

After I started seeing all this stuff happening with Men's Fraternity, I said, "Why did this guy come alive when he walked into Men's Fraternity?"  I think it's because we presented Christianity in this more narrow scope in pure masculine tones, and it made the rest of Christianity make sense.  It was like the key that unlocked the Christian door.  They had the door, and you could talk about how pretty the door is and how exciting what was on the inside was, but they didn't have the key.  And once they got the key and saw it was – that Christianity was thoroughly masculine and being romantic with your wife was a masculine experience, and going out and making a difference in the community was a daring, masculine, and Christian experience, it's like all of a sudden I started seeing guys get engaged at levels I'd never experienced – when they just simply came to church on Sunday.

Bob: You referred to a part of your definition of manhood by talking about accepting responsibility, and I think it would be good if we can – we really can't unpack it today, but if we can just get the overview – what is it that you'd point men to and say, "This is the picture.  This is what it's supposed to look like."

Robert: Yeah, we labor for a number of weeks in Men's Fraternity just unpacking Genesis in the Gospels comparing what I call "the two supreme men" – the first Adam and second Adam.  The Adam of Genesis and the Adam of the Gospels, Jesus Christ.  And we just compare them.  We look at these two supreme figures of masculinity and just look at what made them who they were and the pluses and minuses.  But when we boil them down together, we come up with a succinct definition that I think summarizes that comparison, and we bring out a definition that says this – that a real man is one who rejects passivity – speaking of the passivity of the first Adam – accepts responsibility, the daring courage of the second Adam; leads courageously rather than capitulate to feelings or temptation.

 Now, to your listeners, you'll have them saying, "Well, what does it mean to accept responsibility?"  If you're in Men's Fraternity, you know what all that means, and we unpack it, or what is expecting the greater reward, we unpack that.  But when guys understand it, and we boil it down to that succinct statement, that becomes a statement, a brand, that men can go back to with each other at any time of the day, and when you just mention, "You need to accept responsibility," they know what that means.

 Or in the case, like, several years ago when my younger son was having trouble with a young lady, he looked over at me, and he smiled, and he said, "Dad, it's time I reject passivity."  And I knew exactly – he was stepping up to manhood, and I just compliment – now, there was a whole level of meaning underneath that, but the point is that when guys get it, and it's a vision that stirs in them action and courage and a sense of dignity and boldness and nobility – that's when I see men come alive.  It's like I found the key that makes it all work.

Bob: I've used your definition, and the other day I came home, and it was a Tuesday, and the trash can was up at the curb on a Tuesday, and our trash gets picked up on Monday.  So it had been a 24-hour cycle that the trash can was up at the curb.

Dennis: A little passivity, you think is occurring here?

Bob: Well, I said to my son, David, I said, "David, the trash can up at the curb.  You haven't brought it down."  And he said, "Well, nobody told me I was supposed to."  And I said, "Well, accepting responsibility means doing it.  It doesn't mean waiting until you're told.  It means noticing it and doing it.  You look around and say, 'How can I help?'"  And he kept trying to say, "Well, I'm off the hook," and I said, "Maybe in a technical sense you're off the hook."  You know, there was no punishment because he hadn't brought it down, because I hadn't said to him, "Your job is to bring it down."  But I just said, "A man looks around and says, 'That needs to be done, and I can go do it.'"

Robert: And I'll initiate and do it.  And, Bob, you just gave a perfect illustration of what I'm talking about.  The definition is home base, and then what you do is you unpack that definition over a lifetime with illustration and application for a lifetime, and it broadens out until it sinks deep into a son's life until he begins to resonate with it at such a level that he begins to initiate out of his own life that energy.

Bob: Not only are you helping guys get a picture for this in Men's Fraternity, but you've done it in the book, "Raising a Modern Day Knight," and not long ago the two of you were a part of a video series that takes the principles from your book, "Raising a Modern Day Knight," and puts it in a training video that guys can now use in a small group, in a church setting, to really capture this whole vision and share it with one another, right?

Robert: That's right.  One of the concerns I've had for a number of years leading up to Dennis and I putting together this video package was that in Men's Fraternity you would have dads come up to me all the time and say, "Can I bring my son?"  But the material really doesn't lend itself to a young son.  And yet the reality is that where we need to be scoring points are not with dads looking back saying, "What can I undo?"  But with young dads learning what to do.  That's the key.  That's what this is all about.

Dennis: It is, and you referred to that definition of manhood being home base.  Well, the best place to teach that definition is at the home base and to equip fathers to do that.  And, you know, I've watched them in Men's Fraternity, Robert, and I've watched our listeners, who have picked up your book and now have a possibility of going through a video series with other fathers – I've watched men with just a little direction.  Guys can do this.  You don't have to be seminary trained.  You know, God has put it within a man's heart to know what to do if he's just pointed in the right direction with a few tools, and that's what's in this series and is why I'm thrilled we're offering here on FamilyLife Today.

Bob: We, of course, have copies of the book, "Raising a Modern Day Knight," in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  We also have the video curriculum we've been talking about, "Raising a Modern Day Knight" – a six-week adventure for dads to go through together where you and Robert mentor them in this process of raising up their sons to embrace authentic manhood. 

 You can get more information about these resources by going to our website,  In the middle of the screen, you'll see a red button that says "Go," and if you click on that button, it will take you right to a page where you can find out more about the video curriculum, about the book, "Raising a Modern Day Knight."  There is information there about your book, "Rocking the Roles," which helps husbands and wives both understand the unique roles that we are to play in a marriage relationship. 

 And, in fact, any of our listeners who are interested in getting the book, "Raising a Modern Day Knight," together with the book, "Rocking the Roles," we can send them the CD audio of our conversation this week on this subject. 

 Again, our website is and probably the best thing for you to do is to go to the site, click that red button that says, "Go," and get more information about how you can order these resources.  You can order online, if you'd like, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY.  That's 1-800-358-6329, and ask about the video curriculum or about the books that are available, and someone on our team can get these resources out to you.

 You know, several weeks ago we had, as a guest on FamilyLife Today, Elyse Fitzpatrick, talking about our tendency to look at food the wrong way.  In fact, she said that we content to make eating an idolatrous activity.  Elyse has written a book called "Love to Eat, Hate to Eat," and the interview that we did with her really struck a chord with many of our listeners, and we decided that this month we wanted to make a copy of that interview available to any of our FamilyLife Today listeners who would contact us during June and make a donation of any amount to help with the funding of this ministry.  We are listener-supported, and the costs associated with this radio program and the other aspects of our ministry are largely underwritten by donations from folks just like you who call or write to us and make a tax-deductible contribution for the support of FamilyLife Today.

 If you will do that during the month of June, you can request a copy of the audio CD that features our conversation with Elyse Fitzpatrick on eating, on understanding our motivation for eating; how to take a biblical approach to food and avoid the extremes of eating disorders or over-eating, gluttony, those kinds of things.  Contact us to make a donation either by going online at or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone.  When you do, you can request the audio CD.  Either mention it to the person you talk to when you call or, if you're filling out the form online, when you get to the keycode box just type in the word "eat," and we'll know that you'd like the CD with Elyse Fitzpatrick, and we'll be happy to send that out to you as our way of saying thank you for your ongoing support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  We really appreciate your partnership, and we're happy to be able to provide practical, biblical, helpful resources like this audio CD to help strengthen your relationship with Christ and your relationships with one another in your family.

 Tomorrow Dr. Robert Lewis is going to be back with us, and we're going to being to unpack the definition of manhood that you describe in the book, "Raising a Modern Day Knight," and I hope our listeners can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. 

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