Real Men are Vulnerable
What characterizes a good man? Author Nathan Clarkson talks about the unique role men play in God's creation and points to Christ as the embodiment of all that a man should be. Nathan shares how his pastor-father discipled him growing up, and reminisces about his thirteenth birthday when his father gave him a sword and told him that he was made to be a hero. Clarkson admits that while he's lived independently of God many times, he's learned that a good man admits his weaknesses, and seeks the help of God and others to do this thing called life.
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Nathan Clarkson talks about the unique role men play in God’s creation and points to Christ as the embodiment of all that a man should be.
Real Men are Vulnerable
Bob: Nathan Clarkson remembers the time his dad pointed him toward a vision of purpose for his life.
Nathan: My brother and I, when we turned 13, my dad gave us a real, full-on medieval knight’s sword. It had a story behind it; with it, my dad said, “You are made to be a hero. This is something you hang on your wall to remind yourself that you have a code to live by; you have a purpose to live into.” It did do something very deep inside of me. It reinforced that I was made to live a good story, and the choices that I made would add up to what kind of story I told. That sword in that moment is a continual reminder—even today at 31 years old—that I was made to live a story, and the choices I make will determine what kind of story that is.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, November 12th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Ephesians 2:10 says: “We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared beforehand that we would walk in them.” Do you know the good works God created you to walk in? We’ll talk with Nathan Clarkson about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. The subject we’re getting into today—part of the debate that goes on around this subject is: “Is there something different about what it means to be a good man than what it means to be a good woman?”—in other words, when we’re talking about virtue and goodness, and who we are supposed to be: “Is there a gender differential between masculinity and femininity and how that gets lived out? Did God make us uniquely male and female, and what does that mean?” I thought I would just roll that out at the beginning of the program.
Dave: Ask Ann—[Laughter]
Ann: No; I already answered that question.
Dave: —we need a woman’s perspective on that.
I mean, obviously, in my heart, immediately, I go to, “Yes; God made men and women uniquely, beautifully different. It’s incredibly frustrating—you know, on one hand, understand a woman and understand a man—but it’s so uniquely in the heart of God to make a man and woman different; yet they partner together in a beautiful way.”
Bob: I’ve had this conversation with lots of people. You take something like nurturing—the quality of someone being a nurturer—and we, I think, would all agree that that tends to be on one end of the gender spectrum more than it is on the other end of the gender spectrum.
Bob: But then that’s the point: “Should a man be a nurturer?”—“Of course.”
Dave: “Of course.”
Bob: Is a woman more designed by God to do that? Is it easier for her? Is it more natural for her?—probably. We have to make sure we’re not getting all boxy and say: “Men are all like this,” and “Women are all like that.”
I should introduce our guest, Nathan Clarkson, who is joining us this week. Nathan, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Nathan: Thanks for having me.
Bob: Nathan has written a book called Good Man, which is an exploration of what it is to be a good man. He’s an author; he’s a filmmaker; he’s an actor; he’s a poet; he’s a Renaissance man—can we say that?
Nathan: Absolutely. [Laughter]
Bob: I’ve reflected back, often, on one of my sons, who came home from a youth retreat. He said, “Well, I’m confused.” I said, “What are you confused about?” He said, “Well, the speaker at the retreat was talking about the difference between guys and girls. The retreat speaker said, ‘Guys like sports, and girls like to read books.’”
Bob: My son was like, “I like to read books and don’t like sports that much, so what does that make me?”
Bob: This is where we can get into stereotypes and—
Dave: Oh, yes.
Bob: —confusion. My son calls them genderalities that can be harmful and destructive, so we don’t want to get so boxy as to say men are all this way and women are all that way.
But as you were thinking about this book, you had to be thinking about: “Is there something uniquely masculine that I need to be tapping into?” and “Is it different than what God has called women to be?”
Nathan: I think as a creator/as an artist, one of the things that drew me to God is that He is a Creator, who designs things so beautifully, and uniquely, and diversely. I love just how colorful His entire creation is. There are so many differences. I think that’s displayed beautifully in how He created men and women. Both are incredible, beautiful creations that have purpose behind them; and both are unique. I think that’s a wonderful and beautiful thing. I think the world has twisted that, and there has been abuse and hurt through people misusing His design; but I do think that it’s a beautiful design aspect that God creates things so uniquely.
I can’t speak for women; but I can speak for men, and I can speak for the things that I feel that God has called us to be. I think where we often go wrong is when we are looking—we’ve all heard the phrase, “Be a real man,”—I’ve seen this in commercials; I’ve heard this in sermons; I’ve heard this everywhere. I’ve heard: “Real men don’t eat salads,” “Real men don’t cry,” “Real men do this,” or “…don’t do that.”
We/I think many men have an image in their head of what that is/what a real man is. I talk about this in my book about how I did—for many, many years—I had this idea, “Well, this is a real man...” A lot of it was from my friends, or from TV, or whatever it might have been. But I started asking a different question when I found that a lot of those images were failing me/failing to make me feel fulfilled or like I really was a real man. Very often, I was falling short.
I love reading books; I love singing; I love dancing—I was bullied for that in high school—and I had to wonder, “Does that make me less of a man?” because a lot of the images we have are superheroes—which I love, by the way/big superhero fan—or what you see very often in media: it’d be toxic, and mean, and can fight. If that’s the totality of what a man is: one, I think that’s a pretty shallow image of a man; and it’s just not something that ultimately brings me to my best self.
When I was searching for what a real man is, as I started of this book, I decided to ask myself different question rather than: “What a ‘real man’ is…”—what culture tells me, what my family tells me, what my church tells me. I want to know what a good man is, and I want to know who men were created to be. I guess this might be a cheesy answer; but ultimately, it is found in the person of Jesus—that everything He is—is what I am trying to be; and that the completion of what a man should look like and be is found in Him, and His character, and His decisions.
Bob: Now, a woman would say the same for her; so is it different for men and women; do you think?
Nathan: You know, that’s a journey that you guys will have to go on your own. [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, that’s a good answer. [Laughter]
Dave: That’s an easy—
Nathan: I am not a woman’s leader by any means.
Bob: “I will not step into that trap that you just laid for me.” [Laughter]
Nathan: That’s right, but I will speak to men.
Dave: It is interesting—when I read your book, there are 15 characteristics—my favorite number, by the way.
Dave: Yet, every one of them is distinctly male; but they could easily be read by a woman and say: “I want to be adventurous,” “I want to be devout.” Those are characteristics that are—
Dave: —[womanly as well]; but you’re going to, obviously, take it and say, “Okay; what does this look like from a male perspective; right?”
Nathan: “What would it look like?”—absolutely.
Ann: I would even go as far as to say that the first one is the desire to be a warrior. I think some women have that desire; it just may look a little different.
Ann: Do you know what I mean?
Nathan: That’s a great way to put it: “It might look a little different.”
Dave: Talk about some of these characteristics. I mean, you can pick anyone you want. You start with the verse in Samuel about man looks at the outward; God looks at the heart. Why is that important, and where does that lay a foundation?
Nathan: Well, I think today men are having an identity crisis, especially those who aren’t connected to God in any real way; because I think, on one hand, you have seen this rise over the past 30 years of culture, saying: “Do what you want,” “Sleep with who you want,” “Look at pornography,” “Act prideful,” “Be greedy,” “Go after money.” Then the very next day, you have them saying: “Men are toxic,” “Men are evil,” “Men are inherently bad.”
Every portrayal of men in media today is typically bad, and you understand why. Then you look at the statistics; you look at the news stories. You see that men, very often, have become predatory, and angry, and abusive, and violent. They have become depressed. Huge rates of suicide are only on the rise. You see that men really are in an identity crisis right now. I think a lot of this is stemming from: “They don’t know who they were made to be.”
For me, this book was not written as something: “Well, I have all this secret knowledge, and I’m going to share it with you; and this is how to become, like me, a good man.” This is more of a book that is detailing my own journey, that is still continuing, into trying to discover what that looks like.
Bob: Yes; I thought, as I read, you put together a business plan for yourself for what you’re going to continue to pursue throughout your life in order to be the kind of man you want to be.
Nathan: That’s true; absolutely. This is not a line I have crossed into “Good Man Territory”; this is a direction I am on. I guess I wanted to write it to men to know that there are other people on this journey, because I do feel a lot of the books that have been written to men are from a mountaintop perspective: “Well, I’ll tell you how to climb the mountain like I did,”—so it’s looking down on the men.
Very often, when I was young, I felt like I could never live up to the things that were in books—you have these pastors and moral leaders, who would be telling me to be a man—I was like, “I’ve fallen short every single day. I am not living up to what I am told is a good man.” I wanted to write a book—as someone who was still on the journey—who is still climbing/who is still searching, because I feel like that’s something that’s really needed right now for the young men growing up.
Dave: It’s the kind of book that a father would want to take his son through. I’m not saying a mother couldn’t as well.
Dave: I was raised by a single mom, and my mom would grab a book like this from a mom’s perspective and say, “David, let me tell you what a man is,” and walk me through it; but talk about that: “How could a father use this kind of material to walk his son into manhood?”
Nathan: I think this is a book I wanted to connect to men of all ages. I think/I look back, and my dad would have these weekly nights that he would take us out and disciple my brother and me. It wouldn’t be a moral time or confess your sin time. It would be a time, in which we were able to ask questions, and get to know God better, and see exemplified what a man looks like.
I think it’s so important for fathers to be taking the time to spend with their boys and showing them/giving them, again, a vision of what a godly man looks like/at what a good man looks like. I absolutely hope this can be a resource to dads that they can walk through, at least, in a structured way, some of the aspects to be a good man.
Ann: Talk about your 13 birthday and receiving your sword. [Laughter]
Nathan: You know, that is such a great picture of giving a young man a vision for what he can be. On my 13th birthday in our family—both boys and girls, by the way, got something special—but my brother and I, when we turned 13, my dad gave us a real full-on five-foot medieval knight sword. It had a story behind it; with it, my dad said, “You are made to be a hero. This is something you can hang on your wall to remind yourself you have a code to live by; you have a purpose to live into.”
I look back—and it was nice and shiny—I was a kid; of course, I’m going to like it; but also, it did do something very deep inside of me. It gave me—again, it reinforced that I was made to live a good story; and the choices I made would add up to what kind of story I told. That sword in that moment is a continual reminder—even today at 31 years old—that I was made to live a story; and the choices I make will determine what kind of story it is.
Bob: Where is that sword today?
Nathan: It is in my childhood room in Colorado. It is still hanging up right next to the poster of Superman. [Laughter]
Ann: Hey, I’m just curious: ‘What did your sisters get?”
Nathan: They actually got little daggers, which is—
Ann: See, I like that!
Nathan: —but they also got rings. They got more than us; I’m a little jealous. They got the warrior dagger and this beautiful—not a purity ring—but a beautiful ring to signify them growing into adult women.
Ann: That’s beautiful.
Dave: I know the sword image; I mean, you got an actual sword. I never got one as a boy, but we did it for our son. I mean, that same son that Ann said, “You’re a genius,” is the one, who I think when he was 15 or 16 said, “I want a pipe,”—a pipe! He was so unique. We were like, “A pipe?” He goes, “I don’t want to smoke it; I just want to look at it and hold it in my hand.
Nathan: That’s—real theologians for sure.
Dave: Yes; he loves/he is in literature today.
Nathan: Oh, beautiful.
Dave: But the thing is—when you think—and there are swords all over our house now. They’ve—
Nathan: That’s awesome.
Dave: —they’ll take, maybe, someday to their house—but they’re still—I have one hanging in my office because—and it wasn’t given to me—it was one of the swords we gave to our kids. They, literally, had so many that some were left in the house.
I look at it when I’m in my office; and I think, as a man, it’s an image that says, “I am called to protect—
Dave: —“this woman and my legacy in a sense.” Now, really, Jesus is the only One who can do that, but He has entrusted me, as a man—not that He hasn’t entrusted my wife as a mom—but there is a unique call on my life to hold that sword strong.
I remember hearing Dennis Rainey, 30-something years ago, say—I think probably from the stage—“Do not let your life be the door through which sin enters your family.” I’ve never forgotten that—just a simple quote he said. I picture myself standing in the front door of my house, protecting what’s behind me, and thinking, “Is sin going to come into my legacy through this door/me?
Dave: “Or am I going to stand with this sword and say, ‘No; I am called to act like a man to be strong, to stand firm, to do everything in love.’” That’s a visceral call on a man; isn’t it?
Dave: That’s what you’re getting at in this book: “A good man picks up that sword, even though it is hard, and stands firm.” By the way, you have a whole chapter on it; and he can’t do it alone; he’s with brothers.
Nathan: Absolutely. In this book, I wanted to kind of address a lot of these aspects of men we take for granted; it’s like, “Oh, yes.” I think, for many years of my life, I had this idea that men did it alone—that we figure it out by ourselves/that we don’t need help—those kinds of things.
In this book, I wanted to address some of those aspects of men that we always kind of accept without thinking about. As I look back, the times that I try to do it alone were the times that I ultimately ended up in the worst and hardest places in my life. I think when you see men together—you see it in Scripture very often—Jesus didn’t choose one man; He chose twelve to take His message to the world. He knew there was community; He knew there was support. I think there is something that really is special about men supporting men, about needing brothers, and of mentors.
I am so blessed to have people in my life, who are wiser than me, and people walking alongside of me—even in the form of—I have a therapist. I know that’s kind of taboo for a lot of men now to be emotional and vulnerable with someone/to tell them our problems: “Well, you should just figure it out yourself.” But I have someone, who speaks wisdom/godly wisdom into my life, and I am open with—I can confess to/I talk to.
That’s such an important part of my journey—is that when I am humble enough—and Jesus reiterates humility. I think being in community and mentorship around people, it requires humility; but ultimately, when I have opened myself up to people/wise people and allowed them in, I have found my life better off for having done that. I have found myself closer to following God and the life that He has called me to live.
Ann: Every wife wants her husband to have that male friend; and yet, so many men don’t. Why is that? Why don’t they reach out? Is there something—I have two questions: “Is there something we can do, as women, to help that? [Laughter]
Nathan: You know, I’ve said this before: “If there is anything that a wife, or a mom, or anyone can do, it would be: ‘When your husband’—or whoever it is in your life—‘becomes vulnerable, don’t punish his vulnerability; because men already struggle with vulnerability. If we are confessing, or talking, or just talking about something really deep and hurt in our life, I would encourage anyone: “If a man is trusting you enough to open up and be vulnerable, respect that vulnerability, and support him, and love him in that; because that’s what a lot of men need.”’”
Dave: When you think of that image of a man standing, like I said—let’s say at the front door—and a storm is coming or an enemy is coming, and he is holding that sword to protect his family, I think a lot of times we think: “That man is strong,” and “Look at him; he’s a warrior, and I want to be that man.” I don’t think we understand that man, five minutes ago, was on his knees—
Dave: —or that man was sitting in a room, with five other men, asking questions and getting their wisdom. He may be standing there at that moment, looking like he’s alone, but he is not alone.
I remember—I think it was Bob Carlisle; he’s the one who wrote Butterfly Kisses?
Dave: But this wasn’t in that song. There was another song he wrote; the lyric was: “If you see me on my knees, it’s not because I’m getting weak; I’m getting stronger.” We often see a man weak or in tears, and we think they are weak. It’s like, “No, no, no; you’re not/you’re not seeing what’s going on; he’s meeting”—could be “a therapist—
Dave: —could be a buddy/could be Jesus—“he’s finding strength in Christ right here.”
Dave: When you see him standing at that doorway, fighting that storm, it’s out of that weakness that God’s strength meets him to be able to lead and protect his family as he’s called to do”
Bob: Yes; I want to pick up on that; because I wondered, even in you saying, “I meet with a therapist,” do you feel kind of like, “That feels a little unmanly to say that”?
Nathan: There were a lot of hardships with my mental illness, but because—there are a few things, because of them, have been blessings to me—and because I had to accept, very early on, that I had things that I was struggling with that I couldn’t deal with on my own—be that my OCD or depression; whatever it was—I started seeing a therapist very early in my life. I got over very quickly that: “This is not what a real man does”; because I saw the benefit, and I knew how much I needed it.
I have felt that, in telling people throughout the years—that: “Oh, really; guys don’t do that. That’s what girls do. Girls are vulnerable; men just muscle up and just power through it.” I’ve heard men say, “I could never go to therapist. I couldn’t talk about my problems. I couldn’t get vulnerable like that; I’ll just figure them out.” That always makes me sad because I know how much benefit it has been for me to have places in my life, where I can be vulnerable; but absolutely, that is still something that I find a lot of men really struggle with.
Bob: I think there are a lot of guys who, we feel inside like: “If we can’t do it on our own, there is something wrong with us.
Bob: “Men are supposed to be able to solve all their problems and not need input from the outside. If we don’t know all the answers, we’re weak somehow.”
Can we just burst that bubble right here—
Bob: —and just say: “Look; we’re all messed up. We’ve all got weaknesses and flaws.
Bob: “We need one another, and we need help. There is no shame”? In fact, there is more shame in being a poser than there is in being a real man, to say, “I need some help on this. I can’t figure this one out on my own. I’m going to get…”
I remember a leader calling Mary Ann and me and asking if we would get together. He was going through a real struggle time in his life. He got the two of us, and a couple other couples got together, and [he] said, “Here is what we’re dealing with, and we’re not sure what to do. We need your counsel.” It was an extremely raw and vulnerable time. I thought, “That’s—first of all, it’s wisdom. Second of all, it’s real strength to say, ‘I’m not just going to fake it and make everybody think I’ve got this covered. I’m going to say, “I need help,” and get wisdom from others around me.’”
Dave: I would just add—to the man, who is listening right now—“If you don’t have men in your life, it’s on you,” because it’s really easy to say, “Well, you know, I couldn’t find him at my church.” I get it; that’s going to be—but at some point, you’ve got to take a step and say: “Dude, I need help,” or “I need a friend. Can we be…”
Dave: Just take that journey. I know, in my life, the men that God has brought into my life—and by the way, I went after them.
Dave: Honestly, when I moved to Detroit in ’85 to work for the Detroit Lions, I tried I bet seven different men’s sort of small groups. If I would have quit, I wouldn’t have these men in my life. They [others] weren’t the right guys—there were different reasons why—but man, I kept pursuing and pursuing and found these guys. We’ve been together over 25 years.
Dave: We’ve raised our kids. I’ve done their daughters’ weddings, doing another one coming up. There has been real heartache and real brokenness. Two of our—these are men—if you came to our church and you saw them, you’d say, “Oh, those are the leaders and the strongest men at that church.” I’d be like, “Yes; you have no idea; this guy’s wife had an affair,” “This guy had an affair”; and their marriages have been saved—
Dave: —“because of this group.” We’ve wept—
Dave: —we’ve celebrated. So many men don’t have that. I’m just saying, “Dude, I’m looking you right in the eye and saying, ‘Get men in your life.’”
Dave: It’s in your book, “Good men are brothers, and they seek out brotherhood.” You can’t do it without them. It’s on you to do it. God’s got some men for you. Make the call; send the text—do whatever it takes. You’re going to be a better man. Your legacy is going to be changed because you step out and make it happen.
Bob: Get five guys and say, “I heard on the radio about this book. Maybe, we could all go through it together, take a chapter, go to”—we were all talking about Denny’s earlier. There are still Denny’s; right? [Laughter] “Go to Denny’s.”
Nathan: Yes; there is.
Dave: Or go to a movie when the theaters open. [Laughter]
Bob: We’ve got copies of Nathan’s book, Good Man, available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can find out more about the book; order multiple copies when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy of Nathan’s book. Again, it’s called Good Man; or look for it, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Also, check out the video series that FamilyLife® produced a few years ago based on Dennis Rainey’s book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood®. That’s available for guys to go through as well, either in a socially-distanced setting or online. Check out the Stepping Up video series when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, order a copy of Nathan’s book, Good Man. Call us if that’s easier; our number is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Speaking of small groups, we have just started taking preorders for a new small group study for couples called Love Like You Mean It. This is based on my book which is all about 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter on love, looking phrase by phrase at what real love is supposed to look like in a marriage relationship. This is a ten-part video series. There is an assessment that goes with it, so you can see how you’re doing—strengths and weaknesses when it comes to loving one another in marriage.
If your group doesn’t have ten times to get together; maybe, you’ve only got four, or six, or seven—whatever you want to do—there are ways to use this series and pick the topics that fit your group best. Find out more about the new Love Like You Mean It video series when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or call if you have any questions: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about the characteristics of godly masculinity. Is there a portrait we can look at/something we can see that says, “That’s it,”—something we can aim toward? Nathan Clarkson is going to join us to help us think about that tomorrow. I hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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