FamilyLife Today® Podcast

REAL Men Start Here: Dave & Ann Wilson

with Dave and Ann Wilson | January 17, 2023
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Ever wonder if you’ve got what it takes to be a man? Host Dave Wilson wrestled with his own weakness—and searched out the makings of real men.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • 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.

Ever wonder if you’ve got what it takes to be a man? Host Dave Wilson wrestled with his own weakness — and searched out the makings of real men.

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REAL Men Start Here: Dave & Ann Wilson

With Dave and Ann Wilson
January 17, 2023
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Ann: You are a real man. [Laughter] Why are you laughing?

Dave: That was your start. [Laughter]

Ann: We're going to be talking about that today.

Dave: I thought you were joking.

Ann: I was totally serious. I'm complimenting you.

Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today®, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.

Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on our FamilyLife® app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: Here's my question. When you say real man, what does that mean?

Ann: Well, I've heard you preach it, and if you didn't live it, we would not be talking about this today [laughter] because I've watched you live it. We've been married 41 years, and I've watched you struggle with it at the beginning, and I've watched you live it out in front of our sons.

Dave: Well, not perfectly; but as a husband, as a dad, as of a man of God, this would probably be my biggest goal in life, is to live out what we're calling “The Four Pillars of Manhood.” That's what I'm called to be. I can't wait to hear you talk about “The Four Pillars of Womanhood” later this week.

Yesterday, we started with—again just to review, I said to the men at our church for 30 years, “What does it mean to be a real man?” and thought, “Well, if we're going to talk real man, let's use that word “real” as an acrostic: R-E-A-L and it leads to four pillars that really first generated in a book called Raising a Modern-Day Knight by Robert Lewis. Actually, a lot of this is now in a book by Jon Tyson who--

Ann: Yes, you're right.

Dave: —earlier this year called The Intentional Father. He didn't talk about four pillars, but all the same concepts.

We took the word REAL, and yesterday we talked about:

  • A real man rejects passivity,
  • and engages with God.

And again, those are huge pillars. Number one, because there's a bent in all men to be passive, and a boy is passive, but a man steps up and says the right thing, does the right thing.

But the second one was—you know, the most important one I think is a real man engages with God. In other words, pursues God, has a real relationship with God.

The truth is spiritual men are strong men because they find their strength in Christ. And when you engage with God as a man, there's a strength found in Christ, that meets us in our weakness. The apostle Paul said, you know, “I am weak, but in Christ I am strong.” When a man finds real strength by engaging with God, he gives him the strength to reject passivity.

Ann: And here's what I found being married 41 years—and we've been doing marriage conferences and speaking on marriage and helping couples and marriage for a long time; almost as long as we've been married—here's what I've found because you've taught me this, is you've said that men, deep down, are insecure.

Dave: Oh, yes.

Ann: I'm like, “What?!” And you, you were like, “Yes, we wonder, ‘Do we have what it takes? Can we do it?’” And so, as a woman listening—if you're a wife, if you're a mom, if your grandmother, if you're a sister—the men around us need us to encourage them. As you listen today, as you listened yesterday, don't think this is a time like, “Oh, I'm going to badger them because this is what they need to do, and this is who they need to be.” No; this is our opportunity to remind them of who they are and what God has for them and catch them doing things that are right. Or when you hear these principles, think back and pray “Jesus, help me see and say when they're doing things right.”

Dave: Yes. All I know is when you speak life to me, when you see me living out these pillars—and I don't live them out every second and I don't live them out perfectly—but when you see even a glimpse of manhood, godly manhood, in me and you speak affirmation, I like, run to be even better.

Ann: Well, I remember because I badgered you when our boys were maybe elementary age years. I would try to motivate you by comparing you to our other friends—

Dave: That never worked.

Ann: [laughter] —like, you know, “Steve’s reading the Bible every night to his kids,” or “Mark’s doing this cool devotional out in the woods.” I had no idea that that wasn't motivating you.

Dave: It demoralized me.

Ann: [laughter] That’s terrible. I remember thinking, “I need to stop comparing you to other men, even in my mind; and I need to catch you doing things that are right.”

So let's get into the A, because we've hit the R of a real man rejects passivity. The E is a real man engages with God. What's the A?

Dave: The A is a real man accepts responsibility. It's really what you were just talking about the responsibility to be the husband that God calls us to be, to be the dad, to be the worker, to be a man of character. It's just literally no excuses. Quit making excuses —you know, for “I'm not the man I should be, because…” I mean, I could have easily said this: “I didn't have a dad, so I don't know what a dad does or how a dad looks.” And I said that for, you know, a few years at the beginning. It's like, "No, no, no; it's my responsibility as a man to find out ‘What does a godly husband look like and do? What does a godly father look like and do?’”

Again, that goes back to engaging with God. It's like open the Word of God and find out; sit down with other men. I sat with older fathers than me—many breakfasts and many lunches that I paid for and said, “Teach me what a godly man looks like,” “Teach me what a godly husband and dad, what do we do? How do we lead our family?” That was me accepting responsibility. It's not my wife's job—not saying that you don't have that role. You have that huge role in, you know, leading our family spiritually. But it was like, “No; I got to step up, accept responsibility, don't make excuses about my past or be a victim,” but to say, “It is my job to accept responsibility to be the man, the husband, the dad, the worker, the Christian man that I'm called to be.”

And again, you know, we talked yesterday about a great example of a man—was a teenage boy named David in his battle with Goliath. You know again, all the trained warrior men are running away in fear. They're passive. They don't really know God, so they don't know God can deliver.

David comes. First of all, he rejects passivity and goes to the king and says “Well, I’ll fight the guy.” When he's asked “Why?” he said, “Because the God who delivered me with the sheep will deliver me here.” So he knows God; he's engaging with God and out of that is going to come victory in this situation. Then he accepts responsibility and says, “Okay, I'm going.” And when Saul gives him a warrior's armor to put on, he says “I don't need this armor. It doesn't fit. All I'm going to do is take a slingshot with five stones,” and he accepts responsibility when all these men who are really boys shirk their responsibility. Men step up and accept responsibility.

Ann: It's so crazy too, because to take on what David said he would do, like, “I'm going to go fight Goliath” meant that he would either win or possibly die. And the only reason other guys weren't out there, is because they thought “We're going to die because Goliath is huge.” So accepting that was like, he could have died.

Dave: Yes. And again, I think it's what we said yesterday. He accepted it because he knew God. Engaging with God is so pivotal because when you engage with God, you see how big and holy and majestic God is, and that takes away fear. You step into situations where you're going to be passive because you're afraid. You're like, “No, no, no; I know who God is. I met with Him this morning.”

You know, we shared this here before the night that you said to me that you wished the man who led our church lived in this home—which was your way of saying the way I lead and accept responsibility to lead and cast vision and pray at our church, I'm not bringing home. That was a moment for me to go, “I need to step up.” I did not receive it well.

Ann: I didn't say it very well either.

Dave: But the next morning, when I met with God, I felt like He said “Yeah, you bring it all to lead a church, to lead at work. You are lazy at home. You’re passive at home.” That's what I felt like I was hearing and so it was a moment where I had to say, “Okay, a boy is going to show up in public and not show up in private. A man's going to be both the same in private and public. It was a moment for me just to get on my knees before God and say, “Okay, I’ve got to accept responsibility. I’ve got every excuse why I'm tired. I lead here, I'm in meetings. I just need a place to—you know, home is a place to rest.” And God was like “No, home is a place where you need to accept responsibility more than anywhere.”

I remember you asked me later, what would it look like, to you—like you asked me, “Ann, what would it look like for me to take on more responsibility at home?”—spiritually speaking. Just you asking the question was one of the greatest gifts that you could have given me.

Dave: What did you say?

Ann: I just said, “I think it means that I don't want to be the one that's always initiating prayer. I don't want to be the one that's thinking about, ‘Okay, how are our kids growing spiritually?’” And you—I know you thought about it, but I wanted you to talk to me about it. “I want to talk through our goals as parents and even spiritually speaking, discipleship, what's that looking like?” So I know I'm talking a lot of spiritual things, but just even how to become men. For you to say, “How can I help you? I have some things in mind.” Just to have the discussion, made me want to be with you—drew me toward you instead of always comparing.

Dave: And that was super frustrating for you.

Ann: What do you mean?—in what part?

Dave: When I wasn't doing that.

Ann: Yes. I just felt like—

Dave: You're being real nice right now, but you were, [Laughter] you were frustrated that I wasn't—that I was passive—

Ann: Yes.

Dave: —in that area. I remember thinking “I’ve got to accept responsibility” and one of them was creating a rite of passage for my boys to become men: take them on trips, which we did. I'm not saying it was perfect or anything, but all three boys went on a trip, talked about these four pillars, talked about the transition through the teenage years from boyhood to manhood.

There’re so many areas that a guy needs to step up and I'm just telling you. I got off my knees that day and it was two words: Step up. Step up and be the guy, be the husband, be the dad that you deserve, my boys need. It's that simple. It's like, “Okay, I can be lazy; I can be passive.” Or “I can drive home from work and put on the mantle of husband, dad, man, and walk in that home and accept responsibility and reject passivity.”

In some ways it was that simple. It's like, “You know what, I've only got a window of time with these boys in this house,” and now they're gone, and we have grandkids. And that window closed very quickly. It's like today is the day to accept responsibility.

You know, I mentioned Jon Tyson and when we had him in here on FamilyLife Today, he mentioned a story of his son going on a trip and coming back a man. I think it's exactly what we're talking about.

[Previously recorded]

Jon Tyson: My son had a few character flaws—like nagging character flaws I could not get out of him—I just couldn't get out of him. The process of formation starts in your mind; then your attitude changes; then you do it; and then it becomes a culture. I could never get it past his mind and attitude—like he always liked it, agreed with it—but never would do it. Well, you throw him in a group of people, that he is living in super proximate engagements with for a year; and two weeks in, he’s like, “Dad, you're completely right. I'm getting that stuff out of my life. I do not want to be that guy in the group.”

My son—the number one thing—like Nate—I don't think he would mind me sharing this—he was a complainer; he was a whiner. When everything was going great, it was great; but when it wasn't going good, he just would whine. He left my house at whiner, and he came back from that trip, and he's like a fundamentally a different person. My son almost never complains; he just handles it. I'm like, “What happened?” He goes, “I watched myself, like almost out of my body, be the whiner and was like, ‘You are not going out like that!’” So now, he just like handles stuff. He's like, “Let me just load that on my back and get it done. I don't want to be that guy that complains.”


Dave: Wow, that is perfect. That's another difference between boys and men: boys whine, men handle it. I mean, Jon said it so well. I think that's—yes, that's a big pillar of manhood is when you step from being a victim and a whiner to, “I'm going to step up and accept responsibility and get it done.”

So let's talk about the last one.

  • A real man rejects passivity.
  • A real man engages with God.
  • A real man accepts responsibility.
  • And the last one, a real man leads courageously.

Ann: Yes, that's good. What's that mean?

Dave: I mean, courageously means I'm afraid; doesn't mean I don't have fear. I could be scared to death. Courage means I step into the middle of my fear, and I do the right thing. I reject passivity. Out of my engagement with God, I accept responsibility. I say, “Okay, I need to lead.” We said it earlier. It could be “Let's pray;” that's leadership. “Let's open the Word of God,” “Let's ask God what we should do in this situation.” It could be, “Son, I need to talk to you about this,” “Daughter, what do you need from me right now?” There's a thousand ways to lead. It's just taking the initiative, taking a step, and you can tell me does a wife want her man to lead?

Ann: Yes. When you define leadership like that, of course. When we as women hear, like, “Oh, he's going to lead in a domineering way that diminishes me as a woman,” no. But yes, we long for a man to lead like that, to lead courageously.

Dave: And I think all throughout scripture you see that God calls men to lead. I'm not saying that women don't lead and aren't leaders. You have an amazing leadership gift. But there's a unique call that God puts on men in the home, in the church, in different situations to step up and initiate—you know, start something, call people to something great, cast vision. Literally step forward and go where God is calling you to go.

Ann: I would say too, for the moms that are listening, you have so much power in how you speak to your sons—to your daughters as well, but I'm just thinking back as I saw the gifts in our boys, I felt like God was saying to me, like, “Fan that flame, Ann. You see the things that I put in them; fan the flame of who I made them to be.”

When one of our sons was getting ready to go to college, this kid, man, he's just a leader. He didn't see it in himself, but I would see it. I could tell because even when he was eight years old, all of his friends would be out on the trampoline and somebody would come in and he'd say, “Mrs. Wilson, your son wanted me to come in and get him a drink,” and “Hey, Mrs. Wilson, I need a sweatshirt for your son.” I said, “Why isn't he coming in?” They said, “Because he told me to do it.” I know that some of you can think, “Well, that's just a bossy kid,” but I saw that, like, “Oh, he's a leader. He can influence people to do things.”

I know that he was selfish. He's doing them for himself. But I would see that. I said, “Man, you're such a leader; you have influence. When you talk, people hear you and they do—you're motivating.” This one night his senior year, he was getting ready for bed, and he came in to say good night. I just said all these things that I saw in him, “Man, you're a great leader. I can't wait to see what you do in college because you're just an influencer. Man, where you go, people want to follow you. And when you follow Jesus, you're like a magnet to the Kingdom of God.” And he, you know, he's like, “Whatever, Mom, you say this stuff all the time.”

Then he goes to bed, but he came back a few minutes later with tears coming down his face and he just said, “I am not that guy you always say I am.”  I'm like, “Yes, you are! You're totally that guy.” He goes, “Mom, I'm not. I just got wasted last weekend, Mom; that's who I am. You don't even know it; that's who I am.” I just said to him, “That may be what you did last weekend, but that's not who you are; that's not who God designed you to be. You are a leader. You are an influencer.”

Our kids doubt themselves all the time. The world is crushing them. Our culture is wanting to make them feel defeated. So for us, as parents, to speak into our kids what we see and what God put into them, that is life giving. And Dave, so for you, when I see you, when you call men to lead courageously, there's something in men that's ignited that they want to step into that.

Dave: Yes; I think it's innate in us. God has called us. He's called men to say I'm putting you in a situation that requires a man, not a boy. And a man rejects passivity, engages with God, accepts responsibility and then says “Okay God, here I go. I'm going to lead even though I'm scared.”

We've been talking about David and Goliath. I can't imagine when he stood in front of Goliath, this nine-foot giant, who the entire army is scared of, and he stands there with a slingshot. You're not telling me he wasn't scared? He had to be scared but what did he say? I'll read it to you. It’s 1 Samuel 17:45. He said, “You come against me with a sword and a spear and a javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, that God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands.”

That's leading courageously—you know, a boy who's a man, says “God needs this taken down and I'm the guy to reject passivity, engage God, accept responsibility, and here we go.” We know the rest of the story but what's really interesting is when you talk about leadership, I never knew when I heard that story in Sunday school as a kid, even as a young man, I never knew the details of when he shows up for the actual battle, he says those words.

And then what does it say next? It says he ran toward the Philistine. I always had this vision in my head that he sort of was behind a rock—you know, big boulder—and he stuck his head out and he flung this little stone, and he got down. You know, like, he was still scared. Like, “I'm going to try.” No, he ran to the battle. That's leading courageously.

I think there's so many giants in our life and there's so many moments in our—even in our family, in our marriage—where we're just sort of hiding behind a rock and we're like, “Okay, God, I'm going to throw a little prayer up, will you?” No, no; leading courageously means I'm going to step into this with everything I've got. I'm going to trust the Almighty God to deliver and often God does. You know, when a man is a man, he uses that man to change legacies.

Shelby: You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson on FamilyLife Today. Dave's got one more word of encouragement for men in just a minute. And women, feel free to eavesdrop on that.

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Alright, here's Dave with a final word of encouragement for men to be real men and what that could mean for your family.

Dave: The amazing thing at the end of that story, as he defeats Goliath and cuts off his head, what do all the boys do? The army, that was hanging out back there scared to death, who has run away, sees this boy, who's a man, David, take down Goliath. What do they do? They charge in the battle now. It's a great picture of one man, who's a real man: rejecting passivity, engaging with God, accepting responsibility, and leading courageously, can ignite a life changing legacy.

It takes one dad/one husband; doesn't need 50. You just need one man to say “Okay, God, I know you're calling me to do this. I need to say this or do this. I'm scared to death, but I'm going to lead courageously.” It can change history.

I believe there's a man listening that's realizing you're that man. You want to change the legacy of your family. God did that in the Wilson name. You know, we started yesterday talking about a dad who was a womanizing alcoholic, and God gave us the power, gave me the power, to say, “The Wilson name going forward is a name that's connected to godliness,” and changing that legacy from an ungodly legacy to a godly legacy. You're that man. You can change it. It starts today. Be a real man.

Shelby: Now, since we've chatted about how men are supposed to act, you're probably wondering, “Well, what about the women?” Okay, things are about to get REAL, tomorrow, on FamilyLife Today with Dave and Ann Wilson. They're going to show us what REAL looks like; I promise. Join us tomorrow.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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