FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Marks of a Man

with Nathan Clarkson | November 13, 2020
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What marks a man as good? Son of author Sally Clarkson, Nathan Clarkson, points out 15 characteristics that join together to define a good man, including adventurous, devout, heroic and yes, emotional. Clarkson reminds us that even Jesus wept and allowed his heart to be moved by the needs people had. Many men stuff their emotions so as not to look weak. Hear how he coaches parents who might be raising an artistic child like he was.

  • 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.

Nathan Clarkson, points out 15 characteristics that join together to define a good man, including adventurous, devout, heroic, and emotional. He coaches parents who might be raising an artistic child like he was.

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The Marks of a Man

With Nathan Clarkson
November 13, 2020
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Bob: When we think about godly masculinity, Nathan Clarkson says there is not a one-size-fits-all portrait of what that’s supposed to look like.

Nathan: It’s not about the clothes we wear; it’s not about how tall we are; it’s not about how muscular we are; it’s not about if we can play sports, or if we can be in a play. Being a good man is an inward position. In whatever you love/whatever your passion is—be that football or drama—God has put that desire in you. To be a good man, you have to live that out in the best way possible to use it for Him/to use it to make the world a better place. That is what a good man does. It’s going to look different for everyone.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, November 13th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at What is the part God wants you to play/what God wants your sons to play in helping to make the world a better place? Do they have a vision for that? We’ll talk more about that with Nathan Clarkson today. Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You think you’ve got manhood figured out yet?

Dave: Oh, yes; of course, Bob. I had it figured out at about 11 years old.

Bob: Did you?

Dave: Yes, I’m one of those guys.

Bob: Wow; kind of a savant.

Dave: No; I’m a little older than 11, and I’m still on that journey.

Bob: I think this is a perpetual journey for all of us—

Dave: Yes.

Bob: —as guys. We’re continuing to figure it out as life goes on. You don’t get to a point, where you go, “Okay; I’ve got it”; do you?

Dave: Yes; it’s interesting—I mean, literally, in the last month, I sat down for the first time in my life with like a life coach/counselor. Part of my journey was—I’m 62 years old—I even said to him, “I think it’s too late,”—[Laughter]—you know?

Nathan: I’m 31 and feel like that.

Dave: I mean, I did; I was like, “Why am I doing this at this age?”

I was sitting with two of my sons, three nights ago, and they both looked at me and said, “Way to go, Dad. We are so proud that you’re taking this journey at this age.” I said, “Don’t you think it’s a little too late?” They were like, “No; I mean, we look forward to the next 20/30 years with you in this insight,” and “This journey is going to be..” I thought, “No man has really ever figured it out.

Bob: Right.

Ann: No woman has either.

Dave: “It’s always a journey.”

Ann: Yes, I think it’s both.

Dave: No; women have figured it out for us men. [Laughter] That’s how that works! [Laughter]

Ann: We think we have you figured out more than we have ourselves figured out.

Bob: Figuring it out, though, involves continuing to be on the journey—continuing to explore themes/continuing to look at these issues.

In fact, that’s what we are talking about this week. Nathan Clarkson is joining us. Nathan, welcome back.

Nathan: Thanks so much.

Bob: Nathan is an actor, a filmmaker; he’s a writer. We mentioned that he’s the son of a famous Christian author, Sally Clarkson. He has written a book called Good Man, which is a part of your attempt to say, “What is it that I want to be as a man? What is it that God’s calling me to be? ‘I am His workmanship, created in Christ for good works which He prepared beforehand.’ How do I live that out? How do I walk in these?”

You’ve identified characteristics that are the kinds of characteristics that you want to be true about your own life, your own journey, and your own pursuit.

Nathan: Absolutely.

Bob: That’s what this book is all about.

Dave: It’s interesting—I hadn’t thought of it earlier—but that scene/we talked about movies—very emotional scene in Saving Private Ryan, I think—I should pull it up—but it’s that moment when he goes back to the tombstone.

Nathan: Oh, yes.

Dave: He looks at his wife and says, “Was I a good man?”

Then the question becomes, “What do you mean good man? What is it?” You’ve said, Nathan, “I’m going to write a book and try to hit the attributes, from God’s perspective, of what a good man is.” Give us some of those.

Nathan: You know, I can never fully encompass everything God has asked us to be; but these are the ones that I have found in my life that fully/kind of got from each angle what I wanted to be that got me close to the directions I wanted to walk in my life: there are things like adventurous; I think that men were born to tell a story, and we’ve talked about that; I think wise/I think men have to take hold of their own wisdom to study, to learn, to grow mentally; I think emotional is one of the chapters—it talks about how men need to be in touch with their emotions—that God created us with emotions.

Ann: Now, that is interesting.

Nathan: Yes; you know, it’s—

Dave: I can’t believe my wife stopped you right there. [Laughter]

Ann: I just have to stop you there—

Dave: Here we go!

Ann: I’m stopping, as a woman, because we’re like, “Ooh,” because I think a lot of women: we want our men, not to be an emotional mess, but to show emotion.

Nathan: Absolutely; I think emotions are human. You look at Jesus; Jesus wept, and I think that’s one of my favorite verses in the Bible—because it shows that Jesus wasn’t just a monolithic: “I’m just strong and always do the right…”—He showed that He had emotions, and He felt the pain that exists in this world.

I think we all go through pain that exists in this world, and we have things that are hard and difficult. I think, if we don’t process those, they are only going to have negative effects on our life.

Dave: So, why is it, Ann—the only woman sitting in this room—that you—and I’m guessing you represent a lot of women—want your man to be emotional? Why is it that a good thing?

Ann: I think what we want is your heart; we want to know what you’re feeling/why you are feeling—for you to be able to express it. If I ask you, “How are you doing?” and you’re saying, “Fine,”—but we can tell that things are going on that you are mad, or frustrated, or sad—we want to partner with you in that. Just to be strong and say, “I’m fine,”—it doesn’t feel like you’re our partner. Does that make sense?

Nathan: Absolutely.

Dave: Yes; what is it about a man that sort of wants to stuff it or not let it out, even to my wife, who I love more than anybody? What is it about us that’s like, “I don’t know if I want to go there”?

Nathan: I think it’s a multitude of reasons; but very often, when I look at my own life and why I say, “I’m fine,” it’s because I want to be seen as someone who has it together, who can figure this out, who can do it. Also, I take pressure on myself; because I want to help other people. I think, “If I show my weakness, then I can’t be strong for them.” I think there are a multitude of reasons. There is also just pride. I don’t want people to see me as weak. I want to look strong in front of people.

I cover these kinds of things in other chapters—like a chapter about honesty—how men need to be honest. Part of that is acknowledging what we feel. Then authentic—part of being authentic is being real about our humanity, and our mistakes, and our doubts, and our fears, and our failures. These all lead into men being truthful about who we are and the world we live in.

Bob: Let me ask you about the artistic side/the creative side. This is very much a part of how God made you to be.

Nathan: Absolutely.

Bob: Sometimes, guys, who are artistic and creative, are seen as being less manly. Did you feel that, growing up?

Nathan: Yes; not in my family/my family is all very artistic and outside of the box. We play music and draw. I felt very at home in my family, so that was encouraging.

I remember I would go to school. When I became a teenager and moved into a new town, I wanted to experience and find friends and be with my peers. I remember being surprised at the very intense amount of bullying I received—because I would sing—because I would dance—my hair was crazy, and I loved artistic things. I remember being surprised by that; because all I had ever experienced was: “Creativity is good and beautiful.” I remember being surprised by how much bullying there was as a result of creativity.

It’s interesting to see that men, oftentimes, have experienced bullying or negative reactions by living into, maybe, even into the way they were made to be that just doesn’t fit the cultural mold of what they feel like they are supposed to look like.

Dave: It’s really sad that that sort of a cultural mold—I mean, I know it was when I was in high school—I think it is still there. I actually gave into the peer pressure; I mean, Bob, when you asked that question, I’m like, “Oh my goodness!” I was a creative, artistic guy; I was an athlete—it was a really unique blend—

Bob: Yes.

Nathan: Yes.

Dave: —because that doesn’t usually go. I remember I was in the high school orchestra—

Nathan: Cool.

Dave: —played upright bass. I remember I played that because my mom made me when I was in sixth grade; she’s like, “You’re going to play this.” I’m like, “It’s the biggest thing, and we’ve got to put it in the car.” She got a special car with a flip down seat in the back—

Nathan: Good mom.

Dave: —in the ‘70s; you know? I started playing [hums]; you know?—Beethoven—really getting a cultural exposure I never would have got.

Today, I play electric bass, and it’s because of that. That’s cool—electric bass is cool—but upright bass—

Nathan: Really cool; totally.

Dave: I’ll never forget—I was the quarterback of the high school football team. I talked all of my buddies on the team to come to a symphony orchestra concert at our high school. I’m proud; I’m up there, second chair—I should have been first chair—but I was second chair. [Laughter] Susie Cupp was first chair.

Nathan: Little Susie.

Dave: I’m playing beside her, and the cello is in front of us. We’re playing this orchestral stuff in a bow tie and a tux; you know? I mean, I walked out afterwards, like, “Hey, man, what did you think?” They were like, “Dude! What was that?!” I’m like, “What?” “You are the most feminine”—they ripped me; I quit.

Nathan: Wow.

Dave: I was thinking, now, “Wow! The peer pressure from those guys, thinking I wasn’t manly because I was artistic, stopped me.”

Bob: Think about—

Dave: How sad; you know?

Bob: —think about the 14-year-old in high school today, who hears on the announcements—do they still do announcements once at the beginning of the school day? I don’t know.

Ann: I don’t know.

Dave: Do they have school, Bob? [Laughter]

Bob: But he hears, “This afternoon, if you’re interested in trying out for the choir, there are choir tryouts in the gym,” or “The play is having auditions if you want to be in the play,” or “The cross country team is trying out.” You think, “Okay; those are my choices. I could go to choir rehearsal, or I could go to the play rehearsal, or I could go to cross country.”

Then you start to process, “What are my friends going to think, based on those choices that I make?” This is how the cultural mold of: “What is real manhood?” starts to push guys in a direction that may not be who they are supposed to be. Instead of leaning into, “This is who God made me to be. How can I, to His glory, be creative and artistic and be involved in music, or drama, or whatever else, instead of going out for the cross country team?”

Dave: I think the culture has changed.

Ann: I do too.

Bob: Do you?

Dave: You look at one of the most manly men in movies today—is an artist. Yet, you would say, “Oh, the Rock—he’s a man!” He’s an artist; he’s an actor, who is really skilled at what he does. Obviously, he spends a lot of time in the gym; but I mean, I think it has changed, in some ways, for the good.

Ann: Well, Nathan, how would you coach a son? You don’t have a son, yet; but if you have a son, how will you coach him to be himself if he is artistic, having gone through the bullying that you went through?

Nathan: I think what I will remind him is that the world’s always going to want to give an outward image as to what we should be; and this goes for men, for women, for everything. But you look at the verse that God says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” Ultimately, what I want to convey through this book is that: “A good man will look different from man to man.”

My brother and I are almost complete opposites, but both of us have a desire to be a good man. I think that, when we have that in mind, and we realize that good man is an inward position—it’s an inward position towards God and who He has called us to be—that it’s not about the clothes we wear; it’s not about how tall we are; it’s not about how muscular we are; it’s not about if we can play sports, or if we can be in a play—that being a good man is an inward position.

I would tell him, “Whatever you love/whatever your passion is—be that football or drama—God has put that desire in you. To be a good man, you have to live that out in the best way possible—to use it for Him, to use it to help/use it make the world a better place. That is what a good man does. It’s going to look different for everyone.”

Bob: Do you feel any of it today as a man; because you’re an actor/you’re involved in the arts today? Do you feel like—if people say, “So what do you do?” and you say, “I’m an actor,”—do you feel like people are automatically making a judgment about your manhood?

Nathan: Not anymore. I definitely—when I was younger/when I was looking into what I wanted to do with the rest of my life—I think there were things that I would judge my manhood off of—you know, if my friend would go into financing, or this person would be doing this kind of thing, or that kind of thing—I would think, “Well, acting isn’t what a real man does.”

Even just culturally, I went to acting school, and my friends went to college. I’ve been insecure about: “I don’t have the college degree that everyone else has; so maybe, I’m not as much of a real man.” I think there is a lot tied up with what a real man is and isn’t; but I always return to, ultimately, what God tells real men are is a heart position: “How are you going to use your skills?”

Bob: And this is where, as parents and as—even in our own assessment of our manhood—we’ve got to recognize we don’t take our cues from what the culture says—

Dave: Right.

Nathan: Yes.

Bob: —manhood is. We look at: “What does the Scripture say?” You keep coming back to 1 Samuel: “Men look at the externals; God looks at the heart.” Your book is full of character qualities that are godly character qualities; and “A real man is a man who is a man after God’s own heart and—

Nathan: Yes.

Bob: —“who is trying to line his life up with: ‘Who has God made me to be?’ Whatever the outward expression of that—if it’s godliness—then that’s what we celebrate.”

Dave: Yes; and I think it’s interesting—you said earlier that, as you began to say, “Okay; what’s a good man?” you said, “Jesus a good man.” Was there any of these qualities or characteristics that sort of surprised you?—like, “Boy; I didn’t expect to find that!”

Nathan: Yes; I know, actually, many of them. There are a few of them that we’ve heard of often: “adventurous”—and we think of that and “Of course, that’s a manly quality,”—but some of these did take me by surprise as I went back and looked at the aspects of Jesus that inspired me.

The ones like “simple”; because I think, as men, we want to gain, and achieve, and show, and have trophies and things of accomplishment. Jesus was a simple man; He barely left the town He grew up in. He would hang out with very simple people, and loved children and the people very near Him.

I think the one: “emotional.” We’ve gone over that; but that’s not something you think of when you think of a strong man is one who can be brave enough to be emotional.

I think “authentic,” the one who is willing to be honest about his humanity.

These are all the ones that surprised me, because they are so different than what the image of men we’ve been given from many places, both—often, our churches and in culture—of what we’re supposed to look like. When I look at Jesus, that is an entirely different picture than what I’ve been given, very often.

Dave: One that I found in there that surprised me—I mean, I like it—

Ann: —was romantic?

Dave: Yes; that’s it! [Laughter] I knew she would get it.

Nathan: You knew it!

Dave: She was going to jump on it.

Ann: It’s like, “Ooh, what’s that one about?!”

Dave: Yes; so talk about that a little bit, because the cultural image is men are about sex—they have many sex partners. There is even an aspect that a real man has money,—

Nathan: Yes.

Dave: —has women, has success. I mean, that’s the culture. I mean, I—obviously, 33 years in the NFL, working with men—that was their vision: “I mean, I’m now a man; I have the car.” There is a peer pressure in the NFL locker room that’s just like in middle school.

Nathan: Oh, yes.

Dave: “Oh, dude; you’d better go get the car,” “Like, yesterday, I was in college,” “Yes; but you just got the bonus check. Let’s go!” You can see these rookies, like, “Go where? Why? I don’t need the..”—“Let’s go!” They come driving back with a $100,000 car, and then “Let’s go to the strip club.” Literally, land the plane from a road trip; guys will go to the strip clubs—married men. It’s like this peer pressure was like—they had to fight against it—but that was like, “This is what men are.”

Nathan: Yes.

Dave: You’re saying: “No; that’s not what a man is. Romance is totally different than a sexual-driven crazy man.” What’s it mean to be a good man, who is romantic?—all the women are asking.

Ann: [whispering] Yes; we are.

Nathan: This was an interesting chapter to write because it’s so nuanced. There are so many feelings about it from every different angle. Romance and love is such a big part of the human experience—either the lack thereof or people who have it and are in relationships—we know what an important aspect and a meaningful one this is to the human experience. To ignore it—when talking about men, and their journeys, and their lives—would be disingenuous. So I wanted to explore this and “How do we do this right?”

Again, it goes back to that creation aspect. God created something beautiful; that’s romance, love, sexuality. These are wonderful things that God created; but to fully live into the way He made them to be lived out—to enjoy them and to live them out in the way He created them—we have to go back to His design and to look at it.

In the world today, we see that men have walked away, in large part, from everything that God has created all of these things for—that’s very sad I think—because, one, I think you end up with a lot of destruction from both women and men, who have fallen into the world’s very cheap and low view of romance, relationships, sexuality, etc. It leads to a lot of really hurt people, and I think we see that every single day. Two, I think that all these things are made to be a blessing/to be beautiful things in our lives. When we use them in ways that God has not created them for, we’ll never get to live fully into that beautiful blessing that He’s given.

I think this is a really important thing that I see men struggling with every day. I think—you look at the statistics, even with Christian men/even with pastors—about pornography. You look at—I lived in Los Angeles and New York—I have for the past over a decade now. I’m surrounded by men who abuse women—who objectify them/who hurt them—but they take it very lightly in the hookup culture. You see these hearts being broken daily.

I look around, and I see how men think about relationships and love. It really is sad, because you see this have a really negative effect on culture and the lives of the people engaging in this culture. I wanted to look and say: “What did God create love to be?” and “How does that bless a man’s life?” and “How can he bless the world through how he carries out romance, love, attraction, sexuality?”—all these things are so intrinsic to being a man, because I think they are really important. I think men are reeling from the destruction of using God’s gift in an incorrect way.

Dave: Yes; there’s part of me that thinks—tell me if I am right—and you’ve got it in your book in a different way—but I was listening to you, thinking, “A real man/a good man is intimate.” You say it: “emotional” “authentic.” But I think it’s a real struggle for men; it is for me.

Nathan: Yes.

Dave: Intimate means “I will be vulnerable,” and you’re not going to be that with

100 people.

Nathan: No; no.

Dave: You’re going to be that with a few—but especially my wife, or a good friend, or two—which means I’m going to share weakness; I’m going to go places that are really scary with my struggle, and share that with my wife or with a best friend. I think men are terrified. I know I’m terrified.

Ann: Why? What’s terrifying about that?

Dave: It’s scary to be that weak and that vulnerable.

Ann: Oh, it feels weak.

Dave: It’s weak.

Nathan: Yes.

Dave: It’s like, “I don’t know where this may go. What if I really expose the inner—

Nathan: “What if I get hurt?”

Bob: “I don’t know if I can trust you.”

Dave: Right.

Nathan: Yes.

Dave: Even your wife, after all these years; so you don’t go there. She is longing for it, but you don’t go there. Because you’re not going there, or afraid to go there, or unwilling, you go to porn—cheap form of intimacy.

Nathan: Yes.

Dave: It’s not intimate—it seems like it is, but it isn’t—that’s easier.

Nathan: Yes.

Dave: It’s a defense mechanism to cope with: “I can’t be the good man God has called me to be.” Yet, if I will—oh my goodness—when I thrive as a man, my marriage will thrive; my brotherly relationships will; everything will thrive—but it’s a risk that’s scary for men to take. If I do it, guess what?—I’ll be more romantic than ever, because I’m going to—romance is about loving and serving her needs, not mine—

Nathan: —giving.

Dave: —and thinking outside of myself. That comes out of being able to be truly intimate.

Bob: You know, a couple years ago, Dennis Rainey wrote a book called Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood. We did a video series around this because we knew guys were wrestling with something inside of them, saying, “I want to be a godly man; I just don’t know exactly how to do that.” We tried to get guys together; create a roadmap; help guys out with this.

One of the things I remember Voddie Baucham saying in that series is that guys tend to define manhood around three areas; he said, “It’s around the billfold, around the ball field, and around the bedroom.” He said, “They think that’s what real manhood is,”—your success with your billfold, on the ball field, and in the bedroom. He said, “That’s not God’s design for manhood.”

Nathan, what you are doing with this book is—you’re taking us into that same territory and saying, “Let’s not buy the cultural picture here. Let’s renew our minds with a biblical approach to what it means to be a man as God created us to be men.” I think this is going to be so helpful for guys today. I’m grateful you’d come and talk with us about it and help us spend some time exploring this. I hope a lot of guys will dive into your book. Thanks for being here.

Nathan: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been an honor.

Bob: You can find out more about Nathan’s book when you go to our website, The book is called Good Man: An Honest Journey into Discovering What Men Were Actually Created to Be. Order the book from us at; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number.

Also, check out the video series called Stepping Up®: A Call to Courageous Manhood, based on Dennis Rainey’s book by the same title. That video series is available for groups of guys to go through together or for fathers to go through with their sons. Find out more at, or order Nathan’s book or the video series when you call us at 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 and video series, we are, this week, beginning to take preorders for the brand-new Love Like You Mean It small group series for couples. This is a ten-part series that’s based on my book, Love Like You Mean It, which is all about what 1 Corinthians 13 tells us about what love is supposed to look like in a marriage relationship. We’ve been very encouraged by the response to the book, and that’s why we created this video series so that couples can go through this with other couples.

There is an assessment each of you can take to help you get an idea of where you’re winning and where you could use some help when it comes to loving one another. David Robbins, who is the president of FamilyLife® is here with us. David, we’ve been talking about guys being good men today. A guy who would say to his wife, “You know, let’s go through this study together with some other couples,”—that’s what good men ought to do; don’t you think?

David: No doubt; and I think, if you want to be a man that leads your wife, then, being someone who rejects passivity and steps in and says, “Let’s do this together with a few other friends,”—there is nothing more attractive to a wife than that.

Bob, you have done an amazing job setting up a series of conversations for a couple to have with other couples. We know—we’ve seen it time and time again, at FamilyLife—that there is transformation when married couples join in with a few others and spend time together over timeless truth. You end up getting different perspectives in the mix—people drive home, or in the Zoom call, talking about things that they don’t normally talk about—and transformation happens.

Bob: Well, again, we’d encourage you to go to our website,, for more information about the Love Like You Mean It video series; or call us if you have any questions at 1-800-FL-TODAY.

We hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church—one way or another—this weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to continue to look at what the Bible tells us about what real love looks like; specifically, we’ll talk about the fact that love is kind, not just nice but kind. I hope you can tune in for that conversation on Monday.

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 Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.


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