The Men We Need: Brant Hansen
When does a boy become a man? Author & radio host Brant Hansen weighs in on toxic masculinity, lies about manhood, and the kind of men we need.
About the Guest
When’s a boy become a man? On FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson host author and radio host Brant Hansen, who weighs in on toxic masculinity, lies about manhood, and the kind of men we need.
The Men We Need: Brant Hansen
Brant: You don’t have to be a great-looking guy; you don’t have to have incredible abs—if you make her feel secure, your wife will find you attractive—and conversely, if you make her feel insecure, all the muscles, or the motorcycles, or the cool tats in the world will not help. If you don't make people feel secure to thrive around you, you're not being a keeper of the garden—you're being the opposite—you're, actually, the invader of the garden.
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 FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: When I was in college, went down to see my dad in Florida for a spring break.
Ann: —who was an airline pilot/captain.
Dave: Yes; divorced, you know, so I didn't know my dad real well; but he's like, “Hey, come down with a couple buddies.” I don't know if I've ever told you this: but we're getting ready to go out one night; and my dad says to me—I’ll never forget this—“Real men get chicks.”
Dave: That's what he said. I mean, I was like, “What's that mean?” He's like, “You know, you need to go out; and you need to find women,” which was his life. That's sort of what ended our/my mom and dad's marriage.
Ann: Did you think: “That's right,”—or like—“Is that true?”
Dave: At that time, I thought, “That's right.” It was my sophomore year—I became a follower of Christ my next year—so that wasn't a really good spring break, because I was trying to be what my dad thought a man was.
I think of all topics to talk about, in this day, and this culture: “What a man is,” “What a woman is,”—am I right?—it's like: “We need to know, because we don't know.”
Dave: We've got somebody in the studio who’s going to answer this question for us. He's going to give us the clarity on what a man is. Brant Hansen is with us; welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Brant: Thank you. I'm elated to be here. It's an honor. The irony is: if people don't know who I am—like you've got this athletic background; I don't—I'm not that guy. [Laughter] They asked me about my book cover, because for a man book—and I’m like, “Whatever is not somebody like climbing a mountain, [Laughter] not somebody jumping over a stream,”—not that there's anything wrong with that stuff at all—but there's so much confusion about what masculinity really is/what's beautiful about it. Even Christian guys, I feel like can't put their finger on it—we can only deconstruct it—so guys don't know.
What I was trying to do is like actually make a construction that we could point at and go: “That's it; that's exactly it.” That's what my attempt to do in the book was; and I'm not normally the guy to write that, but here I am.
Dave: Yes; well, I tell you what: I read it.
Ann: It was fun to watch Dave; he's like, “I cannot put this book down!”
Dave: “I can’t put it down.” I think I’ve read every man book out there, you know, because we want clarity; we want a vision of manhood: “I want to write one.” After reading yours, like, “I don't need to write a book; this is the book.” [Laughter]
Brant: That’s awesome; thank you.
Dave: Let me tell you what it is; it’s called The Men We Need: God's Purpose for the Manly Man, the Avid Indoorsman, or Any Man Willing to Show Up.
Tell our listeners what you do, because you talk on the radio every single day.
Brant: Yes; yes, I'm a radio host on Christian music stations around the country; I write these books; and I work with an outfit called Cure International—that's my main thing—it's hospitals around the world that heal kids with surgeries, and we tell them and their families about the kingdom of God.
Dave: In a sense, you tell me—I'm reading into this—but as I read your book, and sort of the vision of what a man is, that sort of is an extension of the keeper of the garden; right?
Brant: It is. That's what I'm trying to say in the book, like: “Adam was given a job, and it is keeper of the garden.” That wasn't something that was articulated to Eve. She's given another incredible role, like an expansive role/this azur rule, which is a word that's used for “God as rescuer” later on in the Old Testament many times; but for Adam, keeper of the garden is his thing. Everything falls apart when he doesn't do his job.
That's what I'm trying to say/unpack that for guys and go: “Look, you don't have to be jacked; you don't have to have ripped abs. You don't have to have an incredible 4x4,”—those things are fine, but they're not the point—"The point is providing security for the people around you, starting with the people in your home, but emanating out from there.”
Being “a keeper of the garden” means: “You're somebody, who creates the space around you, with whatever influence you have: the vulnerable are secure there; people get to thrive and bloom, because of what you do.” I make the point—I try to make this really vividly—I'm telling guys, “This isn't why you do this, but it should help you understand that it is what you're supposed to be doing. Women find it wildly attractive.”
Ann: [Laughter] It's true; it's true.
Brant: It’s true.
Dave: We’ve got a woman in the—
Brant: Yes, you can speak to this.
Dave: —I mean, why do women find that attractive?
Ann: I think, when a man serves—when he lives out who God called him to be: when he's the protector, when he is the one who’s there to provide justice—there's something that's so attractive about that man that we're drawn to that man.
Brant: Well, it’s across cultures; and it's not this: “I own you” protection stuff.
Brant: It's: “I'm there to be a fan of my wife; I want her to thrive and bloom,” Same thing with my kids/people around, like I'm somebody to create space for that. If you think about it, too, a garden is somewhere where species that normally wouldn't thrive in the wild get to bloom and become everything/like these incredibly beautiful species—that's my job.
Again, I tell guys: “You don't do this/you don't become a keeper of the garden just so women will think you’re attractive.” But they're brilliant; they're intuitive—it turns out you don't have to be a great-looking guy; you don’t have to have incredible abs—if you inhabit this role for your family, your wife will find you attractive if you make her feel secure.
Conversely, if you make her feel insecure—all the muscles, motorcycles, or the cool tats in the world will not help—in fact, she may resent them, because you're actually using them to curry favor with other women; or you're a dangerous person; you're an angry man—like if you don't make people feel secure to thrive around you, you're not being a keeper of the garden—you're being the opposite—you're, actually, the invader of the garden.
Ann: Well, you guys, every woman, as you're talking about this—we do/we long for that—we long for that in our husbands; we long for our sons to become that—that they will be the keeper of the garden.
“What's happened in our culture that there's so much confusion that it's really gone—
Dave: —and in the church.
Ann: Yes—"the opposite way?”
Brant: Well, I know this: if I have a box with puzzle pieces in it, and I don't have the box top, it's really hard to put that thing together. I feel like, even in church culture, we've got shards of masculinity—we're pretty sure that going out/having a camp out or having steak is part of it—we're not quite sure.
What I was thinking would be really helpful would be to have that box-top thing, which is what I'm saying is: “keeper of the garden role.” It turns out, when you do articulate this, even like eight-year-old boys, they get it. They need a picture of what we're supposed to be; otherwise, you're just kind of: “I'm not quite sure what the thing is.” That's what I was trying to do is to paint that picture.
I stumbled into this with our boy. I think he was maybe nine, and our daughter was six; we have two kids. He was picking on her. His name is Justus; I would hear her [mimicking daughter’s voice]: “Justus,”—from the other room—“stop it!” I went in there, and he was picking on her. I said to him, “Justus, you're supposed to protect your sister—that's your role—I need you to defend her. [Right now,] you're actually the one I need to defend her against.” I honestly don't remember ever having a problem with that since.
Dave: Really, because you gave him a vision.
Dave: Yes, even at nine years old.
Brant: It dawned on him: “This is my role; I need…”—guys are pining for that.
Ann: That happened with our three-year old grandson. He has a little sister. We said the same thing, and his dad and mom have said it:—
Dave: I mean, he's three years old; I think he caught it.
Ann: —“protector.” They were at a playground just the other day. I saw these two little boys come up to her and get real close to her. And I see Bryce, our grandson, step in front of her; and he won't let them touch her. It's like, “At three years old, how can that…”—you know, that's amazing that he can get that.
Dave: He got it from his grandfather. [Laughter]
Brant: You know, so the evidence for what I'm saying—not only does—I think it's interesting, in Genesis, you know, that Adam is given this job—but the fact that women intuit it and three-year old boys can intuit that: “This is right,” and “This is good,”—that we're supposed to be keepers of the garden tells me a lot.
It's interesting, too: I tell the story in the book about Bridger—he was a kid, a couple years ago, in the news—it went wildly viral. This boy/he was six; his sister was three. They were at a neighbor friend's house, and a wild dog went to attack this little girl. He jumped in the way. The pictures of him are brutal; he gets 88 stitches across his face. He's standing there—these two little kids, with their hair, everywhere—he had said to his dad, “I thought, ‘If someone should die, it should be me.’”
Ann: Come on.
Brant: His dad had clearly been intentional about teaching him this, and they’re believers; I thought that was very interesting. But this went so viral:
- Like Robert Downey, Jr., zoomed with him and the family.
- Chris—one of the Chris guys [from The Avengers]—he was Captain America sent him one of his shields.
Ann: Oh, yes. [Laughter]
Brant: The whole world’s like: “Wow!”; the world gets it at the deepest level. We try to deny it, you know, with different academic arguments; but we know that's what a man is good at. Women can do it too—but we're made for this: it's like a dump truck dumping; you know, like this is a vehicle that's made to do this—people resonate with it when they see it.
And again, the great news about it is it's not a factor of all this other stuff that we conflate with manliness—those are outward signifiers that: “Maybe, this guy will be a strong man,”—but it, ultimately, they can fool you/that other stuff.
Dave: Yes; it is interesting, in our culture—and I don't think it's new to our culture; I think it's always been true—men don't know what a man is; there's confusion.
I’ll just say this: I coached high school football for years, and we would do a chapel service. This is a public high school, which is awesome. The head coach is like, “I want you to do chapel like you do for the Detroit Lions for these high school kids. I know it's a public school. I'll tell all the parents before the season starts: ‘Listen, this is voluntary. We do this; if your kid wants to go, we're going to invite him; but we're not going to make him go.’” You know, to do this in public school is awesome; I’m just like, “This is awesome.”
Thursday nights before, we have a team meal; and then, we play the game on Friday night. These boys will come—well, the whole team comes—
Dave: —70/80 boys in this room. Every year, the head coach would say this: “Talk to them about being a man”; because I developed this thing/what I call “The Four Pillars of Manhood.”
I'd stand up every season, at some point and go, “Guys, tell me when a boy becomes a man.” Nobody knew. You know, all these boys—70/80 boys are in there—I'd say, “Tell me; yell/yell it out.”
Brant: That’s a great question.
Dave: “When he gets his driver's license.” “Well, guys, is that when it happens?” “No, it’s not when it happens.”
Then at the end, they're all looking at me, like, “We don't know. Are you going to tell us?” I'm like, “Yes, let's talk about it,” which is what you wrote about.
But why is that so true in our culture?—because it isn't just in the culture; it's in the church as well. If I did the same thing with young boys in our church, I think I'd get same answers.
Brant: They don't know.
Dave: Why don't we have a vision?
Brant: I mean, I think there's a lot of cultural issues that come along with that—that get bound up in what manhood is—that we still make those guesses.
Brant: And again, right now, we deconstruct everything; right? So we understand what toxic masculinity is.
Brant: And that's good to know that.
Brant: Some of this deconstruction is good; we're like, “Okay, Jesus is not John Wayne. Alright; that's good to [know]; but what is masculinity then?” Amidst all of this, it's a lot easier to knock something down than it is to build it—remember that from doing Duplo’s with my kids—like stack them up to the ceiling, and be very proud of myself; and then, the kids would knock it over in one fell swoop; and we'd all laugh.
But it takes a long time to build something; very easy to deconstruct. I think that's part of it, too, it’s like we're into knocking things down. But at some point, if the culture is going to thrive—a culture is like agriculture—it’s: “What you plant; that's what you reap.”
I don't have a great answer for why that happened—there's probably a lot of different/you know, a confluence of factors—but what I am trying to do is go: “Well, here's/let me take a shot at it so that we know.” I think it's actually really energizing to know what you're supposed to be doing.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Ann: Brant, what's your story? How did you become passionate about this? Why did you want to write about it?
Brant: I think part of it is being—I'm on the autism spectrum, so I'm good at some things and—socially, it's taken me a while to figure out how to interact. I've gotten better, as an adult, on that stuff; but I think, when you're on the outside, looking in, you can kind of pick stuff like that out.
I was always the smallest in my class. I played the flute—and you guys know that; I put that in the book—these are all normally things that would disqualify you from man book authoring. [Laughter] I play the accordion; I was president of the Illinois Student Librarians Association.
Dave: There you go.
Brant: Yes, the entire state; high five.
Ann: [Laughter] High five.
Brant: “So if I'm being a man, what am I actually doing that's right?”
And then, I had the women in my life, who know me well, going: “You know what? Every time you talk about this sort of thing, whether it's on the air or off, guys listen to you.” My wife encouraged me to write it; we've been married 32 years.
Ann: That says a lot.
Brant: And then, I have my radio show producer wanted me to write this; I've worked with her for ten years.
Dave: I was just going to tell you that. You know, when I picked it up—I usually don't read the Intro—or this one, the Foreword; you know? I mean, sometimes—but I don't know if you do either—but sometimes, I skim it.
Dave: I pick it up, and I'm like, “Foreword, Sherri Lynn, Brant’s longtime radio producer and friend.” I'm like, “I wonder what she had to say,” because you guys do/you know, you work together.
Ann: You do podcasts together.
Dave: Yes; and so obviously, you know what she wrote. I mean, I'm literally tearing up, as she says the first time she ever came to your house, she watched how your wife and kids looked at you; and she said, “He's the real deal.” I teared up; because I thought, “That's what every man wants.”
Ann: It's what every woman wants.
Dave: She captured the vision of: “This is what a man is,” just by the way your wife and kids look at you. And she says, “Now, I've been”—that was the first week she was working with you—now, she's been with you for years, and she says, “This is the real deal; this is how he is.”
Brant: That’s a win. She's contrasting me with her background, too—which is, she's from this pretty tough family—they are athletes, and they're steel workers from Pittsburgh. She always thought: “That's masculinity.” And then, she starts working with me—I got puppets, you know—[Laughter]—it's quite a counterpoint; it's like, “What in the world?”
Dave: What do you do with your puppets?
Brant: I play with them, man. [Laughter]
Dave: —on air?
Brant: Well, yes; I do—which is kind of funny, too—because people are like: “Does your mouth move?” I’m like, “I'm not doing ventriloquism.” [Laughter]
Anyway, it's one of those things, where it's like she was contrasting what she saw with me and realized that it really is about security. And then, seeing from her perspective—thankfully, she's like—“You're consistent in your character. You're honoring to me; I see how you honor your wife. You may want to write something about this.”
One other thing; honestly, I came from a pretty scary childhood. I'm cool with my dad now. My parents got divorced, and then remarried each other, and got divorced again. There was a lot of fear for me, growing up—a lot. I remember having an epiphany, when maybe I was 12; and I thought, “If I ever have a family/if I ever have kids, I know how they're not going to feel.”
Ann: Let me ask you: “Did that affect the way you viewed God? Were you afraid of God?”
Brant: Yes, and I am a highly-skeptical person. I'm so skeptical it chased me back around, because I feel like a lot of people are one-way skeptics when it comes to faith. I think my experience/I'm like, “Okay, what are the alternatives?”; but I'm skeptical about those, too, and ask questions: “I don't think they work.”
I think Jesus is the only One who makes any sense, for crying out loud, in the world. [Laughter] Because He calls out human nature and sin; and then, does something about it instead of acting like: “No, we're all good.” I think human nature is so, obviously, askew; but that chases me back around to Him—calling out self-righteousness; calling out the way we won't rethink; calling out the way we want to point the finger at others—all that sort of stuff—and I love that.
Ann: And when did Jesus—our good Father, God—when did that become really real to you?
Brant: It's taken time; it's been a process. I think I would have said He's good, even in college, and after that. But I've really leaned into it the last eight—or nine years, maybe—I really do believe He's good; that He wants to partner with us; I can talk to Him.
There's an intellectual assent you can give to certain precepts, and I've done that. But to take it to heart, where it's like, “No, I enjoy God,” that's fairly new; isn’t that something?
Dave: I mean, if you could—you know, look through the microphone to a 13/15-year-old young man, who's trying to figure out what he's going to be, as a growing-up boy into a man—what would you say to him?
Brant: I'd say:
I know you like video games; I know you're drawn to pornography—I get it—this isn't a guilt trip. Those things are highly addictive; they give you dopamine hit—but all that said—if you think that: “Well, as long as I'm not hurting anybody else, it doesn't matter what I do,”—like you can hole yourself up in your room the rest your life—you are hurting other people, because we needed you. You have certain skills and abilities that we need, and we need you to grow up. Your neighborhood should be safer, because you're there.
For you to check out and engage in fake activity, instead of real stuff, hurts. There's a woman, who would love a good husband. There are people, who will gain from you being involved and caring about the vulnerable. There are children, whom you could teach. There are environments we need you in. There’re skills you have you could apply. But if you throw yourself into this stuff, we'll miss out on that; and that's a tragedy for us and you both.
That's what I would want to tell them: “This is your job. You're here for a reason. We don't want to miss out on you.”
Ann: It just makes me teary—I've got tears in my eyes—because that's every woman's longing for her husband, of saying like: “We need you; we need you in the picture. We see the gifts and strengths that God has put in you, and we long for that man to live in our house”; because we see the amazing gifts God’s put into you, that's the longing of every woman.
Dave: What is it that makes you tear up?
Ann: Maybe because I raised three sons—and because I see women and wives, who are struggling so much with their husbands just checking out every night—and even, I mean, we've worked with the NFL for so many years; and these women are like: “They are the most-gifted person—they're these big protectors—but they’re playing video games, and they won’t engage with the kids and our family anymore.” It makes me sad because these guys are world-changers, like they're the protectors of the garden.
Brant: Yes, and I can be that way too—I get it—it's hard to not be passive.
Ann: Yes, we can all be that.
Brant: Passive is where we got here—Adam was right there when Eve sinned; it said he was with her—he didn't intervene; he didn't protect her. And then, when God comes looking for them, he's like, “Adam, where are you?” He didn't say, “Eve…” Maybe it was He was saying it to both of them; He actually says, “Adam, where are you? I made you to be the keeper. How come you didn't protect this place?”
Shelby: You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Brant Hansen on FamilyLife Today. We're going to hear from Dave and Ann in just a second; but real quick, Brant's book is called The Men We Need. Such a good book for any guy, including teenagers, who are struggling to figure out what it means to be a man. We've got copies of Brant’s book available at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also call to order your copy by calling 800-358-6329; that's 800-“F,” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
So Dave, you thought the subtitle of Brant’s book was kind of provocative; huh?
Dave: I remember cracking up when I read the title of Brant’s Book: The Men We Need—listen to this—God's Purpose for the Manly Man, the Avid Indoorsman, or Any Man Willing to Show Up. [Laughter] You know, it's a funny title; but it's really/it's not flippant at all. In fact, I don't know of any subject more relevant than this one. The public conversation on this topic of manhood is filled with conflict/confusion. It's really healthy to rehearse God’s plan for masculinity. Men—men, you listening?—we need to understand what it means to be keepers of the garden, and Brant just helped us understand that.
I tell you: when Ann and I agreed to take this position at FamilyLife, we actually got on our knees and asked God to help us bring clarity to issues like this one; this is a big one. This radio program, and the entire support system that surrounds it, is devoted to equipping you with practical help. And most of all, we're laser-focused on providing a daily dose of hope. Man, we all need hope—men, teenagers, young couples, marriages, they're really confused on what to believe right now—and it's really messing up the future of our homes.
But let me tell you: right now, you can become a vital part of reaching homes beyond your own. Let me tell you how: FamilyLife is the recipient of an enormous matching challenge in the amount—you ready for this?—$2 million. For just a few more weeks, you're invited to leverage your gift through this special opportunity. Every dollar you give will be automatically doubled in size until we reach the goal.
Ann: It's our voices that you guys are hearing every day on FamilyLife Today, but it's your gift to this matching challenge that makes this program even possible. FamilyLife Today would not even get past this studio without people, just like you. So be the one who gives hope to someone without it—like that can be you—give to this matching challenge today while it's still fresh on your mind.
Shelby: Yes, proactively being an instrument of hope is not typically how we think about giving; so thanks for that reminder, Ann.
And thanks to some generous ministry partners, your gift will be matched, dollar for dollar, until we hit $2 million. When you give any amount, we're going to send you four copies of The Four Emotions of Christmas by Bob Lepine. In addition to that, we're going to send you six greeting cards that have been hand selected by David and Meg Robbins. These make a great tool to share with the loved ones in your life. You can give today at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; again, that's 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, after listening to this [episode], you might be thinking, “Okay, that's nice; but what do I do with a partner who is passive?” Well, tomorrow, on FamilyLife Today, Brant Hansen will be back in the studio to actually question your role in the relationship; that's tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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