FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Toxic Masculinity–and the Power of a Great Dad: Nancy Pearcey

with Nancy Pearcey | October 11, 2023
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Toxic masculinity is just as destructive as we think it is—to society and men alike. But author and professor Nancy Pearcey's data shows more of the whole story: of the power of a great dad and a good man to change their corner of the world.

As a little girl, I looked up to my dad so much. I was the youngest of four, but I can remember being scared of the dark, and I ran into my parents' bedroom. I would snuggle in between my mom and dad, and I remember my dad would put his arm around me and I would feel so protected, and then my little head would move into his rib, and I could feel and hear his heartbeat. I felt so cared for and protected.

I loved my mom. I had a great relationship with my mom, but there was something about my dad that made me feel safe. I always wanted his attention. I wanted to be seen by him because he was so important to me.  -- Ann Wilson

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  • 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.

Toxic masculinity is as destructive as we think it is. But professor Nancy Pearcey’s data shows more of the whole story–of the power of a good man.

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Toxic Masculinity–and the Power of a Great Dad: Nancy Pearcey

With Nancy Pearcey
October 11, 2023
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Ann: As a little girl, I looked up to my dad so much. I was the youngest of four, but I can remember being scared of the dark, and I ran into my parents’ bedroom. I would snuggle in between my mom and dad, and I remember my dad would put his arm around me and I would feel so protected, and then my little head would move into his rib, and I could feel and hear his heartbeat. I felt so cared for and protected.

I loved my mom. I had a great relationship with my mom, but there was something about my dad that made me feel safe. I always wanted his attention. I wanted to be seen by him because he was so important to me.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: We’ve been talking for the last couple of days about toxic masculinity. We have Nancy back, who has declared war on toxic masculinity. [Laughter] Nancy Pearcey is back in the studio. I’m joking, but the title of your book is The Toxic War on Masculinity. In a sense, you have a fiery spirit in you. We’ve talked about the journey men have been through from the Colonial Age to the Industrial Revolution.

Ann: Let me say this, too, Nancy. Am I right in saying, as you’ve seen a culture defining and bashing men and who they are and how they’re so toxic, did you feel like, “Wait a minute?” I feel like you’ve said that. She did kind of go war against it a little bit.

Nancy: One of the things I think is really tragic is that it overlooks the fact that men and boys are actually falling behind today. They are doing worse than they did in the past. Boys are falling behind at all levels of education, from kindergarten to college. The average college now is sixty percent female, forty percent male. Graduate school—more women than men are going to graduate school and even professional school.

Dave: So what’s happened? Why? You know, you’re the expert. {Laughter]

Ann: You’re the researcher.

Nancy: Well, let me tell you more of the problem—

Dave and Ann: Okay.

Nancy: —and not just [for] boys, but men. Men are falling behind. Men are much more likely to commit suicide, to be addicted to drugs or alcohol, to be both victims and perpetrators of violence. Ninety percent of people in prison are men, and men are falling out of the workplace, by the way. The rate of employment among men today is at depression-era levels.

Dave: Wow!

Nancy: Depression-era levels, and we don’t know it, because they’re falling out of the employment statistics. They’re not trying to find work anymore, so they’re not counted. And their life expectancy has gone down, while women’s has stayed the same over the last four years or so. There’s a publication called The New Scientist that said the major factor in early death now is being male.

I did quote, in my book, a psychiatrist. Her name is Erica Komisar, and she writes for the Wall Street Journal. She said, “I am getting more and more young men into my practice who feel defeated because they’re growing up in a culture that’s so hostile to masculinity, and I’m seeing it in my practice; young men in particular, because they’re the ones who have grown up with that negative message.” So, I’m very concerned about boys. I have two of them. [Laughter]

Ann: Yes, and we have three. Even as we read your title, it’s concerning, what’s happening to boys and men today.

Dave: Where do you go to say, “We have to change the narrative?”

Nancy: The biggest long-term solution is fathers; fathers being more engaged with their sons. That’s a problem, too, because America has the highest level of single parenthood in the world. Forty percent of children in America are growing up with no contact with their natural father. So, I have a whole chapter on fatherhood. If fathers are not involved with their children, especially their sons, their sons are going to have more trouble in school, more trouble with addiction, more trouble with crime.

I used to work for Prison Fellowship, which is an international prison ministry, and we knew all too well that most of the men sitting behind bars are coming from fatherless homes, especially violent criminals. They are coming from fatherless homes. What do we do about fathers being disrespected and mocked and ridiculed in the media? Again, everyone knows that, but they don’t know where it comes from. Once again, it’s the Industrial Revolution.

What happened when fathers were no longer working side by side with their children all day, day in, day out? Well, they got out of touch with their children’s needs, their children’s personalities and skills and talents. They no longer knew the dynamics in the household, so all they did in the 19th century—you see this in the literature—people start mocking fathers and saying, “Oh, they’re so irrelevant. They’re so incompetent. What are they good for, anyway?”

Actually, that’s from a novel that was written in the 19th Century. One of the characters said, “I can’t figure out what fathers were made for anyway.” So, you start to see this denigration of fathers, just because they’re not there, and they’re not integrated into the family the way they used to be. The long-term solution has got to be fathers.

There’s a psychiatrist, Frank Pitman, who says, “We’re not going to turn out better men until we have better fathers, better fathers raising them.” I do have an entire chapter in the book on: what does that look like practically? Like you said, we can’t undo the Industrial Revolution, so what do we do?

I do have a whole chapter on men who found ways to be more flexible in their job, find ways to work two days at home, or start a home business. One person I interviewed left at 4:30 two days a week to coach his son’s basketball and soccer, and his boss gave him a hard time, but it did not end up hurting his job. When his sons grew up they said, “We want to be a dad like you,” which is a whole lot better than any workplace award.

Ann: Yes.

Nancy: I’ll give you one story from the pandemic, too, because the pandemic has helped a lot of men discover, “Hey, I actually like being closer to my family.” The New York Times had an article where the title was, “During the Pandemic Many Fathers Got Closer to Their Children, and They Don’t Want to Lose That.”

Ann: I’ve seen that.

Nancy: I love that title!

Ann: Me, too.

Nancy: Another survey said 65 percent of men don’t want to work full-time in the office anymore. They want to be at least part-time home. One of my student’s husband was an IT professional who came home during the pandemic. Being home, he was able to be even more involved with homeschooling. He was able to take the kids to soccer. He decided he would do lunch every day; he would take that on. He made lunch for the family every day.

His wife, who was my student, was an opera singer. She started a voice studio, and the whole family benefitted from the additional income. When I interviewed her husband, this was the crowning point: he said the time that he used to spend commuting every morning, he now spends praying with his wife. He said, “I’m never going back to a cubicle.”

Ann: So, it sounds like anything a man can do to be able to navigate his job to possibly spend more time at home is definitely beneficial.

Nancy: And Millennials want that.

Ann: Yes.

Nancy: I read a really cool article with a survey showing Millennials want to share both the bread-winning and the caretaking in a little bit more even way.

Ann: I like that they’re doing this. I think it’s good for the kids, too.

Dave: I think I’m old enough to have lived through several decades of watching men at work. I’m glad to hear this. because it’s changing. There was a time where if you saw a man in your neighborhood at two in the afternoon, or dropping off the kids, you thought, “What’s wrong? He’s not a man. He doesn’t have a job.”

One of my best friends, Rob, lost his job in Michigan15 [or] 20 years ago and didn’t have a job for maybe three months. He told me, “I love that I get to walk now in the afternoon with my wife” But he said, “I literally was self-conscious that people are looking at me saying, ‘He’s a loser. He doesn’t have a job’,” thinking that the only way a man can work is [to] leave the home, go to an office, go to a worksite, and then come home at dinner time or later. What you’re saying is that whole paradigm is shifting in a good way.

Ann: This is a good thing from the pandemic.

Dave: That’s a good thing. There are different ways to work.

Nancy: A little silver lining—

Ann: Exactly.

Nancy: —in this pandemic is that a lot of men discovered that they really did like being home more. I know that it’s sort of anecdotal at this point, in the sense that you can’t say, “Well, here are some general principles.” All you can do is give stories, so in that chapter I just have lots and lots of stories of men who found ways to be more flexible in their jobs, and who found that it did strengthen their family relationships enormously.

Ann: I’m remembering, because Dave was a pastor and his schedule was somewhat flexible, he would come home early some days, and without a doubt, if it’s the summer in Michigan, he’s outside, and as soon as the kids in the neighborhood see that Dave’s outside with our three boys, every boy on the block is in our front yard, because he knows, “Mr. Wilson is outside. We’re going to play some game that’s going to be a blast.”

Sometimes, we would say, “We’re the only parents out there. Where are the parents? Let’s play and be with our kids.” I’m not kidding. Kids would knock; 13-year-olds would knock on our front door, and not ask our younger children to come out and play. They would say, “Hey, can Mr. Wilson come out and play ball? We’re playing down the street. Can he come with us?” It was pretty sweet, but it also showed me they want to be with him. They want to be with a man. You were always encouraging boys.

Dave: Well, the other side of that story is their dads weren’t available.

Nancy: Yes, yes.

Dave: You talk about it in your book, the fatherless boys. They were either working, or they had left. They weren’t home.

Nancy: It’s something that the church, I think, needs to think more clearly about. How do we have a ministry to fatherless boys?

Ann and Dave: Yes.

Nancy: I think that should be a top-level ministry for churches, because father substitutes can have a tremendous impact. Church youth group leaders and youth pastors, and I have some anecdotes on that, too. A man I talked to who coaches rugby, I think it was—a somewhat unusual sport; he coaches rugby, and he said, “I’m doing it for my kid. But you know what? I’m doing it for all these other kids, too, because so many of these boys don’t have a father in the home.” He said, “I’m doing this as a ministry to these boys.”

Dave: Yes. One of the reasons I coached high school football for 12 years is to be with my boys. That was actually motivation number one. I want to be there. They’re going to be there; I’m a football guy. I have a background, so maybe I can be on the field with them. But as they left, I stayed. It was that :“Most of the boys in this high school don’t have a dad in their home, or they don’t have a good model for a dad in their home.”

Every day, as I walked down to the practice field, I prayed, “God, use me as a dad and a model in these young men’s lives. They don’t have a model. They don’t even know what a dad looks like or feels like. I get to be a representative of You to these boys, to show them what a man is.”

Your last chapter is The Power of a Man. Not that women don’t have power. You have incredible power, but there’s a uniqueness that God has put in us as men. As husbands and dads, we can impact not just the family but a whole community.

Nancy: What’s interesting to me is that even non-Christians see this. There’s one non-Christian, a historian, who writes, “A coach’s view of manhood derives from their view of God.” He said, “Take the polytheistic religions.” Here’s his language: “They fought, they wenched, [Laughter] they elevated military power.” [In] polytheistic religions—think of the ancient Greek gods or the Norse gods—to be a man is to be a warrior. He said, “Well, there’s some truth to that, but it’s incomplete.”

He said, “What about monotheistic religions? Well, some monotheistic religions treat God as completely transcendent, separate; for example, Islam. God does not have relationship with people.” I actually quote a Muslim who says, “The very idea that God would condescend to have a relationship with mere mortals is repugnant.” That’s how he put it. “It’s repugnant to Islam.” So, that view of God emphasizes power, authority; the guy on top.

Then this same historian said, “Now Judaism comes along, and Judaism is monotheistic, but God does have a relationship with people. God has a covenant relationship with His people, so God is a father, a loving Father. To be a man in Judaism is to be a loving father.” Then he says, “Christianity came along within Judaism,” he says, “but Christianity complexified the view of manhood because Jesus comes as a servant leader.”

Dave and Ann: Yes.

Nancy: “I come not to be served but to serve.” He says, “All of a sudden character traits that were thought to be more feminine become appropriate for men, like gentleness and love and forgiveness and compassion.” He said, “Christianity gave rise to a much more full-orbed, balanced view of men than any other religion.” I thought this was fascinating—

Ann: Me, too.

Nancy: —that Christianity calls men to be whole—not to be chopped off, just certain stereotypes, but to be whole—persons made in God’s image, reflecting the whole personality of God, and that even a non-Christian could see the difference that Christianity makes.

Dave: That’s beautiful. As you ladies think of a title for God, which one comes to your mind first? He’s King, He’s Creator, He’s the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, He’s Father, Jesus was the Son. Does any one of those come as, “This is the one I resonate with the most?”

Nancy: I vote for Father.

Dave: That’s what I thought would be true.

Ann: I think part of that—if you would have asked me this years ago, years and years ago, I would have probably looked at the God of the Old Testament different than the Jesus of the New Testament. I could have seen the God of the Old Testament as being a little scary and judgmental. I don’t think I had a good context of who He was.

When Jesus says, “When you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father,” all of a sudden I think, “Oh! Now I’m seeing the goodness of God, and I’m seeing the Father piece.” Yes, I would say Father, too, now, but back in the day, I was a little scared of God. I [thought], “I’d hang out with Jesus,” and it’s because some of the old pain and the wounds that I had, and the unworthiness that I felt before God. I thought that He would smite me.

Nancy: And let me expand our scope a little bit, too, on how the Christian view of God has an impact in other cultures, because in my book Toxic War, I focus most on America, because you have to put limits or the book gets too big.

Ann: Yes.

Nancy: But I did put some findings from other cultures, because it was just so amazing. The cultures like South America—there’s one anthropologist who studied Colombia, for example, a very secular person, and she expected to go in and find that the impact of Christianity would be to make men more patriarchal and more domineering. She found the opposite.

She was so stunned, she said, “No, no, no. It’s machismo culture, it’s the general secular culture that teaches men that it’s okay to ignore your family, that you become a man because you’re out there gambling and fighting. When a man becomes an evangelical Christian, he takes all his money and invests it in his family, and the family experiences a higher standard of living.”

“The whole family benefits because the father becomes engaged with his family.” Here’s how she put it: she said, “Christianity is the best women’s movement.” [Laughter]

Ann: Jesus was; yes.

Nancy: And there was an even larger [study] done by a British anthropologist. She went beyond Colombia. She went into Africa as well, and Asia, and she found the same thing. Bernice Martin, I think is her name.

Dave: I don’t know how you remember all this stuff.

Ann: I am amazed at this.

Nancy: But she said the same thing. She said, “It’s not liberal Christian groups that have helped women. It’s these ‘backward,’ unsophisticated evangelicals who’ve helped women more than any other group.” She said, “If there’s anything that can be called an international women’s movement,” she said, “Evangelical Christianity is it.”

I was telling you earlier about a New York Times columnist, too, who wrote the book Half the Sky. It’s a best-seller, so maybe some people in our audience will have heard of it; Half the Sky. He, too, says it’s the Christian groups that help the poor more than any other group. They’ll go out and really help these women. In the book, they say it’s Christianity that has helped so many women be able to counter the alcoholism, the adultery, the other sort of traditional male vices in these cultures.

They get the church supporting them; that’s how he puts it. He’s not a Christian, but the church helps them, in a sense, pull men out of that secular culture into the church culture where they focus on their families, to coin a phrase.

Dave: I remember an actress on a show that we used to watch decades ago; I knew who she was because I liked the show. I remember reading a quote in a magazine that she said. She was asked if she was a Christian, and she said, “I was at one time as a child, but I’m not anymore because of what Jesus did to women.” That was her quote.

I remember—this was before social media. Today, I would direct message her. If I could have gotten a hold of her, I would have said, “That can’t be true. If you understood what Jesus did to women in that time and that culture—”

Ann: To elevate.

Dave: “—you would not make a statement like that. He elevated women. He celebrated. He put them in—” It’s crazy to study. You know as well as anybody what He meant for women in that time. As I think about that, I think that’s what women should feel now, when we evangelical men live out our faith. They should feel seen and worthy and alive, because we’re not toxic; we are the best thing that ever happened because we copy and we live as Jesus did.

Nancy: Yes. I do have a section in my book on how Jesus treated women. But it’s also helpful to ask, “Well, where did the misconceptions come from?”

Dave: Yes.

Nancy: There are two major places. Genesis one, where it says Eve was created, woman was created to be a help. We tend to think “help’ means like the assistant. He does the really important stuff, and she’s the little assistant.

Ann: I struggled with that, Nancy, when I was younger, and I thought, “Well, maybe I’m getting that term wrong.” So I looked it up in Webster’s Dictionary, and it said, “A go-fer; a person who does the dirty work. Someone important tells them what to do.” So, obviously, when God created a woman and He said the word, “helper,” that’s not what He had in mind.

Nancy: You have to go back to the Hebrew, first of all. Webster’s is not going to help you.

Ann: Yes, exactly.

Nancy: But the Hebrew—it’s pronounced “a-zer,” and in the Old Testament it is used most often of God: “our ever-present help in trouble.” So, clearly it does not indicate an inferior, subordinate person. The word itself does not mean that, and it’s in some male names, like Ebenezer, Eliezer. Hebrew fathers would not give their sons names that meant they were weak.

Ann: Or less than.

Nancy: Or less than. So the word itself—I think it’s very important that we explain the word “azer” means an ally, someone who comes to your side and helps you when you’re in trouble.

Ann: Thank you, Nancy, for all you’re doing.

Nancy: Well, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Nancy Pearcey on FamilyLife Today. Here in just a second, we’re going to hear Ann reflect on this conversation, what it meant to her, and how Nancy’s time with Dave and Ann was so impactful to her. But first, we wanted to let you know that Nancy has written a book called The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes.

A lot of people ask the question, “How did this idea arise, that masculinity is dangerous and destructive?” Well, Nancy talks about that in her book, and she talks about also, more importantly, how to fix it. This book is going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially. You can go online to or give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. And feel free to drop us something in the mail if you’d like. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, Florida 32832.

Ann: As I was thinking about men leading and loving in the home, the picture that came to my mind—when we were in Israel and we attended a Shabbat dinner with an Orthodox Jewish family, and it was beautiful. When the woman, the mother of the children and the wife, lit the candles, which is a place of honor, the husband stood up and then he read from the Torah, or we would call it Proverbs.

He would stand up and he’d say, “A wife of noble character who can find?” And he would lay his hands on his wife, and he would kiss her, and then he would bless her. And then he would turn to each one of his children, and he would bless them and speak life to them. As I looked at that picture of our Heavenly Father, I thought, “This is what a man does. He looks at his wife, he blesses her; he sees his children, he blesses them, he protects them, he lays down his life for them.”

Dave, I feel like you’ve done that. I feel like you’ve always done that to me. You’ve done a really good job of that. You have blessed me, you honor me, you talk so highly about me, and you’ve done that for the boys. You laid down your life every day for us.

So, there might be some toxic masculinity, but our evangelical men that are walking with Jesus, that are seeking Him, they’re the ones that are representing Jesus and the church in a beautiful way and to the families. It’s marking us, and it’s making a difference. Don’t give up, men. You’re doing it!

Shelby: Some people ask the question, maybe verbally or mostly in their head, “What does a strong sex life hinge on?” Well, we’re going to talk about that tomorrow as Dave and Ann are joined by Juli Slattery. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.

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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