FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Toxic Masculinity: From Passive to Proactive: David & Meg Robbins

with David and Meg Robbins | June 14, 2024
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What's masculinity look like--without the "toxic?" It could look like men feeling the need to keep quiet or going with the flow. David and Meg Robbins are here to answer questions about toxic masculinity vs. healthy masculinity.

  • 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.

Why is it crucial for men to reject passivity and step up as leaders? David and Meg Robbins tackle fears and uncertainties fueling toxic masculinity.

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Toxic Masculinity: From Passive to Proactive: David & Meg Robbins

With David and Meg Robbins
June 14, 2024
| Download Transcript PDF

David: As men, as fathers, we have to have courage to step into hard things. We do! One of the things you can model most that gets really simple, that can be hard—it can be a hard thing at times—is, are you modeling that, when you fail and when stuff comes out of you sideways, they see you repair with your spouse?

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: It’s always a great day when we have these two people in the studio.

Ann: I know.

Dave: Don’t you think? Can you introduce them?

Ann: David and Meg Robbins are in the studio with us today.

David: Hey, gang. Good to be here.

Meg: Hey! It’s always fun

Ann: Welcome. We’re really glad—

Dave: —we think it’s a good day. Do you think it’s a good day?

David: It’s great. You know what’s fun about this day is that we just spent five hours in the car together two days ago—

Ann: —yes—

David: —so, it’s good to be with you again.

Ann: It’s great to have you.

Dave: It’s been a phenomenal week. We had David Thomas and Sissy Goff, and we got to do that interview in Nashville—

Ann: —that was so fun.

Dave: —at their counseling house. Have you ever been there?

Meg: That’s awesome! No.

David: Never been there.

Dave: It’s amazing, it really is. They have dogs, therapy dogs, that run around.

Meg: Yes, I did know that. They’re phenomenal.

Ann: We were talking about emotionally healthy kids and families.

Dave: And then, the last couple days have been amazing with KB Burgess and Ameen—"Southside Rabbi” is their podcast.

Ann: But not as good as David and Meg, President of FamilyLife.

David: Come on, now. I just want to say this before we dive in, because we do want to reflect on this week. It has been a powerful week. If you have not listened this past week, I just want to encourage you: all four episodes have been amazing in taking us into some deeper places.

But before we go there, we just recently heard from a listener who left a review on Apple Podcasts, and they said this: “This podcast—I lack words to even describe how amazing it is and the impact it has had on me. I want to have dinner with these two.” (They’re talking about you, Dave and Ann!) [Laughter]

I do want to thank you both for the way you pour out your heart and your soul into conversations and point people to Jesus over and over again.

She goes on: “I want to have dinner with these two. I want to know about them and learn more from them. At times, I listen with regret at how many opportunities I have missed with my own kids and spouse; but the regret is soon replaced with hope. I cannot get the years back that I’ve wasted, but I can begin in the present.”

I’m just going to stop there again. Listening to FamilyLife Today, sometimes you end up getting burdens on your shoulders. What I love about what you guys do and the guests that come on [is] there’s freedom in the gospel.

Dave: Yes.

David: Jesus doesn’t want the burdens to add up, He actually wants to empower us—

Ann: —yes—

David: —with His Spirit inside of us to be able to go live out in the present day.

She continues, “I can begin in the present. I do not cry often, but I got extremely emotional listening to the interview with the ESPN anchor who prayed on national television,”—that was Dan Orlovsky—”hearing Ann’s story about the friend saying she was ugly,”—which, she is beautiful!—"and most recently, their interview with their son. I want to be that parent who empowers my children. I truly wish I could adequately explain my feelings that I have for this podcast. It is a blessing.”

And I just want to say, it is a blessing for us at FamilyLife when we get to hear from you as listeners.

Dave: Yes.


Ann: Yes.

David: Go leave a review; tell us what’s ministering to you; tell us topics you want us to dive into; tell us what is encouraging you, and how God is meeting you. We love getting to hear from you.

Also, it’s just a moment for you as listeners, especially those of you who are FamilyLife Partners and give to help this be a podcast and on radio across the nation and the world: Thank you for giving that allows lives to continue to be changed, like this listener.

Ann: I want to go hang out with her. I’d go hang out with her anytime!

Dave: Well, if she’s buying, we’re going out to lunch! [Laughter] You know me, I’ll do that anytime. But, yes, it’s awesome, because you sit in here, and there’s no feedback. It’s not like preaching where you know if you’re bombing or you’re winning. Here, you just send it out and you trust God. And He’s impacting people like this lady, which is awesome.

Alright, let’s talk! Father’s Day is in a couple days, this weekend. Ladies, you know that, right? You’re going to take care of us.

David: Oh, man.

Ann: Of course.

Meg: Good reminder.

Dave: I just need to make sure I get my tie or my—

Ann: —tie! I don’t think I’ve ever bought you a tie.

Meg: Coffee mug.

David: Hey, my kids—today, it’s socks, and you know what? I love the socks that I get.

Dave: Socks?

Meg: Socks are good.

David: Power socks.

Ann: I don’t think I ever—

Dave: Is that what you get him? Because you’ve got some socks. I’ve seen them.

Ann: Did I ever buy you a tie? Did you ever wear a tie?

Dave: I don’t know where I got that idea. [Laughter]

Ann: Our dads. We got our dads ties.

Meg: Yes, we did get our dads ties.

David: Cards. Cards always have a tie.

Meg: That’s kind of the assumed gift, but I don’t know if I’ve ever given you a tie.

Ann: I like the sock idea, though. Socks are a good one.

Meg: Yes.

Dave: If you wrapped a tie around a motorcycle, that would be nice. [Laughter]

Meg: Dream big. Why not?

Dave: KB and Ameen, in the last couple days, talked a lot about men. We even got into fatherhood, because—I don’t know if you remember, but—KB was on his way that evening to watch his son sing.

So, let’s just talk about some thoughts and reflections on those two days. One of the thoughts is, at the very beginning, they were sharing some statistics about the crisis of men in our culture today.

Ann: Weren’t those powerful?

David: Yes.

Dave: It’s scary.

Meg: It is scary.

Dave: It’s so scary to think. not only the term “toxic masculinity,” but men are failing these days. It’s not a general term, it’s not everybody, but the numbers are escalating in a dangerous way.

When you heard those thoughts—here’s my question: Why? What do you think has happened?

David: Well, I think that there’s not [just] one factor that controls everything, but one of the stats that they started talking about was fathers, and the father’s presence, and what happens to those stats in the homes where a father is present. They talked about even going back to kids that end up in the NICU. When the father is around, they end up getting out sooner.

Ann: Yes!

Dave: That was fascinating.

Ann: Wasn’t that? An infant!

David: And I think we can always think about an “absent” father, but we can go back—you can be absent in a lot of ways. It’s not just physically present, there’s emotional presence. A passive man will end up being, likely, a passive husband and father and silent some day. I think some of the roots are, we end up being silent about the things that matter most; the roots of character in our own lives.

We just recently heard—we were at a conference together, and we heard—Crawford Lorritts say, at a conference we were recently at: “You better have more in the cupboard than what you put on the counter.”

A lot of times, we, as men, end up growing passive—not just passive, but [we] end up getting silent in what we are speaking over our sons or what we are willing to speak to when it comes to character that we put on the counter.

Ann: Let me ask you guys, and maybe, Meg, you can reflect on this, too. As a woman, that is super frustrating. We are married to good men, but sometimes, women are longing for their men to not be as passive or to contribute in our home.

Why do you guys think men are? Is there a fear in something? What do you think?

Dave: Two things came to my mind. I don’t know what you guys think, but the first is fear.

Meg: Yes.

Dave: You’re afraid. We’ve talked about this many times here: when we got married, I didn’t know I had a fear of conflict. I didn’t even know the origin was probably watching mom and dad fight when they got drunk, and it got abusive, and it ended up in divorce.

As a little boy, I processed, “Don’t fight.” So, I would run from conflict. That was passivity. I was afraid, and I had to grow into, in a sense, becoming a man.

I think the other side of it is, we don’t know what to do. We feel equipped in work areas, maybe even educated and trained in certain areas, and when it comes to relationships or parenting—raising my boys, there were times I was passive because I thought, “I’m not sure what to do.” So, what did I do? Nothing! Which is terrible, but there’s that passivity.

We’ve talked for decades [that] a vision of manhood has something to do with rejecting that, stepping into your fear; even if you don’t know what to say or do, do something. Just act.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: And I think that contributes to our wives and our partners feeling like they’re supported. And it impacts our kids if we step up and do something.

Meg: Similarly, the fear—I think those things actually go hand in hand. It’s the fear of not knowing exactly how to do that right, also. Men want to be successful; they want to do things right and be seen as strong. The things we actually long for from our men are the things they also desire to be, I think.

Ann: I do, too.

Meg: But I think, sometimes, its like they think, “I’m not sure if I’m going to do it right or do it adequately or fully.” I don’t know; maybe it’s easier to take the safe route and not step into that.

Dave: Yes.

Meg: Because I feel like, when I see you step into that, it does take a lot of courage to put yourself out there and lead in that way and step up into that space. It takes a sense of boldness that, sometimes, it’s easier to take the passive route.

Ann: As a woman listener, let me just encourage you, when your husband steps into an area or he’s vocal or he does attempt to not be passive, and he’s attempting to engage—it’s so easy for us to critique that, “Oh, he shouldn’t have done that.”

That was me, “You shouldn’t have said it like that. You shouldn’t have done it like that.” Lead with: “Thank you for stepping in.”

Meg: Right.

Ann: Maybe he didn’t do it perfectly, but maybe later—later—you can get to that.

Dave: Much later. [Laughter]

Ann: Yes, but just to say “thank you,” because he’s trying, sometimes, his best.

Dave: Yes, we often, I think, hesitate to enter in to places where there is not a confidence around adequacy.

Ann: Yes.

David: Because deep down—you said it the other day: “Do I have what it takes in this space?” I’m going to veer toward those spaces where I know I have a shot at having what it takes.

One of the things I think I’ve had to learn is, the liminal space of not knowing what to do with your spouse or with your kids, especially as they grow into teenagers, and they have thoughts of their own, being able to just be in it, where you’re not solving it yet. You’re going to need to take action. You’re going to need to get there—

Ann: —yes.,

David: —but you’re not coming with a solution, which I think we often can default to when we’re trying to step up as a man and take initiative, reject passivity. In that liminal space, you don’t know what to do.

How do you move toward and just hold that space with your spouse or with your kid, and just be in it and not rush to something? I think I’m an activator, I’m strategic with all the assessments: “Let’s go! Let’s go do something.” I’ve had to learn I can end up doing more damage sometimes that way.

Sit in it. Take a moment. Seek to understand what the real issue is, and now, let’s discover together what we need to go do. Sometimes, I can just go trouncing ahead and drag Meg along with me saying, “Come on! Let’s go do something about this.”

Sometimes, you have to act, because it’s just time. Other times, how do you discern together and then go take action? There’s more depth to the action you’re taking.

Ann: Let me go back to what you said; I’m intrigued by that, when you said, “We don’t have all the answers. Sometimes, we just hold space with them.” I’m thinking that could resonate with someone asking: “You mean I don’t have to have all the answers and know what to do?”

If you’re having a discussion, or you’re in this dilemma with your kids or your family, what could that look like? Are you saying, “Hey, I don’t know?” What do you think that looks like?

David: I have a visual that helps me. It doesn’t always happen. We were at some retreat, and someone showed this video. It’s from Inside Out; do you know that movie?

Ann: Yes.

David: The family’s moved, and the little girl had run away, and she has come back. This kid had been avoiding all the grief and all the challenges that she had been facing, giving up hockey, or the new hockey team wasn’t what it was in the former place. They find her, and they bring her back. There’s this moment where they are having this exchange, and then they just hold. They have an exchange in a conversation, and then she lets out this sigh.

That’s actually, sometimes, the very first thing; and I, as an activator, have had to wait. How do I have a conversation and stay in it long enough where the kid can breathe, “Sigh?”

That’s ultimately where they need my presence to know, “I’m with you no matter what. And yes, you messed up here, or life is overwhelming, or that grade—’Whew, that’s a hard one,’ or that demerit you got, or whatever that could be. I’m still here.” [Deep Sigh]

“Okay, now that I can be present with you”—because they are just being flooded by these narratives going on in their head. It’s a scary thing as a father to [realize], “I’m giving them their scripts that they are going to play in their head when they’re forty-five like me. [Laughter]

Ann: Yes.

David: That is daunting and can be paralyzing as a parent.

Okay, so presence is there. That visual from Inside Out—it doesn’t happen every time, but I kind of wait for that. And then, it’s amazing how God starts bringing solutions. You can start talking about solutions after there’s been that release.

Dave: I’m thinking we need that as well. That moment when we can go, “Sigh.”

David: Yes.

Dave: I’ve said this here before, but when we went to the Weekend to Remember as an engaged couple, it was the first vision I’d ever been given for God’s plan for marriage.

I’ll never forget Sunday morning, sitting in there with the men, talking about what a godly husband looks like, and a godly dad, at that time. We got married two weeks later, and on our honeymoon night—no, it was the next night; we had our honeymoon night, and then we flew to Boston and we were going to have our honeymoon in that area—I literally. . .

We walked around [and took] the subway in Boston, walked back to our hotel room, and I just started sobbing uncontrollably. Ann wondered, “Who is this man I married? What is going on?”

David: Yes.

Dave: I figured it out. I was overwhelmed. I saw [and] I heard a vision of what God wanted me to be as a man, and I thought, “I’m not that guy. I can’t be that guy. She deserves a husband—and I hope to be a dad—,” and I was just so overwhelmed. As I look back, it was my moment to go, “Sigh.”

I thought, “I don’t think I can do this.” I think that still happens for us, as guys. I’m sure it does for women, too, but we get afraid. We think, “I don’t know if I can parent this way. I don’t know if I can step in to this conversation with my seventeen-year-old son”—

David and Meg: —yes.

Dave: —”or daughter that has to happen, and passivity means I’m not going to.” But, “Sigh.” It’s almost like a prayer: “Okay, God, I don’t want to be a passive dad. I don’t want to be a passive husband. I’m going to step into this. Here we go!” Trust Him, and see what happens.

That is a vision of manhood that families respond to!

Meg: Yes!

Dave: It’s scary, but everybody rallies around that even when you do it wrong. It may go left, but you’re moving; you’re being active. You’re being a man.

David: Totally. I think about that Dave, and I think: this morning we had an interaction with one of our kids, and it was a rough one. Right before they left, he came up to his mom, to Meg, and looked her in the eye and sincerely apologized.

We didn’t ask for it. I’ve had to ask for it before and said, “You need to go do that.” It was one of those moments—we are coming in here pretty ragged-tagged out, because it was a hard morning!—yet, okay, he got that from somewhere.

I think when you boil it all down—this can be overwhelming! As men, as fathers, we have to have courage to step into hard things. We do! Yet one of the things you can model most that gets really simple, that can be hard—it can be a hard thing at times—is: are you modeling that when you fail, and when stuff comes out of you sideways, they see you repair with your spouse and with your wife? They see you repair with your child, and you go back to them?

I’m not saying that’s all that it sums up to be, but when I think of the practical next step to what can feel daunting, that’s one of the best ways to reject passivity.

Meg: Another thing that happened this morning, actually—because I do think it requires what you are talking about, humility—the humility and the compassion and the tenderness that is required—to say when we’ve failed; to go back to them and say, “We’re sorry.” You [David] were seeing him live that out. It meant the world to me.

The other thing that happened is, right after that, there was a little pause after I said, “I forgive you.” There was silence, and then David said, “We really love you, Bud.” He just stopped and looked David in the eyes and said, “Thanks. I love y’all, too.”

Just stopping to take a minute and say, “No matter what has happened this morning, we love you so much.” I think that’s what you said, actually, “We love you so much.” We say “I love you” to our kids, for sure; we want to communicate that. But in the moments that are really hard, sometimes it’s harder to say it in that moment. But you stopped and took a moment to move toward him in an even deeper way.

I think we think of men showing up as leaders, as having all the right things to say or being wise. And yes, certainly, God will give us the wisdom that we need when we ask him for it. Thank goodness that He promises that! [James 1:5] But it is also showing up with tenderness, compassion, humility—

Ann: —yes.

Meg: I feel like some of the best times that you are leading us are when you’re showing up with humility.

Ann: As a woman, I did this so poorly for so many years. I would compare Dave to other dads or men, especially Dennis Rainey. [Laughter]

Dave: And I never quite measured up.

Ann: If you are struggling with that: “I wish my husband were like…,” can I just encourage you to champion the man that he is? To champion the father that he is? Dave isn’t supposed to be Dennis Rainey. He’s supposed to be Dave Wilson. I think I’ve learned the hard way that when I can champion, and I can see the great things that you do, or the dad that you are, it breathes life into you.

Dave: Oh, yes.

Ann: So, think about who your husband is, and start championing who he is instead of—maybe you’re not saying it out loud, but you’re comparing him in your mind.

Dave: I have two closing thoughts. If you have others, jump in.

David: I have one, Dave, and then I’ll pass it to you for the close. This is good, man. We got going on this, I like it.

Dave: It is.

David: If you’re a father for whom this conversation is heaping on shame or pressure, I just invite you to hear what we told our son, that Jesus, well really, God your Father, is saying to you. That is, “I love you so very much.” That’s how He views you.

He is a good Father who will keep showing you how to be a great father. He knows you are going to need help in order to live this out. He’s given you the Helper, the Holy Spirit, putting inside you divine resources to help you live this out.

Dave: That was one of my thoughts.

David: Oh, good! Okay.

Dave: Exactly. I had this thought that, as a pastor for thirty years, we had Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and we always made those special moments, but over the years we realized that on Mother’s Day all we do is say, “Mom! You’re incredible!” and on Father’s Day, all we do is say, “Guys, step up!” [Laughter] It sort of took that tone.

Meg: That’s true.

Dave: We thought, “Wait a minute! Guys beat themselves up. They feel like failures, maybe they’ve even been told they’re failures.”

I just want to remind the men: if you are feeling like you have been too passive, and you’ve made mistakes—when you said earlier, Meg, what David said to your son, I thought, “That’s what God is saying to us.” To that dad, if you’re a good-willed man, you’re trying your best—and we’re going to make mistakes—God is looking at you and saying—He’s not saying, “Step it up. Reject passivity.” He’s saying, “I love you. Keep going. It’s so, so good, what you are doing.”

I want to echo what David said. If you are that dad, I hope you stop the car right now, or stop your work out right now, and pause for a second, and receive that from the Lord.

The only other thought is this: just for you guys. We are at a different stage, obviously,  as empty-nesters and grandparents now—the morning you just had, you are going to want again someday, as hard as it was. I know. I can imagine.

Ann: But will they? [Laughter]

Dave: No, you won’t want that, but you’ll want those kids back in the home, and they’re not going to be there, and it’s going to be a little quieter. And it’s awesome!

David: Good reminder.

Ann: It’s true.

Dave: Those are precious moments, as hard as it is. And I bet tonight, when they get home from school, there will even be some more words about that.

David: Yes.

Dave: But way to go.

Ann: Well done.

Dave: Stopping in the middle of that thing and reminding him that he’s loved. Ooof! I didn’t do that often. That’s a great dad move, and maybe that’s a move some dad needs to make today with his kids.

Dave: We’re Dave and Ann Wilson, and you’ve been listening to FamilyLife Today.

Ann: We’ve been talking with the president of FamilyLife, David and Meg Robbins. FamilyLife has a great resource to go through with their teens together. It’s called Passport to Identity.

Dave: A mom can take a weekend trip with their daughter or a dad, his son, and listen to the material together and talk about being who God has called him or her to be. You can find out more and grab a copy of Passport to Identity at

Ann: You might not know this about FamilyLife, but we are donor-supported. That means that conversations like today’s get into people’s homes and cars because of financial partners who believe in reaching others with God’s plan for families.

Dave: Right now, when you partner financially with FamilyLife to help more conversations like today’s get into more homes, we want to send you as our thanks a copy of Sissy Goff’s book, The Worry-Free Parent. Sounds like a good book, doesn’t it? The Worry-Free Parent: Living in Confidence So Your Kids Can, Too.

Ann: You can partner with us at or by calling 800-358-6329;

that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Dave: Or you can mail us your donation to:


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Make sure to let us know you’d like a copy of The Worry-Free Parent by Sissy Goff.

And let me say, “Thanks for partnering with FamliyLife.”

Ann: If you know anyone who needs to hear today’s conversation, would you share it with them from wherever you get your podcasts?

Dave: And,while you are there, you can help others learn about FamilyLife Today by leaving us a review.

Ann: We’re Ann and Dave Wilson. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

Dave: FamilyLife Today is a donor-supported production of FamilyLife®, a Cru® Ministry.

Ann: Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.


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