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Raising Sons to be Honorable Men (Part 1 of 2)

Air Date 09/07/2017

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Author and speaker Robert Lewis offers advice and encouragement to dads in a discussion based on his best-selling book Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father's Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood. (Part 1 of 2)

Episode Transcript


Dr. Robert Lewis: When you can identify some code of conduct that you admire, that you pursue, and you call your son up to a real world applications in the midst of the battle of real life. That’s when those words take root and begin to germinate.

John Fuller: Robert Lewis joins us today on Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.

Jim Daly: John, we’ve been talking about it all year but it bears mentioning again. We’re celebrating 40 years of family ministry here at Focus on the Family and as part of that celebration, we’re bringing back some of our favorite guests to talk with us again and today, we’re gonna do just that. Talking with Robert Lewis who has long been associated with Focus on the Family. Back in the late ‘90s he wrote an outstanding book called Raising a Modern Day Knight, with Focus. We’ve since reprinted it and added content. Well, you probably added the content, didn’t you? (laughter)

Robert:I think I did.

Jim: And it’s been our number one best seller across the years. I didn’t know if you knew that.

Robert:No, I didn’t.


Robert:I didn’t.

Jim: So it’s been the book that has, uh, you know, really reached the most people by the numbers. So. Congratulations, Robert.

Robert:Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Jim: Also, we want to bring this back to the table to talk about it again because it’s an ever, what we call an evergreen program. Where new parents will be introduced to this topic and they’ll want to raise their sons; those fathers will want to raise their sons in a way that glorifies the Lord. And teaches them, you know, the things of the Faith that are so important.

John: Yeah there are some great principles that we’ll be talking about today regarding that father/son relationship and moms are gonna want to listen too because there are a lot of great, uh, principles here for both parents.Dr. Robert Lewis is the founder of Men’s Fraternity, which is an organization teaching men of all ages how to live a life of authentic Biblical manhood and, uh, he and his wife Sherod have four children, two of them are boys and uh, what you said, nine grandchildren?

Robert:Nine grandchildren. (laughter)

John: That’s awesome.

Robert:And we’re still, still growing.


Jim: Well, officially, welcome back to Focus.

Robert:Well thank you. It’s a delight to be with you guys again.

Jim: So good to see you. Robert, getting to it, what do you think is missing in the way we are raising boys today?

Robert: Well, we have a big gap in this generation and the gap is that we’re assuming a lot that, uh, boys are going to grow up and understand not only what uh, manhood is all about but, what are the key components to being an authentic man. And the problem is, is that most of the things that we involve our young sons in tend to be things that build their exterior skills, like sports and academics and experiences and stuff.

Jim: Which are important.

Robert:Which are very important and ...

Jim: But shouldn’t be the most important.

Robert:That’s exactly right. And I’m not against any of those things. My boys and I got involved in every one of those things. The problem is, is the gap is we assume the interior skills.

Jim: Hmm.

Robert: Of character. Of Godliness. Of how to interact with a woman. How to understand myself. Those dots are not being connected today by our culture. Mainly because dad’s not there.


Robert:A good 40 plus percent aren’t even there. But the ones who are there, who are the ones that I work with a lot, don’t feel competent in giving those things away to their sons because they themselves aren’t clear about what they are. So, for starters, most dads don’t even have a definition of manhood to give away.

Jim: Yeah. Why is it? Is there a transmission problem? Generation to generation, men seem to not tell their sons what’s important about manhood and what you need to know. Is that one of the core problems?

Robert: It is because our institutions, uh, mainly the church and what used to be more of a Judeo-Christian culture, used to emphasize giving away certain aspects of those. But for whatever reason, we’ve gone dark. And so what we’re raising today is what I call “dark manhood.”

Jim: Hmm.

Robert:You know we have dark matter in the universe. You know it’s there but you can’t see it. There’s a dark manhood where guys look like men, but they aren’t men. They’re dark manhood men. And so to give away that, there has to be a new way of heralding to this generation what are the most important things that boys need to be successful men. Not just generally, from a secular standpoint with a strong interior, but especially for us as Christians. What is it that builds a healthy manhood interior for the next generation? I don’t think we’re clear about that. We’re not talking about those things. And because we’re not talking about those things, dads don’t feel competent in what to seize and give away to their sons.

Jim: Before we get to some of the practical application, this topic comes out of your heart and your own, uh, well, lack of father. Tell us about your experience as a boy growing up and why this is so important to you.

Robert: Yeah, I think part of the strength I possess now is because of part of the vacuum of what I grew up in, because I grew up in dark manhood. I grew up as one of three sons underneath a dad who was a war veteran; which I’m very proud of by the way, that he did serve honorably in the service. And uh, my dad was the kind of guy like the greatest generation that came home and put his nose to the grindstone to provide materially but didn’t know how to provide spiritually or socially.

So, I call my formative years with my two brothers, growing up in a home where dad was there but he wasn’t dad. In fact, I got to where I called him the invisible dad.

Jim: Hmm.

Robert:He was around, but you couldn’t touch him, and you couldn’t feel his heart.

Jim: Robert, to add to that description, you and I share in this as both of our fathers were alcoholics.

Robert:They were. Yeah.

Jim: And that really dampens down your respect often times.


Jim: I mean you had your dad in the military but for those sons growing up where alcohol was part of their family life, either mom or dad, uh, you know it doesn’t matter if both, um, what did that look like for you and what actions did you see your dad do ...

Robert:Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jim: that environment, and what did it do to you spiritually and emotionally?

Robert: Yeah. Well, my dad worked hard. I was always proud of that. But he also drank hard and, uh, it increased during my formative years into my teenage years and that became problematic. And when the home begins to break apart because mom and dad aren’t doing well, because my mom was trying to reform my dad and she couldn’t do it. And so, for whatever reason, maybe because I’m a stronger personality than my brothers, I got drafted in, to that relationship to negotiate.

Jim: You’re the point man...

Robert:I was the negotiator. So I was always trying to keep the peace. I was always trying to keep dad straight. I was always trying to convince mom why she shouldn’t leave or why she should have more patience. And what is really odd, there were times I was trying to counsel my mom, how to better interact with my dad, which was totally insane for a 14 or 15 year old.

Jim: That’s a lot of responsibility.

Robert:Oh yeah. But, I tried as best I could. I took a lot of shrapnel from both sides in trying to do that, which I think wounded me in ways I didn’t understand. Uh, in order to do that I had to bury my emotions, which a lot of boys who grow up under alcoholics do. They have to put their emotions of shame, when guys would make fun of my dad for being drunk or when he didn’t show up for things like my ballgames or, which I cite in Raising Modern Day Knights, right at the very beginning, when he didn’t show up for my wedding.

Jim: Ugh.

Robert:I mean it’s a weird thing to be at a wedding where all, you know, we were a well-known family. All my college athletes at the time who were my groomsmen came. It was a huge wedding. My grandfather-in-law was doing the service, and there we were with a lot of pomp and ceremony, but dad wasn’t there.

Jim: Yeah.

Robert:Because dad couldn’t handle it. So he drank himself into a stupor that weekend. And so you just carry a lot of shame. And at the same time, you’re trying to make it work.

Jim:Robert, the question for some of the guys listening right now would be, you seemed to turn out okay. For me, I didn’t have that dad. I still haven’t built that bridge. They might be in their 20’s, they might be in their 30’s or 50’s and 60s ...


Jim: Where that bridge to healing has not been built.


Jim: How does a guy who had that experience, like you or like me, how do you get on a better path to say, “Okay. I didn’t have it, but I’m gonna give it to my son?”

Robert: That is a great question. And I’m not sure, apart from the grace of God, I got a great answer because I think what you do when you’re one of those wounded sons, you grab for whatever gives you meaning.But somewhere in there, that won’t be enough.

Jim:Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Robert:And so if you have a listener who is listening there and he is feeling a lot of emotion even talking about this. And sometimes when you bridge it with anybody whose got that background, immediately that emotion kind of wells up and you can see it in their face. And if it’s not resolved then my encouragement to them would be to look to Jesus Christ. That’s what I did.

Jim: And that’s a great answer, and it sounds maybe, overly used ...


Jim: But it’s the right answer.

Robert:It is the right answer.

Jim: You’ve got to turn to God and read His word and understand what a father is. Because He’s the ultimate father.

Robert: And I’m so grateful. I say from an earthly viewpoint, I stumbled into it from a divine viewpoint, I think God helped lead me into it, but uh, in that interaction in finding Jesus, I also found a book that had answers in it, that I’d never read, ‘cause we didn’t grow up in a church home. So I started reading the Bible and all of a sudden questions about friendships and about shame and about guilt and about marriage and about girls and stuff, I found answers, that with the help of others, I put into practice. Maybe because I’m a results-oriented person-- they worked! (Laughter) I couldn’t believe they worked.

Jim: That’s the bottom line.

Robert: And all of a sudden, it gave me a sense of, “Okay. I can hang on to this.” And plus it had an eternal tale to it. And so I go, “This could go on forever!” And it was in that, with friends, that then led to an adventure, with Jesus that has persisted to this day that I’m still, I think, if there’s a word, a banner over my life. It’s just grateful.

Jim: Yeah.

Robert:Grateful for all of that.

Jim: Yeah that’s so good. Speak to the wife and the mom who is seeing a lack of interaction with her husband, the father of her children. She’s concerned. And I’ve had this conversation from time to time. Our vocations can be demanding. Uh, Jean and I, the conversation might be, we need more spiritual training with the kids.

Robert:Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jim: You got to engage.


Jim: And a lot of moms and wives will begin to think through how they can, if I can say it, manipulate, (Laughter) their husbands into doing more. What’s a constructive way for wife and mom to say to her husband, “We need more,” without the husband saying, “Wait a minute, don’t you know what I do for this household?”

Robert: Well I’ve, I bet I’ve had a thousand conversations being a pastor that has addressed this very issue by women, uh, reaching out to me who felt abandoned or hurt or with questions with no answers, and saying help me. And I would say uh, divine manipulation is a good word.

Jim: Hmm.

Robert:Because you know the Scripture speaks to men who are kind of offtrack a little bit and it says that the wives are to win them without a word. I think direct instruction to a wayward husband or a faltering husband will always hit a dead-end.

Jim: Huh.

Robert:So I’d say, “Don’t do that.” That’d be my first statement.

Jim: And most wives are sayin’, “What?”


Jim: “I don’t know that I believe that.”

Robert:I’d say lay off. The second thing is what I call the divine manipulation, because if a wife, and I would’ve said ... I wish I would’ve known this to tell my mom. If a wife can survey the social landscape around their family and maybe the church they go to, and if not a church, just their friends. They can find healthy families or healthy groups to go to and simply with a soft word to a coachor a pastor or a man who is doing well in his marriage and say, “You know, we’re struggling a little bit. Would you mind reaching out to my husband and including him in ‘x’. It might be a group. It might be your playing sports together. Would you mind inviting him to the next game, just to go with you to watch our sons play. He needs some encouragement, some involvement. And you seem like you’re offering a lot. I’m not asking you to do anything than just befriend him a little closer.” If they’re real close friends, you might go even a little further, say, “Invite him to the group that you’re going to.” Maybe it’s a men’s group or maybe it’s a fishing club or what ... I don’t know what it could be, but there are ways to do that. That would be number one. To encourage the husband to get stimulation from other stronger men but without it being a putdown or a correction.

Jim: Right, ‘cause ...

Robert:Just, “Join me.”

Jim: Yeah. Men walk the other way when it’s a putdown.

Robert:That would be number one.

Jim: Shame. We don’t do well with shame.

Robert:That’s exactly right. You’re ... it’ll never work.

Jim: Never.

Robert:I just want to tell the wives out there. Hear me. It’ll never work.The second thing is for your son, um, which I think my mom did do some of this and I’m thankful for that. I think I would put my son, if dad’s not involved, in the most masculine environments I could get him in, that are healthy.

Jim: Yeah.

Robert: And so my mom got me in Little League. She got me, for a time, I didn’t stay, but with the Methodist Youth Group. I dropped out but that was my choice. She put me in places where there were men around.

Jim: Positive environments.

Robert: Positive environments. And that’s where I got my love for sports and she complimented me on some of my successes, especially in football. So by the time I hit high school, I was starting to be a pretty good athlete and I think there was a word spoken to my coach, my head coach, where he took a little bit extra noticing of me, because my dad wasn’t around.

Jim: Yeah.

Robert:He didn’t have to do it, but he did it. And out of that came this mentoring relationship, of my coach that changed my life, because he believed in me. Let me tell you, Jim, my coach from my senior year could look at me and knight me with his eyes.

Jim: Huh.

Robert: And I’ll never forget this. I still have a picture where it’s our banquet, our football banquet, and they’re giving out trophies to all the players. I expected to win the most valuable defensive player, and they gave it to somebody else. I remember I was stunned. And then at the very end of the banquet, my head coach came up and he said, “We’ve created a new trophy. We’re gonna call it the ‘Coach’s Trophy’ to the athlete that we think best embodies the spirit, the effort, and the excellence, by which we coaches want our athletes to be. And we’re gonna make this the trophy that we’re gonna give from this point on to the athlete we think has had the greatest influence.” And my head coach gave that first trophy, which is still the preeminent trophy at our high school, to me.

Jim: Yeah.

Robert:And there’s a picture of me standing there with my coach, Coach Garrett, who my firstborn son is named after. His name is Garrett for a reason.

Jim: Yeah. He made an impact.

Robert:He put the eagles wings on my shirt and I’ve flown with that strength ever since.

Jim: Hmm.

Robert:And I had the chance to come back and thank him for that knighting. That he had no clue of other than the involvement that he had with me as an older, healthy man, giving me as a young, clueless guy, a vision to work hard, do right, live pure, and maybe things will turn out pretty good.

Jim: That’s impact.

John: Dr. Robert Lewis on Focus on the Family and he’s mentioned knighting or knight, and that’s part of the title of his best-selling book,Raising a Modern Day Knight.We’re coming back to this. It’s a top Focus on the Family book and as Jim noted, it’s our 40th anniversary. We have kind of an ongoing rolling celebration of 40 years of ministry. Robert’s been a key part of that and these concepts can be yours when you get a CD or download of our conversation or of course we’d direct you to our website to get a copy of Robert’s book. Again the title,Raising a Modern Day Knight.Find it at Focus on the Family.Com/Radio or give us a call. Our number is (800) A FAMILY.

Jim: Robert, let’s get into some of the book content. Um, this is part of it. We haven’t, you know, gone out of our way here but, what are some of the set of ideals that we should be imparting into our sons?


Jim: As dads.

Robert: Well, first thing I would say to a listening dad is, you are way more important than you think you are.

Jim: Hmm.

Robert: And we’re not talking about massive effort in saying that. We’re not talking about you’ve got to become some kind of excellent well-scripted dad whose got it all together. We’re talking about dads, like me, who are fumblers, mistake makers, um, have got to ask for forgiveness often, but who at least grab onto the fact that we are the greatest influence in our son’s life. And if we will impart just a little father food to our sons, invariably, it has great results.

Jim: Hmm.

Robert:So if I were telling a dad, if I just had a brief moment to instruct a dad and say, “Here are some things you need to give your son.” I would point to three things immediately. The first would be, you need to give definition to your son about what a man is. You need to define it. And if you don’t know what it is, maybe I can help you. (Laughter) As a writer, as an author, uh, help you define that in a way that you would be excited about that definition but you could give away for your son. Because here’s what I’ve learned. And I’ve told dads over and over again, “You cannot impart to your son what you can’t define.”

Jim: Hmm.

Robert:And if you can’t define manhood, about the only thing you can do, and I hear dads say it all the time at ball games and stuff. It’s when they yell and scream at their son, “Be a Man! Be a Man!” And I always want to pause that moment and just go out and say, “Okay. So what do you mean by that?” Well he probably couldn’t tell me. It’s just a catchphrase.

Jim: Hmm.

Robert:But if you can add substance to that phrase, you give your son one of the greatest gifts he can ever receive, and that is he can at least articulate what a man is, and begin hopefully to measure his life by it. That’d be the first thing. The second thing, is he needs some practical applications of how to live out that manhood. Again, it could be minimal. But at, at best I would want a son to know how to work. Just a few key work things. I’d want him to know how to live with a woman, which he could practice on mom. And all these things are in numerous books. But if you could just a few of those and practice it with your son and keep articulating this, which is so key. “Son, this is what a man is.” ‘Cause he’s hearing what a man is from the world all the time, where it’s, you know the ball field, the bedroom, or the boardroom. Exterior manhood. You’re talking interior manhood. Soyou’re teaching those things, so he needs some practical direction. Just a few, dad. You’re putting your son in the big leagues with just a few directions. And then the last thing, which the book ‘Modern Day Knight’ really focuses on--It would be wonderful if I could instruct you on how to do a couple of manhood ceremonies, where you could bring great men in his life together and just authorize him into that definition. If you did those three things, you’ll move your son from elementary manhood to in the big leagues.

Jim: That’s good. I want to go back to definition.


Jim: Because, I’m that guy. Tell me. I’m sitting there with you having coffee at a restaurant.


Jim: And I’m struggling.


Jim: What is the definition of manhood?

Robert:Yeah. Well, the definition is something I worked, honestly, three or four years on. Because when I first started this manhood journey as a young, failing 20-something, who was pastoring a church where men were kind of asking me that question, I had no answer. So, just going into the Scriptures, just asking that question and finally, what emerged was there really are only two archetype men in the Scripture. And they’re both named, “The Man.”

There’s ‘Adam,’ and the Hebrew for Adam, ‘Odom’ is man. And then there’s the second Adam, ‘Odom’, which is Jesus Christ. In fact He’s called the ‘second man’ in the New Testament. So you really have two men only in Scripture that represent true manhood. And as Herman Ridderbos, the theologian said, he said, “Every man in history falls under the shadow of either the first Adam, who was, who was unfortunately disobedient and wayward, or the second Adam, who was clued-in, knew what God expected in defining Him as a man, and lived it out.” So I took those two and just compared ‘em to one another.

Jim: Hmm.

Robert: And then what I came up with was really just kind of the Robert Lewis’ hands-on version of how you take those two men and what they were called to be and one didn’t and the other did. What manhood revolved around and at the heart of it, it was around responsibility, becausewhen God created the first man, he gave four responsibilities to that man.They were these: they were to obey God’s word; to love God’s woman; to excel at God’s work; and to better God’s world. Those are the four responsibilities. I call it “quadraphonic manhood” that every man needs to measure his life by through his life. Not focus on just one, like men do. Man, manhood is work, what do I achieve. That is one dimensional manhood. But all four. And if you end up at the backend of life where I’m getting to right now, and you can say, “You know I’ve really tried to pattern myself after God’s word. I’ve been faithful to God’s woman. I’ve worked hard to be a good worker. I saw work not as just work, I saw it as sacred. A way to honor God. And through the use of my gifts, whether it was at my church or in my community, I helped better God’s World.” I think you live out the script of what authentic manhood is.Now to do that, you’ve got to do somethings Adam didn’t do. Adam became passive and rejected those responsibilities.

Jim: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Robert: And I think that waywardness lives in every man ever since. We all are (Laughter) naturally passive when it comes to social and spiritual responsibility. So to accept those four responsibilities, the first thing a man has to do is reject passivity. Then he can embrace those responsibilities. But then to live out those responsibilities, a young boy like my sons, need to be told. Let me tell you, those responsibilities are hard. They’re gonna take everything you got. So you’ve got to live courageously. You’ve got to fight through feelings and keep going back to those, even when you fail. And the thing that keeps you steady in those difficult times, is you’ve got to believe on the backend, God will reward you.

Jim: Hmm.

Robert: So, if I could summarize over a coffee talk with you, and you said, “Okay, well tell me what a man is.” Here’s what I’d say. “A real man has to reject passivity.” Because only until he says, “There’s some other manhood out there that’s bigger than what I can make up. It’s God’s manhood. So I’m gonna accept responsibility for God’s man, which entails obeying God’s word, loving God’s woman, excelling at God’s work, and bettering God’s world. I’m gonna accept those even though they’re hard.”

And then over the course of time, through the help of other men and God’s Holy Spirit and His Word, and His church and others, “I’m gonna live courageously. I’m gonna keep clawing at it so that at the end I can experience God’s greater reward in all of that and walk into eternity and God will say, ‘You lived like a man.’“ That would be my definition.


Jim: That is good. That is so good Robert. I love it! Man, the time has flown by and we still have so much more to talk about.


Jim: I want to come back next time and talk about those 10 attributes that fathers need to transmit to their kids. To tease that up a little, its loyalty, servant leadership, kindness, humility, and the list goes on.

Robert:Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jim: I think, John, it’d be good to post several of these things at the website, with your permission Robert?


Jim: So uh, men and the wives who love them (Laughter) can look at those and maybe jot those down from the website or print it. This has been so good. We have a number of resources here at Focus on the Family for you, to help you be that better parent. Whether you’re a mom or a dad. And one of the newest things we have is the “Seven Traits of Effective Parenting.” You can go to our website. You can take a quick quiz, I think it takes like three, four minutes, 20-25 questions, and it’ll show you where you’re strong in your fathering or mothering and where you may have some work to do.


Jim: That’s a quick way to get an assessment, that’sfree here at Focus on the Family so do that today. And also, Robert’s great book,Raising a Modern Day Knight. This is again, Focus’ top seller when it comes to fathering. And I hope you will, um, reach out to us, and ask for help. We have counselors to help you along the way as well. But start there, with Dr. Robert Lewis’ book, Raising a Modern Day Knight.

John: And you can find out more about these resources and all the other helps we have for you, at Focus on the Family.Com/Radio or call 1(800) the letter ‘A’ and the word “Family.” And when you make a generous donation today to Focus on the Family, we’ll send a complimentary copy of Robert’s book to you as a way of putting this excellent resource in your hands and saying thank you for supporting the work here.

Jim: Hey Robert, as we end today and queue it up for tomorrow, what is that, um definition of success that is leaving men so empty today? That the world provides? Kind of the contrast of what we talked about today. What’s the world selling us?

Robert: Exterior success. It’s selling us fame, it’s selling us notoriety for a moment. And it’s selling us experiences. And those are intoxicating with the way media can back up each one of the things I just said. But what it is, it’s a hollow success. It’s an empty success that for a time, may taste well to the one who bites into that fruit. But it turns rancid pretty quick.

Jim: Yeah. Let’s come back next time and teach dads how to instill into their sons the right fruit. That’s a great idea.

John: Hmm. And our thanks, once again, to Dr. Robert Lewis for joining us. Thank you for listening. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I’m John Fuller inviting you back next time as we once again here from Robert and once more, help you and your family, thrive in Christ.

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Robert Lewis

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Robert Lewis is a popular public speaker and a best-selling author whose books include Raising a Modern-Day Knight, The Church of Irresistible Influence and Building a Win-Win Marriage. His Men's Fraternity video series is internationally-recognized and has been used in thousands of churches and hundreds of businesses and prisons. Robert spent more than 20 years as the teaching pastor and directional leader for Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Ark. He continues to be very involved in local church ministry, teaching and leading Sage Works, which offers vision and serving opportunities to church members 55 and older, and Adventures for Life, a ministry aimed at building better men and dads. Robert and his wife, Sherard, have four grown children and nine grandchildren.