This is an extremely important question. In fact, we’re encouraged to know that you and your husband are thinking along these lines, because the simple truth is that good men don’t just happen. On the contrary, they are usually created in good families, and a great deal of intention needs to be put into this process. To a great extent, the institutions of marriage and the family are declining in the western world because society has forgotten how to manufacture good men.
In his book
Secure Daughters, Confident Sons (see Chapters 1, 3, and 5), author Glenn T. Stanton tells us that solid manhood can be defined in terms of a few key qualities: service, protection, and respect. A man who takes control of a situation and helps others in the spirit of service, protection, and respect never needs to apologize for his actions. Nor does he have to convince people of his strength. As Stanton explains, “He demonstrates it by what he does: helping, protecting, leading, serving, honoring, and showing concern for those in need. He also demonstrates his strength by choosing not to do certain things, such as intimidating others for no reason, bragging, putting people down, or resorting to violence or coercion as his first course of action.”
If he is to achieve this kind of character, a boy must be taught early in life that he’s on a journey and that the journey is taking him to a particular destination. He needs to know where he’s headed and why. There’s an important sense in which this destination is unique and specific to every individual – in other words, the goal of manhood in your son’s particular case has to be developed and defined in terms of the person he is and the special kind of male God has created him to be. This is something you’ll have to work out with him over time, building up his model of ideal manhood brick upon brick and line upon line. In the meantime, there are several things that every boy needs if he’s successfully to complete his journey and grow up into the full stature of a man. Stanton lists ten of them, which can be summarized as follows:
- Significance. A boy has to feel that he’s doing something important and that he’s making a difference in the world. To a certain extent this means that mom and dad need to push him to stretch, grow, and take chances in the right circumstances. They must also be liberal with their praise when he makes progress toward the goal.
- Mission. Every boy has a need to save the world. He yearns to devote himself to a cause that aims to make things better. The big lesson he needs to learn here is perseverance in the face of difficult challenges.
- Reformation. Oddly enough, while every boy wants to save the world, he also wants to destroy the world – or, more precisely, to destroy what’s wrong with the world. He’s eager to smash evil, break down barriers, take things apart, and then put them back together again. Mom needs to let him do this, and dad needs to show him how to do it safely.
- Mental competence. Boys need to know that they’re smart. They want to be brilliant as well as strong. And when they struggle with academics, they need to understand that there are different kinds of “smarts” – people smarts, negotiating smarts, mechanical smarts, survival smarts, and trivia smarts as well as the kinds of smarts that earn good grades.
- Physical confidence. Boys also need to see their bodies developing well and understand the physical, hormonal, and sexual changes that come with puberty and mature manhood.
- Independence. A boy needs to be innovative, learn how to solve problems, and have plenty of chances to build things from the ground up. He wants to be self-sufficient and know that he can do what he needs to do without anybody’s help.
- Discipline. In order to be what they want to be and do what they want to do, boys need to learn discipline – not just discipline in the sense of “correction” or “punishment,” but the training, the focus, the self-control, and the direction that’s required to reach a predetermined goal. A boy who has an aim in life usually doesn’t want to be a slacker. Mom and dad can help put him on the right track.
- Challenge. Boys need to have the good called out of them by other men. To put it another way, they need good examples, role models, and mentors along the pathway to manhood.
- Honor. To be honorable is to place oneself in the service of others. Boys aspire to honor. They need opportunities to serve others from a position of strength and ability rather than weakness.
- Acceptance and Respect. A boy needs to feel accepted and respected by both his peers and his elders. But he should understand that this respect has to be earned. The older men in his life should make him work a bit for it. When he follows through, they should reward him generously.
This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list, of course. These aren’t the only things you’ll need to teach your son if he’s to grow into a healthy, balanced, productive, and well-adjusted man. As we’ve already indicated, you and your husband can probably come up with other important male qualities that specifically match the nature, character and personality of your boy. The important thing is to design the journey so that it meets the needs of the individual.
If you need help working through these ideas and suggestions, call Focus on the Family’s Counseling Department for a free consultation.
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Initiating Sons Into Manhood