It was a Saturday morning. I was eight years old. While I am only 33 now, I am quite sure I will never forget that day as long as I live. It began like most of our Saturdays did. Growing up in rural America, our Saturday mornings (even in the late 80s) consisted of us making the pilgrimage to the nearest town for the weekly grocery shopping. That particular Saturday, however, my mother took a different route to the town in which we commonly bought our groceries. As we entered a residential area near the town, she turned down a street that I knew was not on our normal route. My questions were soon replaced with excitement, though, because near the end of this unfamiliar street was a vehicle that looked to be exactly the same model as what my father drove. As a young boy, I got excited. I thought it was absolutely amazing that there was another vehicle that looked IDENTICAL to my dad’s. I remember sharing that with my mom, and she was pretty shocked too. In fact, she was so shocked that she stopped at the house where this vehicle was parked.
See, my dad was a truck driver, and although he was not gone for months on end, he would be gone a week or so at a time. I can remember that part of the reason we went to buy groceries so early that particular morning was that he was going to be home later in the day, and we wanted to be back before he got there. Well, apparently, my mother knew something I did not that Saturday morning, because when she went to the door of the house, my dad answered it! Now, I did not understand everything, but I knew really quickly that something was not right.
Shortly after that day, my parents went through a bitter divorce, and I found myself in the middle of it. The details are too graphic and lengthy to share, but suffice it to say that my mother decided that once her contract as a teacher at the local public school was completed, she would move my younger brother and me to be closer to her family. People often say that the children are the ones who are hurt the most in a divorce, and I will agree. I remember my 4th grade year like none other. I could not wait for it be over. The light at the end of that tunnel for me was that we would move and get away from everything and get a fresh start. I could not wait.
My dad reacted to the divorce really negatively. Even though he knew he was wrong, and that the divorce was caused by his indiscretions, he did not know how to respond. So, his default response was anger. And drinking. That is what I saw the most from him in the immediate phase after my parents divorce: anger and drinking. Combine the two, and you guessed it, you have a phenomenal recipe for disaster. And (surprise, surprise) that is what it felt like every time I was around my dad during that time.
For the next several years, my dad and I essentially had a non-existent relationship. We would talk on the phone every so often. We would see each other occasionally (and should I ever write a book, I will include the specifics of the circumstances in both our lives at the time), but we had no real relationship. He was absent.
During my freshman year in high school, my dad and I began to have a civil relationship. Although we both had missed a substantial amount of time, we both had a vested interest outside of one another. My younger brother had been diagnosed with a rare childhood form of leukemia, and by the middle of my freshman year, was considered to be terminally ill. As you can imagine, my dad’s perspective changed, as did mine. We began to hang out and spend time together. I actually looked forward to the weekends I would spend at my dad’s. After my brother passed away in the spring of that year, we continued to develop our relationship. Things were going really well with my dad and me, and I was looking forward to our relationship continuing to grow. Early in my sophomore year of high school, however, things took a dramatic turn. My dad was diagnosed with several forms of cancer, and by the middle of that same year, the relationship that I looked forward to, was now gone as well.
In just under 3 years, nine people in our family died, and my father was the last one. I loved all of the others, but losing him hurt the most. He was the last one who passed away in that span, and the pain that followed losing him was greater than I had expected. Quite honestly, it has taken me several years to understand some of the why behind that, but I think I have grasped a little of that now, and it motivates me more and more each day.
Not only do I write and live each day from the perspective of the past in which I have lived, but I also do both from the experience of having made many of my own mistakes. Mistakes I made that did not have to be made, and pain that was both caused and endured as a result of choices I made that could have been avoided and prevented. Allow me to say that I take full responsibility for my actions, and in no way am I attempting to pawn off my responsibility on my dead father. However, I will also say that much of what I have experienced as a male could have been severely altered in different circumstances.
As a young guy growing up in the 90s, my idea of manhood was influenced not by my father, but rather by music videos (of all genres), professional athletes, media presentation, peer suggestion, and the magazines with the blacked out plastic wrapping found in the back of the convenience store. When I looked for identity as a man, I found it in the girl I was dating. I found it in the sports I played, the grades I made, the car I drove, the clothes I wore, and in any other performance-driven event. In other words, I had absolutely no clue what being a man meant. Everywhere I turned, I saw a different definition of “manhood.” It drove me crazy. Without being graphic or inappropriate, I can say that my complete misunderstanding of what manhood is ruined several relationships and caused more pain than I care to admit. Thankfully, my wife is gracious and has grown with me as I have gained an accurate understanding of the term and its meaning.
I am not alone. There are countless stories all across our nation like mine. Some are more severe, and some are less. The reality is, however, that there has been an abandonment of authentic biblical manhood from our nation. Without stirring up too much debate, it is obvious that God designed men and women with different and specific roles. (For those of you who take a different approach to that, allow me to encourage you to take a general anatomy course. You should notice really quickly that there are some major differences between the genders that are role-specific). Certainly, the roles of men and women are complementary in nature, but to argue that authentic biblical manhood is not needed is to be unrealistic. For the next few entries, I will attempt to share some areas in which biblical manhood is needed and how we can go about reversing the trend of men abandoning and abdicating their roles. It is time that men “Man up” and take seriously the responsibility that God has given us. For those of us who minister to students, or who care about the future of our marriages, families, and churches, we have no choice but to be actively involved in leading young men to embrace their role.