(This post first appeared at Theological Matters)
Recently, I came to work with a periorbital hematoma, also known as a black eye. Everyone wanted to know what happened—did I run into a door, was I mugged, etc. I do not have an elaborate or heroic story explaining the black eye that would permit me to state, “You should see the other guy.” No, the story is much more straightforward. Simply stated, my 7-year-old son gave me a black eye … and I am proud of it.
The night before, I was wrestling with my three sons. They call this “playing wild.” If you saw them wrestle, you would agree this is an apt phrase to describe the activity. My sons range in age from 2 to 7 years old, and naturally, it was the three of them versus Daddy. Somehow, during the 30-minute non-stop melee of 16 whirling limbs, my 7-year-old son launched himself off the bunk bed like a Tomahawk cruise missile. I miscalculated his trajectory in the air, and his boney knee collided with my zygomatic bone, resulting in a nice black eye. Yes, my visage looks “funny,” and the eye hurts, but I would not trade it for anything. Why? Because it is evidence that I’m teaching my sons biblical masculinity.
God designed men and women differently. Although they are both made in the imago Dei and are of equal value, they possess different roles and are “wired” differently. For instance, in the first two chapters of Genesis, one sees that men were created to be cultivators (Genesis 1:28, 2:5, 2:15). God created men to tend things and to make things grow. This is why men like to solve problems; fix and build things; and do things bigger, faster and stronger.
There are several marks of biblical masculinity, more than can be discussed in a single post. However, wrestling with my sons addresses one of the marks, namely physical maturity for the purpose of work and protection of family. The activity of work was created by God before the Fall (and He called it good), and man was created to work, to tend things. In addition, God calls man to protect his family as well as all life in general. Hence, a man must be ready to use his physical strength to fulfill his God-assigned work and to protect his family. Boys must be taught to properly convey their developing strength and increasing size in a responsible manner. Wrestling with Daddy gives my sons a safe venue to test themselves as they learn about movement, confidence and strength.
Boys can learn from men in complete silence. Not a word can be spoken, yet masculinity can be taught. Not a word is usually spoken as I wrestle with my sons (their yelps and screams of attack excluded), but despite the lack of verbal communication, they learn critical lessons for biblical masculinity:
- Teamwork – as they work together to attack Daddy
- Disciplined thinking – as they learn strategy and cause-and-effect
- Setting boundaries – as they learn appropriate actions
- Risk versus safety – as they leap from bunk beds
- Meekness (strength under control) – as they learn Daddy does not use all his strength against them
- Love – attested by Daddy spending time with them
These lessons in silence often cry louder than verbal instruction or reprimands. I still remember critical aspects I learned from my dad during hunting excursions. Walking through the woods and sitting in a blind in complete silence, I learned:
- Perseverance – as we doggedly tracked deer or tried to find a rabbit
- Patience – as I waited for the elusive prey in the rain and cold
- Maintaining control – as I spooked a rabbit, a covey of quail, or a deer
- Sacrificial leadership – as Dad guided us through longer yet easier paths for his young son and sacrificed his own shot to allow his son to get the kill
- Submission to authority – as Dad modeled how to follow the hunting regulations
- Respect for God’s creation – as we ate what we killed and never left trash in the woods
- Overcoming setbacks and failures – as I missed the prey we hunted or traversed through seemingly impenetrable briars to get to the next ravine
Wrestling, hunting, and any other activity that permits men and boys to interact allow “iron to sharpen iron” (Proverbs 27:17)—that is, they allow men to impart biblical masculinity to their sons. Men, don’t leave it to secular culture, the entertainment industry, your son’s peers, or the government to teach your son biblical masculinity. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is clear that fathers are responsible for sharing God’s commandments, wisdom and truths. This includes how to be a man.
Churches, please ensure you have a vibrant men’s ministry that permits men and boys to interact. If men are supposed to be the spiritual leaders, why is it we often have more vibrant women’s ministries in the church than men’s ministries? It is critical that a men’s ministry reach and disciple men and help cultivate biblical masculinity in boys. What’s one of the best mechanisms for having a children’s and women’s ministry? A men’s ministry! If the men of the church are walking with God and growing spiritually, they will lead their families to do the same. If you reach a man, you reach his family.
Fathers, wrestle with your sons. You may end up with a black eye, but it is worth it—you are growing biblical men.