It so happened that my wife and I attended an “Unbound” conference this Father’s Day weekend at a local parish. The conference, based on the book and ministry of the same name by Neal Lozano, deals with the ministry of prayer for deliverance. Defining that ministry is beyond the scope of this post, except to say that its focus is to enable people to obtain greater freedom to enter into their identity in Christ. It was a great weekend, and Mary and I, as part of the prayer ministry teams, were privileged to pray with a number of people and see them experience liberation in dramatic ways.
Many testimonies written about in book Unbound, as well as given at the conference, included a lack of fathering. “I had a difficult relationship with my father”; “My father was never there for me”; “I don’t feel that I ever really knew my Dad”; “I wish my father could have protected me from ___”. In many cases the lack of fathering was implicit. For example, the person might have been abused or demeaned by a stepfather or brother after the father abandoned the family, or the parents divorced with the mother getting primary or sole custody.
I’ve noted in previous posts that we live in a culture at war with marriage and family. But masculinity and fatherhood are particularly under attack. This isn’t a coincidence: it is a calculated strategy of the Evil One. The author of Unbound notes that not only does God have a plan for our lives: so does the Evil One. The latter’s plan, of course, is to attack God’s plan. God’s plan for men and fathers is that we exercise loving, protecting authority in our households; that our own characters are marked by sacrificial, disciplined, courageous love that lays down our lives for spouses and children rather than let the Evil One ravage our families. We are to conduct ourselves in a mature, calm, confident, and reasoned way: steady and solid, like protecting oaks, as one female friend noted.
This doesn’t rule out playfulness, rough-and-tumble physicality, and joy: certainly, the birth of my son Michael unlocked reservoirs of playfulness in me of which I’d had no idea. But the traditional masculine virtues of solidity, steadiness, maturity, courage, and sacrifice are primary. I almost forgot to add the virtues of modesty and purity: that real men are respectful of women and conduct themselves with modesty – perhaps the most foreign of concepts to present culture.
The entirety of God’s plan for masculine and fatherly identity is under attack in current American culture, however, through secular education, the media, and the political system. Models of manhood include sports heroes, often known at least as much for their sexual exploits or enormous accumulation of material goods as for their athletic prowess. Hollywood male icons are splattered across “People” and “The National Enquirer” when they father their latest “love child”, destroy their fifth marriage, or buy their latest multimillion dollar yacht or mansion. Male sitcom characters are sarcastic, incompetent buffoons continually getting into scrapes out of which their level-headed, equally sarcastic, competent, mature girlfriends or wives have to rescue them. In commercials, husbands wait on their wives’ advice for everything from cereal to finances to home improvement; as in the sitcoms, the men goof off while the women get the practical work done and hold the family together. It is the “mirror opposite” of the caricatures of male and female roles seen in the sitcoms and commercials of 50 years ago. In the media’s distorted vision, there are no men: only overgrown boys with overgrown toys.
In war, science fiction, fantasy, and superhero movies, one does see some admirable, even noble male characters. However, their virtues can be obscured by the violence that saturates many epic movies. I believe that these movies are so very popular among men (myself included) because they fill a void. At the deepest level, men are made for the heroism, courage, sacrifice, integrity, camaraderie, and discipline that many of the characters in the epic “guy” movies exhibit. The problem is to transfer those virtues from the realm of fantasy to real life, or even from war to civilian life. Very little offered by popular culture facilitates that transfer.
The most recent salvo in the attack on male identity has been the frighteningly rapid, recent advance of GLBT psychology and sociology; differing viewpoints and research conclusions are severely punished by the academic community. In the GLBT and feminist view, gender is solely a social construct. Physical realities of anatomy and genetics have no bearing on gender: I am as male, female, or androgynous as I care to be, and can shift among these categories at will. Any traditionally male or female characteristics beyond strict anatomy and secondary sexual characteristics are completely controlled by environment and free decision -as in The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV, Scene 5, when Katherine caves in to Petruchio’s irrationality:
Then, God be bless’d, it is the blessed sun;
But sun it is not, when you say it is not;
And the moon changes even as your mind.
What you will have it nam’d, even that it is,
And so it shall be so for Katherine.
The doctrine that gender is a figment of my imagination flies in the face of mountains of research, anthropological findings, and everyday observation. However, that the myth of genderlessness exists only in the minds of academics, artists, journalists, and secular mental health professionals has not prevented laws being passed based on that myth. In the latest act in the three-ring circus of political correctness, schoolchildren in some states now may use restrooms according to whatever gender the student feels he/she is on a given day. Is it possible that that law could be abused by a predatory student, or be alarming to his/her possible victims? Apparently not.
In this environment, men not only have nothing to offer. Men and women, strictly, do not exist: we float along the gender continuum, depending on how we feel on a given day. With all of these forces at work, it is no wonder that so many men not only are formed by, but confirm the media stereotype: they are passive, unengaged, absent; impulsive, addictive, violent, immature; lustful, demeaning, sarcastic, and immodest. So many of us have no fathers, figuratively or literally. So few of us have healthy, solid male models in real life to look up to. We are children without a father; sheep without a shepherd.
John Eldredge, in his excellent book on Christian manhood, Wild at Heart, outlines the problem and its solution extremely well. I recommend his book to every Christian man I know; if they’re open to it, to every man I know. As Eldredge notes, the first victory we can win in this battle is to realize that it is a battle. We have an Enemy, and he wants to destroy is. Our discomfort, our alarm, at how things are going are well grounded. Our desire to be warriors, superheroes, is also well-grounded: we were born into a world at war, and God has planted the desire for battle in our blood. However, “Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers, the rulers of this present darkness, the evil spirits in regions above.(Eph 6:12)”
One way to fight the battle is to take the campaign onto our own ground. To immerse myself in the media without discernment is to immerse myself in its distortion of masculine identity. I cannot be a whole, healthy, Christian man and at the same time indiscriminately consume all that Hollywood, Washington, and Wall Street throw at me. I need to seek out media, literature, recreation, and entertainment that spring from a healthy, reality-based, Christian (because Christ and His truth are reality) vision of male and female identity; of husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, sons, and daughters. Some of that means going back to classic literature, movies, music, and other form of entertainment. Some of that means choosing family time and activities over the worship of and addiction to pro and college sports that has so many fathers and husbands missing in action.
A second way is to choose your friends and associates wisely. If you find a wise, Christian man, to quote the proverb, wear out his doorstep. Hang out with men you want to be like: who can be heroes to you; who are thoroughly Christian in outlook and action. Mentor younger men: realizing that someone is looking to us to be an example can sometimes put us on our best behavior. Get involved in faith sharing and Bible study groups that confirm masculine identity in a Catholic and biblical way. One such program is the marvelous “That Man Is You” (https://www.paradisusdei.org/) series that offers DVD presentations, study guides, and other resources free of charge to Catholic parishes. It has touched hundreds of men from my parish, and thousands throughout Omaha and the U.S. When I went through the three-year program, I saw men stepping into their roles as men for the Lord – single and married – in dramatic ways. I can’t recommend it too highly, but I also know there are other, similar programs available. If there isn’t one in your parish, start one!
Finally, I cannot overstress the importance of committed, daily time with the Lord: that is, fifteen minutes or more daily (a half hour to an hour is even better) reserved purely for time with God. That’s apart from prayers shot up to the Big Man throughout the day, or the rosary or chaplet you may say in your car, or time spent listening to Christian radio or contemporary Christian music – as good as all of those things are. I mean sitting in the adoration chapel, or your living room or den or bedroom, just you and the Lord, with a Bible, devotional, or notebook, talking to Him and letting Him speak in your heart. Consider it very basic training for the battle: you are equipping yourself for the daily battle with a world that largely hates men, women, families, commitments, virtue, and particularly Jesus Christ.
During that time with the Lord, the Lord Himself will equip you. He will tell you who you are: His beloved son, in whom He delights. He will reveal to you your weaknesses to guard against, and your strengths to build on. He will enable you to resist temptation and live in virtue. He will give you the extra strength and love needed to be a bearer of Christ not just to your workplace, but to your family and friends. God cannot be outdone in generosity: your tithing of time to Him to begin each day will bear unbelievable fruit. The world needs you to be the man of God that you are; to be a warrior for the Lord; to be a hero; to be a man.