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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Raising Boys Into Emotionally Mature Men, Part II.

1. Living by core values (living for something greater than the unholy trinity of me, myself and I).

Most measures of emotional maturity give high marks to living for transcendent values which align the person to ethical, moral or spiritual non-negotiables ennobling him or her if practiced for a lifetime. In my way of thinking living by universal core values which bring blessing to others actually humanizes a person. A life lived for something (SomeOne) greater than one's self captures what used to be termed the "normal Christian life." Jesus summed it best for me when he said the fulfilling of all the Law and the Prophets resided in loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. The converse is a spiritually pathological self-absorption: I am the center of the universe and others are merely servants of my desire and will, or bit players in the masterpiece of my life, entering and leaving the stage as I determine. They exist for me.

Helping a boy develop emotionally mature core values gives him eyes to see and love what is priceless in this world: God, persons, sacrificial love, humility, honor, service, compassion, wisdom, truth, generosity, defending the oppressed and defenseless, etc. It starts with learning behaviors like sharing, admitting wrongdoing, being considerate, helping, not hurting people, etc. The goal is to help a boy see others in his life as more than extensions of what he wants.

Life is packed with value-teaching moments, and it's a father's responsibility to take advantage of them repeatedly, modeling and encouraging his son's building life around transcendent core values. A father shows his core values by what he actually lives as non-negotiable, When his words and deeds match his values consistently in front of his son, he incarnates them so they're understood as real and attractive to imitate. He imprints them on his son. The boy must eventually choose, but he is given ample opportunity to emulate what his dad values most.

A distant, angry detached, unavailable, preoccupied or boyish father seriously wounds his son's ability to grasp healthy masculine core values. He learns a wounding message of indifference or antagonism which threatens to blind and cripple his ability to vitally connect with others, much less noble, transcendent values. He can become trapped in a life of habitually serving me, myself and I, thus living as a detached stranger. A detached man is a wandering alien cut off from true relationship, lost in an endless cycle of self-serving transactions with strangers. Every person will value something; it's how God wired humanity. A dad who sees it as his duty to help his children know the right, good, true and beautiful in a winsome and loving way increases exponentially the likelihood his children will be loving people living their "utmost for his highest."

2. Facilitating the priceless attribute of character.

If a boy is able as he grows to internalize transcendent core values reflecting the good, true and beautiful, he will also be developing his character. Character is another sine qua non of maturity, masculine or feminine. It carries with it notions of integrity, soundness, competence and dependability. A person of character has an earned reputation for trustworthiness, steadfastness and authenticity. Someone demonstrating character is relied on because his deeds consistently confirm his words. People don't refer to him as someone who is "all talk," and not to be believed, because while he may say "he'll get it done," experience often contradicts his words. People learn to believe such a person will not come through; he or she has lost credibility.

One of the sure ways both parents can facilitate character development in a boy is by training a strong work ethic into him. He needs to see there are times for play and times for work. Both are good. A strong work ethic takes root by involving a boy in helping around the house or in the yard, Dad's if they can, should include their sons (and daughters for that matter) in their professional work life, and strive to teach the normalcy, responsibility and pleasure of work well done. He should encourage him to help his mother in her work as well. At young ages, making work fun, and rewarding efforts slowly solidifies the idea in a boy that work isn't something to be avoided or is just for mom and dad. Gradually, he learns to take responsibility and builds confidence in his ability to do so.

It's disastrous for a young man not to have a healthy work ethic or sense of responsibility for himself and toward others. It can draw his emerging life into becoming a trainwreck, and set in motion excruciating years of failure, deceit, fear and shame. A man who won't work is a man cut off from his being. He gradually loses himself in a paralyzing boyhood of diminishing returns. He will serve his pleasures and cravings instead. On the other hand, a young man who can be trusted with increasing amounts of responsibility because he's developed character will earn respect and have opportunity given to him. He's found a critical piece of what he was made for.

3. Helping bring forth service as raison d'etre.

The Scriptures teach that avidly pursuing a life of serving God and others as the fundamental reason for being alive is what we were all created for: Mk. 10:45; Ro. 12:11; Deut. 13:4; Gal. 5:13; 1 Pe. 4:10; Lk. 22:26-27; Jn. 12:26.  We glorify God in all we do by reflecting his servant heart. Therefore, a man with a servant heart is well-pleasing to God and of great blessing to other people.

Masculine emotional maturity finds its deepest expression in the freedom to be a servant rather than the childish idea of the macho man who demands to be served. That man is a caricature and a boy. True and godly emotional maturity requires the loyal obedience of a bondservant to his LORD and Master. We don't like that notion because of the ignoble history of humans cruelly forcing other humans (including children), into harsh involuntary servitude, even today. In reality, the Greek word used in the Bible (NT) repeatedly for servant is doulos which actually translates to slave. In other words, a Jesus-follower's reason for being is to serve Christ and his Kingdom interests as his primary identity and "reasonable" service.

To help a son embrace such radical service (either vocationally or as a fundamental attitude in everything) as a chosen way of life helps him move close to his Kingdom missional calling, thus preventing the all-too-common bifurcation of what he does in the Kingdom and what he does in the world. All of life becomes an existential platform for serving Jesus -- the way it should be.

Therefore, he should see his dad as one who's eager to serve; one who initiates serving at home in concert with his mom, in the neighborhood, at church, or even for strangers. Such a dad helps without complaining. He's a "what can I do?" kind of guy. No job is too ordinary or beneath him to be done and done well, cheerfully and with integrity. A dad who constantly complains about having to help around the house or shows indifference to a family's many chores, especially "woman's work" sends a boyish and wrong message to everyone in the household. In so doing, he serves the One to whom he belongs, emulating his nature.

4. Nurturing your son's giftedness.

One of the most important blessings a parent can give his son is to look for and recognize the gifts he's been given and call them forth. I had a brilliant mentor who has an understanding of giftedness second to none. I worked with him for 10 years helping people discover their motivational design of gifts. I still do such work.  He's written a book, (Discovering Your Child's Design,,)  and worked extensively on the matter. His name is Ralph Mattson. In my opinion. you'd be wise to purchase and read it with your spouse.

When you understand how compelling motivational giftedness is, and its link to emotional maturity, you want to help ignite it in your son. Giftedness is linked to emotional maturity through the door of developing a sound work ethic and drive to serve. Valuing hard work, developing skill, and seeking a job well done is enhanced by being able to work in areas which are intrinsically motivating. There is pleasure and purpose in being able to do what we're designed to do. God did not make us like ants or bees programmed to perform our role as automatons. In his exquisite goodness, he gave us the ability to receive pleasure meaning in work. An emotionally mature man will use his gifts to do serving work which must be done regardless of it being intrinsically motivating, and work which makes him feel alive. The point is to balance both. Both bring God glory with the right heart-attitude.

So it's important for a father to notice what naturally seems to captivate his son in play. What is he drawn to naturally without being influenced or coerced? What patterns of behavior and effort do you see often? What do you notice he has potential for because there seems to be beginnings of a knack for something like:
  • physical agility or speed, 
  • the ability to figure out simple problems or come up with a creative way to do something, 
  • a rich fantasy life or fascination with stories,
  • strong communication skills,
  • loving to work with his hands and build structures,
  • the ability to draw or a fascination with a musical instrument lying around the house,
  • a love of machines and how things work etc.,
  • organizing things and creating order.
remember, you're looking for patterns and repeated activities he just naturally moves toward. In those areas, you should provide all sorts of activities to explore and try with increasing sophistication as he ages or until he finds another fascination (there may be many). If done in an atmosphere where you are also teaching him the value of work and doing a good job, you provide an open road and the necessary encouragement to help him make a mature approach to finding who he is motivationally, and you let him know it is good to do so.

5. Teaching him to be able to pursue and hold the heart of a woman for life.

I can't stress how important this is for masculine emotional maturity, and a God-honoring relationship with the woman a man commits to walk with through all of life. I've had the excruciating experience many times of seeing how a boy in a man's body can crush the heart and spirit of the woman he stood next to promising love and honor all of his days. Sure, I know some women, because of their woundedness and emotional immaturity, can be the ones who kill the relationship no matter how honorably a man tries to love and serve her. But, truth will out, my experience has been it's the man who refuses to grow up and take responsibility to lead spiritually, and pursue his wife's heart with courage and sacrificial love. He convinces his soul-weary wife he does not love her by his continual indifference to her feelings and needs, and willful self-absorption. She eventually becomes convinced because he taught her so for years.

Reason for hope comes from the fact a father has a great opportunity to open his son's heart to the other sex. When he is a little boy it comes in the form of loving his wife and showing her deep respect and honor in front of his son. Mommy is special to daddy. He is continually affectionate to her in front of his kids (not sexual mind you). He honors her and shows deference to her opinions and preferences. he is always helping do chores around the house and helping lessen her load in any way he can. It also comes from dad helping his son see his sisters as people to love, respect, and befriend. Yeah, sibling rivalry can be formidable between brothers and sisters, but dad models and teaches that a boy's sisters are family, family is precious, and learning to relate is important. Simple, he learns how to be with girls in a way that honors them as God's creation like he is.

Secondly, an emotionally mature father requires his sons to treat their mother with kindness, affection and respect, especially as the boys get older, particularly in the teen years. She is never the hired help or their peer who can be bossed, ignored or abused, including verbally. Dad is in complete unity with Mom in front of the kids, especially in matters related to them. That doesn't mean he never challenges her opinions or actions, but never in the way that teaches his children they can too. It's done offline and with kindness and respect as well.

Pursuing a woman's heart means treating her as a person, not an object or thing, merely a body to use. At the very least, she is made in the image of God, or if she follows Jesus, she is a beloved daughter of the Most High God, and is to be treated as such. Her sensibilities are not constitutionally masculine. She thinks differently, feels differently, and has a profound bent toward relationship (unless she has been traumatically abused physically, emotionally, spiritually or all three). God created her femininity to balance and complete her husband's masculinity and vice versa. Helping his son cherish and serve her opens him to treat his sisters and girlfriends similarly. This is important, especially when sexual desire becomes a part of the equation.

An emotionally mature man understands that through gentleness, kindness, servant-hearted strength, courage with humility, compassionate sacrificial love, and leading so his wife feels free (and safe) to become who she really is with him will open a her heart and keep it open for a lifetime. He doesn't have to be perfect at this, just determinedly attentive to it. He can "hold" her heart because he's convinced through attitude and correlating behavior her that he really loves who she is in toto, not merely what she provides for him. A boy who grows up in the company of such a man increases his prospects substantially for being an emotionally mature husband and father in relationship to women.

May God use what I've written to help men and the boys they father/disciple to grow into full and real masculinity: utterly surrendered to God and ably offering everyone by his life godly strength, love and service.

ab emo pectore
(from the heart)
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