Raising Sons in a "Boys Will Be Boys" World

Men who behave badly are all over the news these days. In fact, it’s been so much a part of our national conversation for the last year that I’ve had this post (most of it, anyway) written since we found out that we were having another boy—raising the Reissig boy total to four. I’ve been mulling over these thoughts for the better part of a year and finally got around to editing them. Unfortunately the national conversation about men doing bad things hasn’t changed one bit. It’s only gotten worse, which has only increased my desire to process what it means to raise four sons in a world where men behave badly.

I was raised in a house of all boys (except for my mom). I am the oldest of four, with three brothers coming after me. I consider it a great privilege to have been raised in a home where I was treated with dignity and respect. I’ve spent the majority of my life surrounded by men (or at least boys who grew into men). And I’ll do the same for the remainder of my life as I raise these boys.

As we begin the task of raising our four sons I am constantly thinking about the world they are growing up in. What will the world tell them about what it means to be a man? What will the world tell them about how men should treat women? What will we tell them? What will the church tell them?

There is a push on both sides to reduce manhood to either a machismo in the name of Christ or a machismo in the name of self. Both cannot be found in the Bible, and Lord willing, won’t be found in our home either. We have to tell them something about what it means to be a man, we just can’t tell them more than what God’s word does.

How manhood plays out in the various personalities, interests, gifts, and cultures is wide and diverse. But what it means to be a man is unchanging. I’m less concerned about whether they play sports, and more concerned about if they stand up for the kid getting picked on. I’m less concerned if they choose cooking over a drill, and more concerned that they honor women as co-image bearers. You see where I’m going with this? I don’t want to make the mistake that the culture makes, and make manhood about one thing (in the culture it’s about sex and in some church contexts it’s about hyper-masculinity). The stereotypes don’t help anyone—man or woman.

So what does this have to do with helping my boys become men who reject the whole “men behaving badly” persona?

The most striking way a man can be set apart in our world, set apart for the Savior, is not by how much he fits a masculine mold but by how he treats women. The culture still embraces hyper-masculinity for men, so even if it’s under the Christian umbrella, it will smell familiar to the culture around us. What is less accepted (though there are pockets where it is) is treating women with fairness, kindness, and respect. From the time sin entered the world women have been treated poorly and as objects to be discarded. But that’s not how God intended it.

Raising my sons to be godly men has less to do with masculine interests and more to do with how they treat others, how they treat those who are mistreated and marginalized, and how they treat women. I want them to understand that God created them male, and that’s good. But I also want them to understand that their maleness is not a license to live for themselves.

It’s this set apartness that speaks to a world that is ever in need of a true biblical definition of manhood. Not a caricature. Not a stereotype.

I want to raise my sons to behave in ways that honor and respect women no matter how men (and women) around them are behaving. Locker room talk? Call it out. Porn? Flee from immorality. We love and cherish women, we don’t exploit them for our gratification. There will be no “boys will be boys” in this house unless it means embracing the innocence of boyhood when they are little and walking the narrow road of faithfulness when they get older.

I lamented a month ago to my mom about how often it seems that godly men don’t finish well, because let’s be honest this stuff isn’t isolated to the world out there. It’s in our pews as well. But she reminded me, helpfully, that not all men finish with brokenness in their wake. Some are like Caleb and Joshua. Some men are like Boaz. Some men are like Paul. Some men are even like Peter, a little rocky in the beginning, but steadfast in the end. Some men are like Jesus—walking the hard road with a laser like focus on the finish line.

Which is why it was providential that the very next week our women’s bible study was focusing on Caleb and Joshua’s final rest in the promised land at the end of the book. I needed that reminder that even when everyone else around them fell away into complete rebellion, God preserved a few.

And that’s our hope. God keeps working in a world marred by sin. I’m the product of faithful men, brothers, a dad, pastors, and a husband. I’ve been loved, encouraged, and supported. I’ve been respected. I’ve been treated with dignity. Lord willing, we will pass that legacy on to our boys.

We cannot stand apart unless we truly stand apart. For a long time the unfaithful have been allowed to dwell among the faithful with no requirement of repentance or change. God has a timetable on sin and I think we are seeing that play out in our churches and in our culture. This reckoning is good and hard, I think. The darkness must be exposed for the light to come through. But when it’s over I pray that the faithful are left standing reminding all of us what it means to walk the way of the Savior. I’ll point my sons to them.

I want to raise men who are courageous, honorable, and kind. And this is hardly the example we get, especially when you can be elected president and be the exact opposite. I don’t know how they will all turn out. I’m not in control of that ultimately. But I want to do my part. Feminism emerged because of the whole “boys will be boys” mentality and women had enough. As a mom of boys I say “not on my watch.” We will not be the problem that makes women throw up their hands in disgust, or worse, run away in fear because of the bad deeds done to them.

I’ve been sobered by this calling lately. Raising four sons in a world of such darkness does that to you. But as I’ve come to see over and over again these last few months, even in the darkness, light remains. There is a definition of manhood that transcends time, culture, and even caricatures. His name is Jesus: faithful, humble, and always good.