The measure of a man: Measuring sticks, part 1

Measuring sticks, part 1

Somewhere deep in our DNA, it seems only natural to strive to be the alpha male. Our biological instincts tell us that we can be top dog if we assert our aggressive maleness. The simplest and clearest definition of a man, then, comes from his size and strength: the bigger the guy, the more we see him as a man. This size and strength can be displayed in a lot of obvious ways: fighting, drinking, womanizing. It can also be displayed in more subtle ways, like the work we do or the number of off-road toys we own. If you’re an outdoorsman, maybe your manhood is displayed in your high-risk adventures: ice climbing, heli-skiing, big wave surfing. But we were called to be more than natural. We were called to be more than alpha males. We were called to be Men of God.

Several years ago, while I was a post-doc at a government research lab, Ann and I used to host a Bible study for college-aged young men and women. We would meet weekly for food and games, prayer and support, and to dive into God’s Word to see how it could be applied to our lives. We made some deep friendships during those years and the Lord challenged us in ways that would not have been so obvious if we weren’t in lay ministry.

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Sometimes we would bring in outside speakers, usually other adults from the church, to talk to us about their careers, or finances, or church life. I remember one speaker who came with his wife to talk to us about a church ministry he led. He was about 6′ 2″, maybe 220 pounds, with a thick black moustache and a physique that spoke to his profession, something in construction or contracting. This guy was a man’s man, the kind of guy you hope will like you and validate your own manhood.

We were standing at the foot of the stairs in our basement before the study began. I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. He had never been in our home, so he was looking around at the structure itself. He commented on something he admired about some of the finish work in the house. I felt proud that this alpha male was complimenting me. If only he had stopped there. But he followed up his compliment with a disdainful look at me (at least, that’s how it felt) and said, “Those hands look pretty soft. I’m sure you didn’t do the work.” Ouch!

I don’t remember anything he taught that night. I was just ready for him to leave my house. In fact, I don’t recall having any more interactions with him at church after that. All I heard from him that night was that I wasn’t really a man by his standards. That comment still stings more than a decade later.

Admittedly, Hollywood wouldn’t cast me as a manly man. My 5′ 10″ frame only carries about 175 pounds (after a Double-Double and fries at In-N-Out Burger!). I’m built more like a runner than a football player. I can grow a weak goatee at best, but a full beard is entirely out of the question. And I don’t have any piercings or tattoos. There’s nothing in my outward appearance that says MAN.

If that’s not enough, I’ve worn glasses most of my life as the price for keeping my nose buried in books, and recently I’ve graduated to bifocals. I have to recruit my wife’s help to move furniture or large items in the garage. And if I don’t shave for a couple weeks, I look more like a teenager trying to impress his friends with his adolescent whiskers. Scientist, bookworm, nerd – yes. But man?


Questions for thought

How exactly do we measure a man in our culture? And is the church any different?

Have you ever looked down on another guy because he wasn’t manly enough?

In middle and high school, were you the bully, the alpha male? Has anything changed? If you have boys, how are you raising them with regards to their maleness?



Jesus, compared to you there’s not one man among us. When held to your holy standard of manhood, not one of us could stand. Root out any sin in us. Remove from us the drive to be the alpha male, and replace it with a humble desire to live lives fully devoted to you. In your name we pray, amen.


About Dave Cummings

Dave Cummings is a husband, father of three, college professor, biologist, and urban outdoorsman. Most importantly, he is a Christ follower.
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2 Responses to The measure of a man: Measuring sticks, part 1

  1. Dave says:

    David, through all the years I’ve known you and watched you grow up I never once thought of you as anything less than a “man”! Being a MAN is way more than who’s butt you can kick and how much facial hair you can grow. Being a man is being a good husband! Being a good father! Being a good son! Being an inspiration to your peers! You are all of that and more! This world needs more men like you.

    • Thanks Dave. I think in my head I have a good self-image. But it can be hard to feel like a man sometimes in our culture when men are defined outwardly by size and strength and toughness. I see so many guys compensating with tattoos and massive trucks, or with the way they talk or how hard they drink or how they treat other people. I want to fight that stereotype and stay focused on the things you listed: husband, father, son, inspiration. Thanks for the encouraging words!

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