The measure of a man: More insidious definitions

More insidious definitions

Let me say it again clearly: there’s nothing inherently wrong with the things we’ve been talking about. I still obsess over professional and college sports. I grew up hunting and fishing and still fish as often as possible today. I love outdoor adventures like river rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking, and backpacking. If my budget allowed it, I’d certainly have another motorcycle right now, probably an older model Ducati or Norton. I admire people who exercise regularly, and am trying to increase my own time working out. And I’ve seen some pretty cool tattoos, on both guys and girls.

The author jumping into Selway Falls, Idaho.

The author jumping into Selway Falls, Idaho.

The problem comes when we begin to define ourselves with these things. Ask yourself, how would I feel if I had to give up my [fill in your man stuff here]? Would your dignity take a hit if you could no longer ride ATVs in the desert or play Wednesday night basketball or drive a truck? Would your self-image suffer if all of your tattoos were removed or you could no longer shoot a gun?

And the way we judge ourselves determines how we judge other men. Think about that.

And while these definitions of manhood certainly miss the mark of holiness that God has set for us (more on that topic later), they aren’t the worst hang-ups we could have. Some of us define our manhood by how hard we party or how women see us or how other men fear us.

When I was a young man in my BC days (before Christ), I spent a lot of time with friends and a lot of time in bars. Not only cold we be found at our favorite watering holes on Friday and Saturday nights, you could often find us holding up the bar on a Tuesday night or a Sunday noon. For me, my self-worth was tied to how much time I spent partying with friends. If I spent a Saturday night at home studying or watching a movie, I felt like such a loser. Real men, cool men, were out at the pubs getting loud and flirting with the girls.

The misguided manhood I sought after even led me, for a while, to use drugs in the hopes that I could convince myself that I was OK. For many men, this road leads only to ruin and regret. While I do still have some regrets, God’s grace saved me from the wreckage that so many others have reaped from their poor decisions and their misguided understanding of manhood.

Without any of us realizing it, women possibly hold more control over our self-confidence than just about anything else on this planet. In the young non-Christian culture of today, nothing defines manhood quite like sex. Nothing could lower my self-esteem more than not having a girlfriend. Sometimes I would date a girl I wasn’t interested in or even attracted to just so that I wouldn’t feel like such a loser. I’ve heard the argument that the use of porn by men is often part of a desperate search for their manhood. Looking at a woman’s body is not only stimulating in a very basic, instinctual way, but it makes us feel like men. And it’s so much easier than relating to an actual, live woman! I think this is why even married men with wives who love them find pornography such a tantalizing escape. It’s easy manhood.

Another twisted form of manhood comes from instilling fear in others. Some boys become bullies because they see that as the model of manhood held up in their home. Dad bullies mom and the kids so the kids bully other kids in the neighborhood and at school. It’s what they know, and during adolescence, kids pursue manhood based on what they know. If we don’t teach them differently, can we blame them when they follow in our footsteps?

A very extreme definition of manhood might even include criminal behavior like burglary, vandalism, fighting, or even murder. Here in San Diego, gangs are filled with boys desperately wanting to be men. Without dads to show them true masculinity, they learn a warped definition from their friends and popular movies and music. The only criminal behavior I can remember participating in that made me feel manly was slashing a guy’s tire on his truck because I blamed him for keeping my girlfriend and me apart. For a moment, I felt like a man because I had done something illegal and secretive. Maybe it was my knuckle-headed ideas of manhood that kept that girl away!


Questions for thought

Did any of these false definitions of manhood ring a bell with you? Which ones?

Where did your conceptions of masculinity come from? Your father? Brothers? Other family members? Or was it the culture – your friends, television and movies, music?

How might a sober understanding of your own misconceptions of manhood improve your relationship with your wife, your kids, and your Heavenly Father?



Lord, how do we define manhood and where did we get these ideas from? Are we off the mark from your definition? Father, show us the error in our understanding of masculinity and reveal to us your plan for our manhood. Teach us to be men after your own heart, men who trust you and follow you, and men who let you, the Creator of the Universe, define us instead of the culture we live in. Enlighten us, forgive us, and change us. In Jesus’ 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: More insidious definitions

  1. Dave says:

    My definition of manhood! If your Mom respects me and loves me because I am the best person I can be, then I am the MAN I want to be! I can look at myself in the mirror and try to see myself in her eyes. If I like what I see, then I am the man I want to be! Maybe not someone else’s view of a man, but I don’t care!
    I love your blog! I look forward to every entry. Please don’t stop. Love you!

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