THE MASCULINE HEART
On a recent vacation, while driving round trip from Southwest Washington to Northwest Wyoming, I finally managed to finish a book a friend had loaned me this past winter. It was The Way of the Wild Heart, by John Eldredge. It’s a follow-up to another of Eldredge’s best-sellers, Wild at Heart.
The subtitle of Wild at Heart is: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul. Its back cover expands on that by saying: “In Wild at Heart, John Eldredge invites men to recover their masculine heart, defined in the image of a passionate God.” In the book, Eldredge lays out three main longings of every male on their journey in life. Each man longs for: A battle to fight, An adventure to live and A beauty to rescue. In The Way of the Wild Heart, Eldredge expands on this theme by noting six major phases of a man’s life: Beloved Son, Cowboy (or Ranger), Warrior, Lover, King and Sage. This book’s main point is that God wants to come and father us through each of these stages. The key underlying theme, though, is the vital role earthly fathers and male mentors are meant to play in accomplishing this.
SHOWING THE WAY
This last point, the crucial need for positive male role models in a boy’s life, in order for that boy to become a man, is the topic I want to address here. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I didn’t find anything in Eldredge’s books that was helpful to me in being a man. I did and I think every man could benefit from what Eldredge’s books offer. But, let’s face it; my next birthday is my 67th. If I haven’t figured out how to be a man by now, the odds of my getting more of that job done than I have so far are kind of low. So, it seems to me that there’s more profit likely in my doing what I can to use what I gained from Eldredge’s books to benefit boys and men who have more of their masculine journey left.
In addition to my age, my own upbringing is another key factor influencing me to focus on how critical it is for a boy to have positive male role models in his life. My Dad left my Mom when I was only three years old. It seemed that no one ever fully stepped up to fill that void. Looking back, I recognize many ways in which my life would have been different and I think better, if that void had been filled.
Presently, I’m preparing to enter my fifth year working in an elementary school Special Ed program for kids with autism. About nine out of 10 of those affected by autism are boys. I’m thankful to say that, over the past four years, I’ve met fathers (including a single-Dad) who are very involved in the lives of the sons they have in our class. They are making a huge difference in their boy’s life by doing so. Sadly, I can count those Dads on one hand. I’m embarrassed for my own gender to say that, when a special-needs-kid comes along, for the most part, their Dad splits. It’s for that reason, about four years ago, I decided to stay in my classroom, knowing that I was burning the bridge to any possibility of returning to the successful career I’d had over the preceding four decades. And, it’s yet another key factor in my making the crucial need for positive male role models in a boy’s life the focus of this article.
With that understood, it may seem surprising when I say that men are not the primary audience I’m targeting here. Of course, I mean to continue encouraging men to eliminate this gap in the lives of our boys, by fulfilling their duty as fathers and/or by stepping into the breach when they come across a boy who has this void in his life. In fact, that was the subject of one of the very first articles I published on this blog. It was entitled Land Where The Fathers Hide. However, with this article, I want to speak to another group … a community that’s very dear to me … single-Moms.
MAPPING THE WAY
In order to help you better grasp the recommendations made by Eldredge, it will be helpful to have some understanding of the major phases of a man’s life, as noted in The Way of the Wild Heart. Here is a synopsis from a book review published by The Prodigal Thought:
Beloved Son – When a boy is young, he longs to know he is the beloved son. Not because he has done something to earn such favour, but simply because he is loved and adored by his father. Mom’s love is good and right. But, for the son, they need the father’s love. Hence the devastation in a home with an absent father. Yet, this fathering role of the beloved son could be filled by another man – a spiritual father of sorts. Sometimes, young boys are asked to grow up too quick, as when the father leaves the home through divorce and states, ‘You’re the man of the house now.’ This is too much for an eight-year old or even a fifteen year old. A boy needs time to be the beloved son.
Cowboy – This is the time of reaching adolescence and the stage will probably run through to one’s late teens or early twenties. Such a stage calls for adventure and exploring, getting to know life and all of its ways. Again, it is paramount to have a father figure to help the adolescent grow up but, no doubt, the father’s role will have changed slightly. This is a time to let the son out – let him hang out with his friends, go on trips with his friends, maybe do a little study overseas, etc. But this is a time for him to step out of the nest and grow up into greater things.
Warrior – Such a season consists of the young man learning how to battle. Not necessarily through real fights, but through battling for their own life in Christ and the life of others. They will learn strength and they will learn how to deal with failure. This is quite like the days of David on the run from Saul, or that window we get into Christ’s life at His temptation by Satan. But, in all, they are being formed to be a faithful and courageous warrior.
Lover – A time will come when a woman has caught the eye of the man – her beauty, her character, her smile, her laugh, etc. God has created man to find that great mutual helper that will become his wife. Sometimes the boy becomes heartbroken at the loss of such a love, and healing will be needed. But God has such a gift for men. During this season, a man will learn how to be a great lover to his beloved in learning deep intimacy of the heart. And, even more, this is a time when we can be awakened to the Great Lover and His pursuit of us, which becomes the reality even for those of us unmarried.
King – Entering the later stages of life, one becomes a king over his ‘kingdom’. It might be small, as in a very small business or small group, or it might be larger, as in leading a church of a few hundred or being the CEO of a major corporation. In all, we are called to rule and we are called to rule well. Yet, as with all stages, this one will present grave difficulties which we are called to rule over. But the Great King commissions us to rule and, thus, we can do so in His strength.
Sage – This is the last and final stage of one’s life. This is the time that we step aside and allow other kings to take their place. Yet, Eldredge challenges us that, whereas many are looking to settle down and pick up golf in the latter years of one’s life, this is a time to not go into vacation mode. Rather, we are to look to impart wisdom and life to other men, especially other kings. Sages are not only graced with great wisdom, but also with great compassion.
As Eldredge maneuvers himself and his sons through these phases in The Way of the Wild Heart, you’ll find them engaged in a broad range of activities. The objective in all this, as stated by Eldredge is: “To become a man – and to know that he has become a man – a boy must have a guide, a father who will show him how to fix a bike and cast a fishing rod and call a girl and land the job and all the many things a boy will encounter in his journey to become a man.”
Generally, the related activities that Eldredge details in his book are ones that I would classify as those of an outdoorsman. It seems that has become a way of life for him. Unless your son has a real hankering to be an outdoorsman, I don’t see adopting that way of life as a necessity in getting the boy-to-man job done. What I do recommend for single-Moms is reading The Way of the Wild Heart and considering which activities fit into your family’s life. Then, do those that fit and for those that don’t fit, consider alternate activities that do fit, that would bear the same sort of results. Regardless of the program you come up with, I do recommend incorporating one key aspect of Eldredge’s approach … helping your son to know that whatever path he is on, he is walking with God.
THE RIGHT GUIDE
The necessity I do see for single-Moms in getting this boy-to-man job done is to not do it yourself, at least not alone. Eldredge says, to get this job done, “a boy must have a guide, a father”. That means the lead role in this program, the guide, needs to be filled by a man. Of course, that role can be filled by one man or it can be shared by several men who take on different parts of the responsibility. But, while developing the right program for her son and assuring that it remains on course may be the sole responsibility of the single-Mom, she shouldn’t plan to take on the lead role in the program. Her imperative duty in this regard is finding the right man (or men) to help her get this job done.
If you accept the premise above, here are some ideas for finding that right man/those right men: Maybe your son’s father is still in the boy’s picture and he just needs your support and encouragement to get this job done. That could also be the case, if you have a new man in your life. Likewise, that could be the case with other male friends and family. The men in your church can represent a rich and very willing resource for this. And, of course, there are numerous local and national non-profit organizations that have developing boys as their mission. You just need to reach out to one or more of these resources to find the right partners to fit in with the program you have in mind for your son.
Doesn’t that sound great?! Wait a minute! There’s at least one exception to consider here. That is, maybe you don’t accept the premise above. If you’re a single-Mom who just read what I said above, what you could be saying to yourself about me may be something like, “Who is this creature that just crawled out of the dark ages?! I won’t let my being a woman keep me from doing anything for my son!” Before you go there, let me remind you, I was raised by a single-Mom. She was one of the very best, a pioneer who became a single-Mom before that term was even in common use. When my Dad left her, she set aside her life in order to do everything she could for her two sons and her daughter. And, whereas I lacked significant male role models in my upbringing, I was blessed to have a good long list of women who came alongside my Mom. I, largely, credit whatever positive qualities I do have to that group. And yet, I recognize there were things about becoming a man that they could not help me with because none of them had ever been a man, nor would they ever become one. As a single-Dad, I had to accept the inverse of that truth in raising my daughter. But, if you still don’t agree with me, please consider this: If you find that I am right, you’ll have learned some new ways to help your son become the man you want him to be and you’ll have a better idea of how to get the job done. If you find that I’m wrong, you’ll have learned some new ways to help your son become the man you want him to be and you’ll have a better idea of how to get the job done yourself. Either way, your son comes out a winner.