Friday, June 20, 2008

Real men, part 1

There is a lot of talk these days in certain circles about what a "real man" is or does. Of course, it all depends on the particular pre-conceived notions of the person determining whether or not someone is worthy of "real man" status or whether the man in question is "feminized" or...dare I say it...a "girly-man".

Whenever I encounter men pontificating about masculinity, especially if they are of the "real men aren't Mr. Nice Guys" sort, I can't help but wonder if these guys are a bit unsure of their own masculinity. It reminds me of a man who told his wife, after a long year of attending Men's Prayer Breakfasts and accountability groups at his church, that he wasn't going to force himself to endure any more of it. When she asked him why, he said he was no longer willing to put up with three things that seemed a part of almost every male-only gathering at his church: belching, leaning chairs back onto two legs, and ridiculous macho posturing. He thought adults should have long outgrown such childish nonsense. He also thought that a real man should be secure enough in his masculinity to act like a gentleman.

I'll admit that, when I think of what makes someone a "real man", that I have a tough set of criteria in mind. That's because of my Daddy. He is the yardstick against which I measure all other men and, sadly, usually the most vocal of the wanna-be-patriarchs come up the shortest in comparison.

My odd sense of humor made me pick the yardstick analogy over others that may have been better. You see, my father is not at all a tall man. In fact, he's quite small. Due to an accident during his service in the Korean War, he has had some residual physical issues that, while not readily apparent to others, mean that he has never been one of those super-strong fathers who could toss us about in the air and wow us with feats of strength and power. He's not athletic by any stretch of the imagination.

But when I think of a strong heroic person, I think of my Daddy first of all. He has real strength, an unbending and uncompromising strength of character. He is known for his integrity and his firm principles. As one of his close friends once told me --- but I had already long known --- my father is incapable of deceit. When I real Jesus' words in the Bible about Nathaniel being a man without guile, I always think of my Daddy.

My father is also a true gentleman. He won my mother's heart, and her parents' hearts, in part because his manners and decorum made him stand out from all the other American servicemen.

Daddy is a true servant. He embodies those Scripture about husbands loving their wives as Christ loves the Church. With genuine humility, my father has always joyfully sacrificed for his family in many different ways. Sometimes the sacrifices were big; sometimes they were small but still significant. For example, I remember, as an older child, realizing that my father, without fail and without drawing attention to it, always took the piece of fruit that no one else wanted. This touched me deeply, especially since I thought my Daddy deserved the best! (I am ashamed to admit that, until I noticed this, my own habit was to grab the best piece of fruit for myself.)

Most of all, my father is a servant of Jesus Christ. I know that I see him with a certain amount of starts in my eyes --- I am still unashamedly my Daddy's girl --- but I know that others also see in him a complete dedication to His Lord and a walk with Jesus that is deep, sweet, and constant.

Daddy was my first pastor. His pastor's heart extends to all his brothers and sisters in Christ, but especially to his family and to his little flock. He has always been the man I go to when I want spiritual direction, a clear exegesis of Scripture, or faithful prayer on my behalf.

To me, Daddy embodies real manhood. He's the real deal.

No, he's not some sort of chest-thumping he-man cartoon character. He doesn't try to act tough. He never uses bad language --- and we have a poignant but funny family story about how he impressed a new believer with this trait --- and he's humble and gentle. He can afford to laugh at silly masculine stereotypes because...well, he's the read deal. He has no need to prove anything.

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