For some Father’s Day ushers in a number of confusing emotions. I feel a sense of sorrow at the identity confusion of Bruce Jenner and can only wonder how he and his family are emotionally tackling Father’s Day this year. I also though feel a sense of almost bewilderment at the social media’s confusion and acceptance of Jenner’s self proclaimed transition into womanhood. Until recently such a story would only be found in supermarket tabloids along with pictures of Big Foot, alien sightings, and write ups about how Hitler was actually found alive living in the Amazon basin last Thursday. But here we are now in America with the Jenner journey and similar headlines not only being accepted by serious news outlets but also being trumpeted as heroism by the White House. While I agree that people like Bruce may struggle with uncomfortable emotions, the fact remains that a human being with an X and a Y chromosome is a male and a human with two X chromosomes is a female and no amount of hormone injections and plastic surgery will change that. Why is this not clear?
The ruse of Rachel Dolezal was clear this past week. Her self-proclaimed identity transformation from a caucasian woman to a black woman was rejected by just about everyone in culture. While Dolezal may feel black and desire to live life as a black woman, everyone knows she is not such.
So why is Jenner’s identity confusion being welcomed with open arms and celebration? Does it even matter? Could this simply be the next logical phase of chaos along the trail of rejecting God’s design for sexuality, sexual identity, and humanity in general? For whatever reason, the real confusion at root level is much deeper in culture than Hollywood highlights.
When it comes to Father’s Day, I had actually forgotten about it this year until late in the week. That may have just been due to the wounding in my own heart from my father of which I wrote about (here) last year. But the connecting point for the Western culture and really any society is that for us to adequately recognize fatherhood we must first celebrate manhood. The question of manhood goes deeper than Bruce and his sexual confusion. The identity questions spill out over the hearts of countless young men in our culture who wrestle not only with their sexual desire, but also their inability to fully realize their transition from boyhood to manhood. We see this all the time with young men who are unable to grasp who they are, why they are here, and what they are called to be and do as men. Yet, by returning to God’s design we just might be able to find some answers to this question of manhood and fatherhood. Consider three foundational points which seem to be lost in our supposed age of enlightenment.
1. The Reality of Masculinity.
We see in the very beginning that we as the children of God were created uniquely as separate female and male. (Genesis 1:27) This should seem obvious and when children are born we know it is obvioius. But yet if we truly believe this then it would follow that we would change the way we do life in our present culture. If we truly believed this then our expectations for boys would be different and even celebrated. Of course there are exceptions in the temperaments in different boys. However the bottom line DNA still exists as female and male. Boys and girls are different in the deepest part of who they are. One early illustration of this would be how our public schools are organized. Many times the systems actually hinder the total development of young boys. Last February the Washington Post ran a great article by Jennifer Fink simply posing the question of Why Schools Are Failing Our Boys? I got a chuckle as I read Jennifer’s post not only because I agreed with her, but because I lived it. I can still remember my first grade years (yes that’s plural as I was one of those two times around first grade boys) and being treated like a barbarian because I couldn’t sit still like the girls. Today I’d love to be able to contact my first grade teachers to let them know that I not only graduated public school, but also went on to receive two Bachelor Degrees and a Masters Degree as well. My problem in those early years was that my energy level exceeded the patience of my teachers. Checks for “unnecessary” talking were the norm for me and I was unable to engage in a system that was much more designed for girls who colored in the lines. The truth of the matter is that because boys generally are different than girls we have to work with them differently and expect them to act differently. If boys are not allowed to fully nurture their masculinity as children, they will struggle with it as they grow into legal men. When a boy feels the urge to see explosions and attack something, maybe the best response is along the lines of giving them an axe and firewood detail instead of labeling them poor students and setting them up for a life of failure.
2. The Honor of Masculinity.
While the immediate context of Ephesians 5:33 is a challenge for wives to respect their husbands, the principle applies to all of us. Not only do we see many in our day balking at the idea of a wife honoring and respecting her husband, but the media actually encourages the opposite. TV shows, movies, and jokes in the lunch room are filled with pictures of men being portrayed as idiots, sloths, or evil criminals. The idea of a man being noble or honorable and worthy of respect is almost a lost art form and sometimes even shunned by modern feminists. A funny observation about the Ephesians 5 context is that those who discount a wife respecting her husband rarely have a problem with the section where husbands are exhorted to love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the Church. And how is it that Christ loved the Church? Well; he died violently for the Church. Deep within the masculine soul is a desire to protect and make the hard self-sacrifices for others. The interesting thing about men and depressions is that despondency occurs more often with guys who feel like they are not needed than with men who feel like they are making a difference for others. When was the last time we told a man that we appreciate his hard work and sacrifice for others? Those simple words might be the first steps in honoring dads and men in our lives.
3. The Practice of Masculinity.
In 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 Paul exhorts men to “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, and be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” As I read that section I can’t help but imagine how life would be different if men actually rose to live that kind of life out. When men actually rise up to take responsibility for themselves and make sacrifices for others, then only good can come from such a setting. Maleness is something we are born with. But it is in working out that masculinity that men are produced. That’s why we need men like Paul and others who have journeyed with God and are able to point the way for boys and younger men.
Part of my childhood was lived without a dad in the house. During those seasons my mother attempted to include some men in my life such as an uncle who walked with God. She didn’t fret over getting more ladies into my impressionable heart. She knew that men and women were different and that I needed the gift of masculinity and the challenge of manhood. Today, there are times when I meet a young boy and in our connecting I’ll extend my hand and instead of offering up a “high five” I’ll say something like; “let’s shake hands like men.” Sometimes it’s those little encouragements along the way that help a boy realize who he is and what he can become someday no matter what his personal temperament is.
I don’t know all the psychological, emotional, and spiritual issues at play in Bruce Jenner’s heart. But I do know that before whatever emotional scars beset him in his youth, at his core he is a man in God’s eyes. I also know that when people like Bruce find their identity first in God, then all the other pieces will fall into place. For all of us, when we see God’s design in manhood we can see the difference between men and women as a good and beautiful thing. As that realization begins to permeate our thinking, then we can truly celebrate Father’s Day and the men whom the day is for.