But it is the first—and possibly most important—of many steps you must take in being a catalyst in helping your man to grow into his manly role.

Does this raise hard questions? You bet. It raises a boatload of questions. And we will try to tackle at least some of them later in this book. But for now, think on this:

There is a distinct difference between demanding manliness (which attempts to manipulate and change a man) and encouraging it (which expresses need and verbally appreciates manly behavior when it shows up). It is entirely possible to express a desire for manliness in a way that emboldens a man rather than making him feel like he is a complete failure.

Permission Granted

One evening I was in a situation where this was vividly illustrated. My oldest son had invited a group of friends over to watch the Ultimate Fighting Championship. If you are not twenty-something, let me explain. The UFC is a combination of kick-boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling, and hand-to-hand combat. It is highly tactical, requires extreme conditioning, and can get a little gory at times. It’s sort of a modernized gladiator “lastman-standing” kind of sport … though no one has been killed in it yet.

That’s probably all you need to know.

I have watched several competitions at the behest of my guys largely because one of them was training in the sport for a while. (This son, by the way, was my most fearful child in his formative years.) He loved the ultimate intellectual-physical challenge; he also loved the fact that contenders didn’t talk trash (which has since changed) and the loser always ended up congratulating the winner and hugging or shaking hands. If a guy got banged up and little bloody, oh well.

I will admit to you, my first reaction to the sport was horror. I could not fathom any sensible person actually being interested, much less invigorated by such a sport. Such brutes, these men. It was only over time with the tutoring of my men that I began to recognize the attraction. Sports are one of the few places outside of the workplace where a man can express his innate manly aggression, fighting spirit, and courage—without being penalized for it. But men also like the fact that in sports there are certain rules and boundaries as to how far a man can go. Even in the UFC.

On the night aforementioned, we all gathered in the family room to watch a series of competitions. Among us were men of every stripe and age, along with wives, girlfriends, and girls who were friends—some of them athletes in their own right. We even had a newborn baby girl in our midst.

As the first fight began, the guys were riveted. They were pointing out this move and that, “oohing” and “ahhing” over certain kicks and punches (much like a woman ”oohs” and “ahhs” over a baby). The women in the room were more muted. Female grimaces were simultaneous to male outbursts. Some women were completely repulsed and disgusted; one hearty feminine soul was actually pale, verging on nausea. A few minutes into the final fight, the older, smaller, but more skilled fighter broke the nose of his young and powerful opponent. Blood gushed (I mean, literally gushed) while both contenders continued on for a full two more rounds until a winner was declared.

The entire room erupted in cheers when the old guy won. It was a fight to remember. Or forget, depending on who you were.

It was the heated conversation that followed which was most enlightening. Every man in the room (including one guy whom I happen to know is terrified of spiders) defended the value and integrity of the sport, while the women pointed out the obvious defects of such brutality. But here’s what I noticed. While the men were focused on the character of the fighters (such as discipline and courage and skill and endurance), the women were focused on the nature of the fight itself.

I also noted something else very telling. By the end of our conversation, the guys expressed appreciation for why relational and nurturing women would innately shrink back, while at the same time the women expressed appreciation for their manly invigoration in seeing a skillful, well-fought battle. There was a mutual appreciation, even valuing, of our innate differences. And that is important.

Women can be repulsed by the natural joys of men. We don’t see the point. (Who cares about a car that can go five hundred miles an hour when you can never legally drive it that fast?) We don’t comprehend the rush. Of course the reason we don’t get it is because we are women. But if men are to be men, we must let them be men and appreciate the underlying drives of their manliness. A man needs a place where his manliness is understood and encouraged.

Published May 28, 2009.

Mary Farrar holds a master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and is the author of the bestselling book, Choices: For Women Who Long to Discover Life’s Best. Mary and her husband, Steve often speak together at couples’ conferences around the nation. Steve Farrar is the bestselling author of ten books, most notably Point Man: How a Man Can Lead His Family (Multnomah, 1994), which currently has more than 500,000 copies in print. Mary is currently working on her next book, aimed at helping men understand women. The Farrars reside in north Dallas, and have three grown children. Learn more at http://www.readingyourmale.com/.