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Teaching Boys to be Men

On September 11, 2001, we saw some of the finest examples of manhood in America's history: Hundreds of firemen and policemen raced into those burning towers in New York — and lost their lives in the gallant effort to rescue others.

Men willing to act in this way don't come about by accident. They have to be trained into manliness. Sad to say, if we look around, we see far too many young men who do little besides play video games and hang out with their friends. They are soaked in music and media that convince them that manhood is best achieved by seducing as many women as possible.

And sadly, many have no interest in the responsibilities of marriage and supporting a family.

One of the reasons for this, of course, is the continuing breakdown of the family itself. So many young men are growing up without a dad — without a male role model. I can’t tell you how many young men I’ve met in prison who never knew their fathers. So to find male leadership, they turn to the gangs. It’s tragic.

Have Americans forgotten how to raise boys into men? Do boys even know what it means to be a man?

These are the kinds of questions my friend Bill Bennett — the father of two sons — asked himself. His answer came in the form of his new book, titled The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood.

This collection is intended to help boys learn how to be men — by offering them heroic figures to emulate. As Bennett writes, “There is no simple instruction manual or formula on how to be a man, but there is experience and wisdom to be consulted.”

But because boys need heroic figures to look up to, Bennett says he “concentrated on reading that will lift the sights and aspirations of boys and men.”

This is why Bennett included, for example, Shakespeare's St. Crispin's Day Speech, which teaches men about brotherhood on the field of battle: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother.”

They learn how to be devoted husbands through letters like the one written by Sullivan Ballou to his wife during the Civil War, a week before his death. “If I do not [return], my dear Sarah,” Ballou wrote, “never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.”

Teddy Roosevelt — who loved living the strenuous life — warns of the danger of idleness. “No man is happy if he does not work,” the president notes. “Of all miserable creatures the idler ... is in the long run the most miserable.”

How will our boys learn to be men of God? By reading the prayers and essays of Augustine, George Muller and educator W.E.B. Dubois, who once prayed, “Give us grace, O God, to dare to do the deed which we well know cries to be done.”

Bennett is right: Boys must be trained and disciplined into becoming worthy men — something the Bible also tells us. Buy a copy of The Book of Man and give it to the young man in your life — perhaps that nephew or grandson.

And then, have a talk with him about what it means to be a man today — at work, at play, as husbands and fathers — and as a servant of God.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media and print.

Publication date: November 18, 2011

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