Last night while searching for something to watch on Netflix I saw a doc about the “boy crisis” in America. It is called The Mask you Live In. This morning I turned it on with eager anticipation. I turned it off 20 minutes later.
This documentary was a chance to be honest with men, to listen to boys and understand their perspective on things. That is something women get all the time. But instead this doc fell prey to exactly what they claim they don’t want to do: force men to live in a mask. What they want is to solve the problem of masculinity, something men are continually damned for doing: being solvers. I can’t believe how many times I heard the women who raised me damn my father and grandfathers for trying to solve problems. Then when they couldn’t solve problems they were damned for that as well. Add this to the mass of media that shows men to be insensitive and incompetent as well. What was I supposed to believe about myself? No matter what I do in life I will be damned by women. If I am successful I will lose those I love, if I am not successful I will fail those I love. How many times have we seen that in movies? The man who provides for his family by being successful loses his family because he doesn’t spend enough time with them, but the stories we tell about unsuccessful men tell us the opposite: success equals love. So which is it? Only the perfect man who is equally sensitive and equally successful will be truly loved?
And more importantly what about me? What do I want? What do I get from all this struggle? Doesn’t matter. I’m a man. What I want simply isn’t relevant. Why? Because manliness is the problem and it must be fixed. By who? By men? No, by the idea that gender is socially constructed. The troubling thing about this idea isn’t so much that it’s false as that it gets used to try to make men into women. It’s inverse feminism. Feminism was predicated on the gnostic affirmation that womanliness was weakness and therefore women needed to rid themselves of the feminine mystique in order to be successful. Now we’re being told that the masculine mystique is keeping men in chains and if they want to be happy they need to become like women. None of this makes any sense at all, and all it’s doing is making us all more confused and unhappy.
I’ll never forget the end of Friday Night Lights. The moment that is most impactful to me is when the RB Billingsley is embraced by his father (wonderfully prayed by Tim McGraw). The whole film his father has abused him mercilessly and at this his lowest moment his father is finally there for him. That doesn’t make the Dad’s other evil actions justified but all the other stuff fades away as the Father embraces his son who has just lost the State championship, and the father takes his state championship ring off his finger and places it on the sons. The son is crying and the father just holds him. This is the secret to healing manliness. It isn’t to make men feminine, women are just as screwed up as men. That won’t solve anything. The only solution for broken manliness is the same as the solution to every other human woe: love. In that moment this bitter twisted red neck father becomes The Father. As in The Father from the parable of the prodigal sons. The Father literally takes his own possessions and covers the shame of the runaway son with his own glory and love. He places a ring on his finger! He gives him love that is unconditional. He welcomes an successful son home.
My favorite film of all time is Warrior. The end of the film has 2 brothers literally MMA fighting each other and it ends with them embracing, carrying, and forgiving each other. Everytime I watch it I begin to weep uncontrollably as soon as the song About Today begins to play. I don’t know why but that song’s deep tragic beauty just moves me. I don’t really feel like describing the ending of another sports film right now but each of the key moments of healing in Warrior are moments of unconditional love: between men. They are moments of total manly acceptance. And they are all ugly moments. Ugly moments made beautiful by radical self giving love.
Men don’t need to be fixed. They need to be accepted, they need to be loved. Regardless of performance. Regardless of success. They need a perfect love that casts out fear. And the good news is that this love is very real and very available, it doesn’t cost us anything. Because it cost our True Father everything: His Son. We are all prodigal sons looking for a father, for a home. We find substitutes for these unmet desires with success, sex, sports, etc. But none of those things matter out side of our true Father’s love made freely available to us through His Son. This is the only solution, this is the only possible remedy: a love that casts out fear.
The great coach Tom Landry wrote at the end of his autobiography:
“Think for a moment about the factors that most often prevent anyone from reaching his or her greatest potential-in whatever the field. In my experience as a football coach, I’ve seen two common barriers that most often prevent people from performing to their fullest potential. The first is a pattern of past failure and past mistakes. The second thing holding people back is a fear of failure.
The basic tenets of Christianity address both those problems and remove both barriers. As a Christian I believe my past is forgiven; I can start over with a clean slate. The mistakes of the past need not hold me back. Neither does my fear of failure-because as a Christian I believe God is in ultimate control of my life. While that doesn’t mean I’ll always win the championship or never get fired, it means I can believe the promise of Romans 8:28, which says God can bring good out of every experience for those who trust in him. So I don’t need to worry about failing.”
Really what holds us back is fear of failure. Failing our wives, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. That’s what drives so much of our manly dysfunction. That’s why men don’t want to cry in public: they feel they’ve failed someone and lost love in the process. But Jesus says to us men you cannot fail me, I took all the failure in the world upon myself and I ate it up. I absorbed it all and I beat it literally to death. You don’t have to worry about failing anymore because while sons and daughters may reject and disrespect you, wives may leave or cheat on you, fathers and mothers abuse and abandon you I will be with you always.