The story spread like wildfire over social media. A troubled high school in Shreveport, Louisiana had a string of fights and 23 student arrests in just three days. So a group of 40 dads decided to take action and formed a group called Dads on Duty. They showed up at Southwood High School in shifts, walking the hallways, greeting the students, encouraging kids to get to class on time, and making dad jokes. The results: no more fighting. And better yet, a feeling of safety and peace.
Here’s the question: How could the mere presence of just five or ten adults at a time so dramatically turn chaos into peace in a school with more than 1,500 students? It’s because something powerfully transformative happens when men step up. Which means they also need to be allowed to do so.
We have to change the current trends toward discouragement, and encourage men to be all they are made to be
It is so important to recognize the power men have to be a unique force for good in our families and culture. Similarly, we must not discourage men with the sense that they are not wanted and needed for who they are—and for who God made them to be.
The problem, of course, is that our cultural discourse today often sends the opposite message—and in some ways it seems to be getting worse, not better. In certain quarters of social media this year, I’ve been astounded at the level of vitriol leveled at men. If there’s a problem in a marriage, it is automatically assumed to be because of the husband. Men are seen as the privileged and the “patriarchal.” They’re the aggressors and the abusers, right? We don’t even have a vocabulary for women as either of those things, although logically we know that a critical or controlling woman can be just as abusive as a critical or controlling man.
The resulting sense is that we must stay on top of men in a way we don’t have to with women. We must reign men in. They aren’t “allowed” to have a voice about all sorts of things. We must make sure women—and society as a whole—have good boundaries with men. That we hold them accountable. Now, is it true that some men are abusive and controlling? Tragically, yes, and that must always be strongly condemned and strongly addressed. But is that most men? No. That is a world away from being true.
Most men want to make a difference
I’ve been doing interviews, focus groups and surveys with men for 18 years, for books such as For Women Only and others. And one thing is overwhelmingly clear: Although no one does it perfectly, most men are strong and caring. Powerful and wise with the use of that power. Providers outside the home and wanting to be loving and present inside the home.
Privileged? Sure—historically, especially. But being a man is not a sin. Simply having male tendencies of emotion and motivation is not wrong and should not be suspect. Now, male ways of thinking and acting are not automatically right, either. Men will do wrong things just like anyone else, but simply being a guy is not wrong. And when society (and television, movies, and social media) essentially infer that it is, how does that make all men feel? How does it make our sons feel?
Of more concern for society, how can men not want to check out when they feel they can do nothing right? When they hear they are not just privileged but broken? When they hear they should not want to handle things in a certain way, simply because it seems foreign to women? When they are told that no matter how honorably they handle the visual temptations that arise in their minds, they should not have those temptations to begin with? When they are told their anger is sinful—rather than being affirmed that anger can be a legitimate sign of emotional pain and the key is to not sin in their anger? Men were designed by God and they were designed on purpose. And one such purpose is what we see walking the halls of a high school in Louisiana. To be a voice of strength and care in a world that desperately needs it. But the way a good man will want to do that may be different from the way a good woman will want to do that. We have to start encouraging and praising the healthy, caring men around us for being who they are—rather than subtly implying that the way they are is broken.
Men can “abandon the field” or step up—and women can help
In the midst of a recent social media attack on a respected pastor by an activist Christian women’s group, I asked a few men for their thoughts. As one told me, “When I see someone criticizing a man as ‘abusive’ even though I didn’t see certain words or actions as abusive at all, I automatically want to stop trying. To abandon the field. Because if you’ll be seen that way just because you handle things differently, why would you put yourself out there? If these amazing men of faith are being so brutally attacked on social media, what hope do I have? Better to not try to be part of the church. It’s for women.”
In talking to my husband, Jeff, about this, he shared an important perspective and challenge to men who might feel the same way: “Sometimes there’s the sense that people think men are almost inherently abusive. We think, ‘This is how women feel about all of us.’ But that is not true, either. Those who imply that about men are themselves just a few bad actors. They are loud but they aren’t representative. I don’t think that is how we are truly seen. So we need to step up instead of just give up.”
That is exactly what the Dads on Duty did. That amazing group of men saw such success in their efforts that they now want to form chapters around Louisiana and hopefully throughout the country. I hope there is explosive encouragement for any man who wants to do that. And from this woman here, I’d like to thank this group of men from the bottom of my heart, for not only staying on the field but for winning the game.
This article was also published at Patheos.
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