The Early Years
I grew up mostly in northern Alaska and Montana. My mom and dad were teachers and good people. I'm thankful for them and for the way they raised me and my brother.
Up until I was about 9 years old, my family didn't go to church. We would pray before meals, but it was something ritualistic. In fact, my brother and I would race to see who could say the prayer fastest. Then one day, out of the blue, my dad tells me that we're going to start going to church. I was upset because I didn't want to have to get up "early" on Sundays and sit in a pew for an hour. We went anyway.
Another reason that I resisted going to church was because I viewed Christian men as kind, gentle, passive, pliant men. Not at all the kind of men that I looked up to nor wanted to be like. I admired men of strength, courage, honor, and action. That was the kind of man I wanted to become.
Of course, that understanding wasn't so well formed in my 9 year-old mind, but as I think back on it, I certainly resisted following a path that I thought would lead me in the direction of what I understood to be a "Christian man".
There were a few churches to choose from in the town we lived in and we ended up at the Baptist church. Counting the pastor's family (3) and our own (4), there was a grand total of about a dozen people that attended regularly.
Despite my resistance, after a few months of attending church and a few Wednesday classes learning what salvation meant, my brother and I got baptized. We got baptized in the pool at school since it was the only body of water large enough that wasn't frozen over. The religion box was checked in my mind.
We continued attending church regularly, but it was more or less a routine and time to hang out with people. There wasn't a lot of structure or investment on my part. I was just a passenger along for the ride.
Living in rural Alaska required a certain breed of man. I felt a huge disconnect between that kind of man and the kind of man that I was being taught to become, both in school and in the church.
Sit down. Be quite. Say "please" and "thank you". Don't hit.
Thankfully, my mom and dad gave me a lot of room to explore the traits and characteristics of manhood that attracted me. Shooting, competing, fighting. When I did get into a fight, my dad would ask me two questions:
I was allowed to play with toy guns and to make little crossbows out of office supplies. I was able to be a boy, but there was no connection between that boyhood and the manhood that I was being shown.
I considered myself a Christian, but I felt like the sort of man that I wanted to become and the sort of man that was required to survive in the environment I was being raised in were incompatible. I had the mindset that I had to choose between being a Christian and being a Man.
The College Years
When I went off to college, I stopped going to church. I still believed in God, but the image of a man that churches promoted was a buttoned-down, pastel, short-sleeved wearing man that was soft, gentle and kind. Any sort of strength was a sign of aggression and to be avoided. That sort of manhood held no appeal for me.
I also met Katie, the woman that would become my wife. She, too, was a believer and was regularly attending a mega-church in the town where we were going to school. That church was almost as large as the entire town that I grew up in so I felt way, way out of my element. Despite my desire to spend time with her, I declined her offer to attend with her.
Size wasn't the only thing that put me off from this church. It was a charismatic church which has drastically different practices than the Baptist church I had grown up in. Many of these differences raised red flags for me based on my understanding of what I had learned, or remembered learning. When I shared these concerns with Katie, she tactfully asked me to back them up with scripture.
The deeper I looked into it, the more I realized that there was a lot about my faith that I had just assumed was "by the book" that was actually just human understanding, tradition, and best guesses. This realization caused me to take another look at a lot of the things about my faith that I had just accepted at face value. Notable among those aspects of faith that I was investigating was the assumption that I had to be a passive, pliant man in order to be the sort of man that Christianity asked me to be.
I don't recall specifically the moment when I came to believe that strength, action, and courage were characteristics that had a place in Christian Manhood, but I remember the sense of relief I felt finally being able to reconcile the kind of Man that I wanted to be with the kind of Man I felt I should be as a Christian.
The story that was perhaps the most compelling factor in developing this new understanding of Christian Manhood was re-reading the story of Jesus clearing the temple. I had heard the story before, but it was as a foot note in the story of Jesus coming to Jerusalem. The image of Jesus as a loving, forgiving happy guy wearing a bathrobe and sandals hugging sheep and small children while forgiving everyone for everything was the image that I had held for a long time. Suddenly, the image of Jesus flipping tables and chasing people with a whip contrasted starkly with what I had always thought.
The deeper I looked and the more men in the Bible that I studied, the more I saw that these dudes were actually bad asses. Samson, David, Peter, John the Baptist. These guys were hard core. They were risking their lives and doing hard work. They were fighters and thinkers and lovers. They took action and made mistakes. They drank wine and partied. They were men.
Finally! I don't have to wear a pastel collared shirt and khakis with my hair parted to the side. Turning the other cheek isn't the answer to every situation. I don't have to sing love songs to God.
I can wear a buzz cut and jeans and flip flops. I can train to fight and shoot. There are, in fact, some awesome metal bands that are Christian. Occasionally letting the word "shit" slip out, in the right circumstances, isn't a horrible thing.
I can finally be the kind of man that I've always felt like I should be without contradicting the kind of man that I felt like I was supposed to be as a Christian.
Awesome! Now what?
The Army Years
I joined the US Army ROTC shortly after 9/11 partially out of a sense of patriotism and partially because I needed the money. I also married Katie during the summer between my junior and senior years of college.
When I graduated, I shipped out to Georgia, Germany, and Iraq. During my four years in the Army, I continued to develop my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian and a man. I learned a ton about both subjects and life in general.
I got to see other ways of life that were drastically different than how I had been raised. I got to live and work with people that held views and beliefs that were in direct contradiction to my own. I got to see evil and realize that I'm not immune to its influence. I got to see and experience the sort of brotherly love that I had only heard about, read about, and seen portrayed in movies.
It was a tremendously educational time in my life.
I attended church on the base in Germany when I was there, but it was mostly done for social reasons. The kind of church services given in the base chapel was a very mild and generic flavor. It did little to challenge me and I did little to challenge myself. The work the Army had for me was challenging enough and I let my spiritual life ride on cruise control.
I made good friends with a Chaplin while in Germany and we're still good friends today. My relationship with him was probably the best sources of development for both my faith and my understanding of being a man and a father.
The Fatherhood Years
My oldest son was born while I was deployed, but I was lucky enough to be home on R&R for his birth. I was unlucky, though, as I had to leave my new family to head back to Baghdad when he was just 10 days old.
I loved being in the Army. Sure, there were a lot of things that drove me nuts, but there were a lot more things that made it all worth it. I was fortunate to have examples of good leaders and bad leaders and I knew I had what it took to be a good leader. I also knew that being a good leader in the Army would come at a heavy cost to my family.
As I approached the four-year mark, Katie and I were trying to decide whether to stay in or get out. I tried to picture what my family would be like if I stayed in and tried to be both a good dad and a good Soldier. I don't think I could be really good at both at the same time. There just aren't enough hours in the day to give both the time they deserve.
I chose to focus on being a good father and husband.
After finding out that Katie was pregnant, I started reading as much as I could. I was terrified and knew that I was terribly unprepared. I had never babysat or changed a diaper in my life. I knew almost nothing about taking care of kids. The one thought that I clung to was that you should always turn the pot handle so that it's over the stove instead of sticking out when you're cooking something so that little hands don't grab it and tip it over on themselves.
Yeah, that was the extent of my 'wisdom' as it related specifically to young kids.
I was happy to hear that we were having a boy as I figured that since I was a boy that I would be able to draw on that experience to help inform how I raised my kid. I started reading Dobson's Bringing Up Boys and branched out into Eldridge's Wild at Heart and Raising a Modern Day Knight by Robert Lewis.
These books did a lot to help me gain confidence that I could do this whole parenting thing. They also brought into focus something that I had always had a sense of unease about, but never could quite articulate.
If I wanted to raise my son to become a man, how will I know when that happens? Wait a minute- how do I know that I am a man?
I didn't have an answer.
I didn't really question my status as a man. I felt like I had earned it, but I couldn't explain why I felt that way. I just did. That wasn't good enough for me though because I felt like I needed to be able to explain it to my son so that he could see the goal and how to get there. I didn't want him to wake up in 25 years and think that since he's been paying bills, working a job, and drinking beer for a while that I guess he's a man now.
No, I had to do better than that.
That's how I got to where I am today. I'm a follower of Christ. I'm a husband and father. I'm a man. That last one is the one that I'm least able to define and the one that I'm trying to figure out. It turns out that so are a lot of other men which is something that I find both comforting and worrying at the same time.
Sons and Warriors is here to help explore what it means to be a Christian man. I want to be able to provide my sons with a well-developed understanding of the path to manhood that is rooted in faith. I don't quite know what exactly that means or what it looks like, but I know I have to figure it out.