[These are notes for a talk I gave to a group of dads yesterday. The audio/video can be found here.]
1. It’s never too early to begin preparing sons for manhood. What do men need? Self-control, patience, courage, obedience, joy, etc. So when your boys are young require them to practice self-control, patience, courage, obedience, joy, etc. This begins with small corrections of fits and screaming as infants, and as they become toddlers teaching them to control their bodies and emotions. If we want them to rule well as men, we must begin teaching them to rule their own bodies, emotions, and appetites when they are young. When they fall down, require them to be tough with pain. We gave our boys a quick moment of comfort and then quickly gave them the command, “show me tough,” to which they were required to growl and flex. When they are hungry and tempted to be grumpy, require them to be patient and joyful. If there are things that scare them, graciously require them to face those fears. I learned this before we had kids when I watched another young father do this with his toddler son who was afraid of a vacuum cleaner. I believe his son was required to kick the vacuum cleaner every time he saw it. I later did this with one of my sons who was afraid of going down the sliding pole on the school playground. Emotions and appetites are some of the strongest urges men feel, and so they must be taught to discipline them and rule them well from the earliest ages. When you are teaching your son to be tough and joyful when he has fallen down or hungry or tired, you are teaching him to be tough and joyful when temptation rears its head.
2. Always require immediate, complete, and joyful obedience to parental commands. Faithful men are obedient men. We must first learn to be obedient before we can command obedience. We must be men under orders before we can give orders worth following. But think of teaching obedience like coaching sports. Teach and practice, teach and practice, teach and practice, lots, before the game. Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath (Eph. 6:4). Many fathers provoke their children to wrath by not teaching and preparing their sons for the challenges they will face. If every situation is always a “game” that counts, you are being a poor coach and father. If you want them to perform well in the “game” make sure you take time to practice exactly how you want them to perform in the game. When my children were young we played “obedience games.” These were practice sessions where we practiced obeying right away, all the way, and cheerfully (candy was included). My wife and I would give individual kids random commands, and they would have to give a quick and cheerful “yes sir! / yes ma’am!” and then run and perform the task (e.g.“go get a pillow from your bed!” “Do three pushups!” “Give mom a hug!”, etc.) For a short while, my wife had to prepare my son before going into the grocery store that he could not lick the frozen food cooler doors. We also practiced for church, doing little bits of the service together practicing sitting quietly, singing, saying “Amen!”, etc. We also practiced having guests over, greeting them, handshakes, etc. Try not to give your young sons a random command that he hasn’t had time to practice with you (but of course sometimes it is good to stretch them and test them!). Related to all of this, remember that the joy of the Lord is your strength. And joyful obedience is a big part of this. When you are joyfully obeying, you are not likely to be distracted by temptation. Again, practice this with your young sons. No fussing. No complaining. Immediate, complete, and joyful obedience. But do it with them and show them how. Show them the joy especially.
3. Talk about the reality of sexual temptation and self-control from early years in language they can understand. I talked to my sons when they were young about the “bad lady.” The bad lady is the harlot from Proverbs. They were taught that God made women beautiful, but that some women use their beauty to sin and to seduce men to sin. They were taught that this was one of the great battles of manhood. They were taught to look away, not because it isn’t beautiful but because it is beautiful and it can destroy a man. Don’t say it’s “gross” or “disgusting” and don’t let your wife say that either. It isn’t helpful to lie to them. God made a woman’s body to be beautiful. But that beauty is only to be enjoyed in the context of covenantal marriage. At some point in late elementary school/early junior high I’ve told my sons that the center of their self-control is their male member. They usually look at me a little strangely, but my goal is to tell them that before they feel it in their body.
4. Practice male-female distinctions from young ages. No wrestling girls. No fighting girls. No teasing girls like their boys. Protect mom and sisters. Honor them. Hold doors, carrying things, and do chores for mom. These are certainly household rules, and they applied from the moment they could hold a sword or a gun. Don’t let it go when they’re 1 years old because it’s cute. These were household rules that have gone with them into the world. When my son was involved in the local wrestling club for a few years, the coach knew not to pair my son with a girl (there were a couple), and at tournaments, my son was prepared to forfeit whenever he came up against a girl in his division (there was one). At my kids school, Logos School, distinctions are reinforced throughout the school: boys wait to sit down for lunch until the girls have been seated, the boys wait for the girls to exit the classroom first and hold doors for the girls, etc. Later, in lacrosse and football, I and my sons’ coaches have made careful distinctions whenever we have been aware of a girl on an opposing team. We do not check or tackle girls. One element of pornography is the sin of wanting to get a woman to give herself away in a way that lines up with the male mind/lusts. In a sense, male lust is wanting a woman to act like an undisciplined man sexually (domineering, lustful, promiscuous). It’s no surprise to me that this pornographic culture has led directly to rampant homosexuality and now transgenderism. There’s something deeply homosexual about pornography. But we have often left a flank unprotected by refusing to make distinctions between boys and girls when they are young or in sports.
5. Talk about marriage and children regularly. Talk about marriage as a good thing, a noble thing, a manly thing. Talk about the blessing of having children. While your sons need not think that getting married *right now* sounds fun – naturally they will think it’s embarrassing or gross, but they should be required to honor it and accept that it will be their high calling one day. On the flip side, do not allow your sons (or your daughters) to pretend to be ready for marriage before they actually are. No grade school crushes, no note-passing about who likes who, no middle school pairing off, and no high school romances. If they aren’t ready to get married and have kids, they aren’t ready to go shopping. Far too many Christian families and communities allow lusts to be stoked in little boys and then wonder why they have such a hard time saying no to sexual sin. And many Christian mothers are the direct cause of this stumbling, and many husbands refuse to step in. I overheard a Duck Dynasty episode my kids were watching not too long ago where a high school girl was being dated by a high school boy, and the whole episode was about how the dad was pretty nervous about it all and the wife and daughter and extended family all thought he was just being dumb. In the end I think he caved to the pressure and decided the young man was a pretty upstanding citizen and he was being too uptight. It was a pretty lame episode. The point is not that every young couple has to fall into sexual sin; the point is: what you are inviting? What are you practicing for? The Song of Songs says not to awaken love until it’s ready (Songs 2:7, 3:5, 8:4). While this is true for daughters and sons, many women don’t understand the way God has wired men. And they and your sons need to be taught. This is basically firearm safety for sex. Don’t point your gun at anything you’re not willing to shoot.
6. Speaking of Duck Dynasty, guard your family entertainment choices carefully: movies, books, and music. Think of your entertainment as your friends and mentors. And don’t be naively simplistic. Some of the most dangerous movies are from Disney. And some of the most dangerous books are found in Christian book stores. What I mean is that the greatest threats to conscientious Christian families are probably not sex scenes and pornography, especially in the early years. The first great threats are lies about boys and girls, men and women, marriage, love, and children. A lot of so-called Christian novels are just emotion porn for women/girls that frequently don’t present men accurately. Most of the old Disney movies consistently proclaim what I call the “Disney gospel,” which basically consists of the message that if you disobey your dad, he will apologize to you in the end, and everyone will live happily ever after. Also beware of music choices as your children grow older. Spotify can be just as pornographic as Instagram. At the same time, cultivate a culture of “pursuing the good.” The primary focus should not be all the movies and books “we’re not allowed to watch/read,” but rather, the primary focus in your family should be on the movies, books, music, hobbies that you love, that you are into. Pick good favorites, and then dive in.
7. All the best teaching in the world isn’t worth anything if you’re not living it out yourself. This means modeling faithfulness and joy in the wife of your youth. While you should certainly not be inappropriately open about your sexual relationship, your kids should know that you are sexually attracted to your wife. You should kiss her, hold her, hug her, hold her hand, give her gifts, tell her that she is beautiful and attractive regularly (and in front of your kids). They will groan and laugh and make awkward comments, and that means you’re doing it right. Make sure you hug and kiss your daughters lots too. Tell them that they are beautiful. And help them make wise choices about what they wear, about how they interact with their brothers and other boys (modesty, require respect and respectful distance, not flirty, not teasing). When you love your wife and daughters like this in front of the family (without being rude or embarrassing them), you are teaching your sons about being men, about being husbands and fathers themselves, and about what kind of woman to pursue. My own father’s example of faithfulness, loyalty, friendship, and joy in my mother is easily one of the most powerful lessons he ever taught me.
8. Related to modeling sexual faithfulness, you must be sexually pure. Whenever you stumble, make it right. Otherwise you’re a hypocrite; and you have a log in your own eye. You won’t be able to see clearly to help your sons. My rule of thumb is that you need not give your wife the play-by-play of every thought that went through your head during the day (as you’re batting away unhelpful thoughts, etc.), but if you actively seek out or succumb to sexually explicit material or thoughts, your wife needs to know, and you need to ask her forgiveness. While a once in a blue moon occurrence of this may be enough to give you the strength and courage to keep those temptations at bay, if it isn’t, and any sort of pattern of sin is emerging, you must make changes to your viewing habits, down time, phone, apps, internet, etc. in order to cut off the hand or pluck out the eye that is causing you to sin. Again, think of your faithfulness and courage in this area as directly related to the faithfulness and courage of your sons. On the one hand your faithful fight will help you better understand the fight your sons will be face and give them tools for victory, but you also simply want the blessing of God on your family and on your sons. And the only path to God’s blessing is complete honesty before the Lord.
Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash
Edwin P Lang says
Great article Toby. I’d only suggest one edit . . .if I may.
“They were taught that God made women beautiful, but that some women use their beauty to sin and to cause men to sin. ”
I would change “cause” to “tempt.”
–In the same way that your brother can’t “make you angry”, only “tempt you to anger.”
Kyle Burko says
Well-said. I really appreciate the practical nature of this. I am not even married yet, but it is helping me create a framework for godly sexuality and also a reminder that I need to be an example of what I teach.
Chris Larson says
The dad’s article is fantastic Toby.
I forwarded it several of my friends with young sons.
Love the show!
My husband and I have been talking about this post and video and have enjoyed it so much. It has been extremely helpful. We were wondering if you could do something like this for raising daughters. We would love to hear or read what you have to say about it. Thanks, Marianne
Thanks. I’ll put this suggestion in the hopper.
I really enjoyed this article, as we have two young boys. However, I’m a little confused about a certain part at the end where you say
“While a once in a blue moon occurrence of this may be enough to give you the strength and courage to keep those temptations at bay, if it isn’t, and any sort of pattern of sin is emerging, you must make changes to your viewing habits, down time, phone, apps, internet, etc. in order to cut off the hand or pluck out the eye that is causing you to sin.”
This sounds as if you’re saying sexually sinning once in awhile in okay if it helps you keep the temptation at bay. Is that what you’re saying or can you clarify?
No, sin is never okay. The question this particular sentence is addressing is how drastic of changes are required. Sin always requires full repentance (which means making changes to ensure it doesn’t happen again), but the question is: do you need to cancel your internet? throw away your television, smash your smart phone, or quit your job and move to another state? Sometimes those kinds of radical amputations *are* necessary (cut off the hand, pluck out the eye), but if a man stumbles once in a blue moon and then makes the necessary changes, those rare stumbles often do the good work in a man’s soul and true repentance takes place (with appropriate changes). But that’s different from the guy who is looking at porn every week. That guy needs to change his entire life. Hope that helps.