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March 10, 2022

Emotionally Healthy Masculinity

41 …David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times [towards Jonathan]. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most.  42 Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’” -1 Samuel 20:41-42

This was the emotional goodbye between David and Jonathan.  David just learned that he must run away before King Saul, fueled by jealousy and fear, could kill him.

There’s bowing, kissing and crying. These two men deeply loved one another, and their emotions were on full display.

Now I see this scene as a beautiful display of friendship, but this exchange left me feeling mildly uncomfortable as a young believer in college.

I had never known this level of emotional rawness, but it wasn’t because I was taught at a young age to stuff my emotions or that sharing emotionally was weak or effeminate.

I was blessed by a father who had no problem showing and sharing his love for me.

At times, George Self was a little rough around the edges, but I had complete confidence in his love for me. Why? Because he told me repeatedly and showed it physically.

As a young boy, I loved my dad’s hugs. I loved his strength and the feeling of the stubble on his face when it pressed into my cheek. It felt like sandpaper, and I remember thinking, “This is what a man feels like.”

We wrestled in our living room all the time, which usually turned into him pinning me and then tickling me to the point that I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe.

My dad cried easily when he read something or saw something where the protagonist displayed profound courage, honor or self-sacrificing love. I can remember studying in my room in high school and hearing a soft knock on my door from my dad. He stood in the doorway, tears on his cheeks, recounting the heroic “Medal of Honor worthy actions” of a soldier in the latest WWII history book he was reading.

These memories are a gift. Unfortunately, many men grew up without an emotionally healthy relationship with their fathers. I know men who intentionally withheld affection from their sons, thinking it would strengthen them. Tragically, that shortsighted strategy usually has the opposite effect.

Too many men feel emotionally stunted because they inherited a narrative that said, “Real men don’t cry.” Or “Real men hide their emotions.” Most men have not had good, godly examples of emotionally healthy masculinity in their lives.

Men, especially fathers, must be emotionally healthy examples for a younger generation. It starts with saying, “I love you.” No child should ever have to wonder if their father loves them. They need to hear and see it. They need to feel it and know it.

My father passed away from cancer 14 years ago.

He was on hospice care in my parent’s home for the last few weeks of his life. By God’s grace, I was there with my mom the night he took his last breaths.

He died in his wheelchair as my mom and I hugged him and prayed him into heaven.

It was important for my mom that we not leave him in that wheelchair when my sister and her family came to say their final goodbyes. We picked him up and put him in bed. I pulled the sheets over him and closed his eyes.

That night will forever be etched into my memory.

As hard as it was, it was a gift from God.

I hugged him multiple times that night and pressed my cheek against his.

I could feel the stubble on his face. It felt like sandpaper, and I thought, “This is what a man feels like.”


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