What makes a real man?

I’ve been talking all week about legalism in our churches and in our families, and to tell you the truth, I’m a little depressed. It takes a lot out of me, to see people choosing ways of looking at the world that have the capacity to hurt so many.

But what’s been holding me together all week is just how much fun I have with my husband, and how he believes in me and supports me and is there for me when I need him (and even when I don’t think I need him!).

My husband makes my life better.

As I’ve been talking about legalism a lot on Twitter this week, though, I’ve run into some other threads that veer towards legalism when it comes to men. The Stronger Men’s Conference is a huge Christian conference for men in April in Missouri. The trailers for it have been passed around Twitter–here’s one, here’s another. It’s supposed to help men “not be domesticated, but have dominion.”

And it features monster trucks, men wielding axes, men firing what looks like automatic weapons from the stage, lots of fire, lots of motorcycles, and lots of just hyper-masculine stuff.

All of this is to help men follow the greatest man who ever lived–Jesus.

But I never saw Jesus on a first-century equivalent of motorcycle. I saw him on a donkey. I didn’t see him with automatic weapons; I saw him with children on his lap. I also saw him making a whip out of cords and getting awfully angry at those profaning the temple, but I wouldn’t say that he was an over-the-top hyper-masculine guy. He was simply a man.

And what worries me about this “Stronger Men’s” Conference is that it gives the idea that Christian man = NASCAR, guns, motorcycles, and monster trucks. So if you’re not into that stuff, you’re somehow not a real Christian man. And what does “stronger men” mean, anyway? Stronger than whom? Women? Domesticated men (presumably the ones who don’t wield axes)?

Maybe we need a broader picture of what it means to be a real man.

Yes you can have your masculinity, but what makes a real man?

I have three men in my immediate family.

One is in the military.

He rides a motorcycle. He goes hunting. He has a sleeve tattoo. He’s an expert at multiple martial arts.

David believes deeply in providing for his family and protecting his family. He takes pride in taking care of his wife. He loves being strong, but he’s also the one that all of his little cousins flock to. He’s very respectful of women, and he values being super responsible. While he may seem like the typical “alpha male” who likes blowing stuff up and riding big vehicles, he’s also very tender, and he wouldn’t have a lot of respect for anyone who knew how to shoot but who didn’t know how to properly take care of his finances.

My other son-in-law has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, but he was also a professional dance teacher. He can teach hip hop, ballet, jazz, and so much more. He is so much fun on the dance floor!

What is a real man?

Connor dancing at a recent friend’s wedding!

Over the last few years he’s been on a journey trying to discover what career God has for him. He’s learning to be super responsible and is on the promotion track at his accounting job, even at the young age of 23. He’s super good with sticking to a budget and planning so their family can be well provided for. And everyday he loves getting in a suit and looking sharp at work (okay, this is suit from his wedding. But I like this picture!).

Connor didn’t grow up in the church, but he’s thrown himself into their church community, serving on worship teams and drama teams, mentoring younger Christians, and reaching out to others at their church. And he’s so eager to learn more about theology. We have the best talks with him!

Because he didn’t grow up in church, though, and because and he didn’t grow up with lots of young siblings or cousins, he didn’t have experience with babies. But lately some of their friends have been having babies, and Connor’s realized he’s really good with babies. And he practices on their dog.

He’s so looking forward to being a dad! And his goal is to work half time, and have his wife work half time, so that they both can be with their kids.

And he loves his wife. In fact, he’s been the reason that several of Rebecca’s friends have broken up with the men in their lives–because those men haven’t respected them the way that Connor respects Rebecca. He shows people everyday what it means to cleave to your wife.

Then there’s my husband.

My husband has never been hunting, though he can chop wood when we’re camping, and he’s great at setting up camp and canoeing in the wilderness. He doesn’t like monster trucks. He doesn’t watch sports (not even hockey or curling). He doesn’t have a black belt in anything, but he’s not a bad dancer. He’s a real Canadian–he can spend all day outside even when it’s -25. He’s awesome with kids (he’s a pediatrician, after all!).

A real man is a great dad!

Keith with our daughter Katie back in 2000.

When he was a little boy, rather than playing hockey in the driveway like most Canadian kids, Keith read the encyclopedia set.

Even today, he challenges himself to learn new languages (he taught himself Swahili, and has used it in Kenya. Blogger Ngina from Intentional Today met him in person and can testify that he’s not half bad!). He learned ancient Greek so he can read the New Testament in its original. We have scientific textbooks all over the house, along with deep theological ones. He loves thinking about things.

For years my husband worked about 100 hours a week, because he spent so much time on call. On Katie’s second birthday Keith wasn’t actually on duty, but the hospital begged him to come in anyway. A 13-month-old toddler had arrived, unresponsive, from being shaken. Keith attempted several difficult life saving measures while awaiting transport to a tertiary care centre. A year later, Keith was on the witness stand testifying against the boy’s mother’s boyfriend, who was charged in his murder. My husband did everything he could to try to save him. And he still carries that grief with him. That’s a real man.

If you’re 26 weeks pregnant, and you’re in labour with a premature baby, you want my husband to be in the room with you. He’ll calm you down, take control, and save your child’s life.

What's a real man? My husband treating a child

Keith checking out a patient at our clinic on a missions trip in Kenya

My husband may not ride a motorcycle, but he has saved countless tiny babies–and many bigger kids, too. He has counselled suicidal teenagers, poured over medical textbooks trying to diagnose strange diseases, and comforted parents when their children didn’t make it (and attended funerals and cried at home later, too).

He knows more about science and philosophy and theology than anyone I know. He calms me down. He is my rock.

He seriously can’t cook (does that mean he’s not domesticated?), and I prefer that I do the laundry, but he’s really good at cleaning bathrooms!

And he loves nature. And he’s an amazing photographer.

What makes a real man? Responsibility and loyalty. Nature.

He loves birds, and he’s already planned out our route in Australia when we’re there for the month of May (I’m speaking four times, and we’re birding other than that!).

Real Men come in all shapes and sizes, with all different hobbies. But they love and serve.

One of my husband’s photos!

My husband has recently taken a step back from work, reducing his hours so he can support me and be more on the road with me. He’s proud of me, and wanting to see where God takes me does not threaten him in the least. He takes care of details so I don’t have to worry about them (and also so I don’t mess them up, because I would.) My husband is organized. Having him around helps me not have to worry.

When I am stressed because of debates on the blog, my husband can talk me down. He can ask me questions that help me realize what’s important, and show me that I don’t have to fret.

He puts his hand on me and prays every night as we’re falling asleep. Often not out loud, but I know he’s doing it. He gets up in the morning and he reads a few chapters of the Bible before I’m awake. And he loves mentoring new doctors and new medical students.

He will get up on the stage beside me at marriage conferences, and he doesn’t hold back from sharing about some of the mistakes that we have made along the way, because ministering to people about Jesus and being authentic is way more important to him than preserving some perfect image.

Speaking at a FamilyLife Conference in 2015

He is wrestling right now with what God wants him to do with the rest of his career. We have so many options and so much flexibility, and he is praying about getting more involved in overseas missions, or doing more medical work and marriage work in some of Canada’s First Nations communities. He wants to go where God is calling him.

And he is generous. He believes deeply in sharing what God has given us to benefit those who live in desperate circumstances–especially children in the sex trade all over the world.

All three men in my life are different. All love God, but all show it in different ways. And all are real men.

And so I thought today that we could celebrate the real men in our lives–the strong men in our lives–for seeking out God and showing Jesus in their own unique ways.

Will you do that with me? Will you leave a comment on how your husband is a strong man, and a real man? Whatever that looks like in your family, let’s be grateful for it! Because I am grateful for the men in my life, and how they love the women in their lives, even if it may look different.

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