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5 ways men should man up and lead their families

(Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

In writing about the "Day Without A Woman" protest earlier, I hit on a particular theme that sparked a fair amount of blow back, even from self-professed longtime readers. I said that the husbands of these left-wing feminist women, who decided to abandon their professional and family duties for the day in order to make some vaguely defined political statement, need to show some leadership in their households. Rather than submissively cooperating with his wife's decision to put her feminism ahead of her family, a man should offer some guidance. I think I really upset people the most when I used the phrases "be a man" and "put your foot down."

Now, if I had said that women should "put their foot down" in opposing the destructive and counter productive behavior of their husbands (which they should, of course), nobody would be offended. You're allowed to encourage firm leadership on the part of women, but if you do so for men, using the exact same language, the very people who before shouted "amen" will now accuse you of being a backwards, misogynistic relic of the Stone Age. That's because the people who oppose the idea of male leadership in the home don't oppose it on egalitarian grounds, despite what they may claim. They don't actually think that the husband and wife should both be leaders equally. They believe, rather, that the wife should be the leader.

It seems everyone agrees, in the end, that one or the other in the marriage must "take the lead," in some sense. A plane can have a captain and a co-pilot, but it can't have two co-pilots and no captain. Someone has to determine the course. There has to be some set ideas about who does what and why. Everyone can't do everything. You can't have a football team where everyone plays running back and nobody is QB. People with modern ideas about marriage know this, which is why they've assigned a captain, a QB, a course-setter: the woman.

Well, we've had several decades now of female-led homes; homes where either the man is physically absent, forcing the woman to play both roles, or where the man is spiritually and emotionally absent, submitting to the wife in all things while he busies himself with porn and video games and whatever else. The result has been nothing less than the disintegration of the family unit and the rapid decay of our entire culture. It seems the Bible was onto something when it prescribed men as "leaders," "heads," and "overseers" of the home. The consequences of developing a different kind of arrangement have been devastating.

I've always thought that the concept of a man being a leader is pretty obvious and ingrained. You know what it looks like when a man is a good leader in his home and what it looks like when he isn't. I think we pretend not to understand so as to avoid following through. We say, "Male leadership? What is that? I don't understand!" We do, though, because it's natural.

But if I had to narrow it down and be more specific, I'd say these are five ways (maybe not the five ways) that we men can "man up" and be leaders in our homes, and it's in these five ways that many men have, sadly, failed. This, you'll notice, is a set of general principles, not a practical list of who should do what around the house. Leadership isn't about that. It's not as though a man who leads his house should always do the dishes or never do them or always do the yard work or never do it, or whatever. Those are the particular day-to-day things that each family works out for itself. These, on the other hand, are general principles of male leadership that should apply to any Christian household:

1. We should never expect more from our wives and our children than we expect from ourselves.

One thing I have to keep reminding myself is that I can't expect my wife or my children to do anything I'm not willing to do. That isn't to say that the duties of the household can't be divided and certain things can't be delegated. My kids know that Dad certainly isn't willing to clean their room or hang up their jackets or pick up their shoes for them. That's their job, not mine. But in a broader sense, I can't expect anyone in my family to sacrifice more for it, to work harder for it, to give more to it, or to be more of the spiritual foundation of it.

Now, my wife works extremely hard, sacrifices quite a lot, gives everything she has, and generally makes it difficult to keep up. I think she is a better person than me, despite my best efforts. But I know that I shouldn't expect this. I should be striving every day to work the hardest, do the most, make the most sacrifices, and to be that spiritual rock. Not in a competitive way, but in the way that a good leader must march faster and harder if he wants to lead from the front, which is the only way to lead. We can't sit up on the hillside in the shade (or all the way across town, in another house entirely), hoping that the health and stability of our family can be bought with the blood, sweat, and tears of everyone but us.

2. We should demonstrate moral courage.

It's great if a child can look at his father and see an example of physical courage. Kids with police officers and soldiers for dads have a great advantage in that regard. Yet, in this modern world of ours, unless we have a job that involves fighting fires or bad guys, most of us won't encounter many opportunities to be brave in that way. I've often dreamed of having the chance to prove my mettle in front of my children by engaging in hand-to-hand combat with a group of ninja assassins, but, unfortunately, I rarely come across ninjas at all. The dangers I face, and that my family faces, are of a different sort. The great hazards in our culture are spiritual and psychological. It's moral courage, moral strength, moral discipline that's needed most in our day. When we say that a man should be "strong," this is what is meant, or should be meant. He doesn't have to bench press 300 pounds, but he should be able to stand firm and be a source of moral stability amidst the spiritual storm of modern society.

How can we expect our children to be righteous, to be generous and disciplined and faithful and godly, if their own father has not provided a demonstration of those traits? How can we demand virtue in others that we can hardly locate within ourselves? How can a real man rely on his wife to carry this burden alone or primarily? We, as men, are called to be the spiritual light to our family. When we engage in weak, shameful, selfish and childish behavior, we dim the light. After a while, the light goes out altogether and our family is left to stumble around in the darkness. This is one of the many reasons why we need to reject porn and other vices, all which serve to lessen us, emasculate us and extinguish the light.

We have to ask ourselves: Are we living self-sacrificially and with integrity? Are we showing our kids what it looks like to reject the ways of the world? When our kids and our wives look at us, do they see someone distinct — someone who stands out in our decadent, ridiculous culture; someone who appears to be walking a different path — or do they see just another aimless, wandering embodiment of worldliness and moral confusion?

3. We should go to church and pray with our families.

The stats show that over 60 percent of churchgoers in the average congregation are female. About 25 percent of married Christian women have husbands who won't go to church with them, which doesn't account for the vast majority of Christian families who have no prayer life or church life at all.

These numbers are an abomination. How can we expect our kids to become dutiful Christians when we stay home from church because we're too lazy to get up and get dressed on Sunday morning? What message are we sending about the importance of faith and worship in our own lives when we refuse to make even the slightest effort to that end?

Of course, this extends past the church doors. We should be leading our families in prayer at home as well. If there's one Earthly image that best signifies a healthy, spiritually grounded Christian family, it's that of a father on his knees in prayer. Our prayer life as fathers and husbands not only creates the foundation for our own lives, but for the life of our family. Children need to physically see and hear their fathers worship God. Wives need to see it, too. The example it sets is invaluable and the spiritual rewards are incalculable.

4. We should get plenty of exercise.

I don't mean that a man has to go to the gym regularly in order to be a man, although it certainly wouldn't hurt. I mean that we can't live sedentary, passive lives in any sense of the word. Too often, we neglect not only our bodies but our minds.

We already talked about moral strength, but there's another kind, too: mental strength. A man ought to know things. We don't have to be philosophers or PhDs, but we should be able to carry on a conversation about something other than the Netflix show we just binged. We should be able to teach our children. Our wives should be able to say that one of things they admire about us is our active, interesting mind.

Fathers and husbands should be sources of wisdom. But wisdom is the final product. The ingredients are knowledge, experience, and faith. Many of us have almost completely neglected two of those components and are just hoping that one day wisdom will miraculously sprout out of our heads like a magical beanstalk. I don't think it works that way.

5. We should die.

For some reason, the line in Ephesians 5 that gets all the publicity is the command that wives submit to their husbands. That part is crucial but there's another verse in that chapter that, I'd say, is quite a bit more shocking and challenging: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy."

Just as Christ loved the church? But Christ died for the church. Is that really our job as men? To die? Apparently so.

We probably won't be required to physically give up our lives for our families, but we are called to die all the same. We must die to ourselves, and that means that we have to give up our old, selfish, boyish ways of living. It means that a married man with kids can no longer carry on as he did when he was a 20-year-old college sophomore. Our entire way of thinking and behaving and living has to change. We have a purpose now. A mission. And our whole life must now be lived in service to that mission.

Many of us are unable or unwilling to let go of our old life. And it is just that: an old life. The difference between a married man with kids and a single man without them is as vast as the difference between an eagle and an egg. A man who starts a family and dives completely into that role may often look back at his single days and swear that a completely different person lived them. That's how it should be, anyway.

CS Lewis says that Heaven is an acquired taste. I think something similar could be said of fatherhood and family life. The average 18-year-old, especially in today's culture, has no taste for it because he simply cannot conceive of what it means to find actual joy in serving and leading others. He seeks only superficial pleasure and cannot comprehend any other kind. This is how most of us live until we have families.

When we finally do have a family, it's not like some switch is flipped and all of a sudden we're responsible, mature men. No, we're still selfish boys until we decide to fully embrace the duty of family headship, and trust that somewhere under all of the stress, work, and responsibility we'll find a joy we've never known. We have to willingly let go of our old, selfish lives with no incentive other than the knowledge this is we're supposed to do; it's our vocation. If we're too lazy and cowardly to take that leap, we'll never find joy, and our children and wives will never have the sort of father and husband they need and deserve.

The choice is ours. We just have to make the right one, finally.

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