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Amidst the swirling, robust conversation around gender, the question is still asked, “What is the role of men? Is anyone still thinking about addressing it? Surely it has changed.” It has. Some of the most drastic changes are around a man’s role as a father, son, and partner.

We were taught lessons by our fathers. But, those lessons were in a specific time, in a specific cultural context that has since changed. Some men have adjusted well and grown beyond those lessons. Some men have reacted to these changes with external anger or emotional withdrawal. These reactions have caused a dangerous environment for spouses, wives and girlfriends; have created toxic homes for children; or have resulted in men walking away from the financial and physical commitments of parenthood.

Policy has also not caught up to the changing roles of men. The courts continue to uphold biases that create an unequal situation in custody hearings and perpetuate prejudices about men’s ability to care for their kids.

The complexities of forgiveness, redemption and recovery of men who have experienced life changing situations complicate understanding. Stretching the bounds of grace and challenging the parameters of faith are situations like re-entry into community after a time in prison, rebuilding a non-custodial relationship with their family after a divorce or separation, and accepting the responsibility of having created a toxic atmosphere through control and anger.

The old notions of manhood need to be examined in the light of what we perceived as our spiritual obligations. Rev. Lee and Annette Woofenden in their essay entitled, “A New Model of Manhood,” examined the biblical metaphors of manhood as warrior and posited a different spiritual metaphor.

As we consider these deeper issues of spiritual peace and conflict, we can begin to build a new model of manhood. We do this, not by closing our eyes to the old model of man as warrior, but by opening our eyes to a deeper model of man as spiritual warrior.

We can build a model of masculinity as strength, bravery, and skill in wielding the weapons of spiritual truth and genuine morality in the war against everything within and around us that tears down and destroys human life and kills the presence of God’s love among us.

Men, especially fathers, are left to examine our assumptions about our privileges and obligations. As men, we must acknowledge that there is the real and measurable impact of our presence or absence in our families. To be clear, the notions of class, race and sexual orientation also affects the answers to these questions for many different configurations of families.

Register for Stepping Up & Stepping In: Men & Family Systems online seminar starting February 18

In an article entitled “What Defines a Man?: Perspectives of African American Men on the Components and Consequences of Manhood” in Psychology of Men and Masculinity, Derrick Griffith and Emily Cornish (2016) reported on their study of middle-aged African American Men.

“For African American men, manhood often adds fulfilling roles and responsibilities through engaging in behaviors that benefit children, other family and future generations (Black & Rubinstein, 2009), and that demonstrate spirituality or faith in God (Griffith, 2015; Hammond & Mattis, 2005). These African American men utilized their faith to reshape and redefine gendered roles (e.g., being a father) and found greater meaning and motivation to be better men through the integration of spirituality and manhood.” (page 8)

One’s faith can indeed produce a toxic ideal of manhood but it may also be a rich resource of ancient wisdom for creating a broader and deeper understanding of manhood.

Change, in this case, is certainly not bad. In fact, it might be redemptive.

Floyd Thompkins is the VP of Innovation and Online Education at SFTS and Director of Applied Wisdom Institute.