Guiding Your Son Through Boyhood
About the Guest
A boy without a father is like an explorer without a map. Dennis Rainey gives dads four compass points to guide their sons through boyhood, answering a son's questions, "What is wise or foolish?," "How do I love others?", "Who am I?" and "Why am I here?".
Dennis RaineyDennis Rainey cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry of Cru®. Since the organization began in 1976 through 2017, Dennis’ leadership enabled FamilyLife to grow into a dynamic and vital ministry in more than 109 countries around the world helping families discover the joy God intended for their relationships with God, spouse, and kids. Dennis has authored or co-authored more than 35 books, including best-selling Moments Together for Couples and Staying Close and has received two Golden Medallion...more
A boy without a father is like an explorer without a map.
Guiding Your Son Through Boyhood
That sense of being lost is what a boy can feel growing up today without a father guiding him.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 8th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk about what we can do to help boys get pointed on the right path and pointed in the right direction as they step up to manhood.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today; thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. Just wondering what’s in the water there at the Rainey house? Your wife writes this devotional for families around courage. Now, you’ve got this book for men on courageous manhood. Are they spiking you with something out there?
Dennis: You know it is in the country. There is no telling. I do think Barbara and I have been preaching to one another. Do you think?
Bob: I just sense a little bit of this passion in your souls to see men, women, and children kind of step up and be courageous.
Dennis: Bob, I think this culture is robbing us of our courage. I think it is discouraging us. I think many are losing heart in well-doing as a result. If there has ever been a time when, frankly, men needed to be encouraged, I believe it’s today.
Bob: Well, now, this is a theme that has been simmering in your heart for almost a decade, maybe longer than a decade, as you’ve been in a number of settings challenging men to step up to courageous manhood. Now, you’ve written a book that’s called Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood.
You break the book down—this is interesting—into six sections to help orient guys to the progression that you’re calling them to.
Dennis: We do. The first section is just all about courage. Then, each of the following five sections are about the steps: stepping up to boyhood, adolescents, manhood, mentor, and patriarch. Each of those six sections of the book begin with a story of courage.
Bob: Let me ask you about boys stepping up to boyhood. It seems like boyhood is something that just kind of happens to you. It’s not something that as a boy you’re all that intentional about. In fact, you’re just kind of going through life, and the question is are you heeding direction or are you just following your own impulses?
Dennis: I clipped a cartoon out of a magazine that had a picture of a five year old boy barefoot and no shirt in cutoff jeans walking down a dusty, dirty road. He had two cats that he was carrying, whose tails were tied together. He was carrying them, you know, where the tails kind of were caught in the crook of his arm. The caption on the cartoon read, “And he was bound to acquire experience rapidly.”
That’s what boyhood is all about. He’s growing up through the childish years getting all this experience, but what has to happen? He has to have an older man in his life directing that experience. So, that as he grows from boyhood into adolescence, there is character there; there’s the wisdom to know the right from wrong and enough of a conscience that he can begin to turn away from evil and make right choices.
Boyhood does just seem like a time when life does happen to him, but it’s a time when every boy needs a father.
Bob: Tragically, we live a culture where there are a lot of boys who don’t have fathers. If a boy doesn’t have a father or someone stepping in to provide direction, to say, “Here’s where manhood is, come on follow me. Come this direction,” then, the carnal impulses take over and what you have is masculinity gone amok.
Dennis: Yes. Newsweek, a few years back, ran an article called “The Trouble with Boys.” They said in that article that one of the most reliable predictors of whether a boy will succeed or fail in high school rests upon a single question, one question: does he have a man in his life to look up to? Unfortunately, in many cases, the answer is no.
I ran across this quote. I’ve not been able to find out who said it, but it has a pound of wisdom in it. It says, “A boy without a father is like an explorer without a map.” That’s what a boy is. He’s starting out life, and it’s uncharted. He doesn’t have the experience to know how to deal with it. Who is he going to look to, to gain the experience he needs to know how to navigate the valleys, the danger spots, the mountains?
There is a lot of life that just happens to us, but as we know, there is a lot of evil that can occur in a boy and for that matter a teenager’s life before they make it to manhood.
Bob: I don’t think when I became a father for the first time that I understood the responsibility of calling sons to manhood. I don’t know that I understood that mantle being put on my shoulders. Did your dad assume that responsibility in your life? Did he understand what it was that God had called him to do, do you think?
Dennis: This is one of the more fascinating stories of my life, Bob. My dad had a profound impact on my life, but I have no idea where he got the training to do it because his dad deserted him as a boy. He was in his early teenage years when his dad basically abandoned the family of eight children and kind of went his own way.
I grew up in a town of thirteen hundred people—I like to say I had a big dad in a small town. My dad was big in my life because he was involved in my life. He coached my little league team. The first game we got beat twenty-two to nothing to the Early Birds. Three years later we played them for the semi-finals. If we’d won, we’d gone on to the championship of our age group. They beat us again, but it was only three to two. Now, isn’t it interesting that I can remember that?
Well, the reason I remember that is I had a dad. I’ve still got this picture of all of us: scruffy, little, little league baseball players. I had a dad who was standing right in the middle of the picture. Not that the focus was on him. He was on the back row, but he was the coach. He knew how to coach us in the fundamentals. He taught me more than just the fundamentals of baseball; he taught me the fundamentals of life, of obedience to God, of having a character that has integrity.
He modeled it. His life was granite solid. It was amazing as I became a father like you’re talking about, Bob, how many times I would go back to pictures of my father who was steady, who didn’t leave, who didn’t abandon me.
I know as I say this there are a bunch of our listeners who didn’t have something like that. They’ve had to pick up that mentoring of an older man in their life from another man, but every boy today needs a dad who sees that young lad as his responsibility. I have no question that my dad loved me and that my dad was doing his best with what he’d been given to train me to be ready for life.
Bob: When I was a kid, I remember going to the dentist office. The only thing I liked about the dentist office is they had a subscription to Highlights magazine. Do you remember Highlights for kids?
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Bob: It had puzzles—
Bob: And games and cartoons. In every Highlights magazine, there was a cartoon series called Goofus and Gallant. It was two boys. One, Goofus, was always making foolish decisions; and Gallant was making wise decisions. It was really a cartoon instructing in character.
I’ve thought about that since. I’ve thought young boys growing up need to be pointed in the direction of character because their natural inclinations aren’t going to lead them in that direction. That is part of the responsibility a dad has. For a boy to step into wise boyhood, they need to say, “I’m going to listen to the wisdom of a father or of older men and follow in their footsteps.”
Dennis: Bob, the book of Proverbs is all about that. It is all about an older, wiser father speaking into the life of a boy calling his son to step up. Now, it doesn’t say in the Proverbs step up to manhood, but it is all over the pages. Calling him away from foolishness to—was that Goofus?
Bob: Yes. Right.
Dennis: To step up to wisdom, to Gallant.
Bob: Gallant. Right.
Dennis: To Gallant. If he’s going to do that, he needs an older man whose arm is around him. You know I can still remember watching the game of the week with my dad on Saturday afternoon. My dad worked hard. He worked five days a week and a half a day on Saturday. Some days he would work all day on Saturday.
I would go to sleep with him there in the living room on that couch with his arm around me. I can still remember the hairs on his hand and his arm kind of touching my boyish face. You know there is something about that that builds security, stability, direction. As we grow up, it’s what we call upon as we face our own challenges in life.
I’ll never forget going deer hunting a number of years ago. I used to laugh at people who would get lost in the woods. Have you ever been lost by the way? Really lost in the woods?
Bob: I’ve never been that deep into the woods. I don’t think.
Dennis: You stayed away from the woods. Well, you know what? That’s a good way not to be lost.
Well, I got lost, Bob. I went in circles because I began to notice where I had been. There were no markers. The land was flat, it was cold, and the sun was going down. I remember praying and going, “Lord, I’m lost. I need help. I need to get out of here.” I admit that I was on the verge of panic.
Now, this was like—I don’t know—twenty, twenty-five years ago. When I finally stumbled out onto a logging road where I knew where I was, I was thrilled. I didn’t have a GPS on me. I didn’t have a compass. I had no way to tell where to go or how to get out of there. Well, you know what? That sense of being lost is what a boy can feel growing up today without a father guiding him.
I want to give dads just real quickly four points of direction to guide their sons. Let’s just call them compass points.
Dennis: Compass point number one, character: train your son in what is wise and also what is foolish. We just talked about the book of Proverbs. That is what it is about. Wisdom is skill in everyday living as God designed it.
Bob: I think as a dad you have to keep in mind that your son is naturally going to be drawn to foolishness. “Foolishness is bound up,” Proverbs says, “in the heart of a child.” As a dad, you’re going to have to use up a variety of means to call him away from foolishness and to godly character. He is not going to be naturally inclined in that direction.
Dennis: I’ll never forget going to my dad’s place of work. If he said this to me one time, he said it a hundred times, “Son, these people are working. Do not bother them.”
I think I just had a blast walking through the office talking to everybody because my dad owned the little company, you know. “Son, I want you to know they’re at work. Don’t bother—”
Bob: Leave them alone.
Dennis: “—the people.” That’s a very minor foolishness; but nonetheless, it’s is foolishness.
A second point for our compasses are relationships: how do I love others? The first one talks about our character: people being able to trust us that what we say is good.
Bob: What kind of person am I?
Dennis: How we love other people is how we relate to them, care for them; how we’re gentle with them, kind with them, forgive them, resolving conflicts with them.
Bob: So, what you’re saying is that a father has a responsibility to help a son understand how to have healthy relationships with other people: with women, with siblings, with friends. Just understand how to relate to people.
Dennis: Your family is a laboratory, and you’re training your son how to live life and how to love other people. Some of the lessons you are going to pass on to your sons are going to be out of your mistakes. When you make a mistake and you have to ask your wife to forgive you in front of your kids, as I have done on more than one occasion.
On those occasions, some of them I would turn to the kids. I would say, “You know, you’re not going to remember your dad was perfect; but I do hope what you remember about him is that when he made a mistake and hurt another person, he was enough of a man that he could admit it and ask that other person to forgive him.”
Identity is the third one. That answers the question, who am I? There are multiple areas today where that’s got to be addressed with a boy. One is “Who is he in relationship with God?” because it is only as he determines who God is in the Scriptures in his relationship to Jesus Christ that he is going to have a proper identity of who he is.
There’s also the issue of sexual identity and what does it mean to be a boy and not a girl? What does it mean to be a man and not a woman? He is getting his first cues from his father as to how comfortable his father is in his own sexuality and how he treats his wife in terms of courtesies, in terms of serving her, in terms of her distinct femininity as a woman. It is really those snapshots that a boy catches growing up in his home where he gets his first picture of what is a man and how does a man relate comfortably with a woman.
Bob: So, identity revolves around sexual identity; but you also said spiritual identity, understanding that your nature is prone to sin and that you are in need of a Savior and understanding who God is and the fact that life is to be lived for Him. What is the last point on the compass?
Dennis: Well, it has to do with our mission and why am I here. What is my purpose? Ephesians 2:10 talks about “We’re His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works that He prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
I’ll never forget a boy that my sons used to have over to the house, and I’ll call him Mark. His mom had, had four husbands. Mark had not known a man in his life to be there consistently. I don’t know what prompted me one day, but I looked him in the eye; and I said, “Mark, God has a plan for you being here. He has got something very, very powerful for you to do with your life if you’ll but walk with Him and know Him and set Christ apart in your heart as Savior and Lord.”
It was interesting that was early in my adolescent sons’ lives. Mark continued to track with our kids all the way until his senior year, and he did some pretty dumb things. Our paths crossed again. I had to kind of pull our sons away and say, “You know I don’t think it would be wise to continue to spend time with Mark.”
It was interesting Mark ran into me at school one day; and he said, “Mr. Rainey, I noticed that your sons are no longer running around with me. I thought you believed that God had a plan for my life.” Now, Bob, this is four years later.
Words to a young lad, especially a young lad growing up in the confusing years of adolescence, can be used in that boy’s life to really center him and begin to set him on a course where maybe he begins to think about his life as something other than just on the human level; maybe he is created in the image of God; and there are spiritual purposes to his life that he needs to fulfill.
A father, I believe, can have an enormous impact in his son’s life reminding him of the truth about himself: that God has a plan for him.
Bob: We’re really back to the map illustration that you used earlier. If a young child, if a young son, doesn’t have compass points—doesn’t have a map to point him in a direction, he will wander aimlessly and often wind up in a place that is not a good place. It is a dad’s responsibility to point him in the right direction and to give him those compass points; so, that where he winds up is a good place.
Dennis: Yes. What a dad needs to understand is he possesses the DNA of life. If you as a father are walking with Jesus Christ and you’re in the Book, the Bible, you possess that DNA to pass on to your sons to show them how to live. I love a poem that was written by General Douglas MacArthur because, as you might imagine as a general, he had a goal in mind especially for his son. Let me just share this poem that I include in the book:
Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.
Build me a son whose wishbone will not be where his backbone should be;
a son who will know Thee—and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.
Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and the spur of difficulties and challenge. Here, let him learn to stand up in the storm; here, let him learn compassion for those who fail.
Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.
And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously.
Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.
Now, listen to how this general concludes this prayer and his poem:
Then, I, his father, will dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain.”
There isn’t a dad listening to us right now who doesn’t understand the heart of that general because you want to impart the DNA of life and a sense of direction to our boys; so, they aren’t caught off guard, but they live effective lives for Jesus Christ.
Bob: I think one of the things that causes dads to shrink back sometimes is that they lack confidence in their own direction. They’re not sure they are pointing in the right direction. That is one of the reasons, I think, your book is going to be so helpful for so many of us because it gives us a clear picture of what the path to manhood looks like, what authentic, biblical manhood is. Then, it takes us passed that to see that just being God’s man is not where things stop, but God has a design for us even beyond that.
I want to encourage our listeners. This week we are making your book available to those who can help support the ministry with a donation. All you have to do is go online to FamilyLifeToday.com. Make an online donation or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. When you do, you can request a copy of Dennis’s new book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood.
Right now, the book is not available in stores or on Amazon; so, the only place you can get a copy is from us here at FamilyLife Today. Again, go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Make an online donation. When you do, type the word “STEPUP,” all as one word in the key code box on the online donation form. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make a donation over the phone. Just ask for a copy of the book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood, by Dennis Rainey; and we’ll get it sent out to you.
If you’re interested in multiple copies of the book, either for a men’s group study or for whatever other reason you’re interested in ordering additional copies, you can find the details for how to purchase additional copies online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, tomorrow we’re going to talk about the transitional phase of adolescence that phase in between boyhood and manhood. Just how long should a young man stay in that phase? What does that look like to pass through it? We’ll talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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