What is a Good Man?
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Nathan Clarkson reflects on the first thirty years of his life as someone who is “different,” In his search to find his identity, Clarkson describes his journey to find out what a good man is and does.
What is a Good Man?
Bob: Nathan Clarkson grew up in a Christian home. Like a lot of young adults, he decided to see what life would be like apart from God.
Nathan: I always pretty much believed God was there. Of course, I've had my moments in the night, wondering; but it's been pretty consistent—I believed God is there. But I think, when it came to my prodigal years/when I first tasted independence, it tasted good. I started thinking, “I wonder what it would be like if I was king of my life?” in the decisions and being kind of outside the box. Being a kid, I wanted to say in my life: “I can do this; I can figure this out. I don't need this guidance.”
This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, November 11th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We'll hear today about Nathan Clarkson's prodigal years and about what led him to ultimately decide he wanted to be a good man. Stay tuned.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think we should put Dave on the spot to start off.
Dave: Noooooo; no.
Ann: Let's do it! I like these! [Laughter]
Bob: So here's my question for you: “Is there such a thing—
Dave: Okay; I'm done. [Laughter]
Bob: No, no, no.
Dave: The answer is “Yes, there is such a thing.”
Bob: —“such a thing as toxic masculinity?”
Dave: Hmmm; oh, boy.
Bob: Yes; see?
Dave: Why don't we just go deep? [Laughter]
Nathan: Jump straight in.
Dave: Yes; you know, I think my wife would answer that better than me.
Ann: I think, yes; I think there is such a thing.
Dave: In what way?
Ann: I think, when men dominate—and with their strength/their power, without loving and serving, and it becomes all about them—that is very toxic in my opinion.
Bob: You know, if you think about the verse that we all come back to in
1 Corinthians 16: 13-14, that says, “Be on the alert. Stand firm in the faith. Act like men. Be strong.”
Dave: “Do everything—
Dave: —“in love.”
Bob: So if love's not in the—
Ann: That's part—
Dave: —it can become toxic.
We want to talk today about what good masculinity is and look at it really—not from the lens of: “What does culture say it is?”—but “What does the Bible say it is?” This is something you've been passionate about for years.
Dave: Yes; I mean, when I saw this book title, Good Man, I'm like, “This is a book I want to read.” This is a book every man should read; I think women too. But it's like: “What is a good man?” Today, we get to talk about the definition.
Ann: You know, it's interesting—because I think women like to hear this. I was trying to think about it last night; I thought, “What is it in me, as a woman, that stirs me up about wanting this topic to be talked about?” What do you guys think?
Bob: I think there's something in all of us that wants to see men be good men; and then, when we see it, we're drawn to that.
Nathan Clarkson's joining us because he wrote the book.
Dave: He must be a good man!
Nathan: I wrote the book on it; yes. [Laughter] No pressure!
Dave: You wrote the book! [Laughter]
Bob: Nathan, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Nathan: Well, thank you for having me. I'm honored to be here.
Bob: Nathan is an author; he is a filmmaker; he is an artist; a poet, a—it says here—“a full-time wanna-be philosopher”?—
Nathan: Oh, yes.
Bob: —a musician. We should also acknowledge that you are the son of a famous writer.
Nathan: I am.
Bob: Yes; tell us about your mom.
Nathan: Yes; Sally Clarkson—some of you may know her—I know her as mom. She has written a lot of books on family, and motherhood, and women's issues. I was really blessed to grow up in a family in which giving kids a godly legacy was a focus point.
Dave: You wrote a book together with her; right?
Nathan: I did; my first foray into authoring was a book called Different. It was about—you know, I grew up with mental illness and learning disabilities. She was the mom
of a very outside-the-box kid. It was our story, and it was told from two perspectives: what it's like to be a kid, with mental illness, and learning disabilities, and an out-of-the-box personality; and what it's like to be a mom of a different kind of kid.
Ann: I think the thing that struck me the most, as I was watching an interview with the two of you, was she said, “Nathan is one of my very best friends.” Did you feel that, growing up?—that she really loved being with you?
Nathan: Yes, I—you know, today, she's still one of my very best friends. We talk all the time.
Ann: Really; so that's reciprocal.
Nathan: Oh, absolutely; yes. There was a very, you know, obviously there was a mother-and-son relationship: she was my guide; she taught and shaped me; but there was—she saw me as a person. She listened to me and she knew my heart, because she saw me as someone created by God, with insight and calling. That was kind of how we were raised; we were people to be connected with.
Bob: Your musings in this book on: “What does it mean to be a good man?”—to wrestle with: “Is there such a thing as toxic masculinity?” “What is masculinity?” “What am I supposed to be as a man?”—but all of that is birthed out of your own story and what you've already talked about. Take us into the first 30 years of your life and what shaped the foundation for you to even be grappling with this subject.
Nathan: You know, that first 30 years of my life—well, I'll start at the beginning. [Laughter] Yes, you know a little bit of my origin story/my family. I was always given this vision for God. I was introduced to God in a very real way—it wasn't a set of rules; it wasn't a tradition for me—I was introduced to God as a person/a relationship. Belief was never a huge issue for me; it was something—God was very real in my
home—but following Him was a different matter.
And you know, of course, being a young kid, with a lot of eyes on me—my dad being a pastor for a time/my mom being a popular Christian writer and speaker—growing up in that, I had the understanding of God; but there were times in my life when I challenged if I wanted to be a part of the movement of following Jesus—if it really was beneficial/if that's what I wanted to do.
I wanted to try out being the king of my own life. You know, I did deal with mental illness, and learning disabilities, and feeling different, and outside the box; and so—
Bob: Can you explain? I mean, people hear—“mental illness and learning disabilities”—what were you dealing with?
Nathan: Absolutely; yes. It's a whole list as far as learning disabilities: dyslexia and ADHD. I would ask the questions, and I would continue with the “Why?”—“Well, why?” “Why?” “Why?” “Why keep on going?” I think that was really hard for teachers. I would be the one who would talk a lot, because I had so many thoughts going on in my head. I'd be the one who would tell jokes and want to be funny. You know, these are all innocent good things; but in a setting in which you have to conform, that was really hard for me; and obviously, hard for those teachers—so ended up getting in trouble often.
You find that you start feeling like you're inherently bad—that there's something wrong with you, even though a lot of those personality traits are just that—personality traits. That was hard for me as a kid. You know, my sister once said about me, “Nathan gets in trouble for saying the things that we're all thinking.” [Laughter] That's kind of been the story of my life. I felt, very often—again, from external forces in my life; not from my family, which I'm very lucky; I can't imagine kids who have felt that—but that there was something wrong with me/inherently wrong.
I was dealing, from a young age, with a very severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, which had an incredibly big impact on my life and still does. Through years of counseling and practice, it's been something—now, that I control as opposed to controlling me—but as a kid, especially as an adolescent, going through that growing-up phase kid, it was something that plagued me every day—my thoughts.
Bob: What did that look like? How did that manifest itself for you?
Nathan: Essentially for me—it looks different in every journey/in every person—but for me, it was an inability to control my thoughts: it would be thoughts I don't want; it would be thoughts that would cause me guilt and shame. It would be nonstop; so I'd have this cloud of darkness, which pretty soon introduced me to experiencing pretty severe depression, early on, as a kid.
That's something that I have fought with, again, for the rest of my life. A lot of those are because of external factors—sad, hard things have happened in my life—and a lot of those are internal, with imbalances in how I was created and living in a broken world. All those things added up to a kid, who really wanted to be a good man; I was inspired by stories as a kid.
Dave: Now here's a question before we get any further is: “What did your mom or dad do with you, as a child?” because I'm—there's moms and dads, listening right now, saying, “This is my daughter…” “This is my son. I'm not sure…” What did they do? What was helpful?
Nathan: I think, for me, it was the most helpful thing—is my parents looked at me as a unique creation by God, not something to fit a mold that they had preconceived. They didn't expect me to be my brother; they didn't expect me to be my sister, or my sister or my brother to be me. They saw me as a uniquely-created being, with my own individual
Interests, and desires, and personality. Being able to be an individual, and one who is celebrated for the differences I had in my life—one who was both celebrated and guided. I'm not saying: “Just hands off; let them do whatever they want”; but I was guided and celebrated for the differences in my life.
That had an impact on me that lasts to this day—that I can live into the unique creation that God created me to be. I don't have to look like something else; I don't have to be someone else; God has created me uniquely and intentionally for a purpose. With that message given to me, even as a young child, has affected how I live my entire life today.
Dave: That's beautiful.
Ann: It's inspiring. I think, as parents—because we have a son that has ADD—and it's gut-wrenching, as a parent, to watch a child struggle, and to watch a child feel different, and to see them struggle in school and be in trouble, and have teachers say things. I would almost guarantee that your parents were seeking God's wisdom continually.
Ann: Every time I would go to God, like, “Father, what do You see? What's going on with this son?” And every time, I would feel God rejoicing over him and “Isn't he remarkable?” when the world may not say he's remarkable, because he's not fitting into their mold or their box. I think God is relishing who He created, like: “Look at him. Look at the unique differences in him. Isn't he fascinating?”
Bob: Have you gone back and debriefed with them about what it was like raising you when you were 15 or 17, and had them process that with you?
Nathan: Oh yes; oh, yes. We definitely have. We look back; I think we're all happy that I made it through those years. [Laughter] We're on the other side; we can look back and laugh.
If there's another thing I was going to add to why I was so lucky to be in my family, and what really had a positive effect on me, was also communication. I was allowed to express my heart; and we're still communicating, and laughing, and talking; but I was allowed to express what I was thinking/what I was dealing with—the doubts I had/the struggles I was having.
Even as a teenager, when I would get in trouble and do things—you know, I can't say on air—I had the ability to call my parents and say, “I'm in trouble. I did something. I messed up,” and know I was going to be met, both, with grace and guidance. I think those two things are very influential and important when raising a kid.
Ann: What did that look like? When you would sit at the table—and you would press against, maybe, some of their values or, you know, some of the things that they were living and preaching—what did that look like?—those conversations.
Nathan: It looks like them taking what I was thinking and feeling seriously, and pushing back like an adult. I was seen as someone, who could have my own ideas; and if I was going to have my own ideas, I needed to defend them. But I wasn't punished for them; I wasn't looked at as a lesser person because I was struggling, or thinking, or doubting, or thinking something new.
Even today, my family and I sit around the table and still argue into the night with each other about theology and politics—[Laughter]—what have you. But at the heart of it, we all know that we're all thinking—and respect each other—and we are all meeting on the ground of respecting the other person and knowing that they are thinking and trying to figure this out too.
Bob: I know we're kind of not yet to your book, but I'm curious about the prodigal years. What spun you out and what brought you back?
Nathan: You know, it's interesting being raised in a Christian family/in the Christian culture. I think you can become used to God; I got used to the movements of youth group and church. I got used to the talk. I always pretty much believed God was there. Of course, I've had my moments in the night, wondering; but it's been pretty consistent—I've believed God is there.
I think, when it came to my prodigal years/when I first tasted independence, it tasted good. I started thinking, “I wonder what it would be like if I was the king of my life and the decisions?” Being kind of an “outside the box” and independent kid, I wanted to say in my life, “I can do this; I can figure this out. I don't need this guidance.” You know, there were many years in my life in which—I am an independent person; I learned to be independent through a lot of the things I dealt with. That led me to wanting to make my own independent decisions when it came to God and His way as well.
Very often, I think we all know how prodigal decisions and choices away from God look and where it ends up; but I was lucky enough to—in my prodigal decisions/in my destructive choices—have places that invited me back into God's grace and truth.
Bob: And the coming home? Was it a point in time or was it gradual?
Nathan: I think the coming home has been about a thousand times over the past
30 years. [Laughter] You know, the story envisions the son leaving and coming home once. I think I have left and come home, and left and come home, and left and come home; but I always come home. I think that's a testament to the God I was introduced to in my family.
Dave: You know, one of the things you said earlier was this beautiful statement of your identity in Christ. I don't know if you even remember saying it, but it's throughout your book as well. How did that realization come to be for you? Because I'm guessing you didn't always understand who you were, as a child of God, the way you stated earlier, especially in the prodigal years.
What led you to a place, where you understand a good man identity in Christ? It just hit me when you said that: “Man, not too many people articulate they're image bearers of Christ like you did.” I'm guessing that was a journey.
Nathan: Absolutely. I keep on looking at my walk, and most everyone's walk, and I realize that God is a God of process. It's a process that continues over a long period of time, and so it was definitely an image and identity that I've learned to accept and learned to grow in.
I think for me, as a creator—someone who loves to write, and create, and put things together—I realized, as I'm going through Scripture, very often at the low points in my life when it's the only thing I have to turn to, I see that God is—you know, we hear Him referred to as our Father, which He is; we hear Him referred to in a lot of different ways; but He's our Creator, meaning we were designed. If we are created and designed, we are created and designed with purpose. The realization that I had a purpose on my life/that I was created for a reason to be something—that I'm not here randomly—that I'm here because a Creator and Artist said, “I want this to exist; I'm going to create it intentionally.”
I think that has always brought me back to the question: “Okay; I am created by a Creator; what am I created for?” I think that's where I start and I have/I try to return to when I get lost—when searching for my identity in Christ—“What was I created for? I was created by Him, for something.”
Dave: Part of that journey, obviously, was: “I want to find out what a man is—a good man.” Tell us about the journey: “How did you start that journey?” “How did you end up writing this book?” “What's behind that whole thing?”
Nathan: Well, I think/you know, in my first chapter, I talk about this intrinsic desire on every little boy's heart. I tell a story about the first time I saw my first PG-13 movie—was Lord of the Rings. I, after that, wanted to be Aragorn; I wanted to be the characters in this story. Previous to that, I wanted to be Superman. I had all these ideas in my mind of who I wanted to be. I had, from a very young age, a desire to be something great—to be a hero.
I think that desire to be something great and good is natural and intrinsic, and it's God-given. I think, when I look back and I wanted to be a hero—whether in Lord of the Rings or Superman—whatever it was, I think that desire still lives in me today and lives in all men—that we want to do something great; we want to do something good; we want to have a positive effect on the world.
But somewhere along the way—be it culture, be it circumstance, be it life—we stop listening to that little voice in us that says, “You can be something great. You can do something with your life; your life can have purpose.” We fall into what culture tells us we are, and we fall into just life and hardness. We let that little voice be overshadowed and out-talked by a hard and broken world.
For me, I look back and I want to capture that voice that says: “You can do something; you can be something,”—that desire to be a good man. I had that desire as a kid; right?—I had that—and as I grow up, like I was talking about the dark and hard world has quieted that voice often/muffled it. Often, I find myself in places where I go, “This is not the man I envisioned/that I wanted to be. This is not a heroic place to be. This is not the vision I had in my head.” I want to return to that initial desire that I think is intrinsic on every man's heart—to be something good.
I think a lot of men, in culture today, have forgotten that voice—or they just don't care anymore—and I don't want to be one of those men. I want to be one who remembers I was created for a purpose by God.
Dave: You know, you mentioned going to a movie. I wonder—Bob, is this true for you?—because it is for me and, obviously, for you [Nathan]—you know, movies stir something in the soul of a man. I'm guessing—
Bob: You're talking to a filmmaker/an actor here; he loves this. [Laughter]
Dave: I mean, the joke in our house with my buddies is: “Dave cries at movies; doesn't cry in real life.” [Laughter] I cry at every movie—every movie. Even—I mean, this is a joke in our family—but we went on a mission trip years ago. We're flying back, and we're watching. You know, we're sitting there in our little seat. My son, Cody, is—how old?
Ann: He was about 14.
Dave: He's sitting beside me, you know, flying home from this mission trip.
Ann: Costa Rica.
Dave: And I have my little movie on in my little plane seat.
Ann: It was Firehouse Dog.
Dave: I'm watching the dumbest movie you've ever seen in your life; it’s ridiculous. [Laughter] I don't even know why I watched it.
Nathan: It sounds good.
Dave: Some dog that was in the firehouse that got lost and they had to go find him.
Ann: I think you liked it.
Dave: Cody looks over and he goes, “Are you crying at Firehouse Dog?” I'm like, “Yes; it's tender.” It's the biggest joke ever; it's like: “Dad cried at Firehouse Dog.” [Laughter]
Ann: —because he doesn't cry in real life.
Dave: But—but the question is: “Bob, do you cry at movies?”
Bob: Yes; yes, I do.
Dave: Yes; what is it? Because, again, I know women cry anyway—
Ann: I can't wait for you to answer this, because I've been asking this for years. [Laughter]
Dave: I think Nathan, you just hit it—at least, in my/and again, a limited layman's perspective—but there's story and there's a stirring. In any movie, there's a tension and there's a journey.
Dave: And I think there's something in the soul of a man that wants to take that journey; right?
Nathan: I think you're absolutely right. I think we are intrinsically story-oriented people. You look at God—He shared His Word through Scripture through a story—look at the story of Israel. And then you have Jesus come in the world, and the way He shares truth is through stories; He shares parables.
I think there's something intrinsic to humanity—that inside of each of us—that responds to stories. We want to live in a great story; we want to be a character in a great story. It's unfortunate that many of us have forgotten that.
Ann: Let me ask: “What happens to a man that makes him lose that drive to want to?” because everyone wants to live in that story. How do you get lost?
Dave: Yes; my thought was—and Nathan's the author, so the expert needs to answer—my first thought was: I remember, in college football, we would go out. The football team/we stayed in a hotel on Saturday nights, and we'd always go to a movie. Every Saturday night, before a home game, go to a movie. I'd walk out of that theater, every time, in tears; and I want to be that guy—
Dave: —you know, the hero of the movie—I want to be that guy. And then, when you get into life, you fall short.
Dave: You're inspired, but life is hard.
I think the journey of a real man/a good man is to live the movie—
Dave: —not to be the hero—but I'm going to be my wife's man.
Dave: I'm going to be my son and daughter’s man. That's hard; and that requires: “What does that look like?” It's easy to see the story on a screen, but to walk out and live that is the tension and struggle of being a man. I think that's what God put in us: “You can be that man.” God made you to be that man, but you're going to have to take steps to do it. You write in your book: “These are the steps; this is what it looks like.”
Dave: It's better than a movie; it's real life. I don't know what Bob would say.
Bob: I think you're there: I think we are inspired; we fall short. And no guy likes to keep playing a game that he's not good at. [Laughter] So, if everyday you're trying to be this guy—and you just go, “I'm not that,”—you give up after a while.
Ann: Ah, it's so hard as a wife.
Dave: Well, it's hard when the wife says, “You're not that,” too.
Ann: Well, I was—
Dave: Not that my wife has every said that.
Nathan: I just got married, so I'm pretty good right now. [Laughter]
Ann: But I'm saying that we, as women—as wives and moms—we see it in our men: we see the greatness, but we also see the discouragement. So then, we're trying to do everything we can to get them to live out that role. That's what you're saying: “Sometimes it doesn't come out as encouragement.” [Laughter]
Bob: Well, and this is where—to have somebody paint a picture for you—like what you've done in the book, Nathan, is so helpful for a guy to be able to say: “Okay; I can lean into that; I can do that,” “Draw me a picture; show me what to do, and point me in the right direction.” Nathan's done that in the book, Good Man: An Honest Journey into Discovering Who Men Were Actually Created to Be. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy of Nathan's book. Maybe get a number of copies and do this as a small group with other guys. Again, the title of the book is Good Man by Nathan Clarkson. Order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number.
Of course, keep in mind, we helped produce a video series, a few years ago, called Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood®, based on Dennis Rainey's book by the same name. That video series is available for guys to go through as well. If you're looking for something to get together with a group of guys—lock arms and say, “Let's be the men God has called us to be,”—get a copy of Nathan's book; find out more about the video series, Stepping Up. Again, all of the information you need is available at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Speaking of small groups—and I know small groups are a little tricky right now, because some groups are getting together in socially-distanced ways; other groups are meeting, virtually, online—the new video series we've put together, Love Like You Mean It, based on the book I wrote from 1 Corinthians 13—the response to that book is what led us to put this ten-part video series together for couples to go through with other couples, so that you can get a better understanding of what real love is supposed to look like in a marriage relationship.
We've got some sample video available for you, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can find out more about how your group can engage in this study; go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com for more information. Find out how to order the DVDs and the workbooks or how to stream the video series online. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the new Love Like You Mean It video series for couples, all based on 1 Corinthians 13. Again, the information is at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call if you have any questions: 1-800-”F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we're going to talk more about what real manhood looks like and about some of the traps that are out there for guys, that we've got to be careful to avoid. Nathan Clarkson joins us, again, tomorrow. I hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today.
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