(Edited by Presence Editors; original article appeared in Presence Family Magazine, October 2011, 3rd Issue)
Melvin Wong, Ph.D./Presence Editors
The reality that a man faces as an adult in marriage and family is quite unique and challenging, having no experience that prepares him to be a husband and father. Most men have to learn how to function in these roles on the job; however, some fail to live up to their responsibilities. I would like to address the cultural and psychological aspects of Manhood in marriage.
Here are some characteristics of a healthy family man:
A young boy does not have control over how his family treats him in the area of emotional and personal growth. But when he becomes a man, this growth will be his responsibility. How he goes about the completion of this growth depends on the priority he places on this and how hard he works to overcome weaknesses.
Unhealthy family-of-origin dynamics can be overcome with time. Good friends who are more mature can help as coaches or mentors and counselors. Healthy leaders who know how to balance family life and career success are good role models. Attending a healthy church, reading self-help books, and participating in groups that promote personal spiritual growth are also useful ways to broaden a man’s opportunities for maturity.
The family-of-origin issue was a negative factor in shaping my life as a boy, but it did not become the final determinant of my character as a man. I was expelled in fourth grade because of aggression; I threatened the little girl that I had a crush on. After that, I attended a Christian school, learned proper behavior, and eventually became a Christian. I learned from caring teachers who were also my role-models in exemplifying the characteristics of a loving marriage.
Most of a man’s challenges in life are found in how he faces the reality of pain. This is his willingness or courage to acknowledge suffering. When things don’t turn out the way he wants, what does he do? Most people will first protect themselves in externalizing responsibilities by blaming others or circumstances. To be vulnerable by looking inside themselves requires hard work. In fact, God allows us to go through pains or even mistakes so that we may learn from these experiences in the process of growth.
I was a spoiled child, but when I came to the US for my education, I was rejected and abandoned by my older sibling. This painful experience helped me change from expecting others to serve me to taking initiative to serve others. I also developed a deeper appreciation and empathy for people in pain.
Without the denial of pain, there is an ability to access a fuller spectrum of emotions. A man’s empathy skills improve as he matures and becomes more able to sense how to meet the emotional needs of his loved ones. This enriches the emotional/social competency of a man to effectively relate to his wife and children. He does not overreact emotionally, become inaccessible, or indifferent in times of pain.
In my own past, the second most devastating experience was getting over a romantic breakup as a college student. I had a painful, yet meaningful breakup when a close girlfriend of mine left the state and married someone else. This brought me many years of pain, but eventually with the help of the church and Bible studies, I was able to get through it. I have grown to understand my inner being more. I learned that love is not possessive and was set free to love and care for others without an expectation of repayment.
Good judgment and decisions are based on effective testing of reality. A mature man has a deep sense of justice. He treats others fairly, and the decisions he makes are unprejudiced. He is a team-player beginning at home with his own wife and children, extending to everyone.
My job as a therapist deals with helping people solve problems. I am always “on my toes,” so to speak, and I am not afraid of problem solving. Similar to training your muscles for a sporting event, the more you practice and train your decision-making skills, the better you are in making good judgments.
A mature man’s love is not possessive or selfish; people he loves will experience a sense of safety and growth. His wife feels his support even when they are in disagreement. His children understand that their father has their best interests at heart. He can listen to them intentionally, and he is interested in their lives. He will make occasional mistakes throughout life, but those are unintentional and rare. He can apologize and ask for forgiveness quickly and freely. He can learn from his mistakes and will very rarely make the same mistake twice.
Every man should strive for regeneration and renewal of the mind as taught in the Bible. By continually learning and growing, he will become an effective leader in his marriage and family, and he will learn to lead in his church and community. He will be the type of man found in 1 Timothy 3:2-12, serving the Lord and those around him with spiritual strength.
Dr. Melvin Wong is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in California. Dr. Wong had spoken at Presence on the topics of “Pastoral Care for People with Gender Issues,” “Communication with Teens” and “Internet Addiction” series. Workshop DVDs are available through Presence’s website.
Presence Quotient®, also known as Presence, is a Christian 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides tools and training to help individuals and families apply Christian and family values to their everyday lives.
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