Answering Misconceptions about Maleness
By Tom Sirotnak
WHAT IS A REAL MAN? I frequently pose this question to campus audiences as I travel around the country. The standard responses fall into three categories:
1. Physical – Who’s the “Biggest” or “Toughest.”
2. Drinking – Measured by who can chug down a six-pack of beer the fastest.
3. Sexual – Who can “score” the most.
Others add that a real man is someone who does whatever he wants to do, or, a guy who has mastered financial independence. Answers such as these remind me of the proverbial couch potato who has overdosed on too many Rambo movies. None of the above qualities even remotely resembles the image of a true man.
The real standard of manhood is someone who will stand for the truth at all costs.*
I learned the truth of this by first doing the opposite. Striving to find acceptance through the world’s ways, I sought to fulfill the image of the rough, tough macho man.
A chubby, slow, uncoordinated youngster growing up, all I wanted was other kid’s approval. Though often jeered for my slow-footed ways, size worked to my advantage when I started putting my efforts into sports, particularly football. But my red-letter day during elementary school came when I took on the toughest kid in our class.
On the playground, I made this bully mad and he came running full speed in my direction. I didn’t stand up to him; he scared me to death.
When he swung at me, I ducked. His momentum sent him flying over me and as I stood up in the same motion, I caught him with my shoulder. The impact tossed him several feet in the air and he landed flat on his back. Getting up, he shuffled home crying.
Suddenly, I was the new school hero. Though my success was a fluke, I thought, “Hey, look at the acceptance I got through fighting this guy.”
Thus began a violent lifestyle, as I avidly pursued building up my body to become ultra-tough. I thought a man meant someone so physically intimidating that no one would mess with him.
Years later, when I arrived at the University of Southern California, I boasted a 20-inch neck, 20-inch arms and a 54-inch chest. Onlookers gaped when I bench pressed 470 pounds.
I used my physique to land a job as a bouncer in a bar, where I frequently got into brawls. When I got really mean, I rubbed men’s faces up against stucco walls or chain link fences.
I amazed people with my physical stunts. Three times I wrestled bears standing as tall as 7 feet, 4 inches, weighing 650 pounds. When I got drunk, I would knock over wooden stop signs by running into them head first.
I thought I was the ultimate man. One of the few “walk-ons” ever to play defensive tackle for USC, I eventually became team captain. I belonged to a great fraternity and was on my way to earning a marketing degree from one of the nation’s top business schools. Well-liked by my peers, they constantly invited me to parties. Once I won the beer-chugging contest by downing a 16-ounce can in 1.9 seconds.
But I felt empty inside. I did these things to win friends and gain attention. The truth? I felt very unfulfilled. My life was a cover-up for the deep insecurities, fear and failures that haunted me. I wanted to be a man, but I didn’t know how. Despite all my great exploits and campus status, inside I was bankrupt. There was a vacuum inside, one that only God could fill.
As time passed, the void grew wider trough a steady diet of lust, pornography and immoral relationships. I didn’t realize the nature of this sin strips a man of purpose and responsibility. This made me feel even more emasculated.
Ironically, while I was partying away my college years, I called myself a Christian and even belonged to a campus ministry. Finally, when USC made it to the Fiesta Bowl my Senior year in 1982, things began to change.
Upset over the hypocrisy and inconsistencies that plagued me, I wandered the streets of Phoenix and wound up in a Christian gathering. The speaker was former LA Ram and Hall of Fame member Rosey Grier. Seeing through my counterfeit faith, he challenged me to get the sin out of my life.
Rosey preached the next week at USC and introduced me to my current pastor, Phil Bonasso, and Rice Broocks, an evangelist who also spoke that night. Phil and Rice team-preached to me until I saw that I had never understood what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
I saw that Jesus was not 100% in control over every area of my life. From studies to athletics, work, social life and family, He must be “Lord of all or not at all.” That’s when I repented and God’s power changed me. The void in my life vanished. For the very first time, I felt like a whole person, a man.
So many people equate being a Christian with a weakling, a wimp. One night while I was peaching on a campus, a student yelled, “Jesus is a crutch!”
I replied, “You’re right. What’s yours? Alcohol? Women? Fame? We are all trusting in something. But will it support your lifestyle or lead you straight to hell? If Christianity is a crutch, then give me two. I desperately need Jesus to guide my life. Without Him, it was headed straight down the tubes. Where is your life headed?”
- I use the words “manhood” – “a true man” – and “maturity” as equivalent. A mature man will exhibit the character of Jesus Christ residing in him. The same truth is applicable to all people – male or female – a mature individual will stand for truth at all costs “until we … become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).