Douglas Wilson has written thoughtfully about marriage and family in the past and his newest book, Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families (Thomas Nelson, 2012), tackles such weighty subjects as masculinity, marriage, fatherhood, and authority. I am gleaning from excerpts compiled by Tony Reinke in “20 Quotes from Father Hunger”.
Wilson’s definition of masculinity is surely counter-cultural. Simply put, he defines masculinity as “the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility.”
He asserts that a “man who assumes responsibility is learning masculinity, and a culture that encourages men to take responsibility is a culture that is a friend to masculinity. When a culture outlaws masculinity, they soon learn that such outlaws are a terrible bane to them, instruments that destroy civilization with their mutant forms of masculinity. Every society needs masculine toughness, but it needs a toughness that lives and thrives and is honored within the boundaries of the law. And if we want this kind of toughness in the men, we have to teach it to the boys, and cultivate it in them. Like a concrete foundation, masculine toughness has to lie underneath masculine tenderness. (51–52) When masculinity is not taught and disciplined, boys grow up thinking that it means selfishness instead of sacrifice.” (53–54)
This concept of masculine toughness reflects that glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility. Lest the reader fails to apply this to life’s biggest decisions, Wilson drives the idea home by stating, “A man who takes a woman to the altar is going there to die to himself.” (126) This sacrificial view of masculinity necessarily redefines the concept of authority. “Authority flows to those who take responsibility. Taking responsibility is the foundation of all true authority. This means that reestablishing authority is accomplished by taking responsibility. (208)
This strong but safe masculine authority is fully aware of his responsibilities in all his spheres of influence including his call to fatherhood. “What are fathers called to?” he asks. “Fathers give. Fathers protect. Fathers bestow. Fathers yearn and long for the good of their children. Fathers delight. Fathers sacrifice. Fathers are jovial and open-handed. Fathers create abundance, and if lean times come they take the leanest portion themselves and create a sense of gratitude and abundance for the rest. Fathers love birthdays and Christmas because it provides them with yet another excuse to give some more to the kids.”
But the masculine man is no mere Santa-figure. He knows his authority is a call to other forms of responsibility. “When fathers say no, as good fathers do from time to time, it is only because they are giving a more subtle gift, one that is a bit more complicated than a cookie. They must also include among their gifts things like self-control and discipline and a work ethic, but they are giving these things, not taking something else away just for the sake of taking. Fathers are not looking for excuses to say no. Their default mode is not no.” (158–159)
Men may wish to embrace this type of masculinity, but lack a model or mentor; women may wish to find such a masculine man who exhibits sacrificial responsibility, but they’ve never seen it from the men in their lives. To these, Wilson shares his own father’s advice. “Suppose that someone is converted to the Christian faith, and he wants to be a good husband and father. He thinks of it as a good thing, and so he is all for it. The only problem is that his father ditched when he was only two, and he doesn’t have a good grasp of what fatherhood is even supposed to look like. My father has often told young men and women in this kind of position to read through the gospel of John, taking special note of everything that is said about God the Father. We learn what tangible fathers are supposed to be like by looking to the intangible Father. And we look to Him by looking at Jesus, the one who brings us to the Father.” (200)
It is God’s good pleasure to split his image into two genders. It is also his good pleasure to place his creatures in families. Although almost any man can become a husband or a father, it is by the Holy Spirit that men are directed to their proper, God-given purposes of masculinity, responsibility, authority, and sacrifice.