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That time my dad beat up the neighbor: a lesson in masculinity

When I was five years old, I was playing outside one day when a wild man in an old truck sped into our driveway and slammed on the breaks. Thank God my dad was there.

“Get your boy out here!” yelled the middle-aged man, who threatened to assault my 12-year-old brother, whom he accused of something. I couldn’t hear what the accusation was –all I knew was that the man was serious. As it turned out, however, my dad was more serious.

“I dare you to get out of that truck,” Dad said, “and I promise you’ll be sorry you did.”

The man threw open the door to his truck, got one foot out, and to his horror, my dad sprung towards him and kicked the door as hard as he could, crushing the man’s shin.

The man cried out in pain, but tried to get out of his truck again. My dad kicked the door closed on his leg a second time. The man cried out again, and in anguish, he gave up and drove away.

My brothers and I stood there in shock, our hearts racing, and felt a mix of terror and pride. We knew our dad would protect us, and knowing that shaped how we saw our role as men. I don’t think enough boys have that these days.

Too many boys are suffering the consequences of being in fatherless homes where nobody’s defining masculinity for them. So they walk through life, not knowing the purpose of their muscles, their sex drive or the natural aggression that comes with extra testosterone. These boys don’t know how to be close friends with other men, and they’re too weak to admit they aren’t always strong.

A boy needs a dad to teach him what to do with his strength. He needs to know that Dad is willing to throw a punch for his family, even if his dad might get beat up. He needs to walk in on Dad making out with Mom. He needs to hear his dad tell him to never, ever hit a woman. And he needs his dad to set the example of what the boy’s heavenly Father is really like.

A boy needs his dad affirm him as a man, like my dad did before he died three months ago. With only days to live, he spoke on the phone — barely above a whisper — and said with emotion, “I love you, Josh. You’re my beautiful soldier.” I’ll forever treasure those words because they remind me of the countless other times Dad verbally affirmed me, oftentimes with tears in his eyes.

We need to teach boys that their strength matters — that it’s a good thing and it has a purpose: to protect, not harm. If we had fathers around who did that, maybe boys would be less likely to abuse, bully or shoot up high schools. Maybe they would be more likely to want a wife and kids — people who need their protection.

Last night, I saw dad in my dream. We were walking together as I was pushing my baby boy in a stroller, but then a couple of vicious dogs ran up to attack my son.

I looked at Dad and asked him what I should do.

“Hit them in the face,” he said.

So I punched them over and over again until they backed down.

Their owner came up and was enraged that I had assaulted the dogs. The conversation got heated and I looked over at my dad, wanting him to jump in and help, but he didn’t even look at me. Somehow I knew why he refused to get involved.

It’s like I could hear him saying, “I’m not getting into this. It’s your job to protect him.” And I knew he was right, because I had seen him do the same thing for me.

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