Voddie Baucham’s new What He Must Be (Crossway, 2009) is a sound, pastoral, fatherly look at what boys must become to be leaders, husbands, and fathers. I would like to commend it to you.
Baucham, pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church of Spring, TX, and author of Family-Driven Faith, a book I liked very much, offers personal testimony to the importance of a father. He speaks honestly and directly to the epidemic of fatherlessness in the African-American community. For example, of the first cousins in his own family, “only eight of the twenty-three (35 percent) ever married. Five of the eight (63 percent) who married have been divorced. However, that number is a bit deceiving since one is deceased, one was widowed, and another is currently separated. Thus, only one of my twenty-three first cousins is currently married and living with her spouse. That represents less than one half of 1 percent!”
In light of such tragedy, Baucham commends the biblical model of the patriarch, the man of God whose personal strength extends to his family, his church, and his community. His call is gospel-centered; the text never devolves into moralizing. Throughout the book, Baucham mixes cultural commentary with biblical exegesis, offering the reader a clear, helpful, biblical guide on how we can train boys to be men of God. He seems a fun, kind, warm, strong, courageous man, just the kind we need.
Not all texts are so encouraging. Joel Schwartzberg, author of “The 40-Year-Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad”, shows us what we are up against in confronting the culture’s diminished, weightless, narcissistic version of masculinity. Schwartzberg has published a version of this piece in the April 13 print version of Newsweek–it’s online here and is called “Slouching Toward Fatherhood”.
Having had my first child born not too long ago, I’m well positioned to review the piece as the author reminisces about his experience as a first-time dad. Being a father or a mother for the first time is overwhelming, as most anyone can attest. Parenthood fundamentally reorients life and focus in a 180-degree direction. One no longer can focus on oneself; one now must focus on the child.
Schwartzberg covers what this is like:
“Nearly every night of the first few weeks of my son’s life, I’d click him into the back seat of our minivan and drive him around until he fell asleep. Like so many babies lulled by the humming of tires on pavement, the kid conked out in 10 minutes, but I’d continue on to the closest Dunkin’ Donuts with an all-night drive-thru window, nearly an hour away.
My wife and I made this arrangement to allow her some precious sleep, but as I volunteered for chauffeur duty again and again—each time coming home later and later—we both knew there was more going on than her exhaustion and my craving for doughnuts. In the parking lot, I would pray my son would stay asleep and not set my already-frayed nerves on fire. I’d cram those doughnuts into my mouth as if they were the last delicious things on earth.”
Soon, depression set in:
I fell into a well of depression so deep I wasn’t even aware of it. It was only years later, after I spoke to a psychotherapist, that I learned I was experiencing male postpartum depression….This was not what I expected from fatherhood. I was 31 and thought I’d slide into it easily. “What’s a little sleep deprivation?” parents-to-be tell themselves. We got through college, after all. But not 48 hours after we returned home with our boy, a truth dawned on me with shocking force: my life was gone. Movies, sleeping, long showers—all gone. We became slaves to this tiny new thing living in our home, and there was no going back.”
“I ceded nearly complete authority to my wife, then blamed both her and my son for my feelings of loss and insignificance. I took on every parental responsibility with sucked-up reluctance on the outside and contempt on the inside. My wife seemed to consider me selfish and irresponsible. She was tired, she’d say, of parenting both of us. Even when the bickering ended, the wounds never healed. Our marriage took a fatal hit.”
The author hit a breaking point:
“One day, I sat on the hardwood floor next to my son, both of us exhausted. My son started crying. Then I did, too. Actually, we bawled. I don’t know why he was crying, but I was mourning the loss of my life as I knew it. As messy as it was, that shared sob was our first moment of bonding, and it helped steer me toward responsibility.”
This is where things are currently:
“Eventually, my wife and I divorced, but our split actually enhanced my relationship with my kids. (We had twin girls after my son.) It forced me to locate my inner parent, the one who tells me when it’s OK to let my son stay up late, when it’s appropriate to be interrupted on the phone by a whining daughter and whether a tense situation calls for stern rules or just an all-out, friendly family wrestling match.”
The unbridled narcissism of this piece takes one’s breath away like a tackle from a 300-pound linebacker. Those in search of the purest self-focus need look no longer. We have found it: 100% pure, undiluted selfishness. The perfect specimen of irresponsibility, childishness, and excuse-making.
I understand, of course, what Schwartzberg means by this little article. I commend him for his honesty, and I’m quite aware that many who would not confess their immaturity this baldly nevertheless live by the same socially destructive creed. Children are tiring. They altogether change one’s life. They make it very hard to have fun at times. There’s truth to what the author says.
But manhood as traditionally understood–no, adulthood–is all about maturity and responsibility. It is about sacrifice. It is about hard work. One need not be a Christian to see this. Adulthood, with men leading the way, is about exchanging a self-directed life for an others-directed one. It involves trading small, easy pleasures for hard but hugely rewarding ones.
Schwartzberg and many others like him seem to have no concept of these basic facts. One pities his poor, suffering wife and his children. In the face of his “depression”, they lose. He wins. He gets to move out and do whatever he wants, while his wife raises three children, cooks their meals, cleans the house, and does the million other things a mom has to do. Quite a bargain for our liberated author!
Schwartzberg began a family, and he destroyed it. He is totally and completely to blame for this situation. It is all of his fault. Even apart from the Spirit, he is to be shamed for what he has done to his ex-wife and children. His actions are deplorable, and nothing can excuse them.
Even as we tremble with anger at examples like his–and they are legion today–we are reminded to pray for him and countless other men. Schwartzberg does not have the Holy Spirit. He does not know Jesus Christ. He desperately needs to, as we all do. We must pray for the Lord to rescue our society and reverse the crisis of fatherless and male abdication of traditional roles.
Above all, we must pray and work for the spread of the gospel so that sorrowful men like this one–and like all of us sinners, whatever our chief transgression against God may be–may find the only hope of the race: the gospel of Jesus Christ.