3 Ways Men Need to Be Men

There are three desires I find written so deeply into my heart I know now I can no longer disregard them without losing my soul. They are core to who and what I am and yearn to be. I gaze into boyhood, I search the pages of literature, I listen carefully to many, many men, and I am convinced these desires are universal, a clue into masculinity itself. They may be misplaced, forgotten, or misdirected, but in the heart of every man is a desperate desire for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. I want you to think of the films men love, the things they do with their free time, and especially the aspirations of little boys and see if I am not right on this.


There’s a photo on my wall of a little boy about five years old, with a crew cut, big cheeks, and an impish grin. It’s an old photograph, and the color is fading, but the image is timeless. It’s Christmas morning, 1964, and I’ve just opened what may have been the best present any boy received on any Christmas ever-a set of two pearl-handed six-shooters, complete with black leather holsters, a red cowboy shirt with two wild mustangs embroidered on either breast, shiny black boots, red bandanna, and straw hat. I’ve donned the outfit and won’t take it off for weeks because, you see, this is not a “costume” at all; it’s an identity. Sure, one pant leg is tucked into my boot and the other is hanging out, but that only adds to my “fresh off the trail” persona. My thumbs are tucked inside my gun belt and my chest is out because I am armed and dangerous. Bad guys beware: This town’s not big enough for the both of us.

Capes and swords, camouflage, bandanas and six-shooters—these are the uniforms of boyhood. Little boys yearn to know they are powerful, they are dangerous, and they are someone to be reckoned with. How many parents have tried in vain to prevent little Timmy from playing with guns? Give it up. If you do not supply a boy with weapons, he will make them from whatever materials are at hand. My boys chew their graham crackers into the shape of hand guns at the breakfast table. Every stick or fallen branch is a spear, or better, a bazooka. Despite what many modern educators would say, this is not a psychological disturbance brought on by violent television or chemical imbalance. Aggression is part of the masculine design; we are hardwired for it. If we believe that man is made in the image of God, then we would do well to remember that “the Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name” (Ex. 15:3).

Little girls do not invent games where large numbers of people die, where bloodshed is a prerequisite for having fun. Hockey, for example, was not a feminine creation. Nor was boxing. A boy wants to attack something—and so does a man, even if it’s only a little white ball on a tee. He wants to whack it into kingdom come. On the other hand, my boys do not sit down to tea parties. They do not call their friends on the phone to talk about relationships. They grow bored of games that have no element of danger or competition or bloodshed. Cooperative games based on “relational interdependence” are complete nonsense. “No one is killed?” they ask, incredulous. “No one wins? What’s the point?” The universal nature of this ought to have convinced us by now: The boy is a warrior; the boy is his name. And those are not boyish antics he is doing. When boys play at war they are rehearsing their part in a much bigger drama. One day, you just might need that boy to defend you.

Now, this longing may have submerged from years of neglect, and a man may not feel that he is up to the battles he knows await him. Or it may have taken a very dark turn, as it has with inner-city gangs. But the desire is there. Every man wants to play the hero. Every man needs to know that he is powerful. Women didn’t make Braveheart one of the best-selling films of the decade. Flying Tigers, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Magnificent Seven, Shane, High Noon, Saving Private Ryan, Top Gun, the Die Hard films, Gladiator—the movies a man loves reveal what his heart longs for, what is set inside him from the day of his birth.

Like it or not, there is something fierce in the heart of every man.


“My mother loves to go to Europe on her vacations.” We were talking about our love of the West, a friend and I, and why he moved out here from the East Coast. “And that’s okay for her, I guess. There’s a lot of culture there. But I need wildness.” Our conversation was stirred by the film Legends of the Fall, the story of three young men coming of age in the early 1900s on their father’s ranch in Montana. Alfred, the eldest, is practical, pragmatic, and cautious. He heads off to the Big City to become a businessman and eventually, a politician. Yet something inside him dies. He becomes a hollow man. Samuel, the youngest, is still a boy in many ways, a tender child-literate, sensitive, and timid. He is killed early in the film and we know he was not ready for battle.

Then there is Tristan, the middle son. He is wild at heart. It is Tristan who embodies the West—he catches and breaks the wild stallion, fights the grizzly with a knife, and wins the beautiful woman. I have yet to meet a man who wants to be Alfred or Samuel. I’ve yet to meet a woman who wants to marry one. There’s a reason the American cowboy has taken on mythic proportions. He embodies a yearning every man knows from very young—to “go West,” to find a place where he can be all he knows he was meant to be. To borrow Walter Brueggeman’s description of God: “wild, dangerous, unfettered and free.”

Now, let me stop for a moment and make something clear. I am no great white hunter. I have no dead animals adorning the walls of my house. I didn’t play college football. In fact, in college I weighed 135 pounds and wasn’t much of an athlete. Despite my childhood dreams, I have never been a race car driver or a fighter pilot. I have no interest in televised sports, I don’t like cheap beer, and though I do drive an old jeep its tires are not ridiculously large. I say this because I anticipate that many readers—good men and women—will be tempted to dismiss this as some sort of macho-man pep rally. Not at all. I am simply searching, as many men (and hopeful women) are, for an authentic masculinity.

When winter fails to provide an adequate snow base, my boys bring their sleds in the house and ride them down the stairs. Just the other day, my wife found them with a rope out their second-story bedroom window, preparing to rappel down the side of the house. The recipe for fun is pretty simple raising boys: Add to any activity an element of danger, stir in a little exploration, add a dash of destruction, and you’ve got yourself a winner. The way they ski is a perfect example. Get to the top of the highest run, point your skis straight downhill and go, the faster the better. And this doesn’t end with age; the stakes simply get higher.

A judge in his sixties, a real southern gentleman with a pinstriped suit and an elegant manner of speech, pulled me aside during a conference. Quietly, almost apologetically, he spoke of his love for sailing, for the open sea, and how he and a buddy eventually built their own boat. Then came a twinkle in his eye. “We were sailing off the coast of Bermuda a few years ago, when we were hit by a northeaster (a raging storm). Really, it came up out of nowhere. Twenty-foot swells in a thirty-foot homemade boat. I thought we were all going to die.” A pause for dramatic effect, and then he confessed, “It was the best time of my life.”

But you can’t escape it-there is something wild in the heart of every man.


Romeo has his Juliet, King Arthur fights for Guinevere, Robin rescues Maid Marian, and I will never forget the first time I kissed my grade school sweetheart. It was in the fall of my seventh-grade year. I met Debbie in drama class, and fell absolutely head over heels. It was classic puppy love:  I’d wait for her after rehearsals were over, carry her books back to her locker. We passed notes in class, talked on the phone at night. I had never paid girls much attention, really, until now. This desire awakens a bit later in a boy’s journey to manhood, but when it does his universe turns on its head. Anyway, I longed to kiss her but just couldn’t work up the courage—until the last night of the school play. The next day was summer vacation, she was going away, and I knew it was now or never. Backstage, in the dark, I slipped her a quick kiss and she returned a longer one. Do you remember the scene from the movie E.T., where the boy flies across the moon on his bike? Though I rode my little Schwinn home that night, I’m certain I never touched the ground.

There is nothing so inspiring to a man as a beautiful woman. She’ll make you want to charge the castle, slay the giant, leap across the parapets. Or maybe, hit a home run. One day during a Little League game, my son Samuel was so inspired. He likes baseball, but most boys starting out aren’t sure they really have it in them to be a great player. Sam’s our firstborn, and like so many firstborns he is cautious. He always lets a few pitches go by before he takes a swing, and when he does, it’s never a full swing; every one of his hits up till this point were in the infield. Anyway, just as Sam steps up to bat this one afternoon, his friend from down the street, a cute little blonde girl, shows up along the first-base line. Standing up on tiptoe she yells out his name and waves to Sam. Pretending he doesn’t notice her, he broadens his stance, grips the bat a little tighter, looks at the pitcher with something fierce in his eye. First one over the plate he knocks into center field.

A man wants to be the hero to the beauty. Young men going off to war carry a photo of their sweetheart in their wallet. Men who fly combat missions will paint a beauty on the side of their aircraft; the crews of the WWII B-17 bomber gave those flying fortresses names like Me and My Gal or the Memphis Belle. What would Robin Hood or King Arthur be without the woman they love? Lonely men fighting lonely battles. Indiana Jones and James Bond just wouldn’t be the same without a beauty at their side, and inevitably they must fight for her. You see, it’s not just that a man needs a battle to fight; he needs someone to fight for. Remember Nehemiah’s words to the few brave souls defending a wall-less Jerusalem? “Don’t be afraid . . . fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” The battle itself is never enough; a man yearns for romance. It’s not enough to be a hero; it’s that he is a hero to someone in particular, to the woman he loves. Adam was given the wind and the sea, the horse and the hawk, but as God himself said, things were just not right until there was Eve.

Yes, there is something passionate in the heart of every man.

Taken with permission from Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul by John Eldredge.