“I am a man and I need to provide for my family, Kelly.” These are the words that I heard from not one husband but numerous. From a man who was out of work and struggling to find it and also from someone who was working but unhappy. Both of their feelings were the same and yet both of their struggles were very real as well. It’s a feeling that you are less than a man if you cannot provide for your family.
For John (not his real name) he had a job that provided financially for his family but he never saw them. His job required him to work 6 days a week and when factoring in traveling hours there and back they were 15 hour days. The money was good the health benefits were great but his family life was struggling. Working long hours meant not being home for breakfast or dinner. It meant missing activities and more often than not it meant coming home when the family was in bed. He had enough time to crawl into bed, kiss his wife, and then roll over to sleep only to start it over again in 7 hours. As I sat across from him on one of his few days off, his struggle was that he desperately missed his family time. When I asked him to quit and find a new job he shook his head. “I can’t do that.” I pressed him, “Do you have funds saved up to allow you to quit working while you search? Would you guys be OK if you were unemployed while you looked for a better job?” His answer said it all, “Yes, of course. We have money saved up and we can swing it for a bit but I can’t Kelly. As a man I have to work and provide for my family.”
For Ken (not his real name) it was a matter of struggling to find a job. He had skills and abilities but the market wasn’t in a good place for someone with his skillset. As I sat across from him at a local coffee shop I asked him what he was doing with his time while NOT looking for his job. “I am able to help my wife out with her job, and do errands for the family. My wife has a very stressful job and so I have taken her lunch, out to lunch, and helped out there and at home where needed.” My response to Ken was, “That’s great! I’m sure your wife appreciates that.” “She does, but Kelly, as man I need to provide for my family – this is not providing for my family.”
I remember my own father being unemployed for a while. Looking for jobs, finding one and taking it only to realize it’s not what you thought and thus quitting had to have been hard. As a male I want to know that my occupation brings in enough for us to survive and if it doesn’t then I want to be able to fix it. Men are seen as “providers” and if we are not providing then we are obviously not a man. Right? Our masculinity is tethered and dependent on our ability to work, bring home money, and pay the bills. And if any one of those is not taking place then I might as well hand in my man-card (if there ever was such one).
Society proclaims that men must be strong, courageous, and providers. And as you look around in scripture you’ll be hard-pressed to find any that back up this thinking. Nowhere do we read in the Bible that being a man means I work, bring home money, and put food on the table. Teaching your children to listen to the wisdom and teaching of their mother? Yup, Proverbs 1:8-9. Remaining pure in thought and actions? Yup, Psalm 119:9-16 has some great advice. Being in healthy Godly relationships with other men so you can learn and share and encourage one another? Yup, Proverbs 27:17. Pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness? 1 Timothy 6:11 has those words! But working long hours and not being home? Making tons of money but being extremely unhappy? Being unemployed and feeling worthless not like a “man” because you can’t find a job? Where is THAT in Scripture?
Yes, our “man” card should say that we provide for our family but do not get stuck on the job aspect of it. “Providing” simply means giving what is needed. Things like love, joy, laughter, and encouragement. Providing means I help out with homework, help make dinner, and do the laundry. To “provide” means to give what is needed. Is being able to provide financially for your family needed? Absolutely, but never should we think that this is the only thing we do or SHOULD do. John provided financially but failed at providing emotional support or any help around the house. Working long hours brought money home but didn’t help out with chores, or make dinner, or do the dishes. Ken wasn’t able to provide financially but he was able to emotionally support his wife, spend time with her, and do numerous tasks that needed to be done. Tasks that provided much needed support and encouragement to his family.
Maybe we need to take man-cards away until us men can prove that we are more than our jobs, more than our pay, and more than the hours we work. Maybe we should get the card when we prove that we’ve learned that being a man and providing simply means being available doing anything and everything for the family. Maybe we need a checklist on our man-card that reminds us to love our family and tell them that daily. Maybe our man-card checklist would have (for those that are applicable):
- Do something kind for your wife today
- Do something kind for our kids today
- Spend time listening and engaging with your children
- Help do the dishes
- Help do the laundry
- Help make lunches for your kids
- If your spouse works, help make her work day easier
- Be present
- Go to your kids’ sporting events
- Do something kind for your neighbor
- Do another thing kind for your neighbor
- Teach your kids about Jesus
- Show your kids Jesus
- Read to your children from the Bible and other books
- Cry at sappy movies
- Give to the needy
- Encourage your kids to be whomever they want and help them achieve it.
- Pray with your kids
- Pray with your wife.
- Forget EVERYTHING SOCIETY SAYS IT MEANS TO BE A “MAN”
You and I…we can do this. And if you are a woman and reading this? Please understand that this is hard for us – so not only give us time to re-build our man-card…but we need your help to break this mold too.