FamilyHealing 4 minutes to read

Have you ever forgotten to lock the door and someone walked in on you in the bathroom? This happened to me recently when I was showering except the door was cracked and my son just crawled in. Zero concern for my privacy. I looked at him and smiled. 

“Hey bud, you found me!” 

“Daddy, your penis looks different than mine.” Straight to the point this guy. 

No, that’s what I IMAGINED my 11-month-old son said to me. Even though he didn’t actually ask, I felt it deserved a response. Or rather, I needed a response. 

Here’s why: Messages are powerful. They can make or break a person. 

When I was growing up, the general cultural message to boys was “man up.” Some of its talking points could be summarized by ideas like “walk it off” and “stop your crying.” It was critical of my music choices, clothing options, and hobbies. By contrast, it was accepting of dominance, aggression, and entitlement. 

Everything seemed to be evaluated under a microscope. There was a right and wrong way to do anything and everything. Somehow, these were the key indicators for whether or not a boy was or would be gay. 

Imagine the confusion this line of thinking created in my young mind. I played the violin and wanted to be in gymnastics. I tied my shirt around my waist and listened to Spice Girls, Destiny’s Child, and Backstreet Boys. I preferred Smart Guy and Boy Meets World to Johnny Bravo or The Simpsons. I had no interest in sports and I talked a lot. I helped with chores around the house rather than causing mischief. 

I didn’t think I was gay but many of my choices were labled as such. Which also meant that there were many times I was labeled accordingly. Did everyone else know something about me that I wasn’t aware of? 

In the “man up” culture, being gay was frowned upon. That’s putting it lightly. It was made very clear that it was the worst thing a boy could become. 

Fear, confusion, and shame infiltrated my young heart and mind. 

In my 20s, I always wondered if I was manly enough. And, you know, eventually I was really manly. Cold. Closed off. Strong. Crude. 

I got married and realized that wasn’t going to work. My wife deserved better than an emotionally absent provider. She needed me to be present. She needed me to be empathetic. 

Then I became a dad. I was faced with all of my insecurities and shortcomings. I battled the idea that I would somehow ruin this little boy’s life. 

Suddenly, I was thrust into this role of helping to shape this young boy’s understanding of what it means to be a man. Fear revealed itself again. I’m not exactly the picture of masculinity, right? Would I just hand him the “man up” philosophy? Or was there something else I could give him? 

Messages can be re-written. 

So when Harrison crawled into the bathroom that day, I realized I had a clean slate. I could give him something better. 

In my mind, I responded. 

“Yeah bud, and yours will change as you get older. But it isn’t what makes you a man. What makes you a man is how you serve those you love. It’s being present. It’s being emotionally available. It’s learning to not run away but to grow through challenges.”

This was a big moment because I often question my ability to provide or to be a “good enough” husband and father. I’m beginning to see that my value as a man isn’t dependent on my ability to provide a specific lifestyle for my family. And that being good enough isn’t the goal as much as being present enough. 

This isn’t just for dads. It’s for all men. 

There are forces all around you attempting to tell you who you are and what you should be. Your childhood examples, society and culture, and your own patchwork idea of what it means to be a man. There are likely some messages that have burrowed themselves deep into your identity.

God wants to define who you are and what it means to be a man. And you don’t need to have arrived at a full understanding of God’s definition in order to start living it out. 

One day you may become a dad or father-figure, a mentor or a coach—and you’ll likely be one the guys at work or church—and you can be an example of how God defines a man. You will give them something better.

I’ve been really encouraged by a song from Cory Asbury recently. The lyrics of this song have helped put language to the environment I want to create for my son Harrison. And they’ve been helpful to redefine who I am as a man. At minimum, this song has helped me understand that failure isn’t final nor does it define who I am to God or to my son.

I hope these lyrics will begin to push out the messages that have been holding you back so you can become the man God sees you as.

Sometimes on this journey, I get lost in my mistakes

What looks to me like weakness is a canvas for Your strength

And my story isn’t over, my story’s just begun

Failure won’t define me ’cause that’s what my Father does

Yeah, failure won’t define me ’cause that’s what my Father does

Cory Asbury, Failure Won’t Define You

Justin Watson

Justin is the Media Coordinator for Pure Desire. For 17 years, he has worked in various ministry capacities: several pastoral roles, video editing, and audio/video production to name a few. He is currently working on a Master’s of Divinity through Moody Theological Seminary. Justin is passionate about seeing people awakened to becoming the person God created them to be in all areas of their lives.


  1. Brenda Griffin

    So well said. Thank you for taking action in re-writing the message.

    1. Justin Watson

      It’s a process but it’s possible. What hope that is!!

  2. Greg Bruce

    Wonderfully written, Justin. Your story parallels mine in a number of ways. Why are musicians perceived as gay because they have feelings? Raised in a household of women with no father figure. Beginning to grasp true manhood at 60 years old. I have a “Manning Up” blog on my website you might appreciate ( We need to rewrite the narrative of what a man, a Godly man, is. Thank you for your vulnerability, transparency, & honesty – I call it V-T-H with my mentees. Great post. Thank you.

    1. Justin Watson

      We’re not alone, Greg. I bet countless men resonate with this toxic message in its varied forms. But we have hope re-write the message. Thanks for your thoughts, Greg!

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