August / September 2019 - Vol. 105

Grandparents On Mission
grandfather and grandson working
Becoming a Man

We need to help boys become responsible men, and grandpa can help!
by James Munk

I have two pictures that I find instructive: one is a picture from my first year in college; the other is a picture of my grandfather at about the same age. Mine was taken at an 80’s throwback party; I’m wearing a teal leisure suit with an ostentatious dress shirt. My grandfather’s was taken in China around 1945 during what I assume was Operation Beleaguer, the US occupation of China after the surrender of Japan in World War 2. He’s in uniform.

Now, I’m neither ashamed of my time in college nor of my attendance at that 80’s party. I was a pretty good student, and a fairly moral young man – but my grandfather and I had pretty different mentalities at the same age. Why? In large part, because the response needed from my grandfather was high, costly, and obvious. Not so from me. What great things did I need to respond to? Homework? Chores? Negative peer pressure? My grandfather was worried about the Third Reich and Imperial Japan. We had different concerns, and so responded differently.

When people say, “He’s a responsible young man,” they might mean, “He’s a good steward of his belongings.” Or, “He’s a man of his word.” But responsibility is more than that. Consider the composition of the word itself: “responsible” is “response + able”: able to make the right response in a given circumstance; to be able to do the right thing.

Many say that young men are growing less responsible. This is not a good trend. We need young people – especially young men – that know what the good of a situation is, and who rise to do it, regardless of the personal cost. I work full time as a missionary to high school and college students. We teach our men that one of the primary marks of masculine character ought to be responsibility. This is critical for a healthy family, community or society.

If young men today are less responsible, it might be because less is asked of them. There’s not currently a world war, but our nation, our society, is facing some major threats: dissolution of marriage, loss of fatherhood, secularization, technological uncertainty – and no one really knows how these things will turn out, but good men able to respond will be part of what is needed.

That means we need to help boys become responsible men, and grandpa can help! How?

Help his eyes actually see. Youth benefit when they learn to see, not just watch. One youth work exercise commonly used is called “observation training.” For example: look at this picture for one minute.

Now, answer these questions… What color was Darth Vader’s light saber? How many humans were in the photo? Teaching kids to look and see can be fun but it also equips them to identify what needs to be done.

A grandparent, like a youth-worker, walks beside the youth and then asks, what should we do to help? It’s tempting to complain about politics and sports, taxes and cultural collapse. It’s better to talk about the things you and he can affect. Help him identify what is necessary to bring order or beauty to a room, a closet, the garage. Then help him work towards implementing his vision.

Give him real work. Midway through college, I participated in a program called Detroit Summer Outreach. I showed up, was given a 15-passenger van, 3 assistant staff, and a team of 8 high-schoolers. My job was to get them to various work sites all over the city, plan our work day, and motivate the team. When I got the keys to the van, I felt the real weight of responsibility: if I couldn’t figure out how to make this thing work, it wasn’t going to get done. That was the first time I had a job with real consequences.

Grandpa, your grandson isn’t growing up on a farm with lots of ready opportunities for real work – but there are many amazing opportunities like the one I experienced. Look for them, and offer to help pay for the ones that will give your grandson real work, real authority, and real responsibility.

Encourage him. Literally: give him courage. Don’t just tell him he’s a good kid, impress upon him your belief that he has an important part to play in your family, your country, and the Kingdom of God. Help him to see the challenges of his day and that he has a role to fill in overcoming them. 

For Discussion: What was your history of gaining responsibility?

For Action: How can you give your grandson a responsibility that will help him mature? How can you help him take greater responsibility right where he is in his family or school?

This article was first published in
Grandly: The Strategic Grandparents Club, copyright © 2019 Grandly: The Strategic Grandparents Club. Used with permission.

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James Munk lives with his wife Michelle in Lansing, Michigan. He is the director of 
Kairos North America, works with University Christian Outreach, and is a Coordinator for the Work of Christ community.

Top photo of grandfather and grandson working together, by (c) copyright Zinkevych
at Photo ID: 215933506

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