I once knew this guy. He was deceptively strong in his upper body because polio in his twenties had rendered his legs very weak, so his arms had to carry his body. He loved all things swimming, wrestling and playing. In fact, when I think back on this really strong old guy, I believe play was something that defined how he engaged with the world.
Challenging teen boys to an arm wrestle was one of his many rituals of play. One guy in particular, a football line backer with meaty muscles, loved to meet him arm to arm. With jaws locked in determination their matches would draw sweat from both brows and cause ripples to appear as the veins strained to win.
For years these two men – one the deceptively strong old guy, the other the young vigorous stud – would meet in a show down of strength.
The goal? The young man’s goal — to beat the old guy. The old man’s goal — to beat the young guy.
Who normally won?
The old guy.
But then one day came when the old guy knew he was on the verge of not being able to win anymore. This young stud’s strength was about to surpass his very old strength.
A battle inside the old man began…
“I want to go out the victor!”
“We are done, I will not wrestle with him anymore, then I will not have to suffer defeat!”
What do Dads do with the competitive nature to win? When it shows up between them and their very own sons?
The surges of testosterone in teenage boys is like a tsunami and guess what…it’s building muscles. As men age, their testosterone levels are dropping (sad, but true) and you, as men are becoming the “old guys” and will not always be the strongest.
Younger boys measure their strength against older men in order to validate their own strength.
The date was set for another match and I remember the old guy saying, “It’s time for him to know he can win. It’s my time to choose to let go.”
What is it like to walk towards something that you know is going to happen? Can you see it as good when everyone else would see it as loss? By the way, here’s a great sermon I heard recently about this guy Jesus who modeled this for us.
As men, do you realize that you have something powerful to pass onto teen boys about how they live with their strength?
They wrestled, the sweat dripped, the heat rose, the fight was on and the tensions held…
Later, as I happened upon an intimate moment of an arm stretched around young shoulders, I heard words confirming a strength and its alluring powers, the fight to be a winner and I heard this question:
“Did you let me win?”
“No, your strength has now matched mine…you beat me.”
This old guy could celebrate who he was, who this teenage boy was and see something beyond this arm wrestling battle.
What is the risk of acknowledging another’s strength?
Dads, there is something powerful in how you acknowledge strength in your sons and help them to navigate the tempting draw towards “winning at all costs.” I believe there is an invitation there and you can model strength and purpose to your young men.
Can we recognize and teach young men how to use their “strength” while also wrestling to honor where they as sons might even surpass Dad in strength, knowledge, ability….??
Oh the tension I feel in even writing this!
How do we honor the younger generation and the strengths they bring? How do we, the older generation, actually stay engaged and not be overbearing?
I want to talk about this and so much more! Have you heard about the upcoming free class at Church of the Open Door? There is no registration, but I’d sure love to know if your coming so drop me a line.
Oh and ps, that really strong, old guy — that’s my Daddy.