The world has many definitions for manhood. John Croyle founded The Big Oak Boys’ Ranch in 1974 so he could raise boys who only knew one. PT sat down with the former University of Alabama football star to talk true manhood, absentee daddies, and the challenge of raising godly men.
PT: How would you say our culture defines “manhood”?
John: Our culture defines manhood as soft, not focused, floating along, generic. The social media has weakened, I feel, the strength of our young boys becoming men. You gage your strength by how many hits you got on your Facebook, or Twitter, or website, or whatever. And that’s not manhood.
And I think too, all of us, everybody who is gonna read this piece, we’ve all messed up, but there’s that point where you draw a line in the sand of your life and you just say “enough.” I now need to stand up and be the man, husband, father I’m supposed to be—or the mom, wife, woman I’m supposed to be. There just comes that time, and when you decide you want to be a great parent then you can override whatever society is saying. We are raising a generation of boys that kind of limp along and are all kind of hunched over. Our girls don’t know what to look for in a real man. And that’s why we did [The Two-Minute Drill for Manhood]. At the end of the book my children, Reagan and Brodie, are interviewed. And Reagan says, “I hurt for the ranch girls because they’ve never had a man in their life that was willing to die for them. My whole life, I knew my daddy would die for me. When my brother was born he trained my brother to be the same way. I’m now married to my husband who I know would die for me.” And she said, “Just think there are three men on this earth who would lay down their life for me and not even ask a question.”
PT: How does the Bible speak to godly manhood?
John: I think the best example of manhood that I know of is in Chronicles when David was putting together his army. And it says God brought him men, men of valor, men trained for battle. They could handle a spear, a shield, a sword. They could, with a sling shot, shoot with either hand. But here’s what they described: it said “their faces were that of a lion and they were swift as a gazelle” (1 Chron. 12:8).
I think every man that I’ve ever met, I’m talking about real men, they’ve all got that face of a lion. We’ve got a lot of posers that are posing to be real men. Hey, there have been times in my life when I’ve posed to be this, that, or the other thing and I wasn’t. But there comes a time where you are posing and regret gives way to being the real deal. It’s never too late, and I hope anybody reading this article hears that it’s never too late to be a great parent until one of you is in the grave. That’s the only time it’s too late.
PT: In what ways have you seen biblical manhood missing in the current generation of men?
John: I call it absentee daddies living at home—when a dad comes home and he’s physically there, but mentally, emotionally, spiritually he’s not there. The kids know it. “Dad, dad, watch.” “Daddy, watch.” A little boy or little girl asks daddy to watch five times while they do their first somersault, or their first cartwheel, or their first climbing of a big tree. The kids know if you are paying attention. They know if they are important or not. I’m not talking about the importance of “well, my son plays football” or “my daughter plays basketball.” I’m talking about the importance of your 10-year-old little girl saying, “Daddy watch me dive, daddy watch me dive.” She’ll ask about five times and then she’ll quit asking. And once they cross over to quit asking, you start to lose ground.
If you don’t know your children’s five best friends, you are too busy. Because next to you and your mate, the greatest influence on your children will be those five friends. You better choose wisely.
PT: What do you think has led to this?
John: Money. Power. Misplaced priorities. Too busy. Focusing on the wrong things. Choosing poorly. Choices create circumstances; decisions determine your future. And we, regrettably, for years have seen the fruit of parents who chose poorly.
PT: What men have you had in your life that have served as good examples of manhood?
John: First and foremost, my grandfather. Man’s man. Never heard him raise his voice, never saw him angry. I never heard him say an ugly word about another human being. He loved me. I didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time with him, but when I was in college, he passed away. And it was like a hole.
What I’ve learned is there are three kinds of men: there are men that will impress you, men that will impact you, and then there are men that will inspire you. We’ve got so many men worried about the impressing part, which doesn’t last very long, versus the inspiring part. Inspiring your son, inspiring your daughter to be a cut above, to be different, to stand out, to not be crippled, to not be hunched over. And through the years there have been men come alongside me for a season and when I needed level 2 fixing, I had a level 2 fixer. When I had a level 4 issue, I had a level 4 fixer. God always, always will bring the answer. You may not even like it. But He will always bring the answer.
PT: What can parents of teenage boys do to emphasize biblical manhood in their parenting? How did you instill this in the life of your son, Brodie?
John: I think clarity. We just need to be clear what we value as important. Think about it, you cannot blow smoke at your kids. They know. They figure you out. They know you are full of it when you tell them A, B, and C and nothing you’re saying is true. They know that you pick up the offering at church then they saw you watch an inappropriate show on TV. Or they heard you tell a filthy joke or they watched you as an attractive lady walked by. Now every guy fights this battle, but our sons are watching us and also our daughters are watching to see how we are treat their mommas. They will pick based on what they saw.
Children listen with their eyes. It says in Luke 6:40, “When fully taught, the student will be like the teacher.” I got a perfect example. A man called me and he said, “You know we had your son [Brodie] with us on a hunting trip. After dinner, your son looked at all of us and said ‘Y’all through?’ and got up and picked up all the dishes and carried them in the kitchen and started washing them. And we said now here’s the NFL quarterback, University of Alabama, and he’s washing our dishes.” So where’d he learn that? Well, he learned it from me. Where’d I learn it? From my dad. I watched my dad whenever we had any party or anything at our house, my dad would help my mom. People joke now that my wife’s got me trained, and she says no, he came trained. And that’s a tribute to my dad.
There’s that ripple effect. There is always a ripple effect. And when your children, your sons, see you choose other things that water down your manhood then they think that’s normal.
Every one of us is on the road of life, on the interstate. Every one of us at times has gotten off on the wrong exit. Maturity is getting back on the interstate and not taking that exit again. Very simply, it’s staying on true north. True north can be defined by three questions: 1. What’s God called you to do? 2. Are you doing it? and 3. What is the fruit of questions 1 and 2? ✤
John Croyle rose to recognition as an All-American defensive end at the University of Alabama during head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s legendary tenure. Faced with the decision to play professional football or to start a home for abused and neglected children, John established Big Oak Boys’ Ranch in 1974. Today the outreach has grown to three branches with the addition of a girls ranch and a Christian school. John, his wife Tee, and the Big Oak organization have raised more than 1,800 kids to date. His book, The Two-Minute Drill to Manhood (B&H 2013), is out now.