(Family Magazine October 2011 3rd Issue)
Melvin Wong, Ph.D.
Biblically speaking, after God created Adam and Eve, the first battle between Good and Evil was in marriage. This spiritual warfare arena has not changed very much since the creation. The key in this battle is Adam, the man in the marriage-family relationship. Many sermons have been preached on this subject but I would like to address the cultural and psychological aspects of Manhood in marriage by answering the question “What makes a man good?”
For a man to be good, he has to first be good as a young boy. When he grows up, he becomes a good husband and then a good father. Most people will agree with this in theory, but it is not so easy to understand in practice. What exactly constitutes goodness? I would like to offer Psalms 24:4 as a definition and an expectation: “The one whose deeds are blameless and whose motives are pure, who does not lie, or make promises with no intention of keeping them.” (Net Bible)
Learning to be good as a boy, psychologically speaking, is the character-formation stage of manhood. By the teenage years, a man’s character has already been formed. When he gets married, the values he has lived with throughout childhood will be used to love his wife and his children.
The reality that a man faces as an adult in marriage and family is quite unique and challenging, having no experience that prepares him to be a husband and father. Most men have to learn how to function in these roles on the job; however, some fail to live up to their responsibilities.
Here are some characteristics of a healthy family man:
Overcoming Family-of-Origin Baggage
A young boy does not have control over how his family treats him in the area of emotional and personal growth. It can be healthy or unhealthy. But when he becomes a man, this growth will be his responsibility. How he goes about the completion of this growth depends on the priority he places on this and how hard he works to overcome weaknesses. He should learn and learn until he is able to grow into a stage of mature manhood apart from his childhood functioning.
To broaden his opportunities for maturity, a man should surround himself with mature individuals to learn from. Attending a healthy church and reading self-help books are some easy ways to achieve that. Groups that promote personal spiritual growth are also useful. Any type of “classroom-style” learning should be balanced with actual behavioral changes.
Unhealthy family-of-origin dynamics can be overcome with time. Good friends who are more mature can help as coaches or mentors and counselors. Healthy leaders who know how to balance family life and career success are good role models.
The family-of-origin issue was a negative factor in shaping my life as a boy, but did not become the final determinant of my character as a man. I was expelled in fourth grade because of aggression; I threatened the little girl that I had a crush on. I didn’t know how to use words to express my admiration towards her, but used threats to show my “power” and get her attention. I must have been an awkward little boy. After that, I attended a Christian school, learned proper behavior, and eventually became a Christian. I learned from caring teachers who not only directly taught me, but were also my role-models in exemplifying the characteristics of a loving marriage. My parents had many short-comings, but those memories did not control me forever. Before I got married, the Lord placed me to work under Dr. Peter Chiu to build the counseling ministry of a missionary-sending agency. Through this experience of using psychology to help others, I learned quickly how to be a husband and a good man.
Ability to Face the Reality of Pains and Failures
Most of a man’s challenges in life are found in how he faces the reality of pain. This is his willingness or courage to acknowledge suffering. When things don’t turn out the way he wants, what does he do? Most people will first protect themselves in externalizing responsibilities by blaming others or circumstances. To be vulnerable by looking inside themselves requires hard work.
An unhealthy family believes that if you are wrong, you are a bad person. However, we have to change that belief and integrate the truth that God has created us for good, yet our human nature prevents us from being perfect and it is okay to learn from mistakes in the process of growth.
The first greatest pain I experienced in my life was abandonment. Growing up, as the first son in my family, I was doted upon and I generally got whatever I wanted. I learned to get my way all the time, developing a dependent personality and an attitude of entitlement. When I came to the US for my education, my older sibling whom I was living with asked me to leave. I was devastated. Since then I have learned to not expect others to serve me. As a result, I am happier because I can take initiative and not live passively dependent on others. It was not until my late college years that I was able to develop an accurate sense of self-confidence with the help of many mentors.
As a result of my life experiences, I developed a deeper appreciation and empathy for people in pain. While working as the supervisor of a small emergency psychiatric unit of a hospital in San Francisco, I found that I could accept people of all colors and mental conditions. I was able to make good decisions for my patients and I could get consultations when needed. My patients, staff and students liked working with me and they thought I was one of the best supervisors to work with. They thought I was very “human” but in fact, I was merely living a life as a redeemed sinner who was forgiven. I have learned to not judge others, accepting them as Christ would, even when they were having a nervous breakdown.
Ability to Empathize
Without the denial of pain, there is an ability to access a fuller spectrum of emotions. A man’s empathy skills improve as he matures and he becomes more able to sense how to meet the emotional needs of his love ones. This enriches the emotional/social competency of a man to effectively relate to his wife and children. He does not overreact emotionally, become inaccessible, or numbed in times of pain. Once feelings are accessible, conflicts can be resolved in a more rationally healthy manner that is based on reality.
In my own past, getting over romantic breakups was the second most devastating experience in my life as a college student. I had a painful, yet meaningful breakup when a close girlfriend of mine left the state and married someone else. This brought me many years of pain, but eventually with the help of the church and Bible studies, I was able to get through it. I learned a deeper meaning of love and understood that love is not possessive. I have grown to understand my inner being more and was set free to love and care for others without an expectation of repayment.
Effective Decision Making Through Good Judgment
Good judgment and decisions are based on effective testing of reality. A mature man has a deep sense of justice. He treats others fairly. He is a team-player beginning at home with his own wife and children, extending to everyone. Decisions he makes are unprejudiced and comes naturally from his understanding of justice, without a lot of consideration and deliberation.
Judgment is very hard to describe as it is a summary of a way of perception, interpretation and prioritization of events based on reality and intelligence. Without an accurate view of reality, judgment is flawed. My job as a therapist deals with helping people solve problems. I am always “on my toes”, so to speak, and I am not afraid of problem solving. Similar to training your muscles for a sporting event, the more you practice and train your decision-making skills, the better you are in making good judgments.
Authentic Love is Always non-Confining and Empowering
A mature man’s love is not possessive or selfish; people he loves will experience a sense of safety and growth. There is no guilt, but joy. His wife feels his support even when they are in disagreement. His children understand that their father has their best interests at heart. He can listen to them intentionally and he is interested in their lives. He will make occasional mistakes throughout life, but those are unintentional and rare. He can apologize and ask for forgiveness quickly and freely. He can learn from his mistakes and will very rarely make the same mistake twice.
Every man should strive for regeneration and renewal of the mind as taught in the Bible. By continually learning and growing, he will become an effective leader in his marriage and family. Using his emotional and relational skills, he will learn to lead in his church and community. He will be the type of man found in 1 Timothy 3:2-12, serving the Lord and those around him with spiritual strength.
Dr. Wong is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in California. He is currently the chairman of Culture Regeneration Research Society ISA. He worked as an assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, and was an attending psychologist at San Francisco General Hospital. Dr. Wong had spoken at Presence on the topics of “Pastoral Care for People with Gender Issues”, and “Communication with Teens” and “Internet Addiction” series. Workshop DVDs are available through Presence. Please refer to our product order form if you’re interested.
When Dr. Melvin Wong was asked to write the article “The Measures of Manhood”, he said the final measure of a man should be by his woman. He suggested we interview his wife Connie for her perspectives. She graciously shares with us the story behind Dr. Wong’s personal growth to manhood.
Through the Eyes of His Wife
My husband Melvin grew up in a less than ideal home environment and carried a load of baggage from his family of origin into our marriage. But his openness to learn and change is the key to being the good man he is today. This is also what I admired most in Melvin.
His grandfather was a rich man and lived a life of ease; he smoked opium and never did a hard day’s work. Therefore, Melvin’s father did not have a role model to establish a stable family life. He experienced several failed marriages before marrying Melvin’s mother. She also had a prior marriage and brought a son into this union.
Melvin grew up with a traditional father who was uncommunicative and emotionally distant from his children. His mother was a perfectionist who showed favoritism to the boys and to her children who met her high expectations. This hindered Melvin’s ability to develop intimate relationships. His incompetence at expressing love and emotions caused a very painful breakup with his first love. Melvin took some time to grow in maturity before dating again. He was fortunate to find good role models who mentored and coached him to be a mature man.
After we were married, Melvin continued to desire to learn and grow. He often asks me and our daughter, “How can I be a better husband and father?” One time I complained that he loved our daughter more than he loved me. While he was somewhat hurt and did not agree, he willingly listened and understood my feelings. The display of humility is what made us a healthy family.
Melvin’s work requires a lot of traveling and he wants me to come along. He says he always feels secure and comforted by my support when I’m with him. The greatest fulfillment in our marriage is the opportunity to explore and experience the world together. People call us twins seeing how we do everything together. When we’re not traveling, Melvin encourages me to develop my own interests and friendships. I have a great deal of respect for Melvin. I especially admire the way he deals with people and issues with acceptance and understanding. To me, Melvin is not just a good man; he is also a good leader – both inside and outside our home.