Most of you have heard about the tragic deaths of 12 innocent people who were murdered in a movie theater a few weeks ago in Aurora, Colorado. The gunman also wounded 58 others in a random and vicious act of violence. One of the victims, Ashley Moser, was pregnant and hit twice in the abdomen. She remains paralyzed, and sadly, she miscarried the baby. Tragically, her six-year-old daughter, Veronica Moser Sullivan, was the youngest to die. A family friend, 13-year-old Kayla, tried to administer CPR to Veronica, but a wounded adult fell on her and Kayla couldn’t reach the child. One man lost an eye and appears to have suffered brain damage.
Amidst the carnage in Aurora were examples of heroism and self-sacrifice. Five men died trying to protect women. They were:
Jon Blunk shielded his 21-year-old girlfriend by pushing her under the seat to keep her out of the line of fire. She lived. He died.
Alex Tevos also died protecting his girlfriend, Amanda Lindgren. She was not hit. He was mortally wounded.
John Larimer, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd class, jumped over his seat to protect his girlfriend, Julia Vojtsek. She survived. He didn’t.
Matthew McQuinn dove on top of his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler. She wasn’t hurt, but Matthew lost his life.
Jesse Childress, an Air Force Reservist, dove in front of a female service member, sacrificing his life for hers.
How can we explain the willingness of these men to die in an effort to protect women? Was it coincidental that of the 12 people who were killed that night in Aurora, eight of them were men? I think not. Most men have a natural instinct to protect women in threatening circumstances. History is replete with accounts of this kind of male sacrifice and courage.
I wrote about this masculine characteristic in my book, Bringing Up Boys, as it was exhibited dramatically the night the Titanic went down. I wrote,
Inspirational films from the past have dramatized the moral strength and heroism of men, such as Mutiny on the Bounty and Good-Bye Mr. Chips. That genre gave way in the seventies and eighties to man-hating diatribes such as Thelma and Louise and Nine to Five. Meanwhile, the ideal woman in movies has gone from lovely, feminine ladies such as Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life, to aggressive and masculine women such as those depicted in Charlie’s Angels or the remake of Joan of Arc. Her character revealed no religious conviction at all, which is curious given the Christian origin of her story. Instead, she was a tough female military strategist who led her male subordinates to war. Maleness in such movies is almost always depicted in subservient and weak roles.
Even when popular films are not specifically hostile to men, they often undermine respect for masculinity in one way or another. A classic example of this bias was seen in the top-grossing movie of 1997, Titanic. It retold the tragic story of the great ocean liner that sank on April 15, 1912. On that frigid night, 1,509 people either drowned or froze to death near the Arctic Circle.1 The wreckage lay undisturbed until 1985, when it was located by explorer Robert Ballard nearly thirteen thousand feet down.2 The vessel itself was observed to be deteriorating rapidly from an accumulation of rust caused by a particular bacteria that actually eats metal. Thus, an ambitious effort was launched to retrieve artifacts and memorabilia from the bottom. To date, the explorers and oceanographers have brought back an impressive number of fascinating objects.
My wife, Shirley, and I were fortunate to visit an exhibit in Boston that displayed some of the articles that have been recovered and preserved. We walked silently and almost reverently among the former possessions of those who died so long ago. They included bottles of perfume, clothing, jewelry, candleholders, the ship’s china, eating utensils, and a pocket watch that stopped ticking the moment its owner slipped into the sea. Several photographs and letters also survived, having been kept in watertight suitcases or safes. It was a very emotional experience for Shirley and me, as we tried to imagine what the unfortunate passengers had gone through and what their final minutes must have been like.
Then we came to the last room of the exhibit, where the names of those who died were inscribed in alphabetical order on glass plates. What struck us both was the rarity of females on the list. Indeed, 1,357 men died on that tragic night but only 110 women and 56 boys and girls.3 Stated another way, 25 percent of the women on board died that night, while the number of men who died was 81 percent.4 Why this disparity? Because, with very few exceptions, husbands and fathers gave their lives to save their wives and children. It was one of history’s most stirring examples of sacrificial love. Those doomed men disappeared into the icy waters of the Atlantic in order that their loved ones might survive to see another day. That is why the Titanic is called the “Ship of Widows” to this day.
I was discussing this historic event recently with a young author, Ned Ryun, son of U.S. Congressman Jim Ryun. He sent me a written account of Rev. John Harper of Glasgow, Scotland, who was on the Titanic the night it sank. He is one of the men who cried out as the mad rush for the lifeboats began, “Let the women, children, and unsaved into the lifeboats.” Then he kissed his only daughter, Nana, good-bye for the last time and placed her in the hands of one of the ship’s officers aboard a lifeboat. Soon he was immersed in the chilly waters of the Atlantic. This is Ned’s description of what happened next:
Concerned not with his life, but for drowning and freezing people around him, Harper with his last breaths swam to the dying souls and cried out for them to be saved— “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”
As his strength began to ebb, Harper called out to a man clinging onto a piece of timber, “Are you saved?”
“No,” was the reply.
A few moments later, Harper and the man came into contact again.
“Are you saved yet?”
“No,” was again the reply.
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,”
Harper cried out one last time and with that, slipped beneath the waves. The young man clinging to the board was rescued and was later to testify that he had indeed been saved that night, not only by a rescuing ship, but by the words of John Harper.5
There were many such accounts of masculine heroism that occurred as the great ship was going down. Unfortunately, James Cameron, who directed Titanic, chose to ignore them. Instead, he depicted the doomed men as cowardly and panic-stricken. In his version, hundreds of male passengers were kept out of the lifeboats at gunpoint. One man was shown sneaking past women and children and grabbing one of the precious seats. History confirms that while there were a few men who behaved dishonorably, most did not. Only 323 men survived the sinking, and some of them were stewards who were assigned to take charge of the small craft.6 The beautiful young heroine of the movie, Rose, was a feisty girl who also chose to go down with the ship. Her fiancé, Cal, was a despicable character that tried to bribe a steward for access to a lifeboat. When rebuffed, he grabbed a child and jumped onboard. There can be no doubt that Cameron wanted us to think that most of the male passengers would have stormed past the women and children if given an opportunity. As such, he tarnished the memories of perhaps a thousand men who stayed behind voluntarily.
Notwithstanding the quality of the film, Titanic, and its remarkable special effects, the way men were depicted in the movie was characteristic of today’s film industry. Rarely is an opportunity missed to show males as self-serving, dishonest, misogynous, or to otherwise present them in a disrespectful manner. This is the way the game is played today.
Television sitcoms also blast away at traditional masculinity, much like a wrecking ball crashing into a building. After enough direct hits, the structure begins to crumble. There is not a single example, as I write, of a healthy family depicted on network programming that includes a masculine guy who loves his kids and is respected by his wife. None!
Beginning in the 1970s with redneck Archie Bunker and his browbeaten wife, Edith, prime-time TV programming has evolved into today’s fare, most of which features profane and sexually explicit cohabitants who meander through one outrageous episode after another. The lead characters are usually men with the giddy mentality of fourteen-year-old boys. The best (or worst) example of this nonsense was seen in a sitcom some years ago called “Men Behaving Badly.” The title says it all.
Invariably, sitcoms today feature at least one gay or lesbian character, who is cast in a sympathetic role. It is a powerful force in the culture. One overriding goal of homosexual activists is to influence the next generation and to recruit children to their movement, if not to their lifestyle. The fallout, however, is devastating. How can impressionable boys and young men possibly discern what it means to be a heterosexual male, let alone a dedicated and disciplined husband and father, when this tripe is fed to them every night and when their own dads are nowhere to be found?
Remember, too, that other popular male role models are often raunchy, such as professional athletes who sire (and then abandon) six or eight children with as many mothers, and rock stars who pierce their bodies with baubles and pickle their brains with mind-altering drugs. What does that behavior convey to boys who are trying to emulate these lost and irresponsible men?
I come now to the reason I have chosen this topic for my letter this month. Given the sordid influence of the popular culture, I urge parents, and especially fathers, to teach boys what it means to be a man. It is one of the most important lessons to be learned during childhood. I elaborated on this point, also in my book, Bringing Up Boys, as follows:
Protect your boys from those who are espousing postmodern views. Shield both your sons and daughters from gender feminism and from those who would seek to confuse their sexuality. Protect the masculinity of your boys, who will be under increasing political pressure in years to come. Buffer them from the perception that most adult males are selfish and immature men, or even sexual predators.
As a guide for fathers, they should adopt four traditional roles that are biblically based. The first is to serve as protector. He shields his family members from anything that could harm or invade his wife and children. He is often the one that family members come to when they feel anxious or threatened. If another man tries to abuse or insult his wife, her husband defends her honor and her body with his life, if necessary. It is his responsibility to see that the house is safe at night and that the children come home at a reasonable time. Each member of the family feels a little more secure because he is there.
Another component of this first responsibility is to model for children how a man should treat a woman. He is respectful of her at all times. If you ask my son Ryan how this principle worked in our home, he will tell you how he learned to open the car door for his mother, and how I looked at him when he forgot. He rarely failed the test. Ryan is now married to Laura, and the respect he learned as a child is invariably played out in his home. I have no doubt that if Ryan had been in the theater on the night of the massacre, he would have tried to shield his beloved wife from danger.
The second responsibility of a good family man is to serve as the provider. No one disputed fifty years ago that it was a man’s primary responsibility to be the “breadwinner.” This is less clear today, which is unfortunate. Even though the majority of wives and mothers work outside the home, it is still a man’s charge to assure that the financial needs of the family are met. It is also his task to keep the family out of debt.
The third responsibility a good husband and father accepts is to serve as the leader of the clan. This role became highly controversial with the rise of the women’s movement, but it was rarely challenged before the 1960s. It was often said in those days that “two captains sink the ship,” and “two cooks spoil the broth.” Dad was the final arbitrator on issues of substance. Admittedly, this “headship” role was sometimes abused by selfish men who treated their wives with disrespect and their children became like chattel, but that was never the way the assignment was intended to function. Scripture, which seems to ordain this leadership responsibility for men, also spells out the limits of their authority. Husbands are told to love their wives as their own flesh, being willing to give their lives for them. They are also warned not to treat their children harshly or inconsiderately. That system generally worked well for thousands of years.
Finally, the fourth responsibility of a “good family man” is to provide spiritual direction at home. Although he often fails in this role, it is his obligation to read the Scriptures to his children and to teach them the fundamentals of their faith. He is the interpreter of the family’s moral code and sacred rituals, and he makes sure the children get to church every week.7
Admittedly, not many men in years past have performed each of these four duties adequately. But there was a broad consensus in the culture that this was what they were supposed to do.
Okay, you can throw your rocks and bottles at me now. I’m sure some of my readers are bristling at even the implication that this is how men should function. With all due respect, however, there is timeless wisdom in these traditional roles. Each of them is rooted in biblical teachings. Yep, it is old-fashioned stuff all right, but men have been defined by these responsibilities for millennia.
Unfortunately, each of these four roles has been ridiculed and attacked by postmodernists and their allies in the media. As a result, many fathers have a poor concept of what they are supposed to do or how to get it done. Some of them have surrendered their authority at home and are either altogether uninvolved or they are trying to nurture their children in ways that are more characteristic of mothers. They have been told they need to be more sensitive and to learn to express a full range of emotions—from rage to fear. In effect, men are being pressed to be more like women, and women are supposed to be more like men. This role reversal is terribly confusing to boys.
It is not inappropriate for a man to feel things deeply or to reveal his inner passions and thoughts. Nor must he present a frozen exterior to the world around him. But at the same time, there is a definite place in manhood for strength and confidence in the midst of a storm, and that role falls more naturally to men. As a huge oak tree provides shelter and protection for all the living things that nest in its branches, a strong man provides security and comfort for every member of his family. He knows who he is as a child of God and what is best for his wife and children. His sons need such a man to look up to and to emulate. They disrespect wimpy dads who are intimidated by their wives or whose emotions hang on their sleeves.
Does that sound corny and contrary to everything you have heard? So be it. Men were designed to take care of the people they love, even if it involves personal sacrifice. When they fulfill that responsibility, their wives, sons, and daughters usually live in greater peace and harmony.
Whether they knew it or not, the men who died in Aurora were responding intuitively to the Judeo Christian concept of masculinity that placed the welfare of women above their own safety. We honor their memories today.
Thank you for reading along with me this month. If you have the resources and are so inclined to help Family Talk financially, we would certainly appreciate your contributions. The ministry barely made it through the summer months, and emerged from it with nothing to spare.
Let me also urge you to pray for our country as it careens toward what may be the most critical national election ever. Be sure you are registered and vote on November 6th. It is our civic and moral obligation to participate is this great representative form of government. May God be with us as we select the next president of the United States.
James C. Dobson, Ph.D.
President and Founder
1. “Demographics of the Titanic Passengers: Deaths, Survivals, and Lifeboat Occupancy.” See http://ithaca.edu/library/training/hotu.html
2. “Discovery of Titanic.” http://www.titanic-titanic.com/discovery_of_titanic.shtml
3. Henderson, John R. “Demographics of the Titanic Passengers: Deaths, Survivals, and Lifeboat Occupancy.” http://www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/titanic.html
5. Ryun, Congressman Jim & Sons. Heroes Among Us. Treasure House, Shippensburg, PA. 2002.
6. Henderson, John R. “Demographics of the Titanic Passengers: Deaths, Survivals, and Lifeboat Occupancy.” http://www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/ititanic.html
7. Dobson, James C. Bringing Up Boys. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, IL. 2001.
This letter may be reproduced without change and in its entirety for non-commercial and non-political purposes without prior permission from Family Talk. Copyright © 2012 Family Talk. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Printed in the U.S.A. Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk is not affiliated with Focus on the Family.