How to Love a Man

Dear husband — it’s not just them whom you’ve trapped in wonder.

They’ll make you cards and sing songs to which they’ve forgotten half the words and climb all over you first thing Sunday morning to wish you Happy Father’s Day, but I’m the one who sees what seven and nine and eleven year-old eyes are too young to catch.

Father’s Day is my day, for you, too. I might just take credit for the way you hold fledgling hearts in calloused hands and don’t bruise them. Because you practiced, first, on mine.

Marriage can make a man into a true father.

Hands MJ4

Marriage might have made a father out of you.

My ten year-old heart — dressed up in a twenty-four year old body — learned what not to do before I ever even tasted what strong love from a weak wife could do to a man.

Sometimes you have to have a history of what not to do before the doing becomes something driven more by your heart than the playbook.

So I mastered what not to do.

You came to me with your eyes studying the floorboards and put the bloodiest part of yourself right out there in front of me — in a whisper because something about secret-keeping makes you feel safer when it’s finally let out in a whisper — and I fumed. I stormed. Right past your heart with eyes fixed on your actions, I lost you for what you did, not who you were inside. A husband, to me, was measured by what he did, not what his heart desired. A man who did what he didn’t want to do: you weren’t the exception I wanted you to be. (But He was forming you into one who was exceptional, even then.)

And I continued to master what not to do.

You got back up. Bloodied and stained, your hunger grew. And though everything in you resisted weakness in front of a women who lived expecting strength to be born, not forged, in a man — you did what few twenty-somethings could do and you lived, weak, before me. You were broken and I was stiff. I ran roughshod over your weak spots and nagged you to clean yourself up. I looked at the outside of you, but He was forming you in the hiding place, then. You learned His voice when my lips were pursed.

And I continued to master what not to do.

Measuring Stick

I made a mental scroll of your failings and called them my prayer list. I joined the band of women interceding for their husbands and forgot that there was a whole lot of me that needed intercession. Life would be good and right and easy if you’d just grow — my way, I thought. I fixed eyes on what you weren’t, all the while — right underneath my nose — He was telling you who you were. (A man who hears from His Father who he really is is a force to be reckoned with.)

Husband, you were being shaped into a father when I wasn’t looking, all before you had a child to call you daddy.

I wanted outward strength and He tenderized your insides.

I wanted perfection and He produced a glory in your weakness that even the best of the world can’t hold a flame to.

I wanted you to be just like me and He took me to the school of who I really was when you wouldn’t bend to my way.

In mastering what not to do I, then, learned how to love a man.

The best fathers hold fledgling hearts in calloused hands without bruising them, because their own hearts had been given permission to be amateurs in the hands of a very safe God. In a world that tells twenty-somethings that they need to conquer and thirty-somethings that they need a big fat bank account and a following and impact and forty-somethings that they need external stability (whatever that moving target might be), the twenty-eight year old husband — the forty-three year old dad — needs permission to bleed.

A man who learns he can bleed — who learns he must bleed — finds the blood of God’s Son to be his only safety.

It’s in walking through weakness and finding the Father’s eyes on them, there, that boys become men.


You found His eyes, husband — you’ve developed a pattern that started with minutes and rolled into days and months and has now become years into a decade where you’re every day finding His eyes towards you.

You’ve taken eyes off of all you’re not and placed them on all He is and you’ve became a father, right there.

For this next stretch, I’m “in” … k?

Bring your bleeding heart to my kitchen floor and I’ll hold it.

Whisper your weaknesses to me in the dark when the pillows we’ve had since I unwrapped them at a bridal shower absorb your tears and mine.

Ask me for that list — you know, the one I’m making throughout my day as I talk to Him about how He sees you.

Push me to change — to put on big girl pants and be the one who asks, first, what is it in me, Father, that needs changing?

And maybe I’ll learn how to be a mother, right here. You and I, together with a couple of kids, fumbling — bleeding — but hungry for a God who gives us a swift brush with the supernatural in the context of weakness.

Happy father’s day, husband.

Girls Nate MJ


The book: Every Bitter Thing is Sweet (Zondervan) is available here.

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First photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Last photo compliments of Anna McParlan.