Burt Reynolds did not feel secure in his manhood without confirmation from his father. Are you still waiting for yours?
When I bought my VMax motorcycle I was talking with my daughter, Ariel, about naming it and I came up with “Sharky’s Machine.” As Ariel and I enjoy watching the San Jose Sharks together, along with the motorcycle being teal, it kind of fit. The name “Sharky’s Machine” is actually from an 80s action film starring Burt Reynolds. It’s a typical guy film with a tough as nails cop and lots of bullets and a few explosions. It also features one of the coolest stunts ever as a bad guy gets shot and falls through a high rise window.
At one time, Burt Reynolds was the biggest box office draw in the world. His hit movies include Smokey And The Bandit, The Longest Yard, and Gator. He has fame, fortune, the affection of glamorous women, and was a star high school athlete. He was considered the cool guy, laughing at authority, making his own rules and carving out his own path. In many respects, he is the world’s definition of a man’s man. He has had all the world has to offer.
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
Yet somehow, having all the world had to offer didn’t fill the void.
My dad was the chief of police, and when he came into the room all the light and air went out. There’s a saying in the south —no man is a man until his dad tells him he is. It means that someday when you’re 30 or 40, grown up, this man whom you respect and love and you want to love, you hope he’ll put his arms around you and tell you, “You’re a man now, and you don’t have to do all those crazy things you’re doing and get into fistfights and all that to defend your honor. You don’t have to prove anything to me. You’re a man and I love you.” But my dad and me, we never hugged and never kissed and we never said “I love you.” No we never even cried together. So what happened was later, I was desperately looking for someone who would say, “Burt you’re all grown up now, and I approve of you, I love you, you don’t have to do those things anymore.” But that didn’t happen and I was lost inside. For most of my life, I couldn’t connect—I was incomplete; and I didn’t know then what I needed to know.
—Burt Reynolds in Parade Magazine
I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over this quote.
One thing that stands out is how desperately he needs his father’s love, acceptance and validation. Sadly, like most of us it never happened. Even worse, it seems that his dad was an intimidating presence. I wonder, what if my children were to think that of me, that when they were growing up, when I entered a room I sucked the air out?
We have been empowered by God to give masculine love and validation to our children. Yet our culture almost mocks the concept of rites of passage: the importance of hearing words like those that Burt Reynolds longed to hear from his father. I know that I wish that somewhere along the way someone had given me the consistent validation and masculine love I so desperately needed.
My son-in-law has served in the military, including a tour in Iraq, graduated college and won the heart of my most precious daughter. Despite all of that, it was obvious to me that he had not received that validation from a man in his life. The night before the wedding I gave him my own awkwardly presented but heartfelt and truthful personal validation. I told him that I was proud of him; that I would accept him, love him and treat him as my own adult son; and I told him that in my eyes he is a man. We hugged. At the wedding, before giving him Ariel’s hand, I told him again that I’m proud of him. This is all so true. He is a good man and a man worthy of God’s love. My continual prayer is that he daily becomes more and more confident of those facts.
Reynolds wanted his dad to say “grow up and start acting like a man and that you don’t have to prove anything to me.” It’s sad to see so many men who are desperately seeking that validation of their manhood. Having mocked the old ways of passing on this identity to the next generation, they flounder, seeking self glorification like what they see going on the music industry, on the playing field and on the political platform. There are so many men who are still living like boys: consumed by their Xbox, cable TV, hobbies, and sports.
I’m definitely not against personal pursuits, but how all consuming they can become: basically addictions to the alternatives to real acceptance by men we respect and who love us. We so desperately need someone to tell us the truth: that we are men, that as men we are called to step up and live beyond our own pleasures; that we are committed to the well being and protection of others.
Another lesson I have learned from considering Burt Reynolds is that we need to show our vulnerable emotions. I know I have a lot of growth to do in this area. Tragically, our society has so narrowly defined what a man is—Jayson Gaddis calls it the The Man Box—that any emotion beyond anger is weak and feminine. For boys, showing emotion invites ridicule. We learn to stuff our emotions down, and become incomplete and detached.
We so desperately need dads who are willing to cry, hug, kiss and show genuine emotion. It is a long journey for most men to get there, but my prayer is that we can get there. Our wives, children and our world needs us to be more integrated intellectually and emotionally.
—Feature photo of Burt Reynolds credit: Alan Light/Flickr; photo of couple marrying courtesy of the author; image from the Sharky’s Machine soundtrack by fair use