I don’t like most parenting books, I like manhood books even less, I can’t stand pep talks, and I don’t respond well to being given lists of things to do. On top of that I have two daughters and no sons. So what would make me like a book called Man Maker Project that’s aimed at fathers raising sons? Not much at first glance, but then I had a conversation.
I connected with Chris Bruno, the author, on the phone at the request of a mutual friend. What I heard from him resonated with me to such a degree that I decided to set aside my preconceived notions and read Man Maker Project. Chris doesn’t have grandiose notions of revolutionizing men. He isn’t a loud-talking former football playing motivational speaker. And he isn’t asking groups of dads to do weird ceremonies with their sons involving face paint and replica Lord of the Rings swords.
Chris is a counselor who has served in campus ministries and as a missionary. He has heard the needs of fathers and sons poured to him and seen the devastation that missing or broken fatherhood wreaks on anyone around it. He is a son who has felt the need for a closer relationship with his father and he has a son and feels the responsibility of raising him to be the best sort of man. And he’s a normal guy who envisions a kind of community of fathers born not out of formulaic accountability groups or structured Bible studies but out of intentional friendship leaning toward brotherhood – the kind of friendship that is rich and comfortable and won’t weird anyone out.
Man Maker Project hits the bulls-eye on a target that is immensely difficult for manhood and parenting books to hit. It aims at the heart without being preachy or sappy. It is honest without being introspective or navel-gazing. It is frank without seeking to shock. It communicates respectfully about difficult issues (gender confusion, men’s and women’s roles, etc.). It gives the reader a great sense of what needs to happen next without giving a prescribed to-do list. And again, it’s normal. In short, it’s the kid of book your average Christian dad who just wants to do his best raising his sons would be willing to read because it’s like a conversation with a down-to-earth, wise man who is in the same boat.
The big idea of the book is that boys are born but men are made. But where Bruno takes that idea is far more encouraging and helpful than you might suspect from its pithiness. Using stories from his own life and others he paints picture after picture of how intentional but normal interactions can shape boys into men. He calls dad to set out an “initiation right” for their sons as they get close to puberty, but what he describes is simply a wise and involved plan for dads – no weird ceremonies, no weapons, no kidnappings (unless your son would love those kinds of things).
He majors on the heart and the role dads play in answering their sons’ unexpressed question, “Am I a man?” As a son myself I know the potency of that question well. It shapes interactions with women, with God, with work, with friends. It motivates or demotivates depending on the answer. It is a dad’s responsibility to help his son see that, yes, you are a man and this is what that means. But is not for dads to do this alone, says Bruno. Rather dads should seek out dads working through the same challenges toward the same end and create a community of men that will proved encouragement as well as a context of healthy masculinity for their boys.
One of the strongest aspects of Man Maker Project is how it is structured categorically, not prescriptively. Bruno explores areas of life and soul and helps dads see how they can build their sons. What he does not do is lay out series of steps and to-do lists for dads. He doesn’t create a framework that “if you follow your son will be a winner!” He gives points of emphasis, areas, of need, encouragement, examples, and advice. And he leaves dads room to know what is best for their own sons because there is no one-size-fits-all parenting solution. (For those readers who want more of a road map, the last couple chapters give an example of what a year of initiation could look like.)
I am raising two girls. This book is not for me. But I am a son, one who is thankful for my dad and the role of other men in my life over the years who have influenced me and built me up greatly. They intuitively understood the concepts of this book and I am grateful. And I would be thrilled to find out in a few years that my daughter is dating a young man whose dad was influenced by Man Maker Project and followed its advice.
Chris Bruno is the founder of The Restoration Project which exists to call men to heal their wounds, know their God, and restore their world. The Man Maker Project is part of their efforts to build great, godly men. The Restoration Project offers a number of unique opportunities for men of all ages to grow, to connect, and to take part in influencing the world for the better. Check them out.