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Scripture: 1 Tim 3:1-7, Psalm 119:9-16.

St Martin’s Anglican Church, Blakehurst. Men’s Retreat.
Gibber Gunyah (Tharawal Aboriginal Land Council Lodge – Picton.



ON BECOMING A REAL MAN Edwin Louis Cole, Nelsons 1992


I acknowledge the Thurawal people, the traditional owners of this land and pay my respects to the elders both past and present for their stewardship of this beautiful land. I thank St Martin’s Anglican Men’s Group, Blakehurst, for your invitation to be the keynote speaker. Mr Greg Bondar requested I speak on the theme “What Challenges Christian Men…In the Workplace…In the Home…” I will do so under the title, “BEING MALE IN AN ALL GIRL TEAM.”


The theme “What Challenges Christian Men…In the Workplace…In the Home…” is such a huge one that I will take an overview of the crisis among men today, then look at what it means to be a man today, then I will consider some strategies to recovering manhood, and finally look at Christian manhood. We will then have time for questions on any specific aspect of men’s life.


It is quite popular today to say Australian men had to learn to acknowledge emotional problems and seek help in their relationships. We are a generation of men who cannot talk easily about our feelings. Hence Governments have provided large sums for family and for men’s counselling services, programs to help prevent youth suicide, because of the increasing numbers of young males’ suiciding, and for carer respite sup¬port for frail men.


Men find it more difficult to talk about personal challenges and crises. Men are more reluctant to acknowledge the need to receive or seek emotional support or counselling. There is nothing unmanly about it. There is nothing demeaning about it. We are all human beings. We all get upset. We all suffer emotional set-backs. When things go wrong men need as much help as women in coping with emotional stress. There is a crisis among men today.




Men’s health has become a national priority. Men die younger and are unhealthier than women. Men are more prone to work and road accidents, have three times the rate of suicide, shorter lifespans, more cardiovascular disease than women. Their health is just part of the crisis among men.


The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare states annually $17 million was spent on women’s health while only $11 million was spent on men, yet men are less healthy than women. Being a man is a health hazard!


In gymnasiums, men are pumping iron and strapping themselves to modern torture machines. In casinos and newsagents they seek lucky numbers. Once, hot energy would have been working productively; now it evaporates.

Soft men are scorned as SNAGS: sensitive new age guys. Is Australia now a land where women are women and men are nervous? Are men who outwardly are worried about the brake linings of the car, inwardly knowing being a “good provider” is not enough?


Today the seams of male certainty are unravelling. The old, unequal and unfair pattern of relationships between men and women has ended. But the new pattern is unknown. The Australian newspaper declared “vast numbers of men are dissatisfied with their lot; irritated that the “men’s jobs” are disappearing; fed up with political correctness and affirmative action; disgusted by the Family Court and custody decisions that almost always favour women.”

Women now initiate 60% of divorces. Relationships counsellor Yvonne Allen says that when they leave, women often cite their husbands’ failure to be good companions. Marriage is changing from an economic to an emotional bargain, one that women, now less dependent financially, are increasingly prepared to cancel if it fails.


Man’s value has also fallen on the job market. 80% of the million jobs that have gone since 1986 were held by men. A generation of blue-collar men who worked with their hands have seen those jobs disappear forever. White-collar men in middle management are being “downsized”. Dr Sigmund Freud saw ability to “love and work” as the marks of a healthy male life. Today, many are struggling in both love and work.


Sydney relationships counsellor Andrew Colliver thinks many men are wrong-footed by rising female expectations of them. “Men often don’t have power in relationships. Women have more emotional sophistication. So many men say, ‘I did my bit, went out and earned the bikkies, but it is not enough.’”


Men are learning to be more sensitive, more caring, more helpful in the home and undertaking child care responsibilities. The number of men who stay home with children while their women work has doubled since 1980 to 75,000 male “primary caregivers”.


But for many men these changes are too much, creating a crisis in men who cannot cope. One man said to me in despair: “The rules have changed. We don’t understand the new rules. The umpire favours the female mem¬bers. We are told to play the game and be a good team member. But it is hard when you are the only male in an old-girl team! And you cannot even discuss it.”




Today, Men’s Summits are held with hundreds of men discussing what it means to be a man in an all-girl team. This is a hot contemporary issue. I have argued publicly in Parliament, on radio and television, that this is not a reaction to the feminist movement. It is an urgent need to bring men up to scratch because the feminist movement has been so successful in helping young women become confident, assured and assertive that they are leaving young men behind in the matter of personality development. There is an identity crisis with men.


It has become an embarrassment to be a man today. Men are told they are responsible for all the violence in society towards women and children. Men feel socially powerless, especially at home. They are confused. They know that they must facilitate the changing role and place of women, but it is the role of men which has changed immensely.

No man with any sensitivity condones the shocking attitude towards women they see portrayed in films, in the evidence of domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace. They do not want it to be like that.


But they are made to feel guilty for being male by people promoting women and condemning the presence of men. It is time we showed men reasons for pride in their identity as a man. While the media have focused on women’s power, gay power, grey power, “manpower” is politically incorrect.


Healthy manhood is in trouble. Schools have had strategies to help girls. We have self-esteem programs for girls, mentor, maths and science programs. These programs have been stunningly successful.


Today girls outrank boys in graduation from High School, are top of the high school in 66% of the classes, topped the state in 103 subjects compared with boys topping 51 subjects, in having the higher number of places in universities, and so on. But where are the programs for boys?


We tell boys their lives must be risky, wild and aggressive. Many males today have a tremendous fear of not being masculine enough. This fear drives adolescent males into behaviour to “prove” their masculinity. The only way most of these males feel they can survive in a school is by acting tough, by abusing alcohol, by showing contempt for women and ridiculing any behaviour that is soft. Boys grow up in a world of few good male role models and few intact families. You certainly won’t find them in “The Shire”.


Unemployment also has had a profound effect upon the male psyche. Males have been the big losers in job closures. 80% of job closures were occupied by men and of the new jobs created 75% are designed for women. Much of a male’s role has been built round his role as a provider for the family. Today the Government gives him a benefit to keep him alive, but says in effect it has no need of him. A man who does not work loses self-respect and his sense of manhood.


Dr Peter West is as lecturer in education at the University of Western Sydney. In the S.M.H. he wrote: “We don’t give males any strategies for dealing with conflict except violence. Discussions on the complexities of relationships, different sexualities, working women, men who stay at home while their wives work, these discussions are found only in women’s magazines. The magazines for men are about power and politics, fishing and football, with pictures of women as objects of lust. We are reinforcing the idea that men don’t need to understand the complexities of relationships or anything except sport and sex”.


The growing problems with men’s health, isolation, loneliness and depression are now looming as major health issues in Australia, resulting is a rise in suicide rates. One report says, “A section of the older population that is particularly at risk of isolation and its associated health problems is that of older men living alone: 19 percent of men aged 65-74, and 33 percent over 74 live alone. The quality of life of these widowed, divorced and never married older men has been shown to be exceptionally poor – more so than that of their female counterparts.”


In an article in men’s health, the author says, “Unemployment and retirement are key factors. Without the status, structure, social web and activity that the working world offers, many men feel at a loss as to how to engage their minds and bodies make friends and keep a positive, outgoing perspective on life. To compound this, lots of services for older people are geared towards the larger, more visible population of lone older women.


Men also tend to lack the social support networks that women are inclined to make so they are less aware of any support available; they are also often less willing to ask for and accept help. So, unless they have hobbies or interests and a wide circle of friends, they can fall rapidly into decline.”


Can we change all this? Perhaps. But we need a whole range of strategies for boys to complement the strategies for girls. Otherwise we’ll have 21st Century women trying to work out relationships with men who are throwbacks to the 20th Century. What kind of strategies might be suitable?




As the Country Women’s Association played a wonderful role in the health of Australian women in rural areas, so an uniquely Australian concept, Men’s Sheds, shows that we might already have the makings of a solution here to men’s health especially in urban areas! Men’s Sheds can play a significant and practical role in addressing these men’s issues.


This ground-breaking initiative may just provide the inspiration that proves the point. Men’s Sheds are workshop-type spaces in community settings that offer friendship and a sense of belonging to older men through regular hands-on activity – wood work, pottery, furniture making, photography – activities that also tend to match the preferences of older men for practical learning in informal contexts, where they can meet other people, learn in groups and be with other men. They provide new opportunities for men of all ages to pool their considerable knowledge, skills and experiences for mutual and community benefit.


Some years ago I became aware of this new movement to men’s sheds when approached to provide funding from some trustee resources of which I was Chair. Significantly, these ‘sheds’ have been successful in attracting men facing issues associated with debilitating change, including health, retirement, unemployment, isolation, disability and loss. Participants of activities in Men’s Sheds report feeling better about themselves, being happier at home and greatly appreciating the opportunity to be accepted by, and to give back to, the community through what they make and do.


They seem to particularly enjoy the lack of compulsion to do things from a boss or manager, and the opportunities for mentoring and the friendship associated with the shed, and the opportunity to get out of the house! A little work with the hands mixed with a little mateship and companionship can do wonders for men’s health and lifestyle. When so many work at desks and computers, at benches and in cars, constructive physical work is healing. That is my experience over the decades.


In my book, “Leaving a Legacy” (Chapter 5) I write, “For the last fifty years of my life I have been building. Although trained and called to be a preacher of the Gospel, I have constantly spent time planning, designing, building and altering houses, hospitals, churches, nursing homes, retirement villages and so on. I have had some part to play in the building, occupying or developing of over 400 buildings, together worth several hundred million dollars. Architects, developers, builders, concreters, town planners and the like have trooped in and out of my offices and battles have been waged with councils, environment authorities, banks and the like with most battles usually won. No wonder the Housing Industry of Australia declared at the opening of some award winning houses, that one of Australia’s leading builders was in fact a preacher! They then presented me with two national awards for building.”

Over all these fifty years I have always built myself a shed. Mostly this served as a workshop for physical work I was doing for the church, for community members, for our own housing, for making toys for our children, and for repairs to our cars and houses. Early planning for retirement which came post Parliament meant I needed to have a shed in place.


A few years ago I started planning it while I was still at Wesley Mission, and then gradually we built it down by the back fence. My shed is now finished. It measures six metres by six metres, with a 1.5 metre bull nose verandah across the front, built on a concrete slab.


Because blokes are interested in other blokes’ sheds, here is what I have done with mine.

I planned it on the basis of my experience with sheds and workshops built over many years. This one is built of Colourbond steel on a steel frame with a pitched roof with sky lights and insulation. It has a red/brown roof and bull-nose, green walls, and yellow window and door frames. This is like a country railway station, so I built a long platform waiting bench for the verandah where four men can sit and discuss politics and religion. I hung up a matching old kerosene hurricane lamp, ran up the Australian flag, and erected the name, “Dad’s Shed”.

Inside at one end, at the highest point, is a plaque with one name cut from a block with a scroll saw: “Jesus”, with the middle letter elongated to form a cross. The carpenter of Nazareth would feel at home here. Beneath is a wall of shelves, the home of hand planes (Stanley, jack, block, smoothing), battery-charger, jigsaw, router, glues, angle grinder, tacker gun, electric planer, belt sander, hammer drill, jack hammer, Triton work station and ripsaw.

Alongside the shelving is the shadow board with its ranks of spanners, open and ring, AF, metric, SAEand Whitworth, shifters, all kind of hammers and mallets, engineering tools, chisels, spoke shaves, handsaws, all kinds of hand tools, squares and rulers.

The back wall has an air compressor, hoses and air guns, ropes and hitches, extension cords, and a six metre long bench with shelves above. The shelves contain bottles of different sized screws and rivets, while other shelves have every kind of nail according to size and purpose. The top shelves have the cans of paint. On the bench are the work stations for the grinder, whetstone, belt sander, drop saw, jig saw and band saw.


At the other end, is the compound mitre sliding saw and the big cut off saw, the router table and two metre lathe and above it on a shadow board are all the turning tools, chisels, scrapers, gouges and calipers. Underneath are drawers for electrical parts, plumbing parts, chains and the like. The separate garden shed has all the garden tools and requisites and the garage has the car equipment and tools.


Along the front wall the bench has the drill press, stands for bits, metal and wood vices, bins for nuts, washers and bolts, and hangers for files, punches and the like. On the floor beneath is the anvil for metal working and above are all the little drawers for screws and small metal parts. Alongside are safety goggles, ear muffs, broom, leather apron and waste bins. All around are 26 power points, so there is no need for dangerous extension leads on the floor, and re-chargers are always in place.


In the centre of the shed is a movable work bench, and on it recently has been a half finished doll’s house, and a re-glued rocking chair which had been left out on a council collection heap.


My entire range of hand tools, nails and screws have been purchased for next to nothing from Saturday morning garage sales from men who are shifting into a Retirement Village or from widows who are clearing out their late husband’s garage. The old hand tools, bound in brass are the best. Almost all of my timber comes from footpath collections. I hate to see good timber going out to waste. The shed is the major place of recycling in the family home.

At the back is a 5000lt tank to collect the rain water for the garden. Men need a shed, for themselves, or to share with others. But what if you are living in a unit and have no room for a shed? Go and visit a community one in your locality and join with the other blokes.


The famous Australian cartoonist, Michael Leunig, has devised what he has called, THE “BLOKE BOOSTER” a shed for the modern man. He writes: “Now at last, a shed for the man who lives in a city apartment. Build your own coffee table mini-shed with this d.i.y kit which includes mini corrugated iron sheets, mini steel framing, mini concrete slab plus mini work-bench and mini tool shelves with mini am-fm radio receiver. A satisfied customer tells: “I was confused, frustrated and depressed until my wife gave me a Bloke Booster mini-shed. I sit and stare at it and soon my troubles are gone. It’s a safe haven for my soul and since I’ve been going into my shed, confidence has returned and I’ve started to whistle again. Things have improved between me and my wife too – and I can hold my head up because I built it myself.”


That just about sums it up. Men need a place of their own to work through the issues of retirement, loss of work status, and a place for mateship. Build your own or join a community one. A men’s shed is a recycling centre, a health centre and a social centre, so much better than the licensed gambling clubs and pubs.


Many cultures subject boys to bloody rites of passage. Besides the shedding of blood, almost all include imperviousness to pain, exemplary courage in the face of danger, and the unflinching resistance to all threats to his manhood. Tears, softness, or weakness disqualify manliness.


Today we try to move away from that concept of masculinity which is based on strength, fighting and sexual prowess. We have been teaching young men that tenderness is as masculine as toughness; that mediation is better than fighting; that family nurture is better than sexual aggression. Young men must see this in good fathers, but for this generation, role model fathers are in short supply.




The Apostle Paul once wrote about the qualities of a good man. 1 Timothy 3:2-4 “He must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.”


It is essential that Christian men develop their character and strengths to overcome the challenges faced in society, the workplace and the home. THe best way to do that is for Christian men to continue to grow in their faith and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, through prayer, Bible study in a group to whom they are accountable, and attend worship services each week at their church. It will benefit you if you attend your local church fellowship group, inter-church men’s conventions and men’s retreats such as this one. Your Christian men’s group will give you all the values of a men’s shed but all the values of a Christian faith as well.


Those Christian qualities of manhood are seen in the great role model Jesus Christ. He is the model for men. He fulfilled His destiny, related well to other men, women and children, was courageous and dynamic, and channelled His aggression in a positive way.


Today, with the authority of fathers challenged, divorce breaking many marriages, and many boys growing up without a father in the house, many of these males express a longing for a father, or for any good role model. There is a generation of young men with a father-hunger in their hearts which does not go away. There are men not working who feel they have lost much of their masculinity. Some break into crazy aggression. Some suicide. Others fear being called a “wimp”. They have no room to move out of their stereotyped behaviour.


Hear the good news! Jesus Christ is a man among men. His life is a pattern for every man embodying all the finest qualities of manliness. He introduces you to the Heavenly Father who fills the father-hunger in your heart. Base your life upon Him and everything is improved. Commit your life to Him and you discover that your own is only just beginning! Jesus Christ is a real man among men!

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