Give A Man His Swagger

By Sam Jolman | January 20, 2014

“Don’t muzzle your ox as he treads the grain press.” Deuteronomy 25:4

“I did it!” Brandt

Yesterday morning during the middle of my first sip of coffee, our two year old son Brandt ran into the room. “I wanna go pee pee on the potty and get chocolate.”  Yep, we’re those parents bribing our kid into latrinal submission.  And yes, we are using sugar no less.  No letters please.

He tugged me towards the bathroom where I sat him on his little perch.  And then I left him alone to attend to his business. A man needs his space in the bathroom, you know, to ponder life and such.

A few minutes later, the exclamation came barreling out of the bathroom, “I did it!  I went pee pee, daddy!”  I ran in and lifted the little guy up and sure enough there was the proof in the potty bowl.

“Alright!” I said as we high-fived. “Way to go bud!” He squealed with delight.  And danced off to find his momma, with his shirt hanging about mid cheeks.  “Momma, I did it!”  She hugged and congratulated him.  We all headed to the pantry to get his chocolate.  He savored those morsels with a proud smile.

I did it.  It hit me that these three little words nourished my sons heart.  He needed that celebration, that pride in his accomplishment, to strengthen his heart and bolster his willingness to take on other new things in life.  In a word, he needed his swagger.

I’m taking back the word swagger for all men. Right here, right now, it needs to make a comeback. Every man needs to enjoy a little swagger on a regular basis. You know, feel good about himself and what he’s accomplished. “I did that… I’m the man” and the like.

Like when he’s closed that deal at work.  Or had that difficult conversation with his family member.  Or submitted one more job application after five turn downs.  Or simply finished mowing the lawn in those beautiful straight lines.

Or when he makes the game winning play that takes his team to the Super Bowl (like this one. Yep, I’m going there.  More on that later).

I see men do amazing things in my counseling office all the time. Just last week a client told me a story of how he lashed out at his wife over the weekend.  He was stressed and she caught the brunt of it.  He knew it right away.   So he found her upstairs in the bedroom and apologized.  She got mad back.  But he stayed with the conversation.  She shed tears which moved him to tears.  And they bonded in a way they have never bonded.

When I heard this story, I raised my arms in celebration for him.  He smiled and sighed real deep.  He loved it. Something rose up in him. Its as if I could see his heart stand taller.  I told him his homework was to walk around all day with his chest swelled out.  He laughed, but I was serious.

There’s this odd verse in the Jewish law of the Old Testament. “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”  Say what?  Yeah I know its outdated and completely irrelevant to us nowadays.

But think about it for a second.  There’s this ox walking back and forth on the grain, maybe pulling some big stone or something, to free it from the husk.  That just sounds like hard work.  And if he’s muzzled, he can’t eat.  Which if you’re the grain owner, is really what you want, right? To get the most of your grain, you’d want to keep him from eating anything.

But God says, “No, let him eat. Let him enjoy the fruits of his labor.  He’s doing all the work and should be rewarded for it.”  To muzzle him and deprive him of this experience is cruel to his well being as an animal.

I love a God who cares like this, that an ox gets a chance to enjoy his own work.  Its this verse that Paul uses to justify his taking a wage from his work in spreading the gospel.

God knew full well the pleasure of a good swagger.  I give you the creation story. God spends six days making the cosmos, working it all like a good oil painting.  Rough brush strokes first, separating light from dark, day from night. Down to the the little bitty details, like hummingbirds and ants and pectoral muscles.

And every day he steps back, just to say, “That is good!”  You gotta know he had a little pride in his voice.  Can’t you see him there, a little bounce in his step, looking at the Rocky Mountains or a towering Redwood forest or a rose?  “Yeah, that’s not half bad.  I like it. I done good!”

I think God set it up for our work to feed us.  Yes, of course a man needs to know he’s loved apart from what he produces.  And yes, he has to get his affirmation from God.  But if you tell him he’s prideful for enjoying his work, you’ll defeat him.  You take away a huge source of nutrition his heart needs to be strong and courageous.  You’ll burn him out.

Look, we all know men who have too much swagger.  Too much “I’m the man.”  You’ve seen this guy doing his bicep curls in front of the mirror at the gym.  He’s just a little too in love with his body.  Yeah that guy.

Or… ahem…  Richard Sherman.

If you don’t watch sports or have been in a hole since Sunday, let me share the drama (watch it here).  Sherman is the Seattle Seahawks cornerback, a defense player who blocked a touchdown pass to the San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Crabtree.  And the ball was tipped just right for Sherman’s teammate to catch it for an interception.  It won the game for the Seahawks and punched their ticket to the Superbowl.

And it was an awesome play.  No… it was an epic play, one for the history books.  The entire stadium erupted. It was his moment to swagger.

But what did he do with it?   He found Crabtree on the field, got in his face, and smacked his butt in antagonism.  Then he got on camera, screamed at Crabtree some more about being the best player.  And if that wasn’t enough, later in an interview he said, “Michael Crabtree is a mediocre receiver. Mediocre. And when you try to beat the best corner in the game with a mediocre receiver, that’s what happens. Game.”

He humiliated him.  He gloated over him.

I winced at all this drama.  He had every right to swagger.  He had an entire stadium ready to feed him full of “you da mans!”  And he blew it.  He missed his own moment because he got drunk on his own pride and in some need to completely humiliate another player.

Every man alive knows the same temptation could come to anyone of us.  There’s a reason the father in Proverbs says to his son, “Let another man’s lips praise you and not your own.”  True swagger takes humility.  Swagger is not pride.  Swagger does not come at someone else’s expense. Swagger is learning to receive celebration. And its vulnerable to let others celebrate you.  It takes being surprised by your own accomplishment.  Which is why the best swagger happens in community.  You can’t very well high five yourself without a lot of awkward.

I sat with a man yesterday who is ending his time of counseling.  We’ve walked a good chunk of path together for him.  And he’s moving on, taking some risks actually with going to grad school to pursue his dream, his passion in business.

With tears flowing down his face, he thanked me for our times together.  And my heart felt so full.  These kinds of moments are my true paycheck for what I do.  “You’ve helped me grow in some huge ways. I’m really not sure what I’ll do without you.”

I paused.  I didn’t like how that sounded.

Its because I know that good counseling isn’t all about me.  Far from it.  I’ve worked my butt off trying to get some people to change to no avail.  They just don’t have teachable hearts.

This guy was different.  He hung in there in the hard conversations and spent time wrestling out our conversations during his week, taking his heart to God often, journaling, and coming back faithfully for more.

He needed more swagger for this.

So we took the rest of the session for me to share what I’ve seen him do so well.  And tears streamed down his face.  He even tried to stop me from talking, thinking it to be too much.  But he need this feast.  He would need the nourishment for risks that lay ahead.

Please, if you see a man doing something awesome, high five him.  It’ll give a good man all the more reason to keep doing good.

As for Sherman, he sounds like a good man that made a mistake.  I hope he gets another chance to make a big play and practice being celebrated well.  Just not this season (Go Broncos!).


  • We have no right to chastise a man until we have walked in his shoes. Swagger comes from living life and being honest with yourself about who u r. It comes from getting the opportunity to prove naysayers wrong and say, “damn I made it thru!” Until u have grown up on the streets of Compton, a concrete jungle, where u need a survivor mentality to make it out alive…please don’t talk about that which u know nothing of. U cannot relate. Not even remotely.

    • You are right. I can’t relate to a life lived on the streets in Compton. The closest I came was working with inner city kids and a homeless shelter for a few years in college. Close enough to see, but not close enough to walk it. I did not know this was Sherman’s story (which I am assuming is what you’re saying I missed). Makes me like the guy all the more.

      I also agree with you that Sherman had every right to say, “Damn I made it thru!” and prove his naysayers wrong. You are totally right on that, in my opinion.

      I guess we disagree about his tactic of putting it someone else’s face.

      Thanks for sharing your opinion!

    • I did not grow up in Compton but I did grow up “on the streets” in housing projects (around Chicago) on food stamps around gangs with all the abuse associated with that life… and I was embarrassed by Sherman. He was in the moment, granted, but his reaction was not of a man that made it out but that is still on the streets of Compton. If you have grown up on the streets you would know that what he did was “thuggish” which if you are still acting thuggish after leaving the streets then you really haven’t learned what you needed to learn… He knows better, he has a degree from Stanford… His actions embarrassed me…. My past is a fact not an excuse. My experiences justify me still being on food stamps or being in jail or government housing and if I wanted to use these excuses I would still be there. SAM – you have been to the’s streets of Compton/Chicago, and more… With me and others like me…. You have waded into the darkness like a champ! You have fought the fights… Called it like it is… You do not always have to run into a brick wall to know that it hurts… Sam the lie here is that you do not know what you are talking about and should shut up… Bullshit! I know differently – Swagger all you want.


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