Puer Aeternus

Posted on September 15, 2015


When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 1 Cor. 13:11

Well I’ve been saving for a custom van,

And I’ve been playing in a cover band.

And my baby doesn’t understand

Why I never turned from boy to man.  Chris Collingwood & Adam Schlesinger,  “Utopia Parkway”


I won’t grow up. I don’t want to wear a tie or a serious expression in the middle of July.  And if it means I must prepare to shoulder burdens with a worried air, I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up Not me…  Never gonna be a man, I won’t! Like to see somebody try and make me.  Anyone who wants to try and make me turn into a man, catch me if you can… ‘Cause growing up is awfuller than all the awful things that ever were, I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up, no sir.  Peter Pan, “I Won’t Grow Up”

Some boys like to run around, they don’t think about the things they do, but this boy wants to settle down, and you know he’d rather be with you.  Alan Gordon, Garry Bonner, “She’d Rather Be With Me”

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God.  Ecclesiastes 2:24

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.  Genesis 2:24

This is my fourth attempt at writing this post.  I have persevered because I feel strongly about the topic and think it is important for us to talk about.  The reason it has taken four tries is that it keeps coming out slightly harsher than I would like.  The part that makes it difficult is that I want to be encouraging and not shaming while really speaking some truth to you.  When I go around the house singing “Utopia Parkway” or “I Won’t Grow Up” my wife says, “You’re thinking about that post again, aren’t you?”  She is generally right about that.[1]

At your wedding, you probably had the friend who just missed the cut for being one of the wedding party read from 1 Corinthians 13.  This is sometimes called “the great love chapter.”  Your friend probably did not read as far as verse 11: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”  I think that to really love in the way Paul was describing, requires a level of maturity from us.  We need to set aside our childish ways.

A friend of mine used to relate (when he was 40) that when his wife was asked the age of her eldest child, she would answer “40.”  She was, of course, referring to him.  It was interesting to me that he seemed to wear it as a badge of honor rather than a slight.  Ladies, you did and do have a part in this dance.  You might have been attracted to his boyish charm, his spontaneity, how fun he was in social situations when you were dating, or the way he could be care free and happy go lucky.  Now that you have a couple of kids, those traits seem less desirable.  I get that.  We can talk about that in another post.  In this one, I primarily want to talk to the guys.

The title for this post comes from Jungian psychology.  It is Latin for eternal boy and refers to men who try to avoid adult roles.  Sadly, many men do not seem to transition well to adult life.  Demands seem unfair or unreasonable.  Adult privileges are celebrated, but boyhood freedoms are clung to fiercely.  We focus on our own needs ahead of those of the people closest to us.  I say this not to be shaming, but in hopes of speaking some truth to you.

I was at a recent family reunion and talking with my nephew[2] who is in his early 30’s.  He was relating that the reason he has not been interested in marriage or even a serious dating relationship is that his married friends always need to clear it with their wives before they can come and hang out even if they have no other plans.  To my thinking that just goes with having a partner in life.  It is common courtesy.  It is also just part of adult life.

My assertion is that it is a normal part of life development to transition from just focusing on yourself to focusing on your wife and family.  There is an old cliché that maintains that a woman marries a man expecting him to change and he doesn’t, while a man marries a woman expecting that she won’t change and she does.  Of course, she changes.  Her life situation has changed.  Perhaps this is not so much about changing as having an appropriate adaptive response to a new situation.  It is more likely a failing of us as men that we do not change as we should because to change would be to develop a level of maturity.  If developing a level of maturity sounds like a bad thing… well, that’s a problem.

My further assertion is that being a man is a good gig, but it does require some things of you.  Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.”  I wholeheartedly agree.  She deserves a man for a husband and here are some of the ways she will know she has one.

She comes first.  Your marriage is your highest priority relationship.  Yes, we still should have male friends and make an effort to maintain those friendships, but she comes first.  During boyhood, we get to put ourselves first and perhaps our friends second.  Being a man means you make sure your wife knows that she comes first.  If she is not feeling like your priority, it is not her problem, it is yours.  You need to be able to hear from her what you are doing (or failing to do) that is making her feel that way and work to make her feel valued.  She also comes before any substance use or abuse.  If your partner thinks your substance use is a problem, it is a problem.  If it is not a problem for you, you won’t mind giving it up.  It may take a man-sized effort to do so.  Fidelity also falls in this category.  If you are putting her first, you won’t be watching porn or having affairs.

Fiscal responsibility.  This area can have several subsections.  The first is generating an income.  Boyhood does not require much of us with regard to income generation.  Manhood means you need to work.  Even the Apostle Paul weighed in with “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).  This is not to be shaming if you are struggling in this area while doing everything in your power to make an income.  This is also not saying you need to be the primary breadwinner.  If a couple has made the decision that it makes more sense for them for the wife to be the breadwinner and the husband be the homemaker, that’s great.  What I am not talking about is “no scrubs.”[3]  Second, let’s talk about delayed gratification.  As a child, you want what you want and you want it now.  I had a childhood friend who maintained that money burned holes in his pockets.  As a man (particularly if you are a husband and father), you do not have that luxury.  You need to make responsible decisions.  You don’t take on a big truck payment and in the process leave homeownership out of reach.  As a boy, you can spend your money on toys and candy.  As a man, you don’t.  Getting another dog (which will cost you $20,000 over his lifetime) does not come before funding the 401k and the kids’ college funds.  If you can’t afford any charitable giving, you can’t afford dining out.

No unilateral decision making.  In marriage, major decisions need both partners’ buy-in.  Back when I was a banker, some business accounts were set up as two signatures required over a certain dollar amount.[4]  This can apply in marriage as well.  Either partner needs to be able to make minor decisions.  Major decisions need both on board.  A child insists on his way.  A man considers his wife’s opinion.  The decision making of both together will be more sound than the decision making of one of you alone.  If one of you has serious concerns about a course of action, you two have some more discussing to do before you move forward.  If you are still stuck, try to figure out what this decision means for each of you.

No orders.  Marriage is a partnership.  It is a loving relationship.  Telling your partner how it is and what is going to happen are generally not helpful for the relationship.  As you mature into manhood, you should be more conciliatory in your leadership of the family.

No secrets/lies.   Let me tell you what happens when you lie to your wife.  In her mind, it calls into question everything she knows about you and your relationship.  You have no idea the leaps her mind will make when she catches you lying.  Even if it is something minor, the impact can be huge.  Children will often lie to do what they want and avoid consequences.  Your wife deserves a man whose word she can trust.  Do what you say you are going to do.  Be where you are supposed to be.  Be transparent.

Parenting .  Yes, it is hard.  For the record, babysitting is when you take care of someone else’s children.  When you take care of your own, it is called parenting.  It is exhausting work and requires a level of selflessness to do it well.  The boy in us feels that this is an unreasonable demand after we have worked all day.  The man in us recognizes that, tired or not, this is our job to step up and parent.

Housework.  In business we sometimes talk about grabbing the low hanging fruit.  This means that you grab the easy sales and the quick profits first.  Housework falls into this category.  It is easy and men get good martyr points for it.[5]  I hate to have you doing things just for the benefit, but you will probably find your wife much more receptive for sex if you bathe and put the kids to bed and clean the kitchen.  She will feel loved and supported and less tired.

Gentlemen, we really need to grow up and be real men.  That means we are engaged with our wives and children.  It means if our wife is not on board with something, we don’t do it.  We keep talking it through until we are both comfortable with it.  It means we are fiscally responsible.  It means we put the needs of our wives and children ahead of our current wants.  It means if our wife is uncomfortable with a relationship, we listen to her.  It means we don’t hide things.  It means we suck it up and parent and do housework when we are both tired.  It means when we mess up, we own it.

A boy will hide things from his parents.  That isn’t a good thing, but it is normal for that level of development.  A boy will take for granted that he will be provided for and cared for by his parents.  A boy will be focused on gratifying his own wants.  A man will learn to put off gratification.  Especially in a marriage, he will be transparent even when it is difficult.  Your wife needs you to be a man.  Your children need you to be a man.

The title of the post is Latin for eternal boy.  It is a Jungian concept about a child-man who refuses to grow up.  “For the time being one is doing this or that, but whether it is a woman or a job, it is not yet what is really wanted, and there is always the fantasy that sometime in the future the real thing will come about…. The one thing dreaded throughout by such a type of man is to be bound to anything whatever”  (Von Franz, 2000).  This is your life.  Live it like a man.  Your life will be better for it.  It really will.  This other stuff you are chasing is an illusion.




von Franz, Marie-Louise. The Problem of the Puer Aeternus. 3rd Edition, Inner City Books, Toronto, 2000.


[1] Sometimes it means I am thinking about a session I had today.

[2] I did get his permission to tell this story.  I also can respect that he is not going into a marriage thinking that it would not require some adjustments on his part.

[3] Always talkin’ about what he wants, And just sits on his broke (posterior).

[4] Bankers, by the way, hate doing that because it is hard for the bank to monitor, and they have to take responsibility for it.

[5] For more on this topic, check out this post: https://scottwoodtherapy.wordpress.com/2013/02/23/martyr-points-a-mans-guide/