When does a boy become a man?
What is done in modern society to signify the passage from boyhood to manhood?
Your first beer? Losing your V-card? Getting a driver’s license? No longer do older men take a younger man under their tutelage and show them how to be a man. We are taught how to be men by what we see in the media. Men are shown as the bumbling fool in T.V. shows that forgets his wife’s birthday, or doesn’t know what cold medicine to take, or how to take care of their own children. How often have you heard someone ask a man how he’s going to survive with the kids by himself when his wife is away?
This has happened because the older men have not taught the younger boys how to be men. People may say, “Oh kids today…” followed by some complaint about the next generation. Well, they don’t know because they weren’t taught!
There are far too many 13-year-old boys trapped in 35-year-old bodies because no one ever showed them how to become a man.
Robert Bly, in his excellent book on manhood, Iron John, writes,
“Men’s clubs and societies have steadily disappeared. Grandfathers live in Phoenix or the old people’s home, and many boys experience only the companionship of other boys their age. Only men can initiate men. Only men can change the boy to a man. Initiators say that boys need a second birth, this time a birth from men.”
Boys need to be taught how to be men.
Then they need to teach the next generation of boys what they learned. This is done through initiation.
What do you think of when you hear the word initiation?
You probably think of a pledge being initiated into a college fraternity through hazing, or a weird initiation ritual that some secret society performed in a movie where everyone drinks blood out of a skull. But initiation is so much more than that. And we’ve lost it in modern society.
In generations past, boys were initiated by their fathers. They studied with him in an apprenticeship until given the reigns to the family business. Often they were forced to take over the breadwinner role at a young age when fathers died young. Other boys were sent off to the military and came out of boot camp all grown up. Native American tribal male leaders would take a young man away from his mother and take him on a grand hunt or battle. He would prove himself and come back a man ready to take on the role required of him.
We have gotten away from all these things. Men crave initiation. They need to know they’ve passed from boyhood to manhood.
John Eldredge writes in Wild At Heart,
“Until a man knows he is a man he will forever be trying to prove he is one, while at the same time shrinking from anything that might reveal he is not.”
Men aren’t challenged. We try to come up with ways to prove we are a man or “manly”. But being able to pound down beers doesn’t make you a man. Winning a fight doesn’t make you a man. Having a beard doesn’t prove you’re a man. Even fathering a child doesn’t make you a man.
What makes a man?
Being a leader makes you a man. Taking responsibility for your actions makes you a man. Providing for those who rely on you makes you a man. Protecting them makes you a man. And being an example to others makes you a man.
There are a few initiations that are still in place. An example from my personal life is Freemasonry. I went through an initiation into the fraternity. No, it didn’t involve goats or blood sacrifices or anything like that. It involved another man mentoring me, showing me the way. Then I went through an initiation that many good men have gone through before me. I came out a better man. Now I have a brotherhood of men that I can rely on. That will support me and guide me. One of the mottos of Freemasonry is to “Take good men and make them better.” That’s exactly what men need today.
Christian men especially need other good men to guide them. To show them how to be leaders and strong men. We need to live out Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Older, wiser, learned men, need to take younger men, especially younger believers and mentor them. They need to show them the Biblical role of men.
Jesus himself went through an initiation: his 40 days in the wilderness is where this site gets its name from. He spent 40 days in the wild without food. He was tested physically and tempted by the devil. He was tested emotionally by being offered all power and authority over the kingdoms of the world. And he was tempted spiritually by being asked to put God to the test. Through all these things he proved himself worthy. Remember he was the son of God, but he was also fully man. He had to go through that time of trial and come out ready to take on the role he was destined for.
That’s what I’m trying to accomplish with “Into The Wilderness” We need to go through a period of testing, to face ourselves in the mirror and prove to ourselves that we are men. Men need to be taught by other men, then put to the test. Initiation isn’t meant to be punishment or hazing. It doesn’t need to be ritualistic. But it does need to happen. There needs to be a point in every male’s life where he KNOWS he’s a man.
What was that moment for you? Or what WILL that moment be for you? For your son?
A boy becomes a man when another man shows him how to be one.