Initiation to a manMeets a hidden need
Rite of passage
It can change the course of a life
Almost every culture... (except Western cultures) have some form of 'rite of passage' for their boys to become recognized as men.
Ask any group of males what is required to become a man and you will get a lot of blank stares. When exactly does a boy become a man and what are the characteristics of a real man? These are questions that are rarely voiced or answered in western society.
It could be said that biologically, a boy has begun his journey into manhood with his first ejaculation of semen. This would be similar logic to a girl experiencing her first period and being accepted as being on her way to becoming a woman. The boy's ejaculation is private and is not normally known to those around him, unlike most girls having their first period which is more likely to have someone close aware of the event.
Without some form of official closure to childhood and welcoming to manhood, a teenage boy can become caught in a subconscious life-long quest to create that affirmation that he is indeed a man!
Many unspoken ways are presently used to try to self-confirm manhood in western society including:
- Being a workaholic
- Alcohol consumption
- Sport involvement
- Sexual conquests
- Heroic exploits (bungee jumping etc.)
- Promotions at work
Bible about transition
You are already a man if you have reached puberty! Your body may still have some growing to do, but the biological days of being in a child's body are over. There doesn't appear to be the concept of 'teenager' in the bible.
Jesus was 'about his father's (God's) business' when he was 12 years old. We could read into this that God didn't worry about Jesus' immature body while asking him to do things only a 'man' would do. (in this case teaching in the temple!)
King David received a visitation from God when he was a youth - indicating his body was not fully matured and yet God treated him as a man rather than a boy. David went on to overthrow his nation's enemy (Goliath and his army) while he was still quite young.
The completely matured physical body is not required in order to be classed as a man. The body will continue to change from birth until death in old age.
The fact that you are a male and you have reached puberty means you are no longer a boy in God's eyes. The consequences of accepting this fact are life changing:
- You don't have to do anything to become a man - you already are a man.
- You don't have to do anything to prove you are a man - you already are a man.
- You don't have to believe others who label you as less than a man - you are a man and that can't be changed.
- Nothing you can do will make you more of a man (or less of a man) - you are a man and God made you perfect as you are.
Jews do it this way
The Jews recognize the boy is no longer a child with a ceremony called a 'Bar Mitzvah'. It is an official 'rite of passage' ceremony held when the boy is 13 years old. This ceremony is considered to be an important day in a boy's life.
Many married adult men who have been through a Bar Mitzvah actually verify that day as being a very important day of their lives. In its simplest form it is some form of ceremony or celebration to mark the closure of childhood and the new passage into adulthood. In a Christian setting it would be accompanied by a person praying a blessing over the young man's life. Praying a blessing like this releases God's power into the person's life to empower them to prosper (thrive, do well, succeed, flourish)
During this ceremony, it is imparted to the boy that:
- God, before the world was created, had planned for the boy's life. He was no surprise or accident. He is on this earth with a purpose from God which only he can fulfill.
- God made him perfect - God doesn't make mistakes.
- God and those around him, see him as a man from that day forward and will no longer treat him as a child.
Characteristics of a Real Man
The biological changes from boy to man happen without any input. A ceremony (as described) is often used to mark those changes.
The character traits of a real man, however, must be learned: (from Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father's Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood - Robert Lewis)
- Rejects Passivity (sluggishness, inactivity, laziness)
- Adult males have a natural tendency to avoid social responsibility. Real men reject being passive in the areas they have responsibility in.
- Accepts responsibility (obligation, loyalty)
Jesus had the responsibility to do God's will while on earth. That responsibility defined Jesus as a man and He pursued the responsibility as a source of great satisfaction. The responsibility of every man is:
- To obey God's will (as revealed in the scriptures)
- To do his work (at home, at his job, in the church and the community)
- To love his wife (if he is married)
- Leads courageously (brave, fearless)
- Real men lead rather than follow. They do not ignore their principles in order to yield to the emotions and feelings of the moment. Leadership demands that men must have the courage to master their passions and control them with the principles of truth revealed in God's word.
- Expects a greater reward
- Life is not just work day after day. The anticipation of later joy kept Jesus obedient to God's will for Him on earth. Real manhood is liberating and a call to life. It is also a means of great reward here on earth and afterward in heaven.
Why this recognition is so important
Masculinity is an essence that is hard to articulate but that a boy naturally craves as he craves food and water. It is something passed between men. When a father and son spend long hours together, we could say that a substance almost like food passes from the older body to the younger. That is why my boys love to wrestle with me - why any healthy boy wants the same with his father. They love the physical contact, to brush against my cheek, feel the sandpaper of my whiskers, my strength all around them and to test their strength on me. And it is this testing that is so essential.
Ancient societies believed that a boy becomes a man....only through the active intervention of the older men. The father or another man must actively intervene and the mother must let go.
Sometimes when the mother clings, the boy will try to tear himself away, violently. She feels rejected and he feels guilty but he knows he must get away. Whatever the mother's failure it can be overcome by the father's active engagement.
...when the father-son relationship is right, the quiet tree of masculine strength within the father protects and nurtures the fragile stripling of masculinity within his son.
Rite of passage
A rite-of-passage is more about defining the path forward for a boy rather than an acknowledgement of past achievements. A boy of 13 does not really have any achievements to earn the passage, but many who work in this area agree that around 13 is an ideal age to have the most affect from the rite. It defines the path for the coming teenage years. Some boys have no outward signs of puberty at 13, but anecdotal evidence is that the boy will still benefit from a rite-of-passage ceremony.
An official recognition by a man (preferably the father) can have an amazing effect on a boy's life. It frees him from having to read constantly 'between the lines' from his friend's obscure comments about his masculinity. Instead that question is settled with the official rite-of-passage. He is then free to relate to friends in a more confident way.
If as a young guy it is not happening for you, you might have to put some effort in to get that rite-of-passage affirmation from the significant man in your life. In the Bible a guy called Jacob went to great lengths to secure the blessing from his father. That blessing enabled him to prosper, where his brother who did not receive that blessing of words went nowhere! Words of blessing carry power Bible: Genesis 27, 28
A rite-of-passage is a tangible way to formalise your love, belief and hopes towards your teenage boy.
Father love...is the key to help boys feeling motivated and believing in themselves, that being a good man is something to strive for.
For parents see this sample rite-of-passage letter which can be used to formalise the rite-of-passage.
I have personally undertaken numerous initiation 'ceremonies' for teenage boys. I have also heard of others and the results of all of them have been positive. Some guys felt awkward but not enough to stop the 'ceremony'. Often it was one-on-one to save him embarrassment at the event.
The results in the boys ranged from a milestone dramatic change to no visible change and everything in between. All had an improved relationship with me to varying degrees as the stand-in father figure. Years later at random times they will talk of the 'ceremony' event as something important and a milestone to them.