A Modern Day Hero’s Journey Is What Today’s Boy Needs to Become a Man

The entire reason we have such a thing as a quarter life crisis, and later a mid-life crisis, is because boys and young men lack meaningful rite-of-passage experiences.

This post is for unconventional parents who are inspired to give their sons a real rite-of-passage into manhood. This post is directed at parents who are parenting sons that don’t fit into the mold.

Our son’s need more than they are getting. We’ve somehow made it so that a hand held gadget is more appealing than we are. When we don’t provide them with solid rituals, they make up their own.

I’ve worked with men and teens boys since 1995 and have come to one vast conclusion–Teenage boys need a rite-of-passage.

Why?

When boys don’t get “initiated” into adulthood, they waffle around in Guyland, not knowing who they are or where they are going until they reach a quarter-life crisis of some kind. If boys succeed at staying numb through their twenties, they will get another shot during a mid-life crisis. The entire reason we have such a thing as a quarter life crisis, and later a mid-life crisis, is because men are unbelievably disconnected from their own essence.

When I look around at teenage boys today, I see a confused, depressed, lost, pissed off, lazy, checked out kid who refuses to grow up. Underneath his mask, he is in pain, longing for meaning, freedom, and truth. I also see a few happy free souls who are awkward, funny, dynamic, grounded, and wild. And sure, there are plenty of boys who model the “good American male” icon, but that kid is a robot to me. He’s just following orders from his culture and his gender about how to be a “good little boy.” Whatever the case may be, our culture perpetuates boys disconnecting from their True Self which eventually leads to grown men who are disconnected, unsatisfied, stuck, and depressed who look outside themselves for joy.

How did we get here?

In this culture, right around the time a boy graduates high school, there is a fork in the road. This fork is critical to mature adult development. The fork has two paths. One is the path of self-actualization where a boy deepens further into his core essence. The other fork, the more common distracting fork, takes him away from his center and into the cultural man-box machine thus training him how to be a sheep.

A rite-of-passage is designed to help a boy self-actualize. A rite-of-passage can help a boy deepen into himself, cultivate his sexual essence, stay true himself, and uncover why he is here what it is that’s his to do in the world. A rite-of-passage helps a boy find true meaning in a world full of perpetual noise.

Taking the road of self-actualization is more demanding than ever before because the distractions are endless. The pressure fit into the man-box is pervasive. So what do boys do? Smart ones rebel, take drugs, and push the edges. The smart boys know there is more to life than being a blind sheep, finding a soul sucking job, or living the American Dream. However, the “smart” kids reaction is initially smart, what they do next ain’t so smart. They push and push their boundaries, they don’t find, so they explore and take risks with lost arrogance on board. Smart turns to self-harm pretty quick.

Very few of us can self actualize without proper guidance or ongoing experiences that draw us further into our center. Elders and mentors play a key role here, as can spirituality and solid parenting (sorry folks, religion keeps a boy stuck in a box instead of helping him discover what is true in his own heart).

When I was a teen, I lived a pretty privileged, “easy” life so it wasn’t until 18 that I started taking big risks by pushing my limits, unconsciously attempting to find the truth, some grain of evidence about my life’s purpose or the meaning of it all. I did a lot of drugs, joined a fraternity, got hazed and hazed back, drank a lot and pissed many people off along the way. Then, I spent the bulk of my twenties traveling and seeking, running from something and running to something. I did all of this because I was lost, angry, depressed and longing. Deep down, I was searching. I wouldn’t settle for the track that everyone else my age was taking. As my friends took “real” jobs, I kept asking “Is this really all there is to life?” I knew there had to be more.

Had I had a rite-of-passage and a badass male mentor to check in with, to consult with and to seek wisdom from, perhaps I would have avoided many pitfalls. Not only that, it is possible I would have come into my own sooner as opposed to later, thus serving more people earlier.

At some point on the human journey, boys are supposed to become adult men. In our culture, we don’t do anything to honor, acknowledge and facilitate this huge transition. As a result, grown men remain boys even though they look like men. They get stuck in Guyland and the man-box, wandering around, thinking they should get a real job, staying at mom’s house, surfing facebook all day, and emotionally and spiritually stagnating hoping someone will make the journey for them.

What would your teenage son be like if he had a powerful community of mentors, leading him through a very challenging ordeal and giving him course corrections now and again, letting him fall down when appropriate, and “holding him” through whatever trials and tribulations he faced as he embarked out on his “hero’s journey” of self-discovery.

The hero’s journey is about facing himself directly and diving into the very core of his being so he knows, utterly, and without question, that he is the author of his life and that he can do anything his soul desires while staying connected to his heart.

In my view, we are letting our boys down. They need to feel their edge. They need to push up against their own mortality or face the intense rawness of life somehow. They need to know they, and they alone are responsible for their actions. They need to find the truth that lives inside of them so that they can tap into it and serve the world from a more genuine, heart-centered place.

We need to think WAY outside the box here and also learn from our ancestors. Yet we don’t have to haze him, shame him, or abuse him to do this. And, he doesn’t have to join the military and risk his life as a pawn in someone else’s fight to do this.

The rite-of-passage I’m talking about has to be modern, current, and relevant and a journey that ultimately he hungers to embark on.  It also has to be free of shaming yet full of tough love. And, yes moms, you will have to “let go” of him at a certain point. And, it’s no wonder you struggle with that. In this day and age, letting him go isn’t necessarily a good thing as he limps along. But what if you could let him go into the ultimate, trustworthy, ferocious hero’s journey?

Yes, a four-day vision quest is good. Yes, Outward Bound or NOLS are great. And, yes, the military is an option. However, we are taking about a transition into mature adulthood and beyond. This is a big deal. Many of current teen rite-of-passage programs are very short with very little on the front and back end. My professional bias is that our sons need at least a year-long program and it has to be one they ultimately ask for wherein they face their demons and connect to their soul.

For my son, I will have several male friends facilitate his rite-of-passage.  I will be involved but only to a point. I will also give him many opportunities where he has to confront himself directly and go deeper inside himself to discover who he is.

And instead of marching of to college (in 18 years, I’d be spending $340,800 at a private college and $95,000 at a public college) to join the rat race, he’ll have the option to embark on a one or two-year rite-of-passage around the world with boys his own age where they learn from their own experience about life, rather than reading about it in a book, or being held hostage in the rat race. Consider it “preventative care” for our youth, rather than a costly “intervention” when he train-wrecks in life.

Lastly, don’t expect to facilitate a rite-of-passage for your son if you haven’t done one yourself. That’s right. If you haven’t been through years of personal growth work or a rite-of-passage yourself, you are unqualified to initiate my son.

If you want your son to avoid the pitfalls of a quarter-life crisis or a mid-life crisis, and, if  you want your son know, without a doubt, that he has the self-confidence and ability to navigate life’s challenges internally and externally, do whatever it takes to help him discover who he really is.

Raising a boy? Join our facebook fan page Raising Boys.

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Interested in this subject?

Watch my friend Aaron Huey, director of a local rite-of-passage program for teens, as he talks to parents below:

Listen to an MP3 interview from The New Man Podcast and learn more about why a rite-of-passage for boys is so critical here.

Other resources for your son that I support (all are shorter in duration):

Boys to Men

Threshold Passages, Colorado

Fire Mountain programs, Colorado

Sacred Passages, Colorado

Animas Valley Institute, Colorado

The Wilderness Within, California

School of Lost Borders, California

I’m sure there are many others, please comment below or email me and I can add to this list.

all photos by Jayson Gaddis

 

 

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About Jayson Gaddis

Jayson Gaddis — householder, former psychotherapist, teacher, speaker, writer, relationship specialist, & soul guide is using the vehicle of his marriage and his children to become who he truly is, while expanding his capacity to love. He’s on the planet to help people master the soul lesson burning in their heart, through the vehicle of intimacy and relationship. He’s a husband and part-time stay-at-home Dad getting schooled by his two cosmic kids.

Comments

  1. Love this! Well done!

    One of my son’s 12-yo friends, wanting to hear about my life at the same age began with: “Hey Rob…back when you were alive…”

  2. Great stuff Jayson…I agree wholeheartedly!
    I am an Aussie who has created a year-long school Rites of Passage program called ‘The Rite Journey’ (www.theritejourney.com.au) based on the hero’s journey. It is included as a part of the curriculum in school (usually 3 x 50 minute lessons a week) and the boys explore with their specially trained male teacher what it is to be a responsible, resilient and respectful man. The program also has them involved with outside of school male mentors and incorporates a parenting education program. There is a series of 7 steps/ceremonies over the year which I help the schools to create (especially for their situation/environment/students) as we celebrate with these boys, their mentors and families their transition into beginning manhood.

    Steve Biddulph, Author of ‘Raising Boys’ and ‘The New Manhood – The handbook for a new kind of man’ notes regarding The Rite Journey –
    “There are lots of good programs about, but nothing I have seen that is so comprehensive, sustained over time, and potentially so life changing for the boys involved. That it is accessible for all boys, regardless of income or family circumstance, at what is traditionally a rather uninspiring phase of their schooling is wonderful news.
    It has potential for wide dissemination, turning a problematic time of life into a force for good.”

    As a teacher and parent-educator I believe it is essential that we make a Rite of passage accessible to every boy…not just those with parents who are conscious enough to seek one…and the education system seems to be the only place that this is possible. The Rite Journey is ushering thousands of boys into young manhood in 2013 in Australia and I have just trained the first Rite Journey school in the UK…I’d love to hear from any teachers/educators in the US who would be interested in exploring the possibilities of introducing the program to the education system in your country.

    Keep up the great work Jayson…and all of the other outstanding men who are working to bring rites of passage to our boys.

    Warmly
    Andrew

    • Jayson Gaddis says:

      Awesome and inspiring! thank you Andrew. good to know of such programs. Also didn’t know Biddulph wrote a new book. I’ll check it out!

  3. This is something I think about a lot as my eldest son hits puberty and all the pitfalls that go with it. I’ve survived some crazy shit in my time, and through those hells, I learned quite a bit about myself. At my lowest lows I found epiphany and clarity, and I think it is truly the hardest thing to teach. By this time next year, he’ll be 15, the age by which I began living and surviving on my own. I don’t want him to live the life I had to, and I certainly don’t want him to make the same mistakes I did, but I realize that the only way he can come to a place where he knows himself properly is to find his own path. So what to do? He’s a child of the city in the midst of the iGeneration. There’s a fine line between what will challenge a young man and what will break him, and as a father, finding that which will challenge my son into self-actualization is -MY- quest.

    • Jayson Gaddis says:

      Excellent Michael. Thanks for doing it so differently than was done to you. Keep that question alive and present.

  4. James Counsellor says:

    Hi Jayson,
    Thanks for writing such an important article. I’m a steward for the Hero’s Journey Foundation which was founded to address the loss of meaningful rites of passage in modern times. Programs for adult men as well as young men (14-16 and 17-22) are offered throughout the year. Recognizing that the Hero’s Journey and rites of passage aren’t solely the province of men, the foundation offers journey programs for women. In addition, a young women’s program has recently been inaugurated. More information is available on the foundation website: http://www.herosjourneyfoundation.org/
    Best regards,
    James

  5. Our modern culture has unwittingly removed many positive male archetypes in the name of progress and feminism. A common male “right of passage”, losing one’s virginity, is frought with genderized sexual pressure and creates (at least implicitly) negativity toward emotion, intimacy, and sexual expression. Modern society pressures men to behave, think, and relate more like women. Men have a profound, positive, and impactful energy that needs to be freely and genuinely masculine, not feminine (although all men have feminine qualities). I love the idea of a Hero’s journey to set young men on a trajectory of a lifetime of embracing and harnessing their masculinity.

    Good stuff!

  6. Agreed. Although it’s not just young boys who lack rites of passage; girls don’t have one either.

  7. I read this and I thought.. this is me.. Ive always felt lost, especially in my 20s, and Ive never really fit in anywhere and I think I know why, Ive always thought my parents and society pretty much failed me and now that Ive admitted it, the only person than can fix it is me.

  8. Jayson, Yes, Yes, Yes. Agree 1000%. In the past 100-150 years or so modern humans have forgotten about our ancient ancestors from whom we evolved. In our efforts of becoming “civilized” we have left many of the old traditions that helped humans survive for millennia. Gangs and most other problems in modern society are the result of this forgetting. Thank you for your work, it could not come at a better time. MKP.org is another resource for men who are looking for a solution to the quarter life crisis.

  9. @Jayson, GREAT article and right on.

    @ Emily “Agreed. Although it’s not just young boys who lack rites of passage; girls don’t have one either.” Wow

  10. J Lindsay says:

    Emerging from a quarter-life crisis of my own in the past year, I’m in agreement with your piece Mr. Gaddis. I’m 25 now, living on my own, and have been pushing my parents away from me lately as difficult as that has been. I’ve realized that the college boomerang I experienced, heartbreak, lay-offs, giving the drugs a break (nearly 7 months now), and finally moving into a place of my own have been steps in a process towards greater self-fulfillment.

    I’d agree that in our march to egalitarianism we as a society have lost sight of some basic truths of our being and natures. Young men need formal rites of passage. Young women need formal rites of passage. And neither needs to be irreverent of cultural circumstances on the local or general level. I wish I could describe in more detail appropriate ways to do so, but I only know the circumstances I’ve lived and it would be improper for me to proscribe my particular knowledge upon another’s experience.

    I am an Eagle Scout, and though I did it more for family than for myself I dare not deny the positive characteristics and skills it has imbued my person with. However, I would say that pushing a young man to seek for himself rather than seeking the safe bet my go a long way in reenergizing our culture and communities. I’m doing telesales now, and it’s teaching me interpersonal assertiveness and a talkative nature I’ve always lacked and shunned, respectively, and I grew up always hanging up on people doing what I myself do now!

    Its challenging professionally and personally, and I’m grateful for it because it has been my decision. Yes I’m nearly broke, but in the effort to pay off my debts (student & credit) by the end of the year I’m thinking of making myself more broke in order to really light a fire under my ass to succeed. I need to dig out of my own hole, and that’s wickedly motivating. Toe the edge, good sirs, failure leads to the first step up.

  11. I was lucky enough to have an English teacher who nurtured my love of poetry, gave me the three James’ Tate, Wright and Dickey to read. Let me explore Bukowski and eecummings without censoring my voracious reading hunger. Actually hurling your body against another just like they did in Martins Ferry, Ohio, with its infamous whorehouse and poet, or reading poetry of war and manhood, allowed me to be both sensitive and steeled for tragedy. The journey to manhood is not a simple one and many distractions on the path can lead a boy astray. More men need to read great poetry and share it with their sons, Phillip Levine, Mark Strand, the James’ I mentioned would be a good start. The word “poetry” is from the Greek word, poesis, meaning a making. A poem is merely “a made thing” but it is made from words, a precisely built vessel of words to carry a thought from tongue to ear, a thought that just might make becoming a man easier to understand.

  12. CosmicDestroyer says:

    Fifty years worth of counter culture and over a century’s worth of gender theory, and it always ends up being another nature hike and another freaking backpack trip through Eurpoe. Teenage boys need someone to teach them how to advocate for themselves to other people, not how to camp out in trees or sort motorcycle parts.

    There is no “Hero’s Journey”, no “Threshold”, and no “Call To Action”. Athletes get old and sell shoes and great war heroes become terrible senators. Life isn’t an Epic, it’s a comedy. Learn a shtick, paint your ass red, get up on stage, and if all else fails, improvise!

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