Why Men, Young and Old, Need a Rite of Passage to Relearn About Manhood

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About Alan Bishop

Alan's a writer, television producer and adventurer. He is 20 years into a lifetime of loving with his wife and is a proud Dad to two young men (21 and 18). Through his website The 365 Effect.com  Alan works with individuals and corporations helping them make positive Change while focusing on Being Better Everyday.  Alan's a dedicated fitness enthusiast, a Crossfitter as well as a lifelong lover of the game of golf. You can follow him @the365effect

Comments

  1. Alan,

    Fantastic piece!!! I applaud you.

    I grew up in rural Georgia. The men in my family took all of us boys out to learn what being a man was all about. Hunting, fishing, field dressing your kill,…as well as learning to respect guns was all part of this process. What this did for me was to instill a sense of confidence. At age 14, my dad bought my brother and me 30-30 Marlins. We then we about hunting on our own during the deer season.

    Now this is just a small example of how something as small as hunting had such a large impact on my life. I taught me responsibility for dangerous weapons, it taught me respect and appreciation for mature, and independence.

    I have a 16 year old. While I reside in Maryland I always to home to Georgia several times a year. We go hunting! He has a bolt action 30-06. I am teaching him the same values I was taught. The only thing is I do not feel comfortable with him going hunting alone as I did as a teenage boy. He does not know the terrain as I do.

    I am an avid big game hunter. This year I plan on taking him to Montana for elk hunting. Next year we will go to Southern Africa to chase my big prize: the African Cape Buffalo!

    Thanks for this piece.

  2. Timely piece for me — as a 49 yo father of 3 teenage girls and 1 pre-adolescent boy, my life is extremely busy but not with activities that connect me with other men other than very casually. I grew with a loving but primarily absent father and my biggest concern as a father is that my son grow up and not experience the isolation that I feel in my life now because I never learned or sought the opportunity to develop those very basic and masculine bonds.

    • Alan Bishop says:

      Wow. you are busy Barrett. I couldn’t imaging going back now to the pre-adolescent stage in respect to kids. I’m glad mine are 21 and 18 and out exploring the world. Different challenges but a nice new phase.

      I echo your thoughts completely – search my name on the GMP site and you’ll see a couple articles I’ve written on the topic of NOT being like my absent dad as well as the love I have for my boys.

      I think there is a yearning for men to experience the company of other men. I just don’t think society really knows how to make this acceptable or current. What devices do we have in place, what rituals, what permissions do Men have today to foster this company of men.

      Thanks for sharing.

  3. A great article, Alan! You sure do ask a lot of questions. ;^)

    Answers are hard to come by, but I agree totally with the need you describe. In my experience, older men don’t start the quest until a certain amount of fear, pain, and/hunger has entered their life. Once it does, they find themselves lost as to how to respond to it, how to feel about, and how to talk about it. Why do we wait for the fear/pain/hunger to begin asking questions?

    That’s my story as well. You think you have it all figured out up until you find out you don’t. That was the catalyst to my reaching out to men – to help them through their ROP. It’s never too late.

    I created a ROP of sorts for men who hit the wall in their relationships call the Epiphany Trail. Here’s the page: http://goodguys2greatmen.com/goodguys/programs/epiphany-ridge-trail-program/

    To me, an important part of a ROP is developing clarity about who you want to be, who you WILL be for others, and growing comfortable in the never ending process of becoming a better man. Learning to let go of control and being outcome dependent was key for me personally.

    Thanks for making me think.

    • Alan Bishop says:

      Glad it opened up the thinking Steve. I’ll check out your link.

      It really is a never ending process enroute to being a better man. I strive to Be Better Everyday but it’s not always easy. There are times when I have questions I can’t answer.

  4. Firstly I am appalled by Jules concept of ROP and his concept of what he thinks a man is…. if anything that is old time concept of masculinity that will have little impact of helping boys grow up.

    I like the concept of ROP and think it has a place and a role in our society, certainly to recognize and celebrate the different stages in life. I also think that boys need both men and women to help them traverse these certain stages in their lives, while important to have male only moments.

    Traditional ROP were based on reinforcing gender specific roles, local tradition, brutality, control and were seen as important for the survival of the tribe. Most of us live in diverse cultures where we are aware of many different traditions which are more to do with sustaining the culture, belief system and certain values. Modern ROP will need to be very different in which the main task will be about internal growth.

    I have heard some say that a ‘boy is born and a man is made’ which I find a bit odd, surely within the right environment a boy develops from being a boy into a man. For me the most important aspect of growth that boys and men need is emotional growth. When boys grow up in environments where they are allowed to feel the full range of their feelings then perhaps boys will naturally grow up and become whole men.

    • Alan Bishop says:

      Thanks James.

      I’m curious to your reference to “Traditional” ROP’s. Are they relevant today? If so are all aspects relevant? Are any pieces relevant today? That’s one of the questions I’m asking in this piece. I want to start a conversation where the NEW ROP can be discovered.

      I’m not for a second saying a ROP is a one size fit all equation but more so what are the processes, guidelines and elements that make up a ROP that can be accepted today and become meaningful as future generations of men are formed.

      • Enabling humans to be alone and together, in contact with their inner world and in contact with nature is important, especially as the world becomes more urbanized. I think modern ROP’s don’t need to be male-centric especially as gender becomes more of a slippery or expanded concept. Important stages in life can be celebrated, marked, enabled by all genders.

  5. There are many ways to create a ROP for boys and men….as diverse as the number of different cultures on the planet. It’s an essential part to become a mature adult. I also don’t believe one goes through just one ROP during a lifetime, rather as one ages you can look back at important events and see how they helped further emotional growth. Some ROP will be only days or weeks long, others can take years. For example becoming a father is a ROP that goes on for years. Some will be formal ROP with all the stages. To create a ROP for boys and men in our current modern times, it takes a group of thoughtful men to commit to creating and carrying out the event, then having a way to follow up afterwards as long as necessary. One such group is the Mankind Project http://www.mkp.org Look back into our evolution as humans and you will find ROP taking place all over the planet until roughly the Industrial Revolution started….in our so called “Modern Culture” it seems we have lost track of our heritage as humans.

  6. Great piece Alan! Having spoken and worked with young men, I can not express the importance of a rites of passage. Hearing stories from young men about the pressures of “Acting like a man” is heartbreaking especially when those young men have no one to guide them into male adulthood. Some of them flounder through life without a mentor or role model and do their best to make the right choices. Thanks for sharing!

    • Alan Bishop says:

      Thanks Marie..
      It is our role as Mentors. We need to put ourselves out there for the young (and old men) in our worlds. Teaching someone to “act like a man” first comes from knowing for themselves truly who they are as a man.
      I can’t wait to discuss this with you more.

  7. Brian O'Gorman says:

    I think Scouting is the answer.

  8. Great article, Alan. This reminds me somewhat of Robert Bly’s movement in the ’90s. I’m not sure Scouting or wilderness experience is the only way. Perhaps for city folks, it is a break from the comfort zone and evokes a battle for survival, akin to the tests of manhood in older cultures.
    Men who live in rural areas where hunting is common often do use the “first hunt” as a rite of passage, not only killing but tracking, cleaning, getting it home, butchering it, sharing it with family. But can’t it be any sort of similar test?
    The challenge of doing something complicated on your own. Build something. The projects and deeds in Scouting are a good equivalent. It would have to be something that is truly a challenge, so they learn that failure is not the end, that they are still loved if they take the effort to do something difficult and only succeed after learning from their mistakes.

    • Alan Bishop says:

      Hi Thomas,
      Thanks for the feedback and joining the discussion. I have my own view of what a ROP can be today. For me this is a continuation on the discussion. Bly’s movement is one of the movements I’m referring to. It’s not relevant (in my opinion) today. Yes, there are men who will relate or be repelled by it but what I’m asking is for us to explore, suggest and define the NEW ways and ideals associated with a ROP for 2013.

      I agree 100% with challenge of building something and doing this on your own. The sense of accomplishment is addictive.

  9. @Alan First, let me say that I have been a mentor and parent to boys and girls for over twenty years now.Over that time, I have watched many of them become quite successful. You have written a solid article, although I must confess to having a good deal of skepticism about some of your claims.Some time ago I made the choice to reject any and all definitions of masculiity in deference to developing my sense of personhood. I see very little in your call for a reformation of masculiity that would disuade me from pursuing that path.
    There are so many problems with this push to redefine masculinity,it is difficult to know where to start to unwind them.This reformation is thought to be necessary because the old definition became obsolete. No argument there.The old definition was as tired and dogeared as my first favorite comic book.But I don’t see how developing a “new definition”, using the same methods as before, will produce something that has legs and can withstand the taciturn machinations that life will place on it.
    Secondarily, in your article there is much presumed about how men percieve masculinity. Are we to assume that all men worldwide are in similar crisis because some men in the west are in crisis? Even in this country,sometimes within the same family, there is much divergence in how the males define masculinity.My oldest brother,like my friend Jules, is a charming country boy to his bones.He ,like Jules, would undoubtably relate to the rugged outdoorsman/provider masculinity metaphor you provided. I would not.

    There is an implied understanding in your piece that some variation does exist among men in how they percieve masculinity. It only touches on the potential generational differences but doesn’t go far enough.

    Differences exist in other realms too,like race,religion,class and many more..However, advocates for change seldom if ever recognize or acknowledge these differences.They speak globally as if all men are the same and have the same worldview.We don’t.When does this movement, that fancies itself as enlightened, deal with these issues of inclusion?How can men, acting in isolation, fashion a definition that won’t also eventually become obsolete?
    The hunter/provider definition was, after all, based upon a role,a job.

    There is no way that kind of definition could last.It would seem obvious that any definition based upon a job or a role will ultimately,often suddenly, become obsolete.too.Since change is inevitable,wouldn’t it be wise to foster an identity that can be flexible,that can move like water and flow with the times? My job as a man is not to be searching for a definition of what I already am.I have the mind and body of a full grownman.In fact, in our modern cultuire,I don’t have job as a man.But I do have lots of responsibilites if I want to be considered a good person.
    Is not a good person also a good man or woman?

    • Alan Bishop says:

      Hey OGwriter,
      Thanks for a heartfelt reply.
      A couple thoughts. You seem quick to point out my perspective without first checking to make sure that’s true. You call it a rugged outdoorsman/provider type. Is this your reaction to a picture of a boy sighting a rifle, or my experience as a 15 year old youth? You have no idea of what my situation was as that 15 year old youth?

      I too have mentored many young men and women and my approach has always been to never judge or make an assumption. My entire article is asking for input. It’s a “Call to action” to come together as interested men and women to look at, question and possibly take the steps to redefine the needs for a current model of a ROP. Never did I suggest that one way (old or new, Western or Eastern, Christian or Muslim) is best.

      I agree that a good person is a good person regardless of gender. In my opinion both men and women need this experience but it must be done in a way that society accepts and nurtures once the ROP is completed.

  10. Hey Alan,whats up man?Thanks for engaging me.The hunting sequence you opened with was what I was referring to.And you are correct that I know little about you.My comments were focused on your ideas not judging you as a person.My concern is that men’s movements and women’s movements,though they appear egalatarian on the surface, in truth,they are not.The terms are defined by the privileged and powerful within that group.Sure,your call to all interested women and is noble,sincere and open minded.But, unfortunately, it doesn’t really address how to ensure every tradition,value and more get equal billing in this process of change.The perjorative language that is used in this narrative,I think, needs to be reexamined and made more specific.The narrative that springsforth from this language use is, at it’s core, exclusionary. I am all for men having a kumbuyaa moment.I was raised as a liberal catholic,born in SF and raised in the sixties/seventies in the birthplace of kumbuyaa politics;the Haight-Ashbury. I know from kumbuyaa.I mentor kids in the hood in the armed robbery capital of tha galaxy,Oakland,California.There are more languages spoken at the school where I work than I have fingers and toes.They come from places in China,North African,the Middle East,Central American,the Carribean and more.If I said to them that “men and boys” need a ROP ceremony,for most,the concept wouldn’t resonate.You list 7 reasons why you think “we” need a ROP.You used inclusive language,our and we’re, to define who you were speaking to.Who do you mean?Twenty two years ago,during the height of the Iron John hype a guy asked me,a man of color,if I would join his mens group in the woods for a day of drumming,chanting and enlightened discussion.The goal was to reclaim my masculinity.We would paint our faces and dress aboriginol to make the experience authentic.Asking me to do that is like asking a black woman to participate in slutwalk.

  11. Alan Bishop says:

    Hey OGwriter,

    Your last paragraph sums it up for me.

    It’s absurd to suggest that a ROP is simply dressing up, painting faces while drumming and chanting in the woods. That attitude is out there. I totally agree but it’s not the ROP that I would put forth trying to gain acceptance in 2013. That isn’t the conversation I’m trying to start.

    I see why you wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to find a way for the youth you work with to find resonance in that type of experience. As you know, with youth it’s all in the way you “Sell it” to them.

  12. Thank you for the article Alan! I agree 100% that this is an important area of growth and exploration for boys AND men. One of my favourite voices on this topic is David Deida. There is a great section in his book Intimate Communion that speaks to the three stages you mention – how incredibly important they are specifically when a man is middle aged, and how many couples would potentially still be together if men and women understood this process better!

    • Alan Bishop says:

      Great stuff Jocelyn,

      I’m very interested in the “middle aged man”. Speaking as one I know the amount of work I put in trying to “Be Better Everyday”. I think many men 35-55 have this desire as well. I’ll check out David’s work. Really appreciate your thoughts.

  13. Alan, I admire the journey you are on and have often felt like something is missing for young boys on the journry to be men, especially in the advertising-heavy society we live in today. Are we really going to allow movies, TV and video games teach our boys to be men?
    A few years ago I heard the elders at out church talking about a ROP weekend for one of their sons. I don’t think it involved hunting, even though this was Texas. Instead it was a father, his peers and the young man. The son was presented with a beautiful sword as part of some type of ceremony and the men each spoke to him, defining and declaring to him his manhood and what that responsibility entails. Words are powerful and I believe they must be incorporated into such an endeavor. Especially words that communicate honor and respect. A boy looks to his father to find his identity. If he doesn’t find it there he will look elsewhere. I also love the idea of the ROP happening in a community of men who are trusted and respected by the father (rather than it being a solitary, isolated experience). But this assumes those relationships already exist.
    Keep doing what you’re doing. This is an important conversation.

    • Alan Bishop says:

      Hi Merritt,
      I echo your comments. This environment of trust, respect, dignity, morality, honesty. These traditions are ones that need to be fostered, worked on and continually refined. Media can’t do this as it’s just a one way street….media only pushes one message – there is no back and forth.

      I think being in nature is a component of a ROP in my view. It doesn’t have to involve hunting but connecting with the natural world is also becoming a lost art for our species.
      I don’t hunt by the way but I have killed animals for food on a few occasions and I’ve also learned the skills to track, kill, prepare and cook the meat and vegetables that I enjoy eating. I think everyone should know how to do this. It’s a lifeskill in my opinion, just as valuable as first aid, basic body maintenance, sewing, navigation, driving, simple mechanics etc. Without these skills we would quickly perish.

      I really appreciate you sharing the “sword ceremony”. What a glorious experience that must have been for the young man.

      Cheers,
      Alan

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