In a world that eats boys’ self-worth for sport, fathers have the power to validate a young man’s arrival into adulthood. Coming of age is a legal term stipulating at 18 or 21 years old when adolescents are no longer considered minors and given full rights and consequences as adults. The truth is there is a coming of age that must be earmarked prior to this legal age and best done by dads or father figures.
Many children are babied for far too many years. Adolescent rebellion goes on for many more years than is healthy. Ever wonder why scarring, piercing, tattooing, hair styles, clothing, language and many other perceived rebellions are so important to their teens?
Rebellion is a way for teens to identify themselves with a group that approves of them. It is also an outward shout announcing their independence. Some acting out in all teens is normal. It’s a form of self-expression. But when we fail to recognize their coming of age, rebellion can manifest itself in extreme ways. These behaviors are a way of stating, “I’m ready to take my place in the world. You agree, right?”
Parents often fail to recognize their teens’ maturity by never clearly defining the line of the time when they should cross over. Parents also so distracted by the wall banging noise often forget to train teens with the how to cross over skills required to arrive. Dads, in particular, play some of the most important roles in validating their teen’s arrival into adulthood.
Coming of age for boys is a bit of a tougher scenario than with girls. There are no menses to clearly signaling the day has arrived like there is for young women. Facial hair can begin as early as 11 years of age and as late as 19 years of age. Although, in other countries, traditions are well established. We are a bit slower in the United States to mark this day as an arrival into manhood. American teen boys often don’t know when they’ve become men. Consequently, they continue in adolescent behaviors long after they should.
In many cultures outside of the United States, the rites of passage for boys becoming men is much more severe than for girls. In East Africa, the boys’ heads are shaved, and the tribal elders administer three deep cuts in their skulls from ear to ear. This leaves permanent scars that then identify a male as being an adult.
In our family, the magical age of arrival is 13. We start talking about being 13 while they are very young. As if we are all awaiting their ‘1st coming of age’ (the second being the 18-year-old mark and hopefully their graduation from high school.)
In Biblical times, patriarchs passed on the family blessing to their boys to symbolize their entrance into manhood. My husband struggled for years to measure up to what he thought a man should be.
One fall when visiting his family, he and his father got time to talk on a fishing trip. His father said, “Son, you’ve done an excellent job raising your family. I’m proud of you.” Those few short sentences powerfully changed him. He was stronger, more confident and finally assessed himself as a man, and it reflected in our family.
The rite of passage with our son came at the age of thirteen. My husband and I carefully orchestrated our son’s ‘arrival ceremony’. He was required to pass a hunter’s safety course. Upon completion, he and his dad packed for a seven-day hunting trip. They drifted forty miles of river in six-man rafts with four other respected Christian men. This trip was a test of strength and endurance in the wilderness designed to help him understand his ability to challenge himself and survive.
They talked about obligations for developing the quality of the man he needed to become. One topic covered was the responsibilities as a man to our family and what would be expected of him when he created his family. Dad shared with him the importance regarding his accountability to his faith, honor, and integrity. He was instructed on how to treat women at all times; his mom, his sister, his dates, and his future life partner.
On the third night, my husband gathered the men at the campfire and asked them to share with our son their wisdom on living life with integrity. He still remembers all these years later the story one hunter shared, “I’ll tell you the same thing my granddad told me–everyone has to climb fool’s mountain, but only you decide how far up the mountain you will climb. Choose well!”
They prayed together, and my husband gave our son a necklace with the day’s date engraved on it as a memento of the day. This served as a reminder of the day he crossed over from a boy to a man. He was told when he arrived home, he would no longer be treated as a boy, but would be treated as a man with more responsibilities and expectations. At thirty-one years of age, he still wears the necklace and often speaks of that week.
Don’t miss this opportunity to instill confidence in the heart of a boy that will soon need all his strength to survive in a world that can systematically beat them down. Help him mature into the kind of man who will one day need to lead his family.
Photo: Flickr/ Geraint Rowland