Boys and men need these rites of passage to build their confidence and self-awareness.
The world needs more men who have found their way through the masculine journey and discovered their individual authenticity. Men who know they have what it takes.
What is an authentic man? They make healthy fathers, sons, husbands, and leaders. Just a quick look around and it’s easy to see that there aren’t enough of these men. From the workplace to church and everyplace in between, we see passive men who are afraid to rock the boat, stand up for what’s right, and refuse to be leaders in their families. Many of these men have luke-warm marriages, superficial relationships with their kids, and lack any real passion. They are bored and boring. From the proliferation of pornography, alcoholism, and the emptiness many men feel, this is an epidemic. Even worse, the key to transforming today’s boys into men is having authentic men around to lead the way and these men are shrinking in numbers.
A healthy journey into manhood is key to an authentic self-awareness of our manhood. This has nothing to do with penis size, wallet size, or the breast size of your wife. It has everything to do with confidence, self-worth, knowing that you measure up.
The journey starts as a child. Many old world societies had initiation rituals transforming boys into men. Some tribal boys couldn’t court their women until they killed a lion, or survived a physically challenging experience. The personal growth and self-discovery from these experiences provided tremendous self worth and validation to these boys.
While lion killing is frowned upon and putting kids in physical danger is out of bounds in our safe society, boys still need to know that they measure up. A “trophy” for everyone or “no loser” policy may make them feel happy, but does not tell them they measure up.
Have you had something handed to you at work that was a lucky break? Maybe credit for a big win that really just landed in your lap? The bonus check is great, but when your name comes up for the next challenge, do you feel ready? For instance, I know I can run a marathon, not just because I’ve trained for it, or that other people who look like me have completed one, I know I can handle the 26.2 miles because I have already done it.
Healthy boys become men through initiation. Boys look to their fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and other men around them for validation. “Do I belong? Do I measure up? Do I have what it takes?” Adventures like camping, fishing, river rafting, hunting, surfing, missionary work, or hundreds of other “active” activities that allow boys to walk arm and arm with the older authentic men in their lives provides opportunities to transform. As a boy manages his way around a fishing rod and a boat, he discovers what he’s made of. He learns two indispensible lessons.
I can figure this out.
If I can’t figure this out, I know how to find someone I can count on who can help me figure this out, then I will be able to figure this out.
Once a boy crosses this threshold, he is on an upward trajectory in his masculine journey. As the decisions become bigger than “garlic worms or power bait?” he will know where to go for advice and the question of “do I measure up” will be answered by someone who knows what it means to measure up.
When this idea came to me, I felt like I had discovered gold for raising my boys. My problem, however, is that I didn’t feel like I measured up. I began to look through my own masculine journey and uncovered my lack of self-discovery as a man. I didn’t know if I had what it takes. I was asking my wife for validation and this was disastrous. My wife has her femininity to offer me, and that’s an amazing gift that I embrace. She can tell me what the feminine heart seeks from a man, but she can’t tell me what makes the masculine heart tick, what it means to be a man and face the challenges of life as a man. I must seek masculine validation from someone who has “been there.” This is like asking an experienced co-worker about delivering customer service verses asking the customer himself. These are both important questions, but different.
I have a great dad and always had good men around me. This didn’t matter, because I had a traumatic event happen to me around age six that completely nullified the rest of my masculine journey, until now. The journey is fragile in the early stages. Until we build up deep reserves of understanding and male fellowship, our journey is vulnerable.
It’s obvious that abuse, trauma, divorce and parental deaths can cause damage to this journey, especially to a younger boy. Coddling parents, overprotective environments and absentee fathers can cause similar damage. As I grew up, I sought validation, as any boy will. My first experience was with someone who told me, through his actions of abuse, that I did not measure up. He hurt me. I learned to stop seeking validation because it only led to pain.
As I grew older, I couldn’t shake the need to discover my true masculinity, to have the answer to the question “do I measure up?” Many boys find themselves entering puberty on a downward trajectory away from authentic masculinity with no visible hope for their answer. They continue to seek validation from anywhere. Pornography, drugs and alcohol, work-a-holism, isolation, and women are quick fixes for validation, but they aren’t enough to fill the need for true self-worth and self-respect.
I sought validation first from pornography and later from women. I see a lot of men doing the same. Best Selling Author, John Ellredge, writes in Wild at Heart that “asking a woman to validate your manhood is akin to asking an oyster to give you a buffalo,” it just doesn’t work. She doesn’t have it to give. She has only her femininity to give, and when given to a man who knows what he’s made of that can create amazing things. In the hands of a boy, however, it leads to confusion, loneliness, insecurity, and emasculation.
Many men discover the need to have their question of masculinity answered later in life. The learning curve is much steeper, but not impossible. The rules remain the same. A masculine journey starts with initiation at age 4 or age 40. This may come in the form of a mid life crisis. The objective is self-discovery, minus the sports car and affair. Again, the clichéd mid-life crisis is the man blindly seeking validation. Just like the child, validation must come through the initiation experience with authentic men. This may be through service at church, missionary work, running a marathon, or a host of other active and ongoing activities that involve men who have been there before. The road is different for many men but the common thread involves service, action, self-discovery, courage, passion, and for me, the Love of God. It is through fellowship men gain within these experiences that the question of “do I measure up?” begins to be answered.
As more men begin to see the hope of transformation, even later in life, our marriages will be more fruitful and lasting, our boys will be stronger leaders and as the message of authentic masculinity begins to spread, more men will know how to have their own personal question answered.
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