In many tribal societies manhood is bestowed upon boys in some kind of rite of passage. In tribal cultures these initiation processes can seem weird and barbaric, but they all serve a purpose, and all include an aspect of physical endurance. Rituals of hunting, circumcision, being hung by the ceiling by hooks, cow jumping, bungee jumping, becoming a soldier, or getting beaten up are just some of the ways boys must prove themselves in some cultures.
A rite of passage according to Steve Biddulph should include three steps:
1. Separation from family and all things familiar.
2. A frightening, difficult and exhilarating journey forcing young boys to break out of youthful fears and facing up to vulnerability.
3. The return home, apparently the same person but forever changed.
Unfortunately manhood doesn't come with age and these days boys assume the man title without truly recognising the significance. In western society today I think the closest thing to a rite of passage could be the OE (overseas experience), where one survives on savings as they backpack foreign countries learning to fend for themselves and navigate foreign transport systems.
If I'm lucky enough to someday have a son of my own, I want to make a big deal of a rite of passage, where as a Dad I can celebrate the completion of a task or journey, and to welcome him into the world of men, with no confusion of whether he's made that step or not.
The Wild Boy
When initiation doesn't happen, and boys are left to their own devices, our boyish and selfish desires will naturally lead us astray. Author Richard Rohr tells a story in his book 'The Five Promises of Male Initiation' about two young African bull elephants in a national park that lose control. The young males were adolescents who didn't stick with the herd; they would push over trees, SUV's, they'd trample and kill other animals even baby elephants if they were in their way. The young males were causing chaos in the park and some wildlife experts were brought in to assess why this was happening.
They realized that for some reason the area had lost all the old mature male elephants through old age or poachers and these two young bulls were the oldest males left in their territory. They'd never known how bull elephants were supposed to act. The wildlife experts brought in a couple of old wiser and bigger bulls from another part of the country then within weeks the chaos ceased!
The older males would flap their ears, stomp their feet and growl when the out of control young males started to act up, and the young bulls quickly learnt how a mature bull was meant to behave. Someone has to give young males boundaries and identity - without a guide, boys will be boys.
My pastor Blue Bradley has talked on this topic at men's camps, and he's coined the word 'manboys' to describe the rising epidemic of boys who are stuck in a confused 'no man's land' between boyhood and manhood. A typical 'manboy' can be as old as 35 in some cases, he knows how to clock every game on his playstation and spends more time on his computer than in the light of day. The 'manboy' has grown up in a society with equal opportunities to his female peers, but most of them don't want to know him. He hasn't risked a thing in his life, knows little of responsibility, has no purpose and has never truly discovered his own identity.
Not all 'manboys' resort to computer games; many try to find meaning in other places. They'll start to take risks, push the boundaries, and the untamed testosterone driven male will go wild with no restraint. The statistics on young males and their anti-social behaviour is sobering; I've personally known three guys my age who have committed suicide, with males in New Zealand three times more likely to kill themselves than females. We also tip the scales in terms of depression, ulcers, abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction and jail attendance.
Women are winning
According to stats, women live seven years older on average. Girls mature faster than us boys and are often smarter, achieving higher at school. Boys who aren't able to compete feel dumb as a result, and when they make a mistake will revert to a 'Homer Simpson-like' stereotype of the 'silly male.' The 'manboy' will also struggle to argue and stand up for themselves unlike their female counterparts as boys don't tend to get as much practice in.
Sadly, these habits continue into married life. Most 'manboys' who 'tie the knot' will let their wives wear the pants and rule the roost, making all the household and family decisions. Weak, and mild males are resigned to tinkering in their garage with their cars or trimming the hedges on the weekend replacing real adventure or any sense of risk.
Author and psychologist Herb Goldburg says that he's counselled many men who have let their wives become their mother and have total control of their lives. In their submission to their wives, they progressively lose their own identity and hide behind the newspaper or TV rather than risk a fight. In his book "The Hazards of Being Male" Goldburg says, "If there is to be a constructive change for the male, he will have to chart his own way, develop his style, experience his own anxieties, fear and rage, because this time mummy won't do it!"
I'm not blaming women by any stretch, the boys in our society simply aren't challenged by men, they aren't driven to step up into manhood to discover their true man's heart.
The Inner Man
In the book Wild at heart John Eldrige says, "God designed men to be dangerous, simply look at the dreams and desires written in the heart of every boy: To be a hero, to be a warrior, to live a life of adventure and risk." The male heart longs to prove his worth. Men have a longing to be brave and to fight for something. It's no wonder weak and emasculated men lose a sense of themselves, as the inner man is never satisfied with taking no risk. Richard Rohr says, "In our Western culture and even our religious tradition we have few guides to lead us into the full male journey... We are longing for believable mentors on every stage of the male journey…"
The solution is not so easy, and I think men's groups and Good fathers who understand the concept of passing on the baton of manhood have a huge part to play. I'm thankful for a few amazing mature elephants in my life, like my Dad and church leaders, who modelled being a man and who would let me know if I was out of line.
There is a lot to learn in every man's journey; with true manliness being a balance of keeping that wild adventurous side but complementing that with patience, integrity and humbleness. It's controlling the power that men soon discover inside themselves.
The making of a man is one who is dedicated to staying connected with the true Father, and who puts himself second, looking to serve his family and community. He's the husband who loves and cherishes his wife without losing the essence of who he is.
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at the Rhema Broadcasting Group in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html