Rites of Passage

Do American boys have any rites of passage these days? Is there any significant time, ceremony, or feat that says, “you are a man”? Today I am going to talk a lot about boys becoming men. Across the world and time, civilizations have had a tradition, ceremony, and even trials that must be faced for a boy to be recognized as a man. Aside from a bar mitzvah ceremony for Jewish boys, I can’t think of anything prevalent in modern western culture. I am not Jewish, but cannot find any significant task or requirement that truly sets the boys apart as men. I do realize that there certain communities that require fasting. I don’t think it is anything significant or grueling. Please comment in response if you have any information to the contrary. This is not a blite on any religion or group. It is about manhood.

As I researched traditions and rites of passage for boys on their quest to be a man, I was shocked and grossed out at some of the indigenous tribe traditions. Some I have been aware of for years. Some were a new source of learning and a resource for my gag reflex. Let’s be honest and say that torturing a child does not make the child a man or worthy of respect. However, American kids have gone to the other end of the spectrum with regard to the coming of age and responsibility. These days, young people seem to be extending their adolescence into their 20’s and beyond. They are not “growing up” as they should. Why is this? Many of us as parents have not required them to do so.

Boys must be shown how to “do it for themselves”. Look at the joy that a young boy gets when he experiences accomplishment. This may be something as simple as tying his own shoes, riding a bike, catching a fish, or making a good grade in school. The joy and the satisfaction are much greater than when he receives a gift. As men, we have a desire to be respected. We want to achieve. To complete a task that requires work feels good, yet it is avoided in many cases.

In her book, The Price of Privilege, Dr. Madeline Levine discusses how important it is for a child to “find themselves”. They need to know who they are and what they are capable of. For those that live in a life of “privilege”, where everything is given to them, yet whose parents have high expectations in performance, these kids are depressed. If you get a chance to check out this book dads, it is worth the read.

Young people, and not more so but specifically boys need to develop a sense of value in who and what they are. For them to accomplish this, we must allow them the opportunity to succeed and fail on their own. This does not mean that we inflict, but allow them to experience pain. This may come in the form of disappointment, a bruised knee, or a fall. They will be okay. Kids are resilient. They must be allowed to struggle and figure it out. We actually can do our boys a real disservice by giving them the answer or doing it for them. They need to view us as empathetic and encouraging. We need to fan the flame of wanting to try again and not quitting.

Young boys need to be given responsibility. They need to work. Hard work is one of the greatest teachers they will ever have. Both of my boys are in the military. They both initially went off to college and found that they were destined for an initial different path. I tried to always present the idea that their plans may not always work out. If they don’t, what are they going to do about it? To be successful and respected, they had to be willing to pay the price. Today, my boys have my undying respect for their grabbing the bull by the horns and taking on the challenges before them. Perhaps that was their rite of passage.

I know that as their father, I suffered watching them face life head-on. I knew that they were going to take the hits. I tried to give them a heads up. I wanted to warn them and have that warning be sufficient. No. They had to take the hits. Both of them had to struggle for what they want. This has been my most intense struggle as a dad to this date. Not only for my boys but for my daughter as well. 

I love the statement made by professor and author Jordan Peterson when he asked, “do you want your kids to be protected or strong?” That really hit home with me. Regardless of if there are labeled and celebrated rites of passage, they must find it and struggle. I wish that modern western culture had more traditional methods to recognize our boys becoming men. Until then dads, it is up to us to teach them, not to give to them. Empower your kids. Be the best dad possible.