February 5, 2016

A Conversation About A Boy's Rite of Passage

I recently received a request from Brian Mier in Melbourne, Australia, asking for guidance on a rite of passage experience for his nine-year-old grandson Seb. I thought our exchanges might be inspirational and encourage other men to think about what they might do to mark transitions for young males on their way toward manhood. Here's how our exchange went down:

FROM BRIAN: Good evening, Earl. I'’m very much wanting to plan a Rites of Passage ceremony for my grandson, Sebastian, who is currently 9 years old. Three years from now, when he's 12-13 years of age, he'll move from the ‘primary school’ system into a ‘secondary school or college’ system. When that time comes, I want to mark the passage event with a ceremony and I'd like your guidance.

For starters, I'’m thinking this should be a family thing, involving his father, me as Grandpa, his other grandfather, if he is willing, maybe his Scout Leader (if male), and any other ‘good men’ who are or will be in his life for those difficult early teenage years.

One idea involves ascending 1,000 steps. The steps are in a State Park, in a native bushland environment, close to where we live. Seb and his dad would go to the bottom of the steps, have a little talk about what the ceremony is about, then climb the steps together. At the top of the hill they meet the two grandfathers, who welcome them and congratulate them on achieving this part of the journey.

We then drive a short distance to Mt. Dandenong, which looks out over the eastern suburbs of Melbourne in the distance. Seb'’s home is in that view. The other adults meet us there. We talk about the journey of life ahead for Seb, and maybe each of us shares a short story about our journeys at his age. Finally, we retire into the cafĂ© there and enjoy a meal together. Three generations of good men and a boy, who is well on the way, in the company of those men who will be there to help him cross the bridge to adolescence.

If you have any thoughts about that approach, please let me know. Also, if you have any scripts or suggestions for the talking parts, they would also be welcome.

EARL REPLIED: How beautiful, Brian. First let me compliment you on the intention to gift your grandson in this way. From my experience, you are unusual among men (and grandfathers)! Not only because you understand the importance of these moments in a young man's life, but because you're willing to step into action. I'm happy to support you any way I can. Here's some feedback and a few thoughts about your plan:

. . . anything good men do,
with intention, to honor a boy
in these transition moments, is perfect.

First, know that what you've described is really fine. In fact, anything good men do, with intention, to honor a boy in these transition moments, is perfect. It will be memorable and have powerful impact on the young man . . . and also men. Everything that follows is really just suggestion.

I very much like the group of men you've proposed. One important consideration from my experience is that being surrounded by even a few men who are focusing on just him can be very intimidating for a single young boy. Too much manpower can easily pop the boy's circuit breakers. Where possible, I like to see WWM events done in a pack of men and multiple boys. If you want the event to be just for Seb, just a few familiar men will do the trick.

I'm not so hot on your idea to drive from place to place. I think that spreading the event out in time and distance will greatly distract from the power and intimacy of just being in one place. As you may know, I'm nuts about male circles. It's how men have gathered forever, often around fire. While you might work in the stairs (great metaphor), I think just the power of men gathered in a circle, speaking with intention to and about Seb, would be sufficient for him to feel something important happened and the moment powerfully marked.

Welcome to the World of Men

I call celebrations occurring prior to testosterone hitting a boy, Welcome to the World of Men (WWM). These events are not about major "passage" from one life stage to another, because he isn't yet crossing into early manhood, moving from the dependency of childhood toward responsibilities and challenges of manhood. For a boy, it's more about being welcomed into men's world, being taught a little about manhood, honoring him, and knowing he has some good men around for support. While Seb might be experiencing emerging manhood at twelve years old, I'm guessing there will still be a lot of boy energy in him.

So let's assume Seb will NOT be experiencing 'approaching manhood' at twelve. I'd recommend more of an honoring - WWM style - ceremony to honor his change in schools. You know your grandson so you'll have to moderate the following suggestions based on his maturity level and attention span.


OPENING: You'd want to open the experience with a little ritual of some sort so there is a formal beginning. Opening could be simply lighting a fire or a single candle, reading a poem, or doing what your faith traditions do, or maybe what indigenous people in your part of the world do, to sanctify the gathering.

As the convener, you could explain the purpose of the gathering and then invite men into the experience. I've even seen a small altar or shrine established with a photo of Seb as a young boy and some of his boyhood things to honor what he's leaving behind.

CIRCLE ROUNDS: I like the topics of the conversation you've suggested, and rather than "scripts," I think men speaking from their hearts is best. You can set the topics for the men by having them take turns speaking, going around the circle a few times, each time with a different theme. Without you speaking yet, the rounds could include some of the following:

  • A round where men speak about what they've witnessed in your Seb's life that's golden, naming his gifts and strengths.

  • A round of storytelling about a (very focused) lesson men wished they had learned or challenges they faced when they were Seb's age.

  • There can be a round where the men speak commitments (large and small) about how they'll support him on the next stage on his journey toward manhood.

  • You can have a round where each man gifts Seb with a small object that is imbued with special meaning prior to its presentation. The objects can all be gathered and presented to him in a bundle as a part of the closing.

  • A powerful final round would be the father and/or grandfather blessing. Either or both of you can then speak on the previous themes, name his gifts, beauty, strengths, and tell a personal story of a time when you witnessed Seb being amazing. You can make your commitments to him and then tell him how, in the challenges of adolescence ahead, you will be there for him (or whatever is true and in your heart). You may also want to give him a talisman and explain what it represents.

  • If it's appropriate and Seb is up for it, you could give him a chance to speak. But be prepared for him to not be willing or able.

CLOSING: After this powerful circle, you don't want the energy and intimacy that's been created to just dissipate into small talk. Close the circle with a ritual, perhaps spinning off from the opening. Blowing out a candle/fire, or something as simple as each man checking out with what he's taking away. A clean ending says the special time is over and we can now all go back to our "normal" ways of being together.

FOOD: If possible, you always want to feed the guys and a retreat to the food will be welcomed. The sharing of food and accompanying small talk after the event brings down the intensity in a good way. Maybe have other people from his life show up for the meal and to help celebrate Seb.

On the Man-Making website there is an article from a few years ago titled, A Young Man's Rite of Passage. It describes a similar passage experience created for the son of a friend of mine who was going off to college. There are many parallels in that story to what I'm suggesting here.

In the moment, everyone,
. . . will know just what to do.

Mostly, I hope you just head out on this adventure and listen for direction from Spirit. I believe men are hardwired for this work and once they are past their initial fears, the rightness, importance, and "how to's" of these events becomes clear. In the moment, everyone, including Seb, will know just what to do.

That's what I've got for a quick shot. Let me know what else I can do to make this idea a reality.

Blessings on your large grandfather's heart!



If this conversation moves you to want to do something similar, send me a quick message. I'm happy to help you think about what you might do.

Maybe, like me, you're wondering who you'd be today if you had the gift of knowing good men had your back during the hardest transitions in your life.

Let's do this men!



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January 26, 2016

Five Heroic Boys Succeed At Reverse-Bullying!

We've all heard a lot about bullies. I was bullied mercilessly as a small kid when I was in elementary school. I'll bet you were too. For me the bullying was emotional and occasionally physical terrorism that played out in the small world of the playground and halls of my elementary school. I was one of those kids who, on some days, played sick to avoid the big kids and their taunting. That was long before anti-bullying programs. But that's not what this post is about.

. . . maybe it's not enough to
just stop bad behavior . . .

There is certainly a need for anti-bullying programs, but maybe it's not enough to just stop bad behavior. Perhaps we should be creating something new and positive to replace it! For the moment, let's call that new, non-bullying behavior reverse-bullying. I'll have some other names for this new behavior at the end. Reverse-bullying is what I found in this story about a small pack of really awesome fifth grade boys. With the help of some inspired adults, these boys intentionally went way beyond anti-bullying and created something totally different and very heart-warming.

In the story from KARE 11 TV, you'll read about how the boys created an initiative that's pro-vulnerable kids. They are a boy pack, yet they are almost unique in that they chose not to bully, but to intentionally protect, support, and include a vulnerable kid who'd otherwise be an easy bullying target. The video below shows them in action. If you look closely, you'll see some of the many gifts their new pal, James, is getting, and how all the young guys are feeling better about themselves as a result.


If this clip doesn't show up use this link.

. . . let's give this kind of boy behavior a name,
and actually teach it . . .!

While I'm really proud of these awesome young guys, it's actually a sad statement about the world when their story makes the news. It's sad because something as wonderful as their acts of love, generosity, and inclusion are so unusual. I say, let's give this kind of boy behavior a name like sponsorship, or incorporation, or pro-friendship, and actually teach it in school! Let's not just be against bullying, but take a stand for behaviors that make a positive difference in kids' lives. Let's start teaching young guys about the benefits of caring for others, standing up for the vulnerable, how to break out of clicks and be inclusive, and how to align with other young guys to make a difference in their school. What kind of adult men will that training eventually create?

What kind of adult men will that training eventually create?


We can only hope these guys and the adults around them are setting a new bar for boys (and girls) in schools everywhere. Meanwhile, kudos, gratitude, and honor to the five young men, Jake, Jack, Gus, Tyler, Landon, and their pal, James, who are so inspirational and give us such a powerful lesson.



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January 12, 2016

Film Review: HEALING
Restoring Hope and A (Young) Man's Spirit

By Guest Reviewer: Brian Mier of Eagle Health Resources, Melbourne, Australia


Healing is a 2014 Australian movie about hope and the healing of the spirit in a most unlikely place. It ranks very high in my list of worthy movies about men – young and old – and men’s work.

The movie is based on a true story about a raptor rescue program at the Won Wron Correctional Centre, a low-security prison farm east of Melbourne. The heart of the film is about bringing together male prisoners, emotionally damaged by their past violent actions, and wounded birds of prey. It’s about how both men and raptors heal and prepare for release.

Viktor Khadem is in prison for the murder of his best friend, and has had no contact with the outside world for 18 years. He’s at Won Wron to get ready for release and re-entry. During a work detail in the bush, prisoners witness an eagle colliding with a barbed wire fence and being injured. This event gives rise to an unlikely partnership between Viktor and the bird which profoundly changes them both.

"Never look too deep into the abyss my friend,
or the abyss will look back into you!"

How is it relevant to Man-Making? In addition to what happens between Viktor and the eagle in the film, we watch two older men, Viktor, the prisoner, and a case worker, each of whom has been damaged by events in their lives, as they help two younger prisoners. One young prisoner is in the pit of isolation with low self-esteem, and at the start is unable to look anyone in the eye with his head constantly bowed. The other is a brash young guy who is too easily influenced by others and is induced to be part of the drug circle at the prison camp. We often see both types of young men in society. Through mentoring and support, the young men work through issues such as anger, low self-esteem, guilt, and social isolation to rehabilitate themselves. In the process, these young men also find healing which takes place in unexpected and many-layered ways.

In this video clip you'll get a sample of the beauty of the location and some of the inter-play between the characters.


If this clip doesn't show up use this link.

I liked how the film was different from so many prison dramas in that it doesn’t focus on the ugly and violent side of incarceration. Instead, it powerfully speaks to the need for prisoner rehabilitation and the importance of preparing men for re-entry into everyday life. It directly shows us the need for true healing of an incarcerated man or boy’s spirit prior to release, and the importance of intentionally reconnecting them with a realistic hope for a meaningful life.

In my view, this is a superb and inspiring movie to screen for discussion in any men’s group. I also think men working with younger males in a correctional setting would find it especially valuable.

At this Wikipedia link you can find a brief synopsis of the film, but there’s a lot more available with a quick web search. The DVD is also available on Amazon and through other movie outlets.


Brian Mier is a 70-year-old man who is Eldering with Purpose – offering his services to men, families and communities who are seeking to be the best they can be. He is the father of four adult children, eight grandkids, and loves taking the latter on Adventures with Grandpa to explore the simple beauty of life and relationships. You can contact Brian at info@eaglehealth.net.au


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January 6, 2016

Chasing Chickens and
Rites of Passage for Young Men

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In the past, I've written about Rite of Passage rituals for boys that have occurred down through time and across the globe. I've described their importance in a young man's life as they often mark the transition from boyhood to manhood. These passage events often include trials of endurance, skills and lessons to be learned, traditional costumes, sacred songs and dance, and occasionally, altered states of consciousness. Often there is a male pack heading off to "man's world" for the man-making work and when it's all over, a triumphant return to a celebratory community of family and friends.

I've learned not to judge these ritual events from the lens of my value system, but rather to look for the ritual commonalities and the many benefits for the participants and their communities.

The Le Courir de Mardi Gras is a traditional event held in many small Cajun communities of southwest Louisiana and it's a Rites of Passage event for many young men. Courir de Mardi Gras is Cajun French for "Fat Tuesday Run," and traditionally, it was a man's world event that precedes the six weeks of Lent with drinking and some pretty rowdy behavior. Today, in many towns, the event has lightened up over the years, and now invites women and sometimes kids. It takes place on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.



In the Le Courir, the revelers are dressed in tattered, homemade fringe and calico rags, with their faces covered by hand-painted wire mesh masks. They start the party early in the morning, and then the revelers head out on horseback, on foot, in pickup trucks, or are pulled on trailers. Much like Halloween, they go house to house on a pre-planned route, and at each stop, there's some combination of dancing, drinking, and begging for ingredients for a big pot of gumbo to be enjoyed at the end of the run that evening. That's the nice story.

. . . an initiatory experience for a young man
and why
it's a very bad day to be chicken!

In an article for the myNewOrleans.com blog, writer Chris Rose fills in the rich details including how the day of the Le Courir can be an initiatory experience for a young man and why it's a very bad day to be chicken.

One of the most challenging elements of the Le Courir is catching a live chicken to be used in the evening's gumbo. At the farms along the way the homeowners, who are in on the fun, will do things like release the chicken from their roof top just to make the chase more interesting. Apparently, the competition is fierce. It's said catching a live chicken, while running through a muddy field, when you're wearing a heavy costume, and competing with other mildly drunk males who are after the same prize, is quite an ordeal.

As Mr. Rose states, "Catching a chicken at Mardi Gras is a rite of passage, a badge of honor, a ceremonial initiation into adulthood for young men on the Cajun prairie, like a first kiss or a first car. You don’t want to be a guy who never caught a chicken on Mardi Gras."

In addition to whatever status and bragging rights the victors have at the Gumbo dinner and in the year ahead, the Le Courir is also good for the towns. Because so many of these southwest Louisiana towns have been hammered by hurricanes over the last few years, tearing communities apart, today the revived Le Courir tradition brings back a much-needed sense of history, community, and cohesion.

If a Le Courir event is not your thing and you want to talk about creating Rites of Passage events for a young man or group of young guys, give me a shout. I'd be happy to help you create just the right event. I can say with certainty that any locally appropriate and intentionally created passage experience will benefit the young males, the men and women who make it happen, and your community in general. Chickens are completely optional



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December 27, 2015

Year-End Man-Making Blog Survey

So now it's your turn to give back. Once a year I ask for a little guidance, feedback, input, or observations from you. So the annual Man-Making Blog survey is at the end of this post, just below. Mostly, I want to know how to make it better. I want to learn how I can do a better job of getting men like you interested in the important work of being a man-maker.

The survey is only FIVE easy questions
and will take less than five minutes.

Anything you're willing to offer by way of comments or suggestions will be very much appreciated.

IDEA SHARING: I feel the challenge of getting good men to show up for young males is too big and too important for me to be the only voice being heard. There are over a thousand of you out there who have subscribed to the blog, and lots of other viewers. I know from your emails there is a mountain of passion and lots of experience in the ranks of my readers. We really do need to be sharing ideas. On the survey you can let me know if you're interested in idea sharing and which topics would get your attention.

THANKS: Thanks so much for your support and thank you in advance for your feedback. But mostly, thanks for your interest in Man-Making and in supporting young males on their journey toward a positive and successful manhood.

HERE'S THE SURVEY. 
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