July 20, 2016

A Rite of Passage Ordeal by Fish and Tobacco Juice

Finding different ways to honor a young man as he moves through various benchmarks on his way toward manhood is just a good and maybe important thing to do. Over the years, I've written about many of these transitions and made suggestions about how to amplify them with attention and sometimes a little ritual.

Here is a link to some 60+ Man-Making Blog posts about different passage experiences. The posts cover everything from birthdays, a first shaving lesson, getting a driver's license, to the more serious rituals for "crossing the line" from boyhood into early manhood for an adolescent male. In each of these moments, something changes in a young man's life. If the men in his world are aware and engaged, there is an opportunity for them to honor and celebrate the young man. Who among you got enough of that when you were growing up?

Sadly, intentional Rites of Passage
for young men
have largely disappeared.

Sadly, intentional Rites of Passage for young men have largely disappeared or are very under-played in our culture. While there are a few organizations that offer them, most of our young guys are left with few choices as they are propelled by their biology toward manhood.

One common option is self-initiation, often involving dangerous and very high-risk activities. You'll see competitive and "I'll show you" kinds of foolishness, fueled by testosterone and guided by a poorly wired teen brain.

Then there are peer initiations through things like hazing, gang challenges, ordeals and the trials required of boys and men everywhere to gain membership to what I call the men's hut . . . the place where manhood is conferred and honored.

Tribal Initiation 1975
On a recent vacation trip, I came across a good example of how one profession tested the new guy. Last summer, I was listening to an old fisherman speaking at the fishing museum on the shore of Lake Superior in Bayfield, Wisconsin. He was describing the challenges of fishing on the big lake, and the seaworthiness of the Lake Superior gill net fishing boat. It had an all-metal construction and an odd whale-like shape, perfect for riding large waves. It could also quickly become a completely enclosed workspace if the conditions required, complete with a small coal stove for heat. It was a boat perfectly designed for working the cold and often stormy seas fishermen often encounter on the big lake.


When I inquired, the old fisherman said they had a special way of initiating the new guys into the profession:
When we had a new helper on the crew, we’d wait for a good’n stormy day for the “welcome.” As part of the tradition, someone would kindly take the new man out for a large and greasy breakfast. Then, as we were heading out, we'd send the new guy below to work on the nets. He thought he was getting off easy because he was going to be out of the bad weather and be warm and dry.

When the boat was really pitching and rolling in the big water outside the islands, one of us old guys would go down to chat with him and commence with spitting tobacco juice on the hot stove. That pungent fragrance, along with the heating of the wooden floor, with its years of accumulated fish gut residue, would rise up a stink you could smell in a fog bank long before you could even hear an engine.

This ordeal by fear, sea, and odor always brought the new guy to his knees. Us old timers, after having a good chuckle, always felt new respect for him and went easier on him after that.
The old fisherman was laughing during the telling of this tale, most likely because he and many generations before him had experienced this uncomfortable ordeal. It was a Rite of Passage which earned the poor initiate a degree of acceptance into that world of men. While some form of testing and trials have always been part of initiatory experiences, today we have the opportunity and freedom to create what's best and relevant for our boys in each community.

If you have a similar story of an ordeal you faced at some point in your life to gain entry or acceptance to man's world, I'd love to hear it. You can send it to me or add it to the comments section of this post.

Personally, I'm all for intentionally creating positive passage experiences for our young men. If you're interested in how to do that, give me a shout. Let's all try to find a way we can notice, name the transition, and honor young men as they move along on their journey toward manhood.



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July 3, 2016

Men Helping Boys on THEIR Journey To Manhood

With one simple question, a Sudanese refugee named Ojulu Agote changed the course of my life and set me on the path to becoming a better man.

As a volunteer for the organization that brought Ojulu and his family to the U.S., I was meeting with him to help him settle into Minneapolis. Specifically, I was considering how to get him and his family the things he needed to make it through a brutally cold Minnesota February.

In Africa, Ojulu's family had experienced the horrors and dislocation of tribal warfare, all the abuses of years in a refugee camp, and now, here he was in a big American city with their clothing, a lamp, mattresses on the floor, and little else. He and his family were living in a cockroach infested, one-bedroom apartment, and were facing a mountain of practical needs. When I asked Ojulu how I might help him in his new world, the first thing he said was, “Will you teach my son how to be a man in your country?”

Will you to teach my son how to be a man in your country?

Here was a man who literally had nothing, yet at the top of his priority list was finding a male elder who could guide his then four-year-old son Okugn toward manhood in this new world. Ojulu felt if his son did not make a successful crossing into manhood, everything he had fought for in getting his family to this country could be lost. He knew that while his love for his son was powerful, his son needed the support of other men in his new village.

In truth, I was shocked by Ojulu’s request. I don’t remember my exact reply, but I do remember feeling embarrassed and strangely inadequate. I had no children myself and up to that point, had never played an intentional mentoring role in any adolescent boy’s journey toward manhood. My truth in that moment is that I was actually afraid of accepting the responsibility to be a mentor to Okugn. There had been no caring, involved, and supportive adult men around me as a boy so I didn't have a model for the mentoring role Ojulu was asking me to play. I didn't believe I had the skills or experience I thought the job required. At a deeper level, I didn't believe I was good enough to guide anyone's son toward manhood. His words touched something deep, sad, and confusing within me, and led to a quest that ultimately change the course of my life.

. . . I didn't believe I was good enough
to guide anyone's son toward manhood.

For advice on how to respond to Ojulu’s request, I began talking to my men friends. I also started a website to collect stories and suggestions from men from around the world about their path to manhood and how they would respond to the challenge from Ojulu. Ultimately, I began examining my own adolescence in depth and in doing so, unearthed old and primal feelings of anger and sadness. I realized that in many ways, as an adult man, I was still wearing the mask of normalcy I learned to put on over all the pain I experienced as a boy.

In the responses to my questions to men, I learned I was not alone in feeling not qualified to mentor a boy. By societal standards, as a man in the world, I was doing great in my profession and in my relationships. The truth underneath all that was a sense I had never acquired that mysterious collection of male skills, knowledge, clarity of life purpose, or the core confidence that makes up a mature and realized man. Like so many of the men responding to my questions, I never felt I crossed a line or was witnessed and acknowledged for entering man's world. As odd as it sounds, I could not say with any authority I was in fact a "man."

As odd as it sounds,
I could not say with any authority
I was in fact a "man."

Ojulu’s question about mentoring his son became a launch pad from which I set out to discover and become the man I wanted to be. That was over twenty years ago. As a result of this quest, I have found a personal mission for the third thirty years of my life, a mission of service that finds me in the role of connecting good men with boys and young men wherever I can.

My journey of self-discovery led to launching the Man-Making blog in 2004, and publishing the book Man Making - Men Helping Boys on Their Journey to Manhood in 2006. In addition to doing my best for Ojulu's son, I have many mentoring relationships with young men. I have also joined with other men to build group mentoring organizations that operate in communities in the US and around the globe.


I'm not saying all this to brag. Rather I'm standing as a model for men who've not yet come forward to become a man-maker for a young man or boys in their world. When you risk becoming a man-maker at any level, the male hardwiring for guiding and supporting young males naturally shows up in you. You soon will feel the rightness of your involvement and find your place in the male order of things. From my time on these passage weekends, on adventure outings, and in school circles, I've witness this happen to countless men. In fact, it's the most selfish reason I do this work, I'm a much better man as a result.

JourneymanUK Passage Weekend
Ianto Doyle is involved with JourneymanUK, an organization doing Rites of Passage experiences and other group mentoring events with men and young guys (more about this below). In a recent exchange, Ianto said for men to discover this generative quality of masculinity that resides in them they must spend extended time with young men. It's in the process of being with young males that "manhood" will be called out of them.

It's in the process of being with young males
that "manhood" will be called out of them.

In my case, my first step toward becoming a man-maker was the result of Ojulu’s question. A question born of tribal wisdom that called me to the ancient and necessary work of guiding young males on their journey to manhood. But what about you? I don't think you'd still be reading this if you didn't, at some level, feel the call to man-making. My hope is that you hold that feeling gently. Then, when the man-making opportunity shows up, and it will, you'll step into your journey of discovery.

At this link is a beautiful story about a man, maybe a regular guy just like you, who stepped up when the invitation to step into man-making presented itself. It's my hope that when your chance comes along, you too will accept.

To read some of the other stories men have sent to me about their man-making experiences, go to the Men's Stories page on the Man-Making website. I you have a man-making story to share, send it along and I'll add it to the growing list.

To learn more about what the men of JourneymanUK are doing, visit their website. Their next Rites of Passage weekend is the 8th - 10th of July near Stroud, UK. You can also email Ianto Doyle, I know he'd love to hear from you.



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June 19, 2016

An UN-Father's Day Message

Fathers, for better and worse, are THE most powerful man-making force on the planet. In this dad season, good fathers are my heroes, and certainly deserve high praise and celebration. That said, here's another way to think about Father's day.

. . . that stew pot of memories
called "Dad" . . .

As the commercial messages about Father's Day bring fathers and fatherhood into sharp focus, for me that stew pot of memories called "Dad," with its very mixed bag of confusing emotions, gets seriously stirred up. From my childhood through adolescence, my dad was lost in his marriage, was sick, and in the throes of alcoholism. While there were some gifts from him, too often he treated me horribly and I've been finding my way back ever since. Even though I know my father was the best dad he was able to be, I'm left feeling the complicated remnants of rage, love, sadness, hopelessness, and a kind of father-hunger driven emptiness at my core.

After years of self-discovery work and digging around in my family history, I've been able to find some true expressions of my dad's fatherly love. Like water in the desert, I treasure those few positive memories. Taken together, they form a small shield I can use to protect myself on Father's Day. At this point in my life, I'm exhausted by both talking and not talking about my dad issues. But when the third Sunday of June approaches each year, for me it's an Un-Father's Day. I find myself looking forward to the relief on the day after Father's Day when it all goes underground again.

In this dad season, I'm also very much reminded of the many men, adolescent males, and young boys I've come across in my man-making work who don't have any good dad memories at all to use as a defense on Father's Day. In fact, it's quite the opposite. I think of all the really bad dad stories shared across a circle by sobbing guys.

I'm just saying,
I've heard lots of really bad dad stories.

I have heard from countless men, young men, and boys who have never known a dad because he simply wasn't identifiable, because they were adopted at birth, or because of a court ordered separation from their fathers. There are all the dads who left during pregnancy, or the dads who were shot in the hood from gang violence. Then there are all the kids whose dads are in jail, or lost to PTSD or substance abuse. I remember a soft-spoken boy of ten whose initiation name was Steel Heart. He was in the room when his dad killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head. I'm just saying, I've heard lots of really bad dad stories.


I always wonder if just the idea of Father's Day results in re-wounding these fatherless males. I wonder if the day stirs up their deep, confusing, profound, and very well-defended sense of abandonment and father-loss. For them and me, again this year, it will be very much an Un-Father's Day.

So on this Father's Day, if you have the good fortune to have a good dad to honor, count yourself as lucky, and don't miss a chance to say thank you. However imperfectly he fathered you, he was there and doing the best he could do. He deserves to be thanked and celebrated. Thanks Dad, I love you.

After honoring your father, please take a moment to allow into your heart all those tragically abandoned or under-fathered young guys in the world around you. The boys, young men, and men who won't feel those good-dad feelings on Father's Day. Remember that on Father's Day, and every other day of the year, these guys will experience a profound hunger for the blessings that can only come from having a caring father in your life. Remember all the boys and men who, maybe like me, are just hoping all this complicated emotional dad business will pass by soon, go back underground, and that life somehow will get back to a survivable normal on the day after Un-Father's Day.

. . . I believe there is/was a father who loved you.

On my Un-Father's Day card I'd write:
Today I honor good dads everywhere. Thanks you for all you have done and will do. Blessings also on the dads who in some way checked-out, who walked or were not available to their sons, and on the sad legacy they have to live with as a result. And especially, blessings on confused, sad, and dad-hungry males everywhere. Buried underneath all the drama and tragedy that kept you and your father apart, in my heart I believe there is/was a father who loved you.


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May 29, 2016

Welcoming Young Men To Man's World

I believe men are hardwired for initiating young males into manhood, and if a hundred or so males of different ages were shipped off to a remote island, all the right things would eventually happen.

I believe men are hardwired
for initiating young males
into manhood.

Shortly after all the guys arrived on the island, a male hierarchy would quickly be established. All manner of tasks and challenges would be offered and met. Important survival skills would be taught, games and competitions would happen, and there would be a good deal of joking around, farting, and general playfulness.

Along the way, some serious conversations would take place, and important bonds would naturally occur. At some point, the young men would eventually be invited into the men's circles, and it would be a life-changing experience for everyone. I know that scenario is true because I've experienced it many times. Well, maybe not a hundred guys and not on an island, but almost!

Sadly, most men have forgotten their role and responsibility for this ancient and sacred man-making work with young males. The good news is there are places you can go to remember and relearn.


One place is the YMAW, or Young Men's Adventure Weekend. Imagine almost a hundred males, young, old, and older, gathering deep in a wilderness forest outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. It's camping around a large clearing, next to an impossibly beautiful lake, with big mountain backdrop, and in a very old forest. It feels primitive and a little wild just as you'd expect man's world should be. While the events that make up this experience are pretty well scripted, there is a lot of room for male chemistry to work it's magic on everyone.

Here's some beautiful photos from the 2015 YMAW that really tell the story visually.

For a more energized taste of the experience here's a video clip from a past YMAW. The theme for the weekend that year was Voyagers, and the young men were invited to see themselves as explorers and adventurers on their quest for manhood. In addition to the fun, watch for the caring conversations, the challenges to teams of young men, the forest background, and the incredible food! I especially love how the young adventurers arrive in Man's World!



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

This year the YMAW is being held July 8th - 10th and a spot for you, and maybe that of a young man you know, are waiting. The men who come from distant places are called outlanders but they are treated every bit like a very welcome guest. When you go, the YMAW men will connect with you in advance and assign you a weekend buddy to make sure you have a solid man at your back from arrival to departure. Your ground transportation and gear needs will be handled, so all you have to do is jump in and savor the experience. I've been there, experienced their caring treatment, and loved every minute. It's been going on for over 25 years so I can say these men really know what they are doing.

If you want to combine a trip to a truly beautiful place while hanging out with men in the business of changing young male lives, you really should take a trip to man's world at the YMAW. For more information on attending, or just to talk with the YMAW guys about this kind of man-making work, visit the YMAW website. You can also contact one of the YMAW founders, Brad Leslie at bradleslie@telus.net. I know the YMAW men will be happy to hear from you.



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May 3, 2016

Initiating Teenage Lads in the UK

It makes me happy to know that men around the world are supporting young guys on their path toward manhood. It's good work for men and always good for the boys. Dick Baker is a leader and mentor with JourneymanUK in Stroud, Gloucestershire, Great Britain. This is his story of how he found some direction for his life when he connected with other men and formed a group to initiate boys.



As I approach my 50th year, I feel grateful for an amazing first half of my life. I have always been an optimist, taken opportunities, and just gone with the flow. In many ways this has served me. But it was in my mid-thirties, after my wife and I had moved our family across the country for a better life, when I started to have questions about my purpose in life. Who was I really and how was I showing up in the world? Why had I spent so long without ever really asking these questions? I didn’t really know where to go for the answers, but having put out the questions, the answers, of course, came . . . just much later in life.

. . . an initiation of sorts in 2009
helped me to understand a lot more
about what it is to be a man.

As it turned out, going through an initiation of sorts in 2009 helped me to understand a lot more about what it is to be a man in today’s world and gave my life some meaningful direction. Some answers came as the result of my accepting an invitation to join other local men on an Inner Mentor Training (IMT) hosted by a Boys to Men leader from the United States.

Part of the IMT training was remembering what my teenage self was like. You see, my teenager didn't have many male role models to guide him. I hadn't learned to really trust myself, be true to myself, or even to accept myself. While there were men in my life, none of them took on the role of being a mentor and guide. I realized that if men had chosen to be involved in my life when I was a teenager, I might have stepped into early manhood more consciously and at the right age. I would have found I had real gifts to bring the world, was a person of value, and had men as guides for those difficult years.

To be honest after the IMT training, I was left feeling sad I had to wait to almost mid-life to find these gifts in myself. So when the men from Stroud were riding home from the training in a minibus, we all talked about how we might create something for teenage boys in our community. By the time we got home the seeds of movement were planted and JourneymanUK was born.


We held our first Rite of Passage Adventure Weekend in the spring of 2011. Since then our core of about 20 men, supported by many others, have done four passage weekends and held space for 52 boys to ‘initiate’ themselves on their way to manhood. After their weekend the boys earn the title of Journeyman or Jman, and there are now two Jman group mentoring circles for boys in Stroud and Bristol that meet regularly.

A Group Photo of the Whole Tribe

I recently asked a young man who went on his passage weekend in 2014 for feedback. He was still feeling the impact two years later. He said, “It hit me later on. When something comes up now, I understand it better. I think oh yeah that’s what Journeyman was about. It's like an epiphany! I’m feeling the benefits even more now."

. . . none of the men in JourneymanUK
can ever know what the impact
of having had this kind of initiation
earlier in our lives would have meant.

Like me, none of the men in JourneymanUK can ever know what the impact of having had this kind of initiation earlier in our lives would have meant. Yet, as we hold the space for today's boys, lovingly yet fierce, vulnerable yet standing strong, and often playful, we know we are doing important men's work and making a positive difference in the boys' lives. Today I know 52 boys who won't have to wait till mid-life to know they are seen, deemed trustworthy, appreciated, and have good men at their backs. In these experiences, I know I am not only serving the boys and thus the community, but healing my inner teenager along the way.



I've been on many passage weekends and each time I'm reminded that initiating and supporting young males moving toward manhood is really important and natural men's work. It's often life changing for the boys, and very good for the men, too! Even after fifteen years in the work, these weekend events always melt and reforms my masculine heart and makes me a better man. I'm thinking that's what's happened to Dick and the other men of JourneymanUK, and I hope you get a chance to discover that for yourself.

You can contact Dick Baker to learn about his experience at dick.baker@journeymanuk.org. On the JourneymanUK website you can learn more about the organization and their upcoming Rites of Passage Adventure Weekend on the 7th – 10th of July, 2016.



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