August 20, 2016

A Man's 500 Ton Initiation

In a recent blog post, I wrote about how a young fisherman was initiated into his profession with a trial by waves, tobacco juice, fish guts, and heat. It was a tough rite of passage. In many professions we still see some form of testing, formal and/or informal, required of the beginner or novice in order to earn the full acceptance and privileges of man's world.

At the end of that "fish guts" post, I asked you, the readers, to let me know if you had encountered any ordeal, testing, or initiation into man's world as you went through life. One reader, Brian E., sent along this story about how he earned the respect of the men in his world of work with BIG cranes.



Hi Earl, part of my passage into manhood was about earning acceptance into my profession. I was 28 when I joined the International Union of Operating Engineers. I started as a journeyman apprentice at a crane company and, initially, my company would use me as a "yard kid." I would help the mechanics, run for parts, pick up trash, and so forth. To prove myself, I would always go beyond my regular duties to straighten up the rigging and do a good job of keeping the yard organized.


Liebherr 500 Ton Crane
The company was in the business of delivering, setting up, and operating the large cranes you see on big construction sites. One of the crane operators took notice of my work and told the office that he wanted me to become his new oiler, even though other journeymen wanted that position. An oiler has a lot of responsibility, everything from driving the crane to the site, positioning the crane on the site, and helping place the counter weights during setup and operations. So it was a kind of compliment to get picked.

...only two men ever made him cry...

This operator was nice, but was often a real jerk. While he'd compliment me every once and awhile, if I did something wrong he would yell at me and really make me feel less than human. If he caught me without a rag in my hand and not cleaning the crane while he was operating, he would yell "if I'm working, you're working," and slam his door closed. I didn't like getting yelled at so I didn't make the same mistake twice. He would tell me that I was getting off easy and that he had it a lot worse from the operator who taught him. Once he told me that only two men ever made him cry, his dad and the operator that taught him.

I'm a pretty smart guy. I knew he was really teaching me to become a darn good hand who can work anywhere and be accepted by the elite in my trade. A lot of it had to do with safety, because my profession is very dangerous. In the past ten years, I've seen many men with missing fingers, men who have been crushed, and men who have died. Behind all that gruffness, he was actually protecting me, maybe keeping me alive.

I became a better man . . . because of him.

I appreciated the tough love, and I know I became a better man, coworker, and crane operator because of him. Like I said, I didn't get a lot of compliments from him. However, when I recently went to my old company and worked with him for a day, he told me he really missed having good help around. Coming from him, that meant a lot to me.



If you're paying attention, you'll often hear these initiation stories and their impact. They are most often about building up new guy and preparing them for success in their future. If you have a story about this kind of "welcome to man's world" in your life, please send it to me. If you're really motivated, give me a shout and let's talk about how you might create an intentional passage experience in the life of a young man you know.



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August 11, 2016

When Young Men Enter Man's World!

The YMAW, or Young Men's Adventure Weekend, is held every year in a primitive, lake-side forest, outside of the city of Vancouver, British Columbia. I've been on this amazing journey to manhood adventure, been changed by it, and have written about it previously.

There is just something about the chemistry of a large, multi-generational pack of men in a wilderness setting that is transformative. Just guys, being a little wild, having a lot of fun, all while taking young male lives seriously. I tell you it makes my masculine heart sing!

Check out this video and see if you don't feel a call to be there.


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

Like all the males involved, I, too, am always touched deeply by my time in this kind of man's world. While the advertising is always about showing up for the young guys, the truth is all the males involved are changed for the better by the experience. In the afterglow of these kinds of events, I'm always left wondering what would my life today be like if I had been surrounded by, and cared for, in this way by so many good men? Who would you be today if this was part of your story?

Who would you be today
if this was part of your story?

These kinds of Rites of Passage events in man's world are going on regularly, around the U.S. and the world. Even if you have to travel a half a world away to attend, I highly recommend adding it to your masculine bucket list. I can say with some authority this experience will change your life and will make you a better man.

You can give me a shout and I'll help you find an event somewhere that's a fit for you.

The YMAW 2017 will be held on July 7, 8, 9th, and registration is now open. You can get more information and contact the YMAW guys through their website or by visiting their FaceBook page.

I don't think you'd be reading this far if you didn't feel the stirring in your male soul. The young men and this adventure is waiting for you to say "yes" to the call you hear.



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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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