February 25, 2010

7th Annual Guy's Hike

I just love to hike in the mountains. I love the physical exercise, being surrounded by beauty, and occasionally the challenge of a vertical climb. Seven years ago, as my interest in man-making was growing, I got the idea to share this passion with other men and boys.  I put out a call to some men friends to gather up their sons, young male relatives, or the sons of others, and bring them along. We try to keep the average age from 12 to 17, but there are occasionally some 7 or 8 year-old lads who heroically manage to finish. It started with about 9 males, but the average over the years is about 20. This year we had 19.

We most often hike in the mountains around Tucson, AZ. Prior to the hike we teach "hiking skills." How to stretch prior to the hike, the importance of drinking enough water in the desert environment, and how to hang together as a "band of brothers" supporting each other along the way. There is always a short discussion about how to deal with a rattlesnake or mountain lion encounter. Meeting either on the trail is extremely unlikely, but it ramps up the adventure quotient.

We try to pick a trail that has enough challenge for the boys (and some of the men) and which ends in a dramatic photo opportunity. This gives the boys something they can point to when describing the experience to others (bragging rights). At the end of the hike, we always circle up. We take time for each male to say what he liked best about the experience. That always creates some surprises for everyone and sweetness from the younger boys that always swells my heart. Then we put the young guys in a line and all the men shake their hands and congratulate each of them. It's a very powerful experience for most boys to be honored so directly by a group of men.

Here is the link to the photos of this year's hike. There are a thousand small and beautiful moments not captured, but you'll get the idea. For the record, the water in the photos was snow-runoff and freezing cold.

Do you have a hobby or interest that might just be shared in a similar way? Do you have a skill or passion you might risk offering to a few or many young males? You might be surprised how interested other guys are in the things that light you up. If you do, please share your story with us by sending me and email. If you have a passion you might consider sharing with some young guys, contact me if you want to brainstorm a little or need some encouragement. If you take this risk and get launched, I am certain that the experience will have all the rewards necessary to pull you forward. These kinds of experiences seem to have a way of transforming the men involved.

This year I folded the Guy's Hike into the work of the Desert Men's Council, Inc. That is a group of  men in my winter home of Tucson, AZ, who put on an annual rite of passage initiation weekend for boys, and also offer group mentoring through what we call our Men's Hut activities. This year, the Guy's Hike was one of the Men's Hut outings. The mission statement of our not-for-profit group is, Men in service, to boys, men, and our community. You can learn more about us and our work at the DMC website: desertmenscouncil.org

February 22, 2010

My Man-Making Call from Africa

My wife and I met the Sudanese refugee Ojulu Agote and his family in 1997. They had experienced all the horrors of tribal warfare in Africa, flight from their homeland, and then the abuses of refugee life in the camps. After making their way through countless bureaucratic barriers, they arrived in a new world with little more than what they were wearing.

When I met them, Ojulu and his family were living in a barely-furnished, one-bedroom apartment, and facing a very cold Minnesota winter. I was gearing up to get him the stuff he needed to function.

At our first meeting I asked Ojulu how I might support him and his family in their new life. Without a moment’s hesitation he responded, “Will you teach my son how to be a man in your country?

Ojulu’s request to support his then four-year-old son knocked me over. Here was a man who had only a couple of mattresses, some beat-up cookware, and a little clothing. Yet at the top of his list of things he felt important was a male elder to play the role of man-maker in his son’s life.

From his tribal background, Ojulu knew that even in the best father-son relationship, the elders and other men in the community had critically important gifts for his son. He also knew if his son didn’t make a successful crossing into manhood, everything he had fought for to get his family to this new country could be lost. At that moment, I didn’t really have a clue about how to honor his request.

Ojulu's question, coming out of ancient tribal wisdom, reached deep into my male soul and began the process of making me a better man. It changed my life in profound ways. It lead directly to the writing of the Man-Making book, and it's the reason this blog exists for you to read today. The full story of how all that came to pass has just been published on The Good Men Project blog. I recommend the article and the many fascinating resources at The Good Men Project.

My experience with Ojulu and his son is a great example of how a single question can change a life. As I asked men in my research, “Who were your man-makers?" and "When did you become a man?”

February 12, 2010

It's Just Showing Up for A Boy

Per your requests, this post is from one of you . . . it's Alan's story about the "call" to serve boys that he heard and how it all unfolded. We can learn a lot from each other in this work. If you have a similar story, we'd all like to hear it.

My name is Alan and I'm from Boston, MA. My story began 4 years ago. I’m a man that works full time and has a fairly busy lifestyle, but for a long time I felt a need inside of me to "give back' to the community. Living day to day, I was feeling self-centered and I was looking for ways that I could volunteer and be a part of something that had some meaning. As a Dad, with my own son an adult now, I thought back to all the fun times my son and I shared when he was younger, the trips to the beach, playing catch, hanging out, biking, youth sports, and basically doing "fun" things. I thought that doing those things again would not only benefit a kid, but be fun for me also.

It was about that same time that a coworker of mine had been a Big in the past and had mentioned Big Brother Big Sisters. I did have the thought, "what will people think" because of my interest in a boy?  I don't know if that's what held me back from acting for so long, but it contributed to it. But I also kept thinking about the 60 boys on the waiting list at the local Big Brothers organization and how I wanted to be involved. As the idea worked on me I started realizing all the times that I could be spending with a kid instead of just hanging around. I thought about it for a long time, and after about a year, I finally made the decision to contact the local office and fill out an application.

After receiving a call from Big Brothers, I went for an interview. We discussed my interests, what type of boy I was interested in, and a "matching" of interests. Since Big Brother does all types of background checks, I waited. After about 30 days I was approved and the match process began.
Within two weeks I was told about a boy that has been waiting for one year for a Big. He seemed fine to me and we decided to meet at the BBBS office. His name was Nick and he was nine years old. Being torn between living with his Mom and his Dad, there was void in his life for a positive role model, stability and a non-authoritarian person. I think Nick and I hit it off right away. I was a bit nervous worry about what we were going to do together, and began forming elaborate plans for our time together. Ball games, amusement parks, etc. When I began meeting up with Nick, once a week, I realized that all he really wanted to do was to spend time with me. It wasn't about what we did, but about the time we spent together, on a regular basis. Just having me show up and spend time with him was all he really wanted.

It’s now been 3 years, Nick is 12, we are still friends and still see each other on a regular basis. An environment of trust, openness, and caring is what Nick needed, and what I needed too. He knows that he can talk to me about anything without "getting in trouble" or "being judged." We chat on the phone, meet up about twice a month and feel totally comfortable with each other. We now have a bond, a trust, a relationship that may just last forever.

All my fears and hesitancy very quickly turned to absolute joy. I love spending time with him, listening to him, sharing stories and learning about him. Just talking and sharing events of the day, helping with his schoolwork, and doing what he likes and wants to do is great for both of us. My only regret was that I waited a year to finally decide to do this. Today I receive compliments from family and coworkers on "how great" it is that I do this. Being a Big Brother for Nick makes me feel like I'm doing something positive, not only for him, but for myself.

I’ve learned that volunteering and being a part of a boy’s life is very rewarding. You don't need to be a certain type of individual, you don't need a college degree, just a willingness to spend a couple of hours a week with a boy. That is all. Do that and you'll make all the difference in his life, and in yours.

February 3, 2010

Man-Making Blog Reader Survey Results

I want to thank you all for you input into the 2009 reader survey. Your feedback is always helpful and, for me, inspirational. I want to share some of what I learned and some of the suggestions that came my way.

You are indeed a diverse audience. Each of the 13 interest categories had many responses. That response says keep doing it all! At the top of your list were Men’s Stories about Man-Making, Personal Rite of Passage Examples, and a desire to learn about How to do Rites of Passage for Boys. Close behind those you voted for Activities for Men and Boys, learning about What YOU can do to Support Boys, and post that are both “inspirational,” and research based.  I'll keep these requests in mind going forward, and if you have any content or stories to contribute, do send them to me.

In response to the question, Why do you stay subscribed to this blog?, your responses were also very broad. Some that were really a heads up for me included, It encourages me to get off my couch and do something, Hard to get this stuff elsewhere, Helps me in my mentoring, Your blog reminds me that I need to act in the lives of the young men around me, I like that it uncovers parts of my life which were lost to me . . . , and, It connects me to a community that doesn’t exist elsewhere for me.

I also asked you about the ONE thing I can do to make the blog better for you. Below are just some of those responses and below each, my reaction:
  • Tell me more about what we can do to make schools better for boys.
      I'd love to hear from people working in schools. I'll see what I can find, but stories from the front lines are the best.
  • Post more often.
      I'm shooting for weekly, unless something that's hot comes up. I want to go easy on people's in-boxes.
  • Invite readers to contribute stories and I want to hear more about Man-Making moments in men’s lives as they were growing up. I'd LOVE more stories from readers. I'm also thinking about doing the occasional podcast (audio) as an experiment to see if I can master the technology and if you like them.
  • Add a PayPal contribution button. I just may. I know of many fledgling Man-Making initiatives I love to support with donated funds.
  • More stories about men working with boys, what they do, their successes and lessons learned. If you're a person working with boys in any capacity, send along a few paragraphs on what you've learned. Many will benefit. I'll try to find more of those stories for you too.
  • Be more open to diverse views and perspectives. If you are working with boys in any way you haven't seen represented in the blog, I'd appreciate you letting me know. I'd be happy to cover any approach with out judgment.
  • Focus more on content from outside the US. I have reported on projects in Australia, Tasmania, South Africa, and England. I'd be happy to hear more about those countries and to learn of initiatives in new countries. If you know of a program you think should be profiled, let me know and I'll do the research.
  • More on historical-tribal stuff. I too find what I term the ancient template fascinating and inspirational. I'll try to keep those examples in front of you.
  • Tell me about the medical reasons boys act like . . . boys. There are some great books on this topic and lots of research papers. I'll see what I can find.
  • Do interviews with people doing this work and get posts from other authors. I have profiled many books, most recommended by you. I'd be happy to get book reviews from you. I'll try to do some author interviews and see about some guest blogger posts.
  • Let’s hear from boys who have experienced rite of passage experiences. This one is a little harder because it's hard to get young males to write. I do know a few and I'll ask, maybe even do an interview or two.
  • And many of you said, "Just keep on doing what you’re doing."  Thanks.
I appreciate all your support and encouragement. Thanks also for spreading the word about this important work and for helping to make this blog more helpful.

You wouldn't be reading this if you didn't care about boys and men, so please consider yourself a co-creator in this blog. If you come across anything in this topic area, just  send them to me and I'll take it from there.