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?”


  1. A book you might find fascinating and valuable is, "Not Just Child's Play: Emerging Tradition and the Lost Boys of Sudan"

    Warm wishes for your good work.

  2. Thanks Nancy.

    I'll add the book to my "to review" list.

    If you or anyone out there wants to review this (or any related) book for the blog, just let me know. I'd appreciate that kind of support.

  3. Thank you Earl,

    I have never really had a father there for me, so I just want you to know, your loving benevolence, has made, quite . . . an impact!


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