October 29, 2010

Retribing:The Unpaved Road to Manhood

In response to my request about good books for young guys, Dave Welling, a friend and solid man-maker (connected with Boys to Men - Toronto), sent along this review of the book, Retribing: The Unpaved Road to Manhood. If you have a book you like for tweens or teens, please let me know. I'll add it to the list of recommended books on the Man-Making website.

Earl, I would highly recommend the book Retribing: The Unpaved Road to Manhood by A.J. Rippo. It’s a very compelling story about one boy’s experience of moving toward manhood. The boy at the center of the story is about seven years old at the start. Initially his name is not mentioned, but he acquires the name Twerp as the story unfolds. One day after his parent's divorce, the boy is out hiking in the hills when he discovers an old Indian ruin. He takes the opportunity of the isolation to shout his anger and sadness to the wind. A moment later an old native war chief appears to him and begins the process of guiding the boy on his path toward manhood.

Twerp's process involves earning 12 eagle feathers in various challenges designed to strengthen him and increase his knowledge. It's the chief who gives the boy the name Twerp, and guides his training through tasks and stories. For example, a story about ice cream results in, Thoughts are like food, they either nourish you or poison you. Swallow only good food. Spit out the bad.... disappointment is no reason to eat poison. Throughout the book, as Twerp grows up from age 7 to seventeen, he revisits the ruin when he feels a need in his life. Each time, the war chief appears with a lesson based on what the boy is struggling with at the time.

The idea of earning your way to manhood is a very old concept, and achieving twelve eagle feathers is a story line that will keep the attention of most young boys. For example, Twerp's first feather is the "Feather of Perspective." This feather is earned when he realizes there is a world beyond himself. The old war chief helps him understand what "Perspective" means, then Twerp is instructed to go live that lesson until he can prove, on his next visit to the chief, that he has truly mastered the concept. Each feather is presented at a special place among the ruins in a ritual between the boy and the chief. Other feathers are earned in different ways. There is the "Feather of Balance", the "Feather of Faith", and the "Feather of Discipline," to name a few. But then I don’t want to give away too much of the story.

I like the idea how the boy learns he must re-tribe himself. He is instructed by the war chief to create a new tribe for himself because his own tribe is broken. He learns there are many times in life when a boy needs the wisdom and support of a male elder. The boy also learns there is no one elder who can teach you everything you need. To accomplish the challenge of finding these wise men, the war chief teaches the boy how to expand his tribe and to find the guides he will need for his journey.

I also really liked the underlying lesson that the war chief himself learns. It turns out that the chief is rewarded with HIS 13th feather for shepherding Twerp, thus both males complete a stage on their respective paths toward manhood.

The book unfolds a tale any boy can understand (and it will resonate with many men too!). It’s a book that celebrates what one boy’s journey toward manhood represents for the boy, his initiators, and his tribe.

Order Retribing: The Unpaved Road to Manhood from Amazon at this link.

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October 24, 2010

Banged Up Boys, Boats, and Masculine Gravity

I still remember the smell of sawdust that hit me when I entered my first woodworking shop. I'm an older man and I attended that class way back in the day when "shop" was what the boys did in elementary school while the girls were baking cookies upstairs. The shop teacher, Mr. Alexander, was a burly man's man and he ruled his domain with an attitude of competence, and a powerful respect for the danger and creative power of his tools.

The wood shop held about eight work benches, saws, hammers, and what appeared to me to be lots of generally strange and dangerous stuff. After learning the rules of working around all the equipment, we were introduced to a pattern of the object we were to create from the pile of the lumber in the corner. After studying that map, we proceeded to learn about wood, measuring, sawing, sandpaper, screws, staining, and all the tools required for those tasks. I'm sure you can imagine the chaos that ensued.

That experience remains a happy memory today, and I still have and use the little footstool that resulted from my time in that class. Mr. Alexander's shop was one of my early introductions to the world of men. It had a powerful impact on my self-esteem and 11-year-old sense of what it meant to be a man.

For most young males, working with tools of any kind is a doorway into the world of men. In this post I want to describe the wonderful chemistry that can happen when a man takes the risk to share his shop, workbench, tools, and his experience with boys. While this work can take many forms, both of these stories have to do with boats.

The first is about what happened to John Connell, a man who loves restoring old canoes. John was a teacher in a school that featured alternative educational programs for what he calls “banged up kids.” “We had an open house and a guy asked if I wanted an old canoe for the kids to work on,” he said. From that moment on, John's life and the lives of many kids were changed forever. You can read the whole story at this link. As you might guess, John is about building good kids as much as canoes. He says, “A canoe can be a vehicle to learn about work, authority, and initiation,” he said. “The kids find pride and accomplishment in finishing a boat.”

Another man, Brad Buxton, had some men friends that were passionate about wooden boats. They eventually decided that their interest in the craft would be a good thing to share with young men. They managed to get some shop space donated at a shopping center and started inviting other men and boys. It is now 15 years later and Urban Boat Builders (UBB) is a not-for-profit organization that has served 2,700+ teens, interacted with 38 juvenile justice programs, public schools, charter schools and neighborhood organizations, and now has over 175+ wooden boats built ranging from 9' long to 25' long. You can learn more about UBB on their website.

If you are a man with a passion for tools, or stamps, or birds, or hunting, or ?????, consider taking the risk to share it with a group of young guys. What I call Masculine Gravity may just take over and result in many lives, including yours, being changed forever.

Do you have a story about a man who shared his interests with you when you were a kid? If you're willing, please do send it along to me, or add it to the comments section of this post.

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October 20, 2010

The New Macho

Last September Newsweek joined the print media rush with their series of articles on the recently popular general theme, What's the Matter with Men? Their approach is, Why it’s time to reimagine masculinity at work and at home. You can read their response to that statement on their blog, I'm not taking up the topic here.

Rather, I'll own up to having been on a personal quest for years to determine what, for me, constitutes an authentic and personally relevant sense of manhood. I think a lot of men and way too many boys are on that same journey. It's in part why I do this blog, and maybe, why you read it.

So I found it interesting when Boysen Hodgson, a friend of mine, took it on himself to begin to describe for himself what he calls The New Macho paradigm. Boysen is a member of the ManKind Project and you can see his article in context and other related articles on the MKP website. With his permission, his description is reproduced below for your consideration. He says he is well aware that it is a work in progress . . . perhaps like men and the definition of manhood today!

I like it! What do you think?

The New Macho

He cleans up after himself.
He cleans up the planet.
He is a role model for young men.
He is rigorously honest and fiercely optimistic.

He holds himself accountable.
He knows what he feels.
He knows how to cry and he lets it go.
He knows how to rage without hurting others.
He knows how to fear and how to keep moving.
He seeks self-mastery.

He's let go of childish shame.
He feels guilty when he's done something wrong.
He is kind to men, kind to women, kind to children.
He teaches others how to be kind.
He says he's sorry.

He stopped blaming women or his parents or men for his pain years ago.
He stopped letting his defenses ruin his relationships.
He stopped letting his penis run his life.
He has enough self respect to tell the truth.
He creates intimacy and trust with his actions.
He has men that he trusts and that he turns to for support.
He knows how to roll with it.
He knows how to make it happen.
He is disciplined when he needs to be.
He is flexible when he needs to be.
He knows how to listen from the core of his being.

He's not afraid to get dirty.
He's ready to confront his own limitations.
He has high expectations for himself and for those he connects with.
He looks for ways to serve others.
He knows he is an individual.
He knows that we are all one.
He knows he is an animal and a part of nature.
He knows his spirit and his connection to something greater.

He knows that the future generations are watching his actions.
He builds communities where people are respected and valued.
He takes responsibility for himself and is also willing to be his brother's keeper.

He knows his higher purpose.
He loves with fierceness.
He laughs with abandon, because he gets the joke.

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October 15, 2010

The Mentoring Journal

It's not often you hear about an actual "tool," you can use to enhance the quality of the connection between an adult and a young person. That's why I was interested when I learned about the Mentoring Journal. The Journal is the most recently published resource from the Friends for Youth Mentoring Institute. Its a spiral-bound, 122 page, collection of resources for mentors and their mentees. It's currently being used by almost 1,500 mentor/mentee matches in programs around the US. It can also be a valuable publication for anyone who is in a supportive relationship with a young person.

The Mentoring Journal contains lots of activity ideas, stickers, and suggestions for goal-setting in the relationship. There are places for a mentor and a mentee to create a diary or log of their shared experiences, room for photos, and even some guidance for a respectful closure of the match should that be necessary. It's a great way to be more intentional about co-creating your connection, to document the history of your relationship, and capture those special memories that you've shared.

If you want to learn more about how to use the Mentoring Journal in your relationship with a young person, or within a formal mentoring program, Friends for Youth is offering a FREE webinar on Tuesday, October 26, 2010 from 10:00 – 11:30 AM (PDT). Go to this link to learn more about the webinar and to sign up if you're interested.

If you are aware of any other resources that could support someone involved with a formal mentoring relationship, or who just has a young person in their life they are connected to, please tell me about it. I'm happy to share it here.

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October 9, 2010

Make A Difference - One Kid At A Time

When I see young guys step up and take on the world, it increases my optimism about the state of the world. In this wonderful video, Birke Baehr takes on "what's Wrong With Our Food System? And How Can We Make A Difference?" at the TEDxNextGeneration meeting in Asheville, NC. I'm sure he's had some adult support to show up this way, but he is certainly the right kid for the challenge. In this talk Birke gives new meaning to the line from the poem Boys, " . . . A boy is Truth with dirt on its face, Beauty with a cut on its finger, Wisdom with bubble gum in its hair and the Hope of the future with a frog in its pocket.”

If the video isn't visible, you can see it at this link.

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