September 7, 2012

A Year-Long, Rite of Passage for Boys

Vacation: Because I'm on a vacation trip to Switzerland and France until the end of September, I'm taking the easy route and publishing a few favorite posts (mine and yours) from the history of this Blog. Enjoy!

When I speak to groups of men working with boys, whether it's in mentoring organizations, at churches or conferences, or just groups of men who want to do something for adolescent males, there is always the question of what to do with them. Often, the path that question takes is, how do we keep these young guys entertained? While I think that's a fair question to ask, and indeed some fun is important, I think if a young male is on the brink of manhood, it misses the mark a little.

I feel that mixed in with some boy fun, there should be serious lessons about manhood and an opportunity to talk with men about the big issues in a kid's life. A few youth-serving organizations approach that challenge head on, but from my experience, it seems to me that too many of them leave the most important training to chance.

I'd like to propose the creation of a year-long form of introduction to manhood. A series of activities that guarantee boys are exposed to some of the important questions, issues, skills, and lessons about the manhood.

I'm suggesting a monthly outing, circle, lesson, or event for boys and men, followed by a group discussion about what happened and to help the boys process their experience. I'm trying to stir your thinking here. Consider the impact of these kinds of experiences on the psyche of an adolescent male:

  • A visit to a jail or prison.

  • Work for a day on a Habitat for Humanity home build.

  • Go to a stockyard where animals are butchered.

  • Go rock climbing, hiking, try a high ropes course, or go camping.

  • Visit the local firehouse, learning about the gear, skills, and hearing stories.

  • Have a conversation with residents at a battered women's shelter, or hear from a GLBT person.

  • Visit a Veteran's hospital and talk with injured vets.

  • Learn how to wire a lamp, fix a toilet, change a tire, or grill a steak.

  • Help out for a few hours at a nursing home, possibly serving a meal.

  • Job shadowing - go to work with a man for a day or part of a day to learn what men do.

  • Hear from women recovering from being prostitutes.

  • Feed people at a homeless shelter.

  • Spending a weekend night at the police station.

  • Play paintball . . . after a discussion from a veteran about the realities of war.

  • Hear a personal story from someone who attends Alcoholics Anonymous or Debtors Anonymous.

You get the idea, and I'm sure you have ideas you could add. I'm certain when these experiences are processed in a multi-generational group of males, powerful discussions about life, manhood, profession, relationship to women, and personal responsibility would result. I'm just as certain all the males would benefit enormously.

After a year or so of these experiences, some opportunities for fun, and directly and indirectly learning from men across the discussion circle, I think an adolescent male would really be ready for some form of rite of passage or crossing into manhood celebration or ceremony.

What do you think?

What activities would you add to the list?

How would your life be different today if, as an adolescent, you had been surrounded by good men with the focused intention to teach you about life and the journey toward a positive manhood?

Share your thoughts on this post in the "comments" section below or send me an email message.

Perhaps most importantly, consider sending this along to a man or men you know and whom you feel might be interested in this idea. A few men and boys from your neighborhood or community is all it would take to get started.

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