March 9, 2013

How I Became a Man-Maker

There are those singular moments in a person's life that just change everything. One of those moments in my life profoundly touched my masculine soul, changed my life's direction and, in fact, is the very reason you are reading these words right now.

Ojulu, Okugn, and Family
My wife and I met Ojulu Agote and his family in 1996. They were from Sudan and had arrived via the refugee services division of Lutheran Social Services. Ojulu and his family had experienced the horrors of tribal warfare and then the abuses of life in a refugee camp. After making his way through countless bureaucratic barriers, he had landed in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He had nothing, and was living with his family in a cockroach infested one-bedroom apartment, very much alone in a new world and facing a mountain of practical needs.

At our first meeting, I was focused on getting donations from friends and family to supply them with some of the material support I felt they would need. When I asked Ojulu how I might support him, without a moment’s hesitation the first thing out of that man's mouth was, “Will you to teach my son how to be a man in your country?”
“Will you teach my son
how to be a man in your country?”
Here was a man who had just managed a total hero's journey to a strange land, and only had a couple of mattresses, some beat-up cookware, a lamp, and the clothing they wore. Yet the most important thing on his list of what he needed in his new country was a male elder to guide his young son, Okugn, toward manhood and success.

While my male psyche was cracked open by Ojulu’s request, in that moment, I laughed it off and went right to talking about the practical things the family needed. But deep inside, my world was quaking. I remember feeling confused, embarrassed, strangely inadequate, and very unsure about accepting responsibility to play the role of man-maker in his son’s life.

My life path had not included fathering children. I was doing a good job of being an uncle, but until the moment Ojulu asked that question, I hadn't considered myself a maker of men, a man with a critical role to play in any adolescent boy’s journey into manhood.

From his (patriarchal) tribal culture, Ojulu had learned that even in the best father/son relationship, the elders and the other men in the community had important and necessary gifts for his son. He knew it was men's work to guide, teach, support, and direct the young males on their journey toward manhood. Now he was feeling if his son didn't make a successful crossing into manhood in his new world, everything he had fought for to get his family to this country could be lost.

On that day, Ojulu’s request touched something deep in the core of my masculine identity and launched my quest to learn about the role of men as man-makers. For help in trying to understand my resistance to being a man-maker, and for guidance on how to best honor Ojulu's request, I began asking the advice of my men friends. I also started a research website ( where I began asking questions, soliciting stories and getting suggestions from men from around the world. You can read some of these questions for men at this link.
“. . . many men said they didn't have much for guidance, and they too had been poorly prepared for manhood.”
In my research, many men said they didn't have much for guidance, and they too had been poorly prepared for manhood. As a result, they felt they didn’t have much to offer boys and further felt no responsibility and little inclination to go out of their way to support young males on their journey to manhood.

As my conversations about a man's journey to manhood continued to unfold, I realized that like so many of the men responding, for much of my adult life, I too had been unconsciously but continuously searching for "manhood." I had been living with lingering and unformed questions about what it meant to be a man. I really didn’t know what should or could be included in the full range of a mature masculine identity. While I did well by societal standards, I never felt I had acquired that mysterious collection of male skills, knowledge, connections, clarity of life purpose, or the core confidence that made me a fully-formed, solid, mature, and upright man.

Over time, it became clear to me that to honor Ojulu’s request, I felt I first had to become the man I hungered to be. While that is a much longer story, in so many ways, Ojulu’s question and the adventure of discovery for me that resulted, has profoundly changed my life and touched many others.

Okugn's High School Graduation
Since that moment sixteen years ago, my personal development, commitment to this work, knowledge about the male universe, and actions to inspire men toward man-making, have grown considerably. Today, I am connecting with men from all over the world who are discovering and developing their full masculine potential, including making commitments to help young males become good men. I am doing what I can to support Okugn and other boys and men on our collective journey to manhood.

All of this happened as the result of Ojulu’s one question, “Will you to teach my son how to be a man in your country?” It was a question coming from ancient tribal wisdom and reached deep into my male soul and changed my life in countless wonderful ways.

So let me ask you a question: Will you teach boys to become good men? The boys in your world know you have what they need for a successful journey to manhood, and they are waiting for you to show up. If you feel resistance to that call to action, are you willing to look for its source?

What I can promise from personal experience and that of countless men I've encountered on this path, is there are unimaginable and rich lessons about your manhood waiting for you in your answer to those questions.

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