February 5, 2016

A Conversation About A Boy's Rite of Passage

I recently received a request from Brian Mier in Melbourne, Australia, asking for guidance on a rite of passage experience for his nine-year-old grandson Seb. I thought our exchanges might be inspirational and encourage other men to think about what they might do to mark transitions for young males on their way toward manhood. Here's how our exchange went down:

FROM BRIAN: Good evening, Earl. I'’m very much wanting to plan a Rites of Passage ceremony for my grandson, Sebastian, who is currently 9 years old. Three years from now, when he's 12-13 years of age, he'll move from the ‘primary school’ system into a ‘secondary school or college’ system. When that time comes, I want to mark the passage event with a ceremony and I'd like your guidance.

For starters, I'’m thinking this should be a family thing, involving his father, me as Grandpa, his other grandfather, if he is willing, maybe his Scout Leader (if male), and any other ‘good men’ who are or will be in his life for those difficult early teenage years.

One idea involves ascending 1,000 steps. The steps are in a State Park, in a native bushland environment, close to where we live. Seb and his dad would go to the bottom of the steps, have a little talk about what the ceremony is about, then climb the steps together. At the top of the hill they meet the two grandfathers, who welcome them and congratulate them on achieving this part of the journey.

We then drive a short distance to Mt. Dandenong, which looks out over the eastern suburbs of Melbourne in the distance. Seb'’s home is in that view. The other adults meet us there. We talk about the journey of life ahead for Seb, and maybe each of us shares a short story about our journeys at his age. Finally, we retire into the cafĂ© there and enjoy a meal together. Three generations of good men and a boy, who is well on the way, in the company of those men who will be there to help him cross the bridge to adolescence.

If you have any thoughts about that approach, please let me know. Also, if you have any scripts or suggestions for the talking parts, they would also be welcome.

EARL REPLIED: How beautiful, Brian. First let me compliment you on the intention to gift your grandson in this way. From my experience, you are unusual among men (and grandfathers)! Not only because you understand the importance of these moments in a young man's life, but because you're willing to step into action. I'm happy to support you any way I can. Here's some feedback and a few thoughts about your plan:

. . . anything good men do,
with intention, to honor a boy
in these transition moments, is perfect.

First, know that what you've described is really fine. In fact, anything good men do, with intention, to honor a boy in these transition moments, is perfect. It will be memorable and have powerful impact on the young man . . . and also men. Everything that follows is really just suggestion.

I very much like the group of men you've proposed. One important consideration from my experience is that being surrounded by even a few men who are focusing on just him can be very intimidating for a single young boy. Too much manpower can easily pop the boy's circuit breakers. Where possible, I like to see WWM events done in a pack of men and multiple boys. If you want the event to be just for Seb, just a few familiar men will do the trick.

I'm not so hot on your idea to drive from place to place. I think that spreading the event out in time and distance will greatly distract from the power and intimacy of just being in one place. As you may know, I'm nuts about male circles. It's how men have gathered forever, often around fire. While you might work in the stairs (great metaphor), I think just the power of men gathered in a circle, speaking with intention to and about Seb, would be sufficient for him to feel something important happened and the moment powerfully marked.

Welcome to the World of Men

I call celebrations occurring prior to testosterone hitting a boy, Welcome to the World of Men (WWM). These events are not about major "passage" from one life stage to another, because he isn't yet crossing into early manhood, moving from the dependency of childhood toward responsibilities and challenges of manhood. For a boy, it's more about being welcomed into men's world, being taught a little about manhood, honoring him, and knowing he has some good men around for support. While Seb might be experiencing emerging manhood at twelve years old, I'm guessing there will still be a lot of boy energy in him.

So let's assume Seb will NOT be experiencing 'approaching manhood' at twelve. I'd recommend more of an honoring - WWM style - ceremony to honor his change in schools. You know your grandson so you'll have to moderate the following suggestions based on his maturity level and attention span.


OPENING: You'd want to open the experience with a little ritual of some sort so there is a formal beginning. Opening could be simply lighting a fire or a single candle, reading a poem, or doing what your faith traditions do, or maybe what indigenous people in your part of the world do, to sanctify the gathering.

As the convener, you could explain the purpose of the gathering and then invite men into the experience. I've even seen a small altar or shrine established with a photo of Seb as a young boy and some of his boyhood things to honor what he's leaving behind.

CIRCLE ROUNDS: I like the topics of the conversation you've suggested, and rather than "scripts," I think men speaking from their hearts is best. You can set the topics for the men by having them take turns speaking, going around the circle a few times, each time with a different theme. Without you speaking yet, the rounds could include some of the following:

  • A round where men speak about what they've witnessed in your Seb's life that's golden, naming his gifts and strengths.

  • A round of storytelling about a (very focused) lesson men wished they had learned or challenges they faced when they were Seb's age.

  • There can be a round where the men speak commitments (large and small) about how they'll support him on the next stage on his journey toward manhood.

  • You can have a round where each man gifts Seb with a small object that is imbued with special meaning prior to its presentation. The objects can all be gathered and presented to him in a bundle as a part of the closing.

  • A powerful final round would be the father and/or grandfather blessing. Either or both of you can then speak on the previous themes, name his gifts, beauty, strengths, and tell a personal story of a time when you witnessed Seb being amazing. You can make your commitments to him and then tell him how, in the challenges of adolescence ahead, you will be there for him (or whatever is true and in your heart). You may also want to give him a talisman and explain what it represents.

  • If it's appropriate and Seb is up for it, you could give him a chance to speak. But be prepared for him to not be willing or able.

CLOSING: After this powerful circle, you don't want the energy and intimacy that's been created to just dissipate into small talk. Close the circle with a ritual, perhaps spinning off from the opening. Blowing out a candle/fire, or something as simple as each man checking out with what he's taking away. A clean ending says the special time is over and we can now all go back to our "normal" ways of being together.

FOOD: If possible, you always want to feed the guys and a retreat to the food will be welcomed. The sharing of food and accompanying small talk after the event brings down the intensity in a good way. Maybe have other people from his life show up for the meal and to help celebrate Seb.

On the Man-Making website there is an article from a few years ago titled, A Young Man's Rite of Passage. It describes a similar passage experience created for the son of a friend of mine who was going off to college. There are many parallels in that story to what I'm suggesting here.

In the moment, everyone,
. . . will know just what to do.

Mostly, I hope you just head out on this adventure and listen for direction from Spirit. I believe men are hardwired for this work and once they are past their initial fears, the rightness, importance, and "how to's" of these events becomes clear. In the moment, everyone, including Seb, will know just what to do.

That's what I've got for a quick shot. Let me know what else I can do to make this idea a reality.

Blessings on your large grandfather's heart!



If this conversation moves you to want to do something similar, send me a quick message. I'm happy to help you think about what you might do.

Maybe, like me, you're wondering who you'd be today if you had the gift of knowing good men had your back during the hardest transitions in your life.

Let's do this men!



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