July 3, 2016

Men Helping Boys on THEIR Journey To Manhood

With one simple question, a Sudanese refugee named Ojulu Agote changed the course of my life and set me on the path to becoming a better man.

As a volunteer for the organization that brought Ojulu and his family to the U.S., I was meeting with him to help him settle into Minneapolis. Specifically, I was considering how to get him and his family the things he needed to make it through a brutally cold Minnesota February.

In Africa, Ojulu's family had experienced the horrors and dislocation of tribal warfare, all the abuses of years in a refugee camp, and now, here he was in a big American city with their clothing, a lamp, mattresses on the floor, and little else. He and his family were living in a cockroach infested, one-bedroom apartment, and were facing a mountain of practical needs. When I asked Ojulu how I might help him in his new world, the first thing he said was, “Will you teach my son how to be a man in your country?”

Will you to teach my son how to be a man in your country?

Here was a man who literally had nothing, yet at the top of his priority list was finding a male elder who could guide his then four-year-old son Okugn toward manhood in this new world. Ojulu felt if his son did not make a successful crossing into manhood, everything he had fought for in getting his family to this country could be lost. He knew that while his love for his son was powerful, his son needed the support of other men in his new village.

In truth, I was shocked by Ojulu’s request. I don’t remember my exact reply, but I do remember feeling embarrassed and strangely inadequate. I had no children myself and up to that point, had never played an intentional mentoring role in any adolescent boy’s journey toward manhood. My truth in that moment is that I was actually afraid of accepting the responsibility to be a mentor to Okugn. There had been no caring, involved, and supportive adult men around me as a boy so I didn't have a model for the mentoring role Ojulu was asking me to play. I didn't believe I had the skills or experience I thought the job required. At a deeper level, I didn't believe I was good enough to guide anyone's son toward manhood. His words touched something deep, sad, and confusing within me, and led to a quest that ultimately change the course of my life.

. . . I didn't believe I was good enough
to guide anyone's son toward manhood.

For advice on how to respond to Ojulu’s request, I began talking to my men friends. I also started a website to collect stories and suggestions from men from around the world about their path to manhood and how they would respond to the challenge from Ojulu. Ultimately, I began examining my own adolescence in depth and in doing so, unearthed old and primal feelings of anger and sadness. I realized that in many ways, as an adult man, I was still wearing the mask of normalcy I learned to put on over all the pain I experienced as a boy.

In the responses to my questions to men, I learned I was not alone in feeling not qualified to mentor a boy. By societal standards, as a man in the world, I was doing great in my profession and in my relationships. The truth underneath all that was a sense I had never acquired that mysterious collection of male skills, knowledge, clarity of life purpose, or the core confidence that makes up a mature and realized man. Like so many of the men responding to my questions, I never felt I crossed a line or was witnessed and acknowledged for entering man's world. As odd as it sounds, I could not say with any authority I was in fact a "man."

As odd as it sounds,
I could not say with any authority
I was in fact a "man."

Ojulu’s question about mentoring his son became a launch pad from which I set out to discover and become the man I wanted to be. That was over twenty years ago. As a result of this quest, I have found a personal mission for the third thirty years of my life, a mission of service that finds me in the role of connecting good men with boys and young men wherever I can.

My journey of self-discovery led to launching the Man-Making blog in 2004, and publishing the book Man Making - Men Helping Boys on Their Journey to Manhood in 2006. In addition to doing my best for Ojulu's son, I have many mentoring relationships with young men. I have also joined with other men to build group mentoring organizations that operate in communities in the US and around the globe.

I'm not saying all this to brag. Rather I'm standing as a model for men who've not yet come forward to become a man-maker for a young man or boys in their world. When you risk becoming a man-maker at any level, the male hardwiring for guiding and supporting young males naturally shows up in you. You soon will feel the rightness of your involvement and find your place in the male order of things. From my time on these passage weekends, on adventure outings, and in school circles, I've witness this happen to countless men. In fact, it's the most selfish reason I do this work, I'm a much better man as a result.

JourneymanUK Passage Weekend
Ianto Doyle is involved with JourneymanUK, an organization doing Rites of Passage experiences and other group mentoring events with men and young guys (more about this below). In a recent exchange, Ianto said for men to discover this generative quality of masculinity that resides in them they must spend extended time with young men. It's in the process of being with young males that "manhood" will be called out of them.

It's in the process of being with young males
that "manhood" will be called out of them.

In my case, my first step toward becoming a man-maker was the result of Ojulu’s question. A question born of tribal wisdom that called me to the ancient and necessary work of guiding young males on their journey to manhood. But what about you? I don't think you'd still be reading this if you didn't, at some level, feel the call to man-making. My hope is that you hold that feeling gently. Then, when the man-making opportunity shows up, and it will, you'll step into your journey of discovery.

At this link is a beautiful story about a man, maybe a regular guy just like you, who stepped up when the invitation to step into man-making presented itself. It's my hope that when your chance comes along, you too will accept.

To read some of the other stories men have sent to me about their man-making experiences, go to the Men's Stories page on the Man-Making website. I you have a man-making story to share, send it along and I'll add it to the growing list.

To learn more about what the men of JourneymanUK are doing, visit their website. Their next Rites of Passage weekend is the 8th - 10th of July near Stroud, UK. You can also email Ianto Doyle, I know he'd love to hear from you.

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