Building a Rite of Passage
A Rite of Passage is a tradition that dates back as long as humans have walked this planet but it seems to be less and less common. And, unless a young man plays competitive sports, or participates in Scouting, or joins the military, he just isn’t going to be initiated into manhood. In fact, a lack of initiation into manhood has caused a lot of the problems we see with boys never leaving the nest.
And, that is what I want to talk with you about today.
I took my oldest on a Rite of Passage last year (he was 8 at the time) and we both learned a ton about how to do this and about each other.
So, today, I want to share the ins and outs of that trip, then, break down six key components of any Rite of Passage so you can re-create your own.
So again, last year I took my son on a rite of passage. He was 8 so it wasn’t anything too elaborate but the ramifications of our camping trip are still at play today.
First, it was a two-day camping trip with just me and him.
I told him what we were going to be doing and immediately got him involved with the planning process of the trip. He came up with a packing list, the food list, some of the activities he wanted to participate in, and he also helped load the truck, the food, our bags, the firewood, and anything else we needed.
Before we left, I presented him with a Gerber multi-tool that he would be using for the trip in a series of tasks he would need to complete.
He had to build a campfire, set up camp, we did some geocaching, we set up cans for him to shoot as we walked through firearm safety, and he cooked dinner for us.
In other words, he did it all. And, that was the point.
After he completed some of his tasks and we had eaten dinner, I sat him down at the campfire and pulled out two lion figurines that I had bought before the trip. One was a cub and one was a full-grown male lion.
I told him how he was the cub right now and, in order to become the lion king he’s growing up to be, he’s going to have to learn some things between now and then and he’s going to have to become responsible and accountable for himself.
We talked about the three pillars of masculinity – protect, provide, and preside – and how important those responsibilities are for men to step into.
We did some more of his tasks that evening and called it a night. As we winded our Rite of Passage down, he asked me if he could take his lions to school so he could teach the kids in his class about protecting, providing, and presiding. I knew at that moment, that he had latched on to the ideas I shared with him.
After our trip was done, I presented him with his first .22 rifle as a symbol that he had completed his initial Rite of Passage and that I trusted him with a firearm.
We hugged it out and called it good. We talk about that trip a lot and, in fact, I have another, more intense rite of passage planned for him next year.
That said, I want to talk with you about six key elements that I think every rite of passage should include.
The first element is that this has to be exclusive to you and him. It should not include the rest of the family. It shouldn’t include siblings or friends. It needs to be father and son only.
There are other times to involve family and friends. This is not one of them.
Next, you have to get your son involved. If you do it all, it doesn’t teach him anything and you won’t get any buy-in from in. He has to do it.
Yes, he’ll be slow. Yes, he’s going to get a few things wrong. But, isn’t that the point – to teach and to learn.
I’ll tell you what, if he forgets the toilet paper on this trip, I guarantee he won’t forget it again.
It also has to be challenging for him. If you do everything for him, he won’t have an opportunity to figure anything out. If it isn’t a little bit of a struggle, you’re kind of just hanging out, not going through an initiation into boyhood or manhood.
Create tasks and challenges. Make them stimulate his body, mind, and soul.
And, along that note, the fourth component of this is that there has to be some sort of lesson and instruction included. Again, this isn’t a weekend to hang out but an opportunity to learn what it means to be a man. Ask him questions. Allow him to ask you questions. And, prepare a lesson you can share with him about masculinity and manhood.
With all that said, there has to be tangible proof that he completed the rite of passage. For my son, it was his multi-tool, his lions, and his .22 rifle. You have to signify the transfer from a toddler to a boy, and from a boy into a man.
This will allow him to look back on those tangible items and reflect on what he learned during his rite of passage.
I think it should also be something that will last a lifetime and potentially be passed on to his sons when he carries on the tradition you started.
And, the last item I wanted to share with you is that this is just the beginning. You have to follow up with him. You have to take him on additional, more complex Rite of Passages as he gets older and moves into the next phase of his life.
I plan on doing one every two years with my kids starting at 8 years old. That means they’ll have six Rites of Passage they’ll need to complete before the age of 18.
So, there it is guys. I know I didn’t tell you exactly what to do but that was the point. I wanted to get the creative juices flowing. You might like what I did and decide to model that. You might like elements and have your own ideas. But, the point is to craft something that is going to work for you and him. That’s going to take some thought and insight but I promise it’s worth it as you son transitions from boy to man.
And, if there’s one thing we’re supposed to do as fathers, it’s to make that transition happen as effectively as possible.
Again, the key components are exclusivity, involvement, challenging, instructional, proof, follow-up.
I think it would be cool to see what you guys are doing as far as rites of passages go so, if you would, tag @orderofman on Instagram, Twitter, and/or Facebook with pictures of your Rite of Passage so we can all see them and gain some inspiration for our own.