What does it mean to be a man?
When does a boy know that he has become a man?
These are important questions that our modern culture fails to answer. Even inside the church, answers are sparse. We have done a terrible job directing boys toward manhood.
Is it any wonder that they wander? Is it really a surprise that they act out in destructive ways, like joining gangs or recklessly racing in the street?
We complain of extended adolescence in boys that lasts until their mid-twenties…but do they know any better? Do *we* know any better?
This used to be easy to answer. It still is in some more primitive cultures. A boy would become a man after he lasted a night in the wilderness alone. Or proved himself useful in a dangerous hunt.
A boy must have some kind of rite of passage. I started thinking about this after I read How I Helped My Boys to Become Christian Men by Vern Poythress.
From the article:
When does a boy become a man in white American culture? When he gets a driver’s license? When he graduates from high school? When he moves away from his parents? When he can vote? When he gets his first full-time job? When he is 21? When he gets married? When he owns his own home?
The only answer is a vague shrug of the shoulders. We can give no definitive answer.
So it falls to fathers to point the way, to pick up this slack. It helps if you have a community or church to help encourage and enforce a rite of passage but it is ultimately the father’s responsibility. Maybe our sons and grandsons will live in a world that is more saturated in truth, but they will need to help build it.
And to do that, they need to grow up to be men.
You should create a rite of passage for your own sons. Don’t overcomplicate it. At a minimum, a rite of passage should do or have the following things:
- It should be challenging, but not impossible.
- It should have some involvement of other men you respect. As teachers or testers.
- It should be introduced a few years before they are expected to endure the rite of passage.
- Passing it comes with certain privileges. Determine these beforehand. (Set their own bedtime, have their own phone/computer, no longer needs a baby-sitter, right to sit in the “family council,” earns real wages from chores, etc.)
- Passing it also comes with certain responsibilities. (Additional chores, responsible for own clothes, pay rent to mom and dad, etc.)
A Sample Rite of Passage
I have created my own tentative rite of passage for my own sons that we have started working towards. It cues off of some of Poythress’s outline, though I think his plan leans too far toward knowledge-based achievements. Feel free to copy and adapt.
I designed this to provide a base. To help my sons build momentum. This isn’t intended to be the exhaustive list of what a man should know and do, only the list of things for a boy to show that he can handle the growing responsibilities of manhood.
Obviously, the hope is that they will continue to memorize Scripture and grow in holiness, will continue to improve the skills they need for life, and continue to get stronger and stronger.
- Memorize 10 Psalms. (includes 1,2, and 8. The rest can be their preference.)
- Memorize Genesis 1 – 2:1-3.
- Memorize Proverbs 1.
- Memorize John 1:1-18.
- Memorize Ephesians 1.
- Memorize 1 Corinthians 15.
- Know the names of the books of the Bible in order.
- Know Bible history.
- Read the whole Bible.
- Know and demonstrate basic apologetics.
- Summarize the main themes of biblical books.
- Establish prayer and devotional habits.
- Organize one project of service for the church and the needy.
- Prayer and fasting retreat with Dad.
- Plan a budget for a year
- Greeting and conversational etiquette
- Table etiquette
- Cook a full meal
- Woodworking project
- Personal project of their choice
- Do 20 push-ups in one set
- Do 5 pull-ups in one set
- 30-second hollow body hold
- Run a mile in under 8 minutes
Around the ages of 13 or 14, if my son can demonstrate mastery of these things, he will be declared a man. We’ll have a celebration, and his position in the household will officially change.