Manhood – The Masculine Journey, When Does Manhood Happen?

When does a boy become a man? Ever try to answer that question? If you are a man, you have struggled with that question since way back in junior high. Some men look up from their deathbed asking the silent question, did I make it? When buying that engagement ring or showing up at the natal ward with a pregnant wife… men wonder. When facing danger, war, or competition, the question lurks deep inside, am I man enough? The question is if I am a man when did I cross over from boyhood? When does it happen?

Everyone knows when it is not. It is not when a boy can father a child–multiplied thousands of abandoned children will attest to that. It is not when he can palm a basketball, and it is not when he can drive a car. The first drink of alcohol or the first smoke cannot be it. Thousands of neophyte males are released upon our nation every year with no understanding whatever of what it is to be a man. It is obvious to tell when a boy has not yet become a man; the problem is we do not know when it is. And that really is a problem.

The missing ingredient in most American communities is a realistic coming-of-age ceremony for young men. The lack of a specific, memorable event that marks the moment when a young man passes from boyhood into adult manhood has created confusion and doubt in the minds of both youth and adults. Some religious cultures celebrate a rite-of-passage, such as the Jewish bar-mitzvah, for example; however most Rabbis will admit that boys are rarely marked as adults by that ritual. When a young man is not sure of his manhood, he will try almost anything to establish his adult power, in his own mind and in his peers’ minds especially with his peers. Many youth-related acts of violence, gang relationships, or rebellious defiant actions are misguided attempts to display some form of the adult masculine mystique. This mystery of adult manhood is often referred to as “machismo,” which researchers on the subject have traced to Greek origin, meaning “Battle,” or to the Spanish word for “machete.” When we say a guy is macho we give him the title our society demands he earn without any real mentoring or training. That is why many a young man, through some idiotic, usually capricious and truly un-manly act, tries to prove his manhood. Irresponsible acts such as impregnate a woman but not marry her, or shoot an enemy gang member are ways this is often manifested. Juvenile police files are filled with crimes that, if the truth were known, were done in the name of proving manhood.

Male adulthood can be a confusing mystery. That is why every budding man needs a guide, an adult male who has successfully made the masculine journey and has no more confusion as to whether he is a man or not. This male is ideally the youth’s father, but in today’s society, it will just as likely be a stepfather or a surrogate dad who has come alongside the youth to help him make the trek. Every man needs tracks to follow. As much as we admire and respect the noble attempts of women to raise their sons, and many have been left to do it alone, moms cannot accomplish–with all their trying–what dads can do automatically.

Additionally, men need other men. The neophyte male needs someone, or several someone’s of their own species to affirm manhood in them. Women cannot do that for men. Women do so many other things, things that only they can do; but men confirm men. It is not only true in the melting pot of modern America, but in every age all over the world. Men need men. To deny a man the temporary exclusive company of other men is to deny the essence of his life. That is why, even in modern times, men go fishing, hunting, camping, sailing, or mountain climbing with other men. This is the explanation for the “out with the guys” problem that many wives and girl friends do not comprehend. According to best-selling author, John Eldredge, in order to discover the secret to his masculine soul, every man needs adventures to experience and causes to champion.

In the early days of this great nation, men grew into adulthood in close proximity to the male adults in their lives. A boy’s dad, uncles, older male cousins, and neighboring men worked close together in farming communities where the adult male roles were sharply contrasted to those of women and little boys.

Unfortunately, that has not been the case over the last few years. For approximately eighty years in America, young men have been getting their manhood clues from the neighborhood streets, the media, and the public schools instead of the neighboring farms. The modern street presents a much different visual than the simple rural community of yesteryear or even the relatively innocent suburbs of post World War II America. Gangs now constitute the teenager’s peer group in many inner city neighborhoods. Drug-pushing older teens and young adults now represent many teenagers’ surrogate role models in the absence of their real dad, who either never was there, or who has abandoned them for some greener pasture or other. Boys in wholesale numbers have been left to grow up on their own. They learn about sex in the bathrooms of the projects. They learn about women from the abandoned, brokenhearted big sisters and cousins who are out looking for love in all the wrong places. They learn about money management from drug salesmen, failing rock band members, or loan sharks. The absence of a role-model-dad has left an ugly scar on the face of America. The home of the brave is being replaced by the house of the coward; the land of the free for many young men is the battleground of the trapped. It is time for a change, don’t you agree? In future articles I will suggest specific actions that guide fathers in their son’s manhood journey.