Boys Need An Initiation: It Should Leave A Mark.

There’s something missing in many “guys” these days. An initiation. It’s a byproduct of a lot things: the failure or absence of fathers, and the false initiation of video games and high-school cliques to name a few. College doesn’t initiate, sports teams and fraternaties are a shadow of it, some gap years and mission trips are a start, but boys need something extreme, something hard, to mark them and their passage to manhood.

Photo of boys covered in mudPhoto Credit: Ion Botezatu

The Five Promises of Male Initiation

In Adam’s Return, Richard Rohr describes what he calls the five promises of male initiation. I’m going to use his list to describe what is needed in initiations today and to outline my next couple of blogs:

  • Life Is Hard
  • You are Not That Important
  • Your Life Is Not About You
  • You Are Not In Control
  • You Are Going To Die

First: Life Is Hard

Unfortunately, boys have been coddled and protected too much by well-meaning parents or mothers trying to fill the gap of a father. This creates boys who have no idea what hard work really is, and boys that grow up with a “self-service, drive-thru, get what you want, I will always have a safety net” mentality.

USMC Drill InstructorHow do they come to grips with the fact that Life is Hard? First, boys must realize that Life Is Not Fair.

The good guys get screwed, and the bad guys get rich. Good people get sick. You can’t always get what you want. They sooner they learn this the better.

And next, boys must face pain and have a way to deal with it. They must go through hardship, physical and mental, and come out on the other side. They need to know that pain exists, that they will not be able to avoid it, and their parents can’t get them out of it. But they need to be able to process the pain and know that there are other men that have gone through it and survived.

How do we Initiate Today?

A true initiation needs to include a “Life is Hard” phase, typically a task that is physically and mentally tough. It doesn’t have to be excruciating and scarring, just hard enough to cause exhaustion and the realization that sometimes, some tasks are just hard.

Climb a mountain, carry a heavy load, travel solo, or hunt an animal. Maybe it’s boot camp, and going to war. Maybe it’s serving in a third world country with nothing more than a backpack. There is a need for an event, a line in the sand that must be crossed. That’s why many cultures include a scar, or tattoo, that the man will always remember as a memorial of the event. Initiation Should Leave A Mark.

And there needs to be a father, or a father figure, who is there to encourage and support the boy (but not help him!) and to sympathize with him when the task is done. To offer a “Job, well done,” or to debrief the pain and assure the boy that even though the pain comes, it can be overcome.

Do you have a story of your “life is hard” initiation? Please share it. Or do you think it’s still missing in your life?

Continue to the next installment in this blog series: You Are Not That Important