On Pentecost Island in Vanuatu, a small island nation in the South Pacific, boys become men through a ritual called land diving.
Think bungee jumping, but from a wooden tower at least 100 feet high – with a vine around a boy’s ankles. Hurtling to the ground at 45 miles an hour, the goal is to land close enough to the ground so that the diver’s shoulders touch terra firma.
In the United States, we don’t have any similar rites of passage outside of the Jewish custom of the Bar Mitzvah. So how does a boy know when he’s a man? Is it when he gets his first job? Or is it when he loses his virginity? How about when he’s old enough to vote or drink legally? No one really knows.
While we don’t need extreme tribal rituals to help our sons know that they are men, there are other actions that we can take.
In the book “Raising a Modern-Day Knight,” author Robert Lewis offers some examples of how fathers can initiate their sons into manhood. The series of steps coincides with natural occurrences in a boy’s life.
Here they are, simplified:
- Age 13 – Celebrate with your son the fact that he’s entering puberty. Talk with him about adolescence, manhood and his growing responsibilities.
- Age 16 – Coordinate a ceremony involving adult men that have played a role in your son’s life. This could include uncles, grandpas, teachers, youth group leaders and more. Encourage them to share with your son the positive qualities that they see in him while also talking about their journey into manhood.
- High school graduation – Share with your son opportunities and pitfalls of college life. Consider involving the same men from the 16-year-old ceremony.
- College graduation – Coordinate a weekend to formally initiate your son into manhood, talking about the independence he has as well as the accompanying responsibilities.
- Marriage – Bless your son’s commitment to his wife and provide words of wisdom based on your own experience.
These steps can be modified depending on your son. Use your best judgment for the appropriate timing based on his level of maturity.
Guiding your son into manhood doesn’t have to hurt like tribal rituals. By being intentional, however, hopefully your son will understand his newfound freedom and responsibility.
It’s never too early to start thinking about your son’s transition to manhood. My son is already 12 years old, and I can’t believe how fast the time has flown. It’s also never too late. If your son is already married and off on his own, it’s still important to take the time to bless him and affirm his life. Take the time today to tell your son that you love him and that you are proud of him.
Maybe even go bungee jumping together.
Brant Skogrand writes regularly for the Reflections from the Center and Skogrand PR Solutions blogs. He is the author of the book “19 Tips for Successful Public Relations: Insights on Media Relations and Reputation Management.”