DISCLAIMER: Before I share about my son’s walk to manhood, I’d like to just say that this is in no way an attempt to claim to be an expert parent! Parenting is hard, and I’m not even in consideration for a “parent of the year” award. I struggle. A LOT! I blow it, all the time. But, as a struggling parent, I love getting resources/ideas that inspire me to do better and work harder at parenting. My hope is that someone would read this and get a little inspiration or idea that helps them in this difficult, but most important job.
When my wife was pregnant with our first child, we read a book called Raising a Modern Day Knight by Robert Lewis. The book talked about raising young boys into chivalrous young men. My biggest takeaway from the book was the importance of ceremony. We tend to remember those ceremonious events such as weddings, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, funerals, and baptisms, etc. The book talked about using ceremony to mark important milestones in your son’s life in a meaningful way. As a father of 6 kids, I can certainly attest to the fact that parenting is done in the trenches. Life isn’t about the ceremonies. Parenting is about the daily grind: bedtimes, baths, diaper changes, homework help, carpooling, etc. However, the ceremonies break up the daily grind of life and become the memories we tend to hold onto long after the smell of dirty diapers is but a distant memory.
On January 22nd, my oldest son turned 13. Historically, 13 is a big deal. In many cultures, it marks the transition from boyhood to manhood. Spiritually, the Hebrew tradition has a Bar Mitzvah to mark this occasion. Catholics and Methodists mark the event with a confirmation. But, what about the rest of us? We’re kind of without a really solid tradition to mark the event. Raising a Modern Day Knight gives some practical ideas including one I incorporated for my son, a walk to manhood. There are many different ways to do this, and it is very customizable. This is how I did it.
My wife dropped off my son at the entrance to a local park where I met him and told him that we were going to do something special today. Much like a Native American spirit journey, he was going to go on a walk to manhood. We started down the path together as I shared with him that if he successfully completed this journey, he would be a true man and I would treat him as such. To complete the journey, Cole would need to find 7 different virtues along the path. My son was looking at me like I had lost my mind! But, he had a sparkle of anticipation in his eye. We then came to the first exchange. I told him,
“Cole, this is your journey. But, you don’t have to walk alone!”
That is when I passed him off to his first mentor, his church small group leader and longtime family friend. Now, this part felt a little cheesy, but we pushed through it. At each exchange, I had a prepared script for each of the guides.
“Who is walking this journey to manhood today?”
Me, “I present Coleman Anderson. He is 13 and ready to become a man.”
“He doesn’t yet possess all of the virtues needed to be a man. Cole will you walk with me and accept the gift I have to give you?”
Cole, “I will.”
In this way, we passed Cole along the three-mile walking trail, from one mentor to the next. Each mentor had prepared some talking points about a different virtue that we had discussed. At the end of their time together, each mentor would give Cole a pocket stone that I had engraved with the name of the virtue they were talking to him about. They discussed spiritual issues and very practical issues. They talked about sex, hard work, sports, studies, prayer, and his role as captain of the football team. Along the way he received a stone for purity, perseverance, leadership, integrity, holiness, stewardship and confidence. His mentors were his small group leader, his head football coach, his wrestling coach, a long time family friend, an uncle and both of his grandfathers.
Cole ended his journey back at the beginning of the trail. His grandfather was walking with him on his last leg and walked him to a pavilion where all of the guides and me had gathered. We repeated the script one last time: “Who is walking this journey to manhood today?”
“I present Coleman Anderson. He is 13 and ready to become a man.”
This time I asked Cole to show me the stones he had received. I was expecting Cole to just list out the names of the virtues and be done. This was the really cool part. Cole, on his own, gave a recount of the walk, sharing who had given him each stone, and what the virtue meant. It was obvious he had really soaked up the entire journey and every man in our fellowship (Yes, it felt like a Lord of the Rings moment) had a tear in his eye.
I then shared with Cole, for the 1000th time, the story of David and Goliath. I highlighted how it only took David one stone to kill Goliath. If Cole really lives out any one of these virtues really well, he can conquer any foe. However, it’s a good idea to have them all on hand just in case! We ended our time with a prayer of blessing over Cole and then headed back to our house for a party with the families of the mentors and a few other family friends and relatives.
Later that night, after all the kids had been put to bed, Cole came into my study and said, “Dad, thank you for today. It really meant a lot.” What a great testimony that our kids crave this kind of affirmation in their lives. I know this ceremony doesn’t mark the end of my parental duties. I know that my son is going to blow it and fail. But, I just have a picture in my mind of my son reaching in to his bag of stones and reflecting on this day as he faces a giant in his life in the coming years.
The giants are out there. Are we giving our kids the stones to slay them?
Have you done something similar with your kids? How do you mark 18? What do you do with your daughters? I’d love to hear your thoughts on incorporating ceremony into parenting.