For most men, their initiation into masculinity _ if it happened at all _ was accidental and incomplete. Maybe they had a father or a father figure who passed along a few skills or a pearl or two of wisdom.
Many didn’t have that.
Even for those men who have had some sort of positive input from an older, trusted man, most of that did not come as a result of intentional engagement with their hearts.
This is often well depicted in how men talk about the way they learned about sex. The Talk, as it’s usually called, typically entails less-than comprehensive information delivered by a father or a father figure who has an awkward reaction to a young man’s newly revealed sexual awareness or curiosity.
Some men try to take a proactive approach and start the conversation, which is really a series of ongoing conversations, early on in a boy’s life; however, it seems more common that fathers and father figures react late.
But masculine initiation is much larger than how we learned about sex, or how much sex we have. If learning about sex, or having it, constituted all there was to masculine initiation, we’d all be well on our way by now.
Our culture often makes the mistake of equating sex with masculine initiation, but that’s a costly error where the heart of a man is concerned. Sex can never bestow masculinity on us, but it can reveal what kind of men we are. It can also reveal whether we are in fact men or merely boys.
And of course pornography plays its part. It makes us feel like men without requiring us to actually be men. Porn fuels the epidemic of prolonged adolescence that has trapped many male souls and has frustrated many women who wonder where the men are.
Plenty of men have sought to be intentional about initiating their sons into masculinity rather than follow the accidental and incomplete model handed down to us. But even for those that have moved with purpose into their sons’ lives, there are plenty of challenges.
For starters, we don’t live in a culture that orients itself in any way to clearly defined rites of passage in which boys become men. We are left to figure it out on our own.
Whether we realize it or not, the need to figure it out on our own, is a form of abandonment that drives us deeper into shame, hiding, and various coping mechanisms. Men typically act like they’ve got it covered; they act as though the individualism of having to figure things out on our own is itself what it means to be a man.
That’s a lie.
The damage of that lie is seen in generation after generation of unfathered, uninitiated men. The damage of that lie is seen in the lives of the very men who, like myself, seek to be more intentional in the lives of their sons.
Instead of walking a clear path into masculinity which involves healthy initiation, most of us piece it together and hope it works. We try to give our sons something of value, and we hope it’s enough.
All the while, our shame interferes with our willingness to admit that we older men still need initiation, and it precludes us from reaching out to others for help.
And so the cycle continues. Days pass and eventually years pass. It often feels like so much time has been lost.
The answer to the lack of masculine initiation is to start where we are. Today. If i spend time beating myself up for the things i didn’t say or do in the lives of my sons when they were younger, i stay trapped in futility.
Futility takes out many men. It choked the life out of me for many years and fueled my pornography use. Sometimes it rears its ugly head again and tries to drag me away.
But if i focus on being present to my sons, to what is happening today — in this moment — and if i am present to myself in all that God is saying to me, i will have something to pass on to my sons.
If i am present i can lead them well and with purpose. i can show them, with intentionality, what it means to be authentic and healthy. If i continue to move towards my own masculine initiation i can walk the path with my sons.
It won’t be perfect, but it will be good.