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The following article appeared in the fathersonline newsletter 6th & 13th January 2003.

When Is a Man?

© Neil Porter 2002

'Hey Dad, how do I know when I'm a man?' 'Um, er, ha, ha, er, mumble, mumble ......'
The above is a true story. Probably true for most men, in fact. And women. There are problems with men being men in today's society. It has been well-researched and publicly proclaimed for some time now. The S.N.A.G. (Sensitive New Age Guy) failed in trying to replace the old domineering bully (if he ever really existed). Women ended up wanting something more manly, whatever that is. We can confidently presume, I believe, that if a male is successful at being a man, he will more likely be successful at being a husband and then at being a father.

So, when did you become a man? Was it legislated by the government, when you got your driving licence at 17, or had your first beer at 18 (or vote)? Was it when the government legislated that you should enter the military and kill someone? Was it the age at which you can legally be married or at which you can have sex, whether or not you actually did? Were you told that you're not a man until you have your first cigarette, or your first marijuana smoke, or that you're not a real man until you try heroin? (Just once won't hurt you .....) Did you become a man when you left school? Did you become a man when you got married?

Many wives think that their husbands have never really grown up and that they have just become a mother-substitute for their man-child. Australian author and psychologist, Toby Green, who specialises in men’s matters, records that the most common thing wives say as they leave their husbands is, 'I already have two children. I don't need a third.' Perhaps becoming a man and growing up are two different things.

About 10-15 years ago, Time magazine ran an article on the lack of maturity in the men of that era, compared to previous generations. It had surveyed a number of 30-year olds and found that they had, to some extent, resisted growing up and had still retained many of their childish habits and pastimes (toys), whereas earlier generations would have left these behind years before. Certainly, I had observed this myself over the years. I have been guilty of it, and so were my generation of youth. Reports state that men of all ages still feel as if they are just a little boy inside and lack confidence and self-esteem because of it. Author Brian D. Molitor has studied the baby-boomers, the baby-busters and the Generation X-ers and has concluded that the one characteristic that separates them from other demographics is 'childishness'. With the baby-boomers heading towards 60 years old, and subsequent generations seeming to get worse rather than better, we obviously have a problem with manhood in today’s society.

When focusing on when you become a man rather than what manhood is, there are clearly a number of unsatisfying milestones available for young people to follow in growing up today. Confusion and immaturity are the results. I reiterate that I believe that, if manhood can be well established, then we can and will go on to be better husbands and fathers.

What can we do, then?

About three years ago, an acquaintance of mine, a man involved in education supplies, was discussing his own views on this matter. He had decided to declare that his sons and daughters were now adults by adapting a non-Jewish form of the bar mitzvah ceremony for his children. This ceremony is still practiced by those of Jewish faith and nationality and it is likely that many other cultures still have ceremonies of passage or transition into adulthood. The closest we have had in our societies has been the debutante ball for females and the 21st birthday party for both. The former is now seen to be archaic by most while the latter has long ago been hijacked by the youth themselves as a big drinking party and no longer has any ceremonial value. Also, by 21, almost all adult privileges have already been given to the youth, so it's a bit late.

I have recently read, 'A Boy's Passage', by Brian D. Molitor. Brian states that, 'A young male becomes a man when the elders of his society declare him to be one.', and, 'The rite of passage - our modern society's elusive, missing ingredient', and, 'The foundational reason childishness persists well into adulthood is because we do not create and implement transitional rites of passage for our youth.' Can this really be true and be as simple as that? If our youth have a rite of passage, will they then be able to resist the experimentation that can harm their lives? Will they be able to know that they are a man and no longer feel the pressure to prove it to their peers? Will we have more stable, unselfish, mature men in our society?

Independently of one another, then, movements to introduce a declaration of manhood (or womanhood) into a young person's life, are being established in both Australia and the USA.

In the USA, Brian Molitor assembled a group of his own and his sons male relatives, mentors, and authorities and held a celebration to welcome his son into manhood. Not a party, not a ceremony. The sons of the men attended, but as observers. During this evening, these 'elders' commended manhood to the boy in a positive and encouraging manner. They also commended the boy for all of his positive attributes. There were no 'disguised' put-downs or roasting, though humour was present in abundance. The men spoke of their own life lessons and growth. Some acted out skits or sang, recited and so on. We are told that, by the end of the evening, men of all ages were wishing that they had had such a celebration for their entry into manhood. Some even went ahead and did it later, even some in their forties!

In the first three years following the evening, Brian observed in his son, 'newfound confidence', 'an increased ability to laugh and enjoy life', 'His work ethic improved.', 'more attention to detail', 'eager to take on new challenges', 'progressively more attentive and friendly to each of' his younger siblings, 'identity and self-confidence', 'speaks with a new boldness and assurance', 'committed to making good choices' regarding drugs, alcohol, sex, and so on, compared to school peers, ..... and more.

Molitor makes the clear distinction between becoming a man and growing into maturity. The rite of passage celebration declares the manhood and the growth into maturity then follows. He suggests the age of 13 as being suitable, though it's never too late, he says.

Having pondered these matters for years, my wife and I are going to follow this advice. We will not be alone. There is a rapidly growing rite of passage movement in America and it is now slowly taking off in Australia. Our daughter is 17, while our son is 13½. We hope to have two separate celebrations completed early in 2003. I hope to be able to report back in a about year's time and let you know how it all went. Please feel free to email me with any questions.

('A Boy's Passage' by Brian D. Molitor, a Shaw book published by Waterbrook Press)

Neil Porter is a qualified teacher, computer consultant, professional musician, producer and writer who has 4 beautiful children. He was a single dad for 8 years before he remarried in 1984. Neil is passionate to encourage marriages and families.




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