The other day I was talking to a friend of mine, and he asked me a question that rocked me a bit. We are in the habit of having deep discussions, but this one for some reason took me off guard. He asked me, “When did you step into manhood?”
How can one truly answer that? Is the step into manhood a single event or a process? Was it when I graduated high school? No. When I got married? Not really. How about when I become a father for the first time? Not even that. College? Certainly not.
Full disclosure, I was intimidated to even answer it at all. I am a vertically challenged (i.e., short), ex-aircraft technician, and currently, I pastor a church (i.e., not the standard for cultural manhood ‘thankfully’). While my friend was a career soldier and stands well over six feet tall. He did several tours in Vietnam with the Special Forces. And if that isn’t enough, his family has a deep history of being decorated US Army Rangers. You get it, right? I didn’t feel that my answer would even qualify in his mind. What could I possibly say that would compete with his story?
Then, it hit me. Manhood is not a contest. It is a personal experience, initiated either by process or an event. And if I am honest, some men have never really become “men”. By men I don’t mean bravado, muscles, intellect, control or power. If a man doesn’t become a “man” those things will only confuse or distort him.
A “man” as I see it, and as I interpret it from the Bible, is a male that takes responsibility. Responsibility for himself, his family, his children, and carries the burden of leadership in the home and his church. The transition from boyhood to manhood is a necessary component in the life of a man so he can step into responsibility with confidence, refined strength and spiritual direction.
Well, I stalled long enough and knew that I had to answer so I might as well get on with it. I told him that I think the beginning of manhood started in my mid teens in the Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts shaped me by taking me out of my comfort zone into areas of self-reliance and leadership. Specifically, I was invited to an event where it was a very primitive camping experience with nothing but a canvas tarp, sleeping bag, a couple cooking items, and a bow drill to make fire for myself. There were other criteria for this adventure, and one of them was utter silence and the other distinctive was that I was solo. Through that event, I learned something that I never knew I had previously, strength and a bit of courage. I didn’t have it all figured out, but I had hope that I may have what it takes. That was my first step. A big one too.
As I told my well decorated soldier friend this story I waited for a flinch, laugh, a nod, or something to qualify myself in his mind. He listened intently and said that his step into manhood was very similar. I suddenly felt six inches taller. He told me that his father used to drop he and his brother off in the woods for solo camping trips where they had to do the very same things that I had done in the Boy Scouts. His father wanted to teach them that they had what it takes.
Initiation into manhood is a personal experience. What was your experience like? A process or a single event? If you don’t know maybe there is an adventure waiting?
For more on the subject of manhood: Check out the work of Tony Dungy & John Eldredge.