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We are a society without fathers.

The lifelong cost of this affects both genders: creating boys who never grow up (i.e. extended adolescence)— who want to marry mothers instead of wives, and girls who want securing and affirming daddy-figures, instead of risk-taking partners. Neither gender is ready for the work and adventure of a full life. (Rohr: Adam’s Return). 

Where are the masters? Where are the fathers?

We have never had male initiation rites in the United States. Other societies place a large emphasis on initiating their young men at around the age of 12. Aborigines have their young 12-year old sons go out into the outback of Australia with a small ax and return with a beast that they have killed. The elders drag their kill into the middle of a stone walled circle, (the place of the Stone Ax, Kojunnup), culminating in a party where they hand the new man an even bigger ax! The young boy is welcomed into the tribe as a man, who now sits at the table with the elders and contributes to the decisions for the tribe…

The boy becomes a man, is recognized by his people as a man, and is held to the standard of a man.

Some tribes in Africa have their young men— around 12 or 13— jump out of trees with a rope tied to their feet or other areas. Other societies have initiations where the boy rolls around naked in the mud after a long journey in the woods. You get the picture: the journey from boy to man is pronounced in almost every society, except ours.  

Initiation is all about getting the “beginning” right, thus the word, “initiation”. Some kind of baptism is needed to start the path to spiritual maturity, and it usually involves some kind of pain. But as a culture, we don’t like pain—in fact we have a really low threshold for inflicting it or letting it do it’s work.

“You either transmit your pain onto others with anger, or you are transformed by it…”

In most initiation passages, the initiate was sent alone, away from his tribe for an extended period, which modeled physical death. Sometimes he had to fast for 40 days and 40 nights to let his body begin to die. In most cultural rites of passage, there were various and extended trials in which the boy had to risk failure, actual death, danger, and fear. His comfortable image as his mother’s boy had to be stripped from him. The young man’s psyche and identity were almost stripped bare, so the rebuilding and rebirthing could begin, marking the past being behind him in a definitive way.

“The soul needs meaning as much as the body needs food.”

“It takes another man to initiate your sons”—that was a hard statement for me to grasp. For the most part, it stung my ego space and took some control from me as a father, but I found out the hard way how true and necessary it is. I could show my boys so much about life; how to live, study, etc. But, another initiated man needed to step in and take them farther. This is why we need initiated men;

“Only an initiated man can truly initiate a boy into manhood.”

My two older boys, Tyler and Michael, were initiated by a New Zealand Rugby coach. He had no spirituality about him, so he showed them clearly how to be warriors without the balance of sustenance in the soul. They were the toughest and best players on any field, (USA rugby, full-ride scholarships), and carried that into many fights and anger off the field. It took Tyler years to bring into balance how a real man acts. Michael never got the chance.

Real men are taught how to balance the four archetypes of every man: the Warrior, the Lover, the Sage, and the King. If you only have maturity in one, like the warrior (you see this in our military boys), you cannot sustain life long term. We must disciple our young men in the first three to allow them to grow up and grow old to become the King that can steward and find the rhythm between the three other types.

(Read my blog for my daughters about the four archetypes of a man here)

The job of initiating is difficult because we must affirm, educate, and validate all four archetypes in someone. We must let them simmer and grow together to create a full man. Now, we need enlightened and transformed warriors, wise men, and lovers of life and beauty to produce truly big picture men—or kings.

So, what does an initiated man look like?

Love does not work for the male when it is given away too cheaply, too quickly, or too easily. It turns him into a lazy manipulator, instead of a strong man. 

Transformed men do not seek external roles or power to validate themselves because they know their power at a deeper level, and use it automatically by simply being themselves. They are inherently “life-giving”, and they are best described as people with real power. Power goes out from them, as the Gospels say of Jesus. They are creative, grounded and solid. You can feel it when you are with them: you feel safe and you feel energized. They do not take your energy; they give you energy.

Initiated men have an excess of life. It flows from them so naturally that you seek them out. A real man does not need to wear a uniform, badge, title, or special hat to tell you that he has authority. it flows within them and from them easily. 

A caveat: initiated men are not perfect. Never look for that or you will always be disappointed. 

A transformed man cares about his neighborhood, his Church, his sons, daughters, nephews, and godsons. He recognizes that he is part of the cycle of generations. He knows his life is not about him, but he is all about life. He understands that he has to be a son somewhere— under proper authority— before he can be a generative father or a life-giving brother to someone else. 

Do you want to be a man, or remain a boy the rest of your life? The choice is yours and we are here to serve you if you really want it!

Much of this comes from a book by Richard Rohr, Adam’s Return, The Five Promises Of Male Initiation. If this has awakened anything in you, please, man, woman, child: read the book. 

Quick video on what we do with our pain:

4 responses to “Boys to Men: What is the difference?”

  1. Gary,

    Hey, my name is Dan Fick. You spoke at Christ For the Nations Institute in Dallas, TX way back in September of 1999, and I was in the crowd as a newly-arrived student. Your messages on Jehu, the apostolic annointing, and other topics had a profound effect on my life, and I wanted to thank you!

    I’ve been serving as a missionary in Sucre, Bolivia (South America) since 2003, and now have a growing family and vibrant church under my care. Every once in a while you pop up in my thoughts, and I’ll look you up on the internet, which is what happened today.

    Anyway, your articles about manhood, pain, and serving God have blessed me profoundly, and I wanted to encourage you that you continue to Rock The Nations to this day, through people like me, and thousands like me.

    I often tell people here that God never wastes our desert places… may you be encouraged today, Man of God!

  2. Wow, Dan, great to hear from you mate!!! I love this and it is very encouraging, thanks man!

    Just trying to limp thru as find more of Him! I should be in Bolivia over the next 6 months and I will look you up, what’s a good email?!!