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“Everything your dad should have taught you, but didn’t” Introduction:
As a dad of six children— four boys and two girls— I have learned much over the past 27 years about being a dad… mostly by failing. The parenting my wife Lisa and I did, coupled with my mistakes, have made for both a joyful and painful journey.
The first silver lining from these 27 years has been to learn several times over not to trust anyone that is afraid of failing—or has not failed multiple times in his or her own life.
While I am using this book to speak directly to boys and their journeys, I do not want in any way to discredit or devalue girls. Young ladies: I want you to know that I see you and know that you are the cornerstone of every society. Women work hard, have much less opportunity, and continue to show up and press in, even when life continues to deal an unfavorable hand. However, for the remainder of this narrative, I will spend the pages addressing the boys of our society.
We have a crisis on our hands, and it starts with initiating our young men—more directly: our failure to initiate them. Women are naturally and spiritually initiated from the start. Because of the way God designed women’s bodies, they are born into a reality of the inevitability of what puberty brings to a young woman, which carries her through a physical initiation. Girls are naturally inducted into womanhood by the discomfort, pain, and beauty of their menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Women learn very early on that they have little control over their bodies, and this forces them to face questions of maturation much younger than boys as a result.
Women are initiated from the start—having to deal with the pain, discomfort, awkwardness, and eventual embarrassment is one of their greatest teachers. On the other hand, boys don’t have the privilege of such a teacher at age twelve or fourteen, though I am quite assured that most young men would run from these lessons, even if they were built into their body’s life cycles.
As we journey, we will spend time uncovering the initiation rites of passage for other societies and ancient civilizations. If you pause and reflect, you may realize that for several generations, America has never had a “rite of passage” for our young men. More than ever before, we are now seeing and being affected by the reality of our abstention from such tradition. Our grandfathers and their fathers had to work with their hands, go to war, and/or live during some very hard times in our history. Whereas past societies had the lessons interwoven in a rich cultural fabric of their storied pasts, most American fathers never tied the lessons into a larger context. In fact, most fathers taught their sons very little about the inevitability of pain, let alone how to grapple with it.
On the contrary, many fathers passed along their “anesthetizing” techniques. Generations of men in our country have learned to numb the pain with alcohol, television, and/ or absurd work lives. Men in our country have rarely been taught to embrace the pain, to allow the pain to teach us its’ purpose.
We were not taught that pain is the very vehicle that will take us from boy to man.
Richard Rohr, a noted Catholic monk and a candid observer of human tendencies, said that each of us “will transmit our pain onto others, usually in (the form of) anger, or [we] will be transformed by our pain.”
How many of us young men are guilty of first receiving this lesson, and subsequently passing it onto our children?
This new generation of Millennials—born somewhere between 1983 to 2002— has never gone to war. (Many have fought for our country, will address later), Most have never worked with their hands in the field or in a mechanic’s shop. In reality, many have not been dependent on earning a paycheck at all. The generation of baby boomers/Gen X —myself included— has coddled boys into vision-less, soft young men that are afraid of the nebulous future surrounding “growing up.” When the few who have chosen marriage try to choose a mate, they often end up choosing a maternal figure over a help-mate who will challenge them to live in the fullness of their identities.
Many males in this generation would rather not try at all, than to lose.
While we continue to mentor these young millennial men, we must also focus on the future of the Z generation (born in the mid-90’s to mid-2000’s) to prevent another generation of boys reaching manhood without an initiation.
Whether we have lost the art of initiation or never learned it, we must now fight with everything in us to impart this compulsory art to the next generation. The future of our society hinges upon our success or failure.
My hope in writing this book is twofold: first, I want to teach boys to become men—boys of any age, from ten to eighty (yes, you may be eighty and still living in the mindset of an uninitiated boy). Second, I want to teach all of us how to press into pain, how to stop transmitting it, how to allow it to transform us so we can demonstrate and disciple this next generation in this imperative.
Come with me, as you hear my story of the pain I had to live to learn and understand what it meant to be a man and a father to my family.