When my eldest son turned thirteen, I wanted to share with him what it really means to be a man, instead of letting him try to figure it out on his own through his friends, TV, and the internet. I wanted him to know that I would be there to support him through thick and thin. This was important to me because that is the type of dad that I did not have when I was growing up.
Together with my father-in-law, Rich, we came up with the idea of a special birthday weekend for my son, loosely based on coming-of-age rituals of other cultures. Rich and my brothers-in-law would participate as well, because they were important male role models in my son’s life and their presence might help me to break through to him. We called this weekend his “Rite of Passage” (ROP). We spent months preparing for the first ROP. During that time, Rich and I had many conversations about what the weekend should look like and came up with the following key principles:
The Rite of Passage should occur on or around a boys 13th birthday
The Rite of Passage should take place in a new location for him, not in the boy’s hometown
There should be no electronics during the weekend
There should be some element of challenge and leadership responsibility
The boy’s father and 3 to 5 other male role models should attend the Rite of Passage
There should be a discussion about healthy masculinity
The Rite of Passage should be Christ centered and lead the boy closer to God
We had no idea how the first Rite of Passage was going to turn out, but we knew that if we could convey intergenerational knowledge in a meaningful way, good things would happen. It was very important for me to give this weekend experience to my son, because I knew that I would have benefited greatly had I experienced something like this prior to becoming a teenager myself. With that in mind, we developed certain rituals for the weekend. These rituals included:
1. A fun icebreaker activity
2. An entrance ceremony
3. A discussion of “what it means to be a man”
4. An opportunity for the men to share Scripture
5. I would give a family heirloom to my son
6. We would give letters to my son, something that he could refer back to as he got older
7. A positive and negative character trait exercise
8. A final blessing where we would formally bestow the title of “man” on my son
Needless to say, the first ROP went better than I could have hoped for— the weekend was a breakthrough experience for my son and my relationship with him. He not only listened to the advice that was being given, but I could tell that he was emotionally and spiritually changed by the event. The weekend experience was incredibly fruitful for me, too, as a father, because I felt like I was being the dad that I never really had.
After the first ROP weekend, Rich, my brothers-in-law, and I all agreed that we had tapped into something powerful, and we were determined to give this to the rest of the kids in the family as well. We continued to hold ROP weekends for my three younger sons on their thirteenth birthdays, and my brothers-in-law organized ROPs for my nephews. The women of the family held similar weekend events for my nieces as well. In total, we held twelve of these Rite of Passage weekends over the span of 19 years.
Now that my youngest nephew has turned thirteen and we have held his ROP, we have decided to share this valuable tradition with the rest of the world in our book Milestone to Manhood. Our hope is that other families will benefit from the ROP in the same way that we have.
As fathers, it is our duty to give our sons their identity as men. We are not powerless; we can help our sons navigate their teenage years. Your son needs to hear that he is no longer a boy but is now a man—and he needs to hear it from you, his dad.