The passage below is a sample chapter taken from our book Milestone to Manhood: A Christian Rite of Passage to Help Your Thirteen Year Old Son Make the Leap from Boyhood to Manhood.
Chapter 13 — My Rite of Passage in Hindsight
Eleven years after my Rite of Passage weekend, when I was in my mid-twenties, I had a friend who was newly engaged ask me to be the best man at his wedding. My friend's name was Aaron, and we spent a lot of our weekends together working on various construction projects that he was doing on his home. I’ve always liked working with my hands and was happy to help out a good friend.
Aaron wasn’t one to talk much, but with a marriage and the possibility of starting a family in his near future, he had a lot on his mind. I remember we were working on his house when he asked me, “Steve, when is the first time that you considered yourself to be a man?”
I paused for a second. Nobody had ever asked me that question before.
“Well, when I turned thirteen, my dad, my grandpa, and my uncles took me away for a weekend, and they all basically told me straight up that I was a man now. And ever since then, I’ve considered myself to be a man.”
Aaron stopped working and just stared at me, like he wasn’t sure what he had just heard. I could tell that whatever I had said, I had his full attention.
A moment later, he said, “Wow, that’s incredible! I wish my dad did something like that for me.” Aaron wanted to know everything about what that weekend was like. He wanted to know where my dad got the idea, where we stayed during the weekend, and what kind of things we talked about. When I finished telling him my story, he said that he spent his teenage years never really knowing if he was a man or not, and to be totally honest with me, now he was getting married and still didn’t really know.
I told him, “Aaron, are you kidding me? You work hard at your job, you’re getting married to an awesome woman, you’re building a house, you have a good relationship with your parents, and you have a strong faith. You are more of a man than me!”
Aaron gave me a smile and said, “Thanks, buddy.”
In that short conversation with my friend, I felt very grateful for what my dad, grandpa, and uncles did for me. I knew that what they did for me was special and unique, but I didn’t know that other men went through their teenage years questioning if they were a man or not. For me, the ROP weekend gave me a clear understanding of my place in the world.
Don’t get me wrong, I made more than my fair share of mistakes growing up. There are many things that I have said and done in my life that I sincerely wish that I could take back. But I do think that if my dad had not formally acknowledged my entrance into manhood as a thirteen-year-old in the way that he did, I would have been even less secure about myself and done even more stupid things.
Today, my relationship with my father is better than it has ever been. I’ve tried to emulate the positive character traits that he shared with me during my ROP weekend—hard-working, sense of humor, committed, and honoring my parents—as best that I can in my life. It’s also been cool seeing him improve on his negative character traits since then and to see him grow as a man as well. I truly feel that I can talk to him about anything, and I often come to him, asking advice or seeking his opinion. He is just as much a friend to me now as he is my dad. I am so lucky to have him in my life, and I am really looking forward to holding a ROP with him when my son Joe turns thirteen.
Bobo continued to be a North Star in my life for many years after my ROP. I’ll never forget the times that we had together working in his shop, celebrating holidays, or having a deep conversation.
In college, I started to seriously question my faith and my belief in God. I was being introduced to new and challenging ideas at school, and it really made me think seriously about what I believed in and why I believed in it. During my Rite of Passage, my dad and Bobo both said that if I ever had something that I wanted to talk to them about, I could talk to them about anything. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure how they would react to me questioning my belief in God, but I decided that this was as good of a time as ever to put their promise to the test.
I am so glad that I decided to seek their advice, because they were able to share some more about their own personal beliefs and their own faith journeys with me. They weren’t able to answer everything, but they were able to help me straighten out more than a few of the questions that I had. My relationship with my dad and Bobo grew even tighter after going through this time of questioning with them instead of going through it alone. I’m not sure that I would have felt comfortable sharing my questions with them if it had not been for my Rite of Passage weekend and their willingness to open up to me first.
One lesson from my ROP weekend that has stuck with me all these years later is that becoming a man is a lifelong process; it does not happen overnight. I believe that my faith journey has been a part of that process as well. For all the questioning and heartache that I put myself through during my college years, I ended up right back in the Catholic Church that I was raised in. I am grateful that I had those months of doubt, because I am stronger for it. It was all part of the journey for me. I had the faith of a child, and now I have the faith of a man.
At the age of seventy-seven, Bobo was diagnosed with leukemia, a form of blood cancer. Although he was in otherwise good health when he received the diagnosis, he passed away just eight short weeks later. Among his final words, as he approached the end of his battle with cancer, was a letter that he wrote to the family:
“My God assures me of His love and guidance and awaits my arrival home when the time comes. Is that not enough for me? Is there some reason why I must beg for ‘just one more day’ on this earth instead of fearlessly bolting into God’s awaiting arms? Yes, Lord, I accept this gift!”
Even though he had lived a full life and I got to enjoy his love and wisdom for twenty-five years, I couldn’t help but have the feeling that I was robbed of at least ten more good years with him. I think about Bobo often; how he treated others, how he thought, and how he lived. I miss him a lot and would do almost anything to have a five-minute conversation with him today. Just five minutes to tell him about my wife, to tell him about my daughter and my son. Of course, that’s not possible, but I do have hope that one day we’ll be together again.
I may not be able to talk to Bobo today, but I do have his letter. Every now and then, I take out the manilla envelope that I keep my letters in and read a few of them. Bobo’s letter is always the first. I have read it many times in my life, and every time I read it, it means something different to me. I will go years without reading the letter and completely forget about what he wrote, then one day I’ll notice the envelope stored in the back of the closet, and I’ll pull it out. When I read his letter, it feels as if he were standing right there next to me.
In retrospect, I am confident that the Rite of Passage weekend played a big role in shaping me into the man that I am today. The seeds that my dad, grandpa, and uncles planted that weekend did not sprout in a day, a week, or even a year, but I do believe that they influenced me in a profound way.
For one, I have come to realize what an incredible family that God has given me. A family that is supportive, caring, and shows unconditional love. Very few families take the time to mark a boy’s transition into manhood in the way that my family did for me.
Secondly, I believe that I was able to learn from the experiences and stories that were shared with me during my Rite of Passage weekend—experiences that undoubtedly saved me from heartache in my own life.
I also believe that the love that I experienced from my earthly father and grandfather has allowed me to more easily identify the love that God the Father has for me. Without experiencing my dad and grandpa’s love, I’m not sure that I would be able to make the leap to believe in a loving spiritual Father.
Finally, my Rite of Passage weekend gave me a clear understanding of what it means to be a man, how a man is supposed to act, and when exactly I became a man myself. As men, we cannot instill our own sense of manhood in ourselves. We need other men to tell us that we are a man before we actually believe it, and that’s what my family did for me.
Do you have a son or grandson about to turn thirteen? Are you looking to do something memorable for this birthday, to mark his entrance into manhood in a special way? Check out our new book Milestone to Manhood on Amazon here.