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What is the difference between becoming a man and becoming an adult?

Some dads are hesitant to hold a rite of passage event for their sons because they think that 13 is too young to tell him that he is a man. It’s true that a 13 year old does not look, think, or act like a fully grown adult. But we are not talking about initiating your son into adulthood at the age of 13. We are talking about initiating him into manhood. There is a difference.

Becoming an adult is a legal status and is tied to a certain age. In the United States, adulthood starts at 18 years old. Becoming an adult comes with certain privileges, such as voting, applying for a credit card, or renting/ buying a home. It also comes with certain responsibilities, such as being legally responsible for your own actions, making your own medical decisions, and being selected for jury duty.

Becoming a man, on the other hand, is not necessarily tied to age. Becoming a man, I would argue, is tied to behavior. A boy is someone who thinks of himself first. Boys are self-serving and inwardly focused. A man is someone who thinks of others before he thinks of himself. A man is outwardly focused.

Why do I say that manhood is tied to behavior, and not age? Because there are many males over the age of 18 who are still acting like boys. I can think of number of high-profile celebrities, politicians and athletes who fit this mold. There are many grown adults who put their own needs and desires before others. If manhood really was tied to age, then in theory, we shouldn’t have any “toxic males” after boys turn 18. Obviously, that’s not the case (Harvey Weinstein, anyone?).

A man respects the dignity of women. A man tells the truth even when it is not convenient. A man maintains his own relationship with God. We can - and should - expect that out of a thirteen-year-old.

The purpose of hold a Rite of Passage is to get him started on his journey as a man. It’s to give your son a moment that he can look back on and say “That’s when I became a man.” Is your son going to stumble along the way? Of course! We learn by making mistakes. But by giving your son the title of “man”, you are giving him something to grow into. You are giving him a starting point on his journey.


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