Rites of Passage


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When we found out, in 2002, that we were having a son I secretly freaked. Not because I did not necessarily want a son, I could not help visualizing my unborn boy terrorizing girls, racing cars on the backstreets of Atlanta, and trying to burn down his high school gymnasium. I had virtually convinced myself, before he was much bigger than a golf ball, that I would have to send him off to a faraway Draconian style boarding school or a juvenile detention center if I hoped for him to grow up into functioning adult. Fortunately, my anxiety waned after ‘Bubba’ was born and as we celebrate his seventh birthday this weekend, I could not imagine my life now without him in it.
I think for a lot of dads the thought of raising a son seems almost unnatural. Much of that is because so many of our fathers missed the mark with us. As such, we were not handed down the right road map showing us how to usher our infant sons into manhood. And that is not necessarily our fathers’ faults, most of their fathers did not perform the task any better. Then adding insult to injurious confusion is the contradiction in our society about what a ‘man’ ought to look like. Should the Marlboro Man, that rugged loner who wrangles steers and sits by a camp-fire, personify the ideal man? (That same one so many women ask “where has he gone to”?) Or should men be like a castrated bull, docile and passive, eager to watch sappy chick flicks and express every plausible emotion that comes into their heads? (The guy the movie, “40 Year Old Virgin” was based upon.)

Places like locker rooms, the golf course, and biker rallies bring out the machismo in our gender; where hot chicks, homophobic jokes, and fast cars dominate the conversation. In these places being a Pee Wee Herman will ensure your feelings get hurt and may land you an atomic wedgie. But once we get off the Isle of Man, being a Maximus Decimus could very well get you condemned for being insensitive, too assertive, overtly macho, and too ambitious. Not surprising, it is this same man that most of the world’s ills are blamed on.
With all of this in mind I made the decision, several years ago, to never shy away from affection with ‘Bubba’. I would pour on the kisses, hugs and snuggling with him as I would do with his sister. Even at his young age it initially felt somehow strange to show that same tenderness for a boy, but as he responded and reciprocated it eventually became just as natural as with her. This includes telling him I love him even if he is less than eager to immediately respond.

So, for the last seven years my job has been to ensure that he knows he is the apple of my eye amd to treat him as the child  of mine that he is. But his seventh birthday marks a turning point in his life, in my eyes he has shed the clothing of being a child and is ready to begin putting on the garments of boyhood that will ultimately carry him into adulthood.This weekend we will take our first steps together on his journey to adulthood, this weekend will serve as an initiation ritual of sorts.
While virtually unheard of in the western world, male initiation rites have been conducted for centuries across civilizations. A widely known male initiation ritual, made famous again by the movie 300, was called the Agoge. At the age of seven, the boy would be ripped from his mother’s arms to live with other boys in a militaristic training camp until thirty years of age. During which time they would be trained in all aspects of Spartan warfare.

The most well-known modern rite of passage in today’s culture, the Bar Mitzvah, requires boys of 13 to read from the Torah. From which point the boy is officially considered a man and becomes personally responsible for his own actions and adherence to the Jewish law.
While mundane by more historical standards, some of the more primitive cultures continue to practice initiation rituals which are not for those of weak constitution
  • In the Sambia tribe of New Guinea, boys are removed from female company at around the age of 7 to live only with men in the clubhouse until they are married. They are forced to have regular nosebleeds and consume semen which is considered essential to encouraging masculine growth and development.
  • With the Mardudjara Aborigines in Australia, between 10 and 12 years of age, a boy will have a front tooth knocked out and his septum will be pierced. At this point, his becomes symbolically dead. He will then be taken into the wilderness by other men, circumcised and expected to ingest the foreskin without chewing. Then, covered in blood, he is considered reborn as a man.  
Fortunately for Bubba and myself we live in more civilized surroundings and our initiation weekend will be spent with just him and I, sleeping outdoors, cooking hotdogs, hiking in a national park, riding bikes, and enjoying each other’s company