In every civilization in history we have understood that there is a big difference between a Boy and a Man, that goes far beyond age. It is about maturity, the willingness to be a part of something bigger than yourself, the will to serve the community, and care for the needs an freedom of others. It is only when we know that a boy has become a Man that we entrust him with important responsibilities in his life.
- We do not entrust a young man with a vehicle until we know he is wise enough to understand just how dangerous they can be, and will respect the rules of the road.
- We do not entrust a young man with alcohol until we know that he will not poison himself with it, or use it as an excuse to act like a dangerous fool, and that he will be careful not to let himself become addicted.
- We do not entrust a young man with the power to vote until we know that he will select candidates who will take care of his community not just tell us what we want to hear, because he has learned what that means.
- We do not entrust a young man to make educational choices until we are sure that he is going to choose with possible careers and a purpose in mind.
- We do not entrust a young man with property until we are sure that he will make good use out of it, rather than irresponsibly letting it fall apart.
- We do not entrust a young man with the right to have sex until we are sure that he will not get a girl accidentally pregnant, and then leave her and the child to fend for themselves, that will respect the women he is with, and that he will be respectful– and be mindful- of the power of sexuality.
At least, that is the idea behind the notion of Manhood. Unfortunately, we, as a civilization have become lax and careless with our young men. We assume that they will all turn out, and set special – and tragically arbitrary – ages when young men automatically get these privileges, whether they are ready for them or not. And this, along with some other toxic ideas of the last hundred fifty years or so, has led to us believing that anyone with a male body of a certain vintage is ready for responsibility… often leading to everyday tragedies like alcohol, fatherless children, vote-buying politicians, and worse.
In the past, Men watched their sons, nephews, and the boys of the community showed that they were ready for more privileges and rights by acting with Character and Integrity. When a boy was ready to take another step on his journey into becoming a Man, there was a ritual – rite of passage to celebrate his movement forward.
The nature of the rites is varied: some are big and mystical, some are simple gifts, or special words. But they empower a young man – they make him feel more accepted, more responsible, and more valued by those around them. They were a way fathers could show their approval to their sons in a life-altering way.
I know some of the rites of passage I plan for you: giving you your first knife, your first glass of wine, watching your first horror movie with me, your first bag of dice, the first time you are in charge of pitching a tent and making our fire at camp. They will be big and important events for me, and I definitely hope for you as well.
But these letters will be one of the biggest.
There are many important topics and big lessons in these letters. I write in them frankly about sex, about making your own choices, about when to stand up to your father, about drugs and dangers. All with absolute honesty. That is entrusting you with something far more dangerous than a knife or a car, and far more joyous than your first glass of wine. When you read these letters, I want you to know it is because I think you are ready for them. I think you are ready to get adult truth and use it to be a good and healthy young man.
These letters are my way of saying “You are nearly there,” and “I am proud of you.”