Part 3 – Walking Your Son Into Manhood

This is part of a series; read Part I here

Chapter three

The concept for tasks came from observing the initiation rites of my African and missionary friends in Kenya while I raised my son there. While the Kenyans had long held traditional rites, my missionary friends adapted their concept of 12 Tasks from a comic book.[1] Despite the origin of the title idea, the evolving process of transitioning a son into manhood, in my mind, was nothing akin to the original story script.

The missionary fathers conceived of the 12 tasks to ensure that their sons faced manhood coincidental with their Kenyan peer group. Several of us initiated our sons with this method at the same time.[2] We aren’t the only ones to develop systems of initiation for our sons.[3]

My son Richard excelled at his 12 Tasks, but when he became a father he took the concept a step further. He began to assign tasks to his sons earlier. When they were three they would get three tasks. When they were four they would get four tasks, and so on. When they reach twelve, the twelve tasks will already be part of their pattern of mentored growth.

Whatever age your son is at, it is not too late to take the concepts of this book and to apply them intentionally through your relationship. Relationship is foundational to the process I am presenting.

For the sake of brevity, I am focusing on the potential of developing and assigning twelve tasks to your son. These twelve tasks would be given at his twelfth birthday and be completed by his thirteenth birthday.

Dr. Albert Mohler is the father of two children and has been a key voice for the evangelical movement through his presidency at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, his service with Focus on the Family, the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and The Gospel Coalition.  He aims to help his readers understand current issues from a Christian worldview.  Time.com once noted that he was the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.”[4] 

Dr. Mohler suggests thirteen marks of biblical manhood and sees that these qualities mark the emergence of masculinity as designed by God.[5]  I note these as potential points around which a father can build the tasks he designs for his son.  There is little chance that the 12 tasks are going to complete the transformation of a boy into all these character traits.  The purpose is to get your son pointed in the right direction to give him a chance when the opportunities for responsibilities come his way.  Dr. Mohler’s list is as follows:

  1. Spiritual maturity sufficient to lead a wife and children.
  2. Personal maturity sufficient to be a responsible husband and father.
  3. Economic maturity sufficient to hold an adult job and handle money.
  4. Physical maturity sufficient to work and protect a family.
  5. Sexual maturity sufficient to marry and fulfill God’s purposes.
  6.  Moral maturity sufficient to lead as an example of righteousness.
  7.  Ethical maturity sufficient to make responsible decisions.
  8. Worldview maturity sufficient to understand what is really important.
  9. Relational maturity sufficient to understand and respect others.
  10. Social maturity sufficient to make a contribution to society.
  11. Verbal maturity sufficient to communicate and articulate as a man
  12. Character maturity sufficient to demonstrate courage under fire.
  13. Biblical maturity sufficient to lead at some level in the church.

One of the values of this list is the emphasis on the diversity of areas that one individual is encountering as he moves from boyhood to manhood. Both father and son need to understand that maturity is not achieved overnight by any one milestone or achievement.

Another value of the list comes when someone tells a young man to ‘grow up’. Growing up rarely happens upon demand. Each of these areas mature at a different pace based on the modeling, the opportunity, the personality, and the individual’s chronological, biological, psychological and emotional clock.

If nothing else, this list is a good reflection point for every father as to how he is setting the example for his son to follow.

Mohler sees boys as vulnerable due to the increased feminization of culture and society, the erasure of any distinct masculine role, and the lack of understanding about male leadership responsibility. He sees manhood as a functional reality rather than as a biological or chronological reality. As such, he believes manhood can be achieved through spiritual disciplines, role fulfillment, and clear instruction lived out.

 Mohler sees media presenting boys as ‘economically careless, self-centered and lazy’. In response, many adolescents extend their immaturity well into their twenties and thirties. Boys need to be trained to appreciate the role of work, sexuality, and thoughtful decision making. A Christian world-view must provide a grid for discerning the life coming at him from all spheres of human activity.

One role of the Tasks is to temper the natural tendency of boys to focus inwardly as they wrestle with issues of identity and relationship in their teens. The young man will be taking his place in a larger society where he will be noticed for the dignity and respect he affords to others. He will be commended for his ability to communicate values, beliefs, thoughts and convictions. He must fight his own silence and embrace the courage to make his mark in his home, his community, and his church.

Steve Sonderman makes a healthy poke at fathers when he states that many men in our society are ‘friendless’, ‘emotionally isolated’, ‘confused over masculinity’, ‘success driven’ and ‘spiritually searching’[6].  He calls for men [fathers] to be examples of integrity, intimacy, identity and influence.[7]

The son’s tendency for inward focus and the father’s tendency toward isolation means that it is essential for men to group together in a ‘band of brothers’ to encourage each other toward the successful initiation, investment and completion of the good work which they began in the upcoming generation of leaders.

The first recommendation then is, if your son is coming ‘of age’ to be walked into manhood, search out other fathers of like circumstance and begin to discuss this option of a one year significant investment into their son’s lives. Together, you can help assist in motivating boys toward manhood.

If there is a single mom, raising a son, without a healthy male role model investing in their life, you may talk things over with her and, if she agrees, you may recruit a worthy man to fill in this role of mentor for this rite of passage. It is especially important, if this is the case, to do things in teams to maintain strong accountability and good peer relations for the ‘acting’ father and the son.

 

[1] The Twelve Tasks of Asterix. The comic book story of a village of Gauls fighting against the Romans.

[2] I would also use the concept to initiate my daughters into womanhood at the age of 12.

[3] For example, Jewish Bar Mitzvahs are well known. See also, Lewis, Robert. Raising a Modern Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood – revised edition Tyndale, 2007.

[4] Liston, Broward, Time.com Interview: Missionary Work in Iraq, Tuesday, April 15, 2003

[5] AlbertMohler.com ‘From Boy to Man – the Marks of Manhood’, Thursday, April 21, 2005 and Friday, April 22, 2005.

[6] Sonderman, Steve. How to Build a Life-Changing Men’s Ministry. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany, 2010), pp. 15-20.

[7] Ibid. pp, 25-33

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