Chapter One

From the moment the first man walked out of Eden and looked at his new reality the weight of his future threatened to crush him. He sauntered out of paradise with a fear he had never known before – a fear that somehow the future of his offspring depended on the effort he put out to keep things right in a world going wrong.

The fear showed up in his workplace, his social sphere and especially in his family when he watched his son. The pressure was often soul crippling and mind numbing, but it was relentless. Even when hundreds and thousands of other men were birthed and stepped out onto the surface of the earth, if commitment or competency wavered in another, the weight returned heavier than ever.

Fathers in the 21st century feel the tension still. It’s as if the well-being of the world depends on our ability to prepare the men coming after us – our sons and grandsons. Even having a son or grandson somehow increases the panic that we must do more to keep the world spinning.

One of my greatest privileges has been to walk my son Richard into manhood. Whether he was being stretched climbing the highest mountain peak, building a tree fort, memorizing the Sermon on the Mount, or running a hundred miles, much of what he was tasked to do impacted me.

Richard will soon walk his three sons into manhood. He sees the tasks as one of the great life changing moments for him and he wants that for his boys. From generation to generation the reality is the same.

Fathers teach through doing. They teach values like responsibility, hard work, teamwork, perseverance, delayed gratification and trust. They teach skill sets like goal setting, planning and reflection. They teach self-knowledge by focusing on strengths, interests and passions.

Through it all, fathers long for an increasing attachment even as detachment is happening. They long to build a sense of confidence and accomplishment. They long to see positive connections with solid adults. They long to see a life pursuing a positive purpose and pursuit. They long to see love that lasts.

To make it more challenging, the landscape around us is always changing and the fear that we are not enough is unending. The fear of doing this alone is suffocating. We need each other to walk our sons into manhood.

Changing from boyhood to manhood is a larger transition than some of us anticipate.

Whenever change happens it inevitably leads to chaos in some form.  Before transition happens, life seems predictable and comfortable – at least familiar.  You know where you belong, what your role is, how you’re known and accepted, and you know how life works – at least you think you do.

Fathers have usually figured out something of what fathers are supposed to do and sons have usually figured out something of what sons are supposed to do.

Enter adolescence and change.

Once you step out onto the bridge of transition you may find it feels more like a poorly secured suspension bridge than a solid footbridge.  The rushing rapids of change swirl below and create a sense of anxiousness and fear for those unfamiliar with the terrain.

Both fathers and sons may feel a sense of uncertainty as life adjusts from total dependence of the son to a level of independence and then to interdependence.  Fathers or sons may be tempted to back away and try to entrench themselves in what they have become familiar with.  If either the son or the father is ready, and the other is not, resistance may be acted out in a subtle struggle that will be uncomfortable for both.

‘Walking your son into Manhood’ is designed to assist fathers, on the suspension bridge of change, to adjust from their comfortable position of leading in the front, where they alone set the pace and example, to a relationship where they can support their sons with encouragement from close behind.  Something big changes when a boy finds himself setting the pace across an unsteady transition.

The walk progresses with a series of tasks. The tasks are positioned to come right in the middle of the time of unsettledness.  The tasks help focus the anticipation, anchor the routine of change, provide support during the times of grief, and establish confidence toward what is still ahead.

Pre-adolescence often straddles times of changing schools, friendships, internal emotions and life interests.  A sense of internal confusion, instability with unfamiliar desires and urges, fears of the unknown, and an unexplainable urgency for more independence and new opportunities, can magnify the impact of stress, problems and uncertain friendships.

The process of tasks I am proposing to deal with this transition will help build confidence as personal values are solidified, as new roles are embraced or discarded, and as new routines are established and acknowledged by those who are significant to the newly emerging young man.