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Rites of passage, III

April 29th, 2009 / 7 Comments

This is the third and last in the series we started on Monday on Rites of Passage.

(Click here to read the first in the series, and click here to read the second in the series.)

My guest blogger is Pete Aldin who just took his 13-year-old son through a rite of passage into manhood!

We conclude here with Pete’s thoughts on what happens after the rite of passage celebration.


The rite of passage doesn’t end there. And this is where I come back to the first point outlined in the first post: mentoring.

Without guides, which of us climbing up a mountain could make it to the top, to safety, to a better life? Can “teenagers” mentor “teenagers”, take them through the challenges, the choices, and the minefield of possibilities to come out a strong mature ethical twenty-something?

Absolutely not, but that’s what gangs try to do. Gangs primarily exist because young people love to be together. Fair enough; that can be a very healthy thing particularly when the group has a strong moral base or sense of mission (like a rock band or a sports team). They also exist because of the lack of fathering particular in Western culture since the Industrial Revolution (again, a whole topic on its own), without a moral compass, without a sense of belonging to a community of real Men, without a stable conviction about who they are as a human being and why they’re here.

My son (as will my youngest when his time comes) had several men lay hands on his shoulders and tell him who he is. This included his Dad and his grandfather. He has a sense of identity. He knows what he can contribute to the world around him and why God put him in the world. What he chooses to do with that knowledge is largely up to him. But he also has a community of older men to turn to for advice, reassurance, support and challenge.

This community is one that I’ve intentionally created to some degree. There are men I know who I’ve made sure know my son and vice versa. Some are only 3 or 4 years older, some are 30 or 40 years older. All share many of my values. But I don’t agree with all of them on everything and I certainly don’t have their skills.

I want my son to interact with men of integrity who think and work differently from me. That way, when my son does have those quite natural times of not wanting to go to his own dad with an issue, he has other men to go to. That way, too, he has the chance to learn skills (like woodworking) that I can’t teach him.

Phew, I’ve been talking a lot here. I think I’ll wrap it up. I hope this adds to thinking you’ve already done about positioning your child to make it through their adolescent years and into healthy adulthood. There’s obviously more to do. I expect some debate over the things I’m saying here. I can anticipate some questions already…

So, Pete, you seem to be saying that at 13, someone is fully an adult? Should we lower the legal age for drinking, for driving a car, for consent to sex to the age where puberty kicks in?

Absolutely not. I’m not that stupid. I didn’t say (and neither do any of the authors and speakers I respect on the topic say) that somewhere between 12 and 15 a human being becomes fully adult. I’m not even sure that at 43, I’m fully adult. Each year I seem to grow more, mature more, learn more, achieve more.

Adulthood is not something you arrive at, but rather something you embrace and explore for the rest of your life. I wasn’t ready to own my own business at twenty. I was at 38. I certainly wasn’t ready to drive a car at 13. And because the brain doesn’t stop growing until somewhere in our mid-twenties, it’s perhaps even cause to think we should RAISE the legal drinking age. (Just wait and see what kinds of comments I get on that one).

It’s a great adventure and my son’s new lease of life as a young man brings me both constant concern and constant joy and wonder.

Anyway, feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to respond, not as an expert, but as a Dad. I also apologize that what I’ve written is skewed toward raising boys, but that’s basically because they’re what the stork brought me! Some excellent authors writing on this topic from either a Christian and a secular point of view are:

• Steve Biddulph
• John Elderege (who writes on coming of age for both boys and girls)
• Brian Molitor

That’ll get you started. But consider not just an event to mark a coming of age for your kids, but the buildup to and the follow-through beyond. It’s a journey.

Happy Parenting.


Thank you Pete, for some great insights about positioning people into our children’s lives as mentors. I had not thought about doing that intentionally.

Do my readers have some thoughts of mentoring and this whole thing of Rites of Passage? Have you done this with your children, or planning something of the kind?

If you missed the first two posts, click here to read the first in the series, and click here to read the second in the series on Rites of Passage.

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  1. With a 2 1/2 year old, I have a ways to go before having to deal with his adulthood. But you make some great points for laying the foundation.


  2. Rick, the time will come faster than you think!

  3. […] particularly like the idea of having mentors for our […]

  4. Glad this is of help, Rick. Thanks Katy for publishing this. Writing it helped me crystalize some of my own thinking on the topic too.

  5. I really like the idea of identify other adults of integrity that your child can turn to for wisdom and guidance in situations where they are not comfortable turning to you. Believe me, they will seek it out somewhere and all to often it is their peers who have just as little life experience as they do.

  6. Pete, I’m wondering something that maybe you can’t answer yet. Have you noticed any “permanent” behavior changes in your son, post-ritual? This is not a challenge to your premise; I’m genuinely curious. And on a related note, does your son now have upgraded responsibilities to go with his new status?

    I’m just thinking about how it might play out in my family. I could probably build a rite of passage…but then what? Boy 14 goes back to skateboards and Playstation, and the rite becomes just a memorable event.

    In a hunter-gatherer culture, he would go out with me to literally bring home supper. He might have a shift at night by the fire to keep the wolves (or dingoes) away. But in modern western culture, our options seem fairly limited.

  7. @ Jonathan: totally. 🙂

    @ Joe: yeah, great questions and thoughts. I’m seeing this as ongoing. My friend Dave and I are a third of the way through a year where we offer a lot of activities for the boys to do: camping, rockclimbing, “charity”/community work, etc. As both my boys get older, we’ll do some sort of cross-cultural aid trip or another where they get to make a contribution as well as have an adventure. The young man and I also catch up for a chat often. At the moment I’ve bought him a bass guitar and we just jam and learn new songs and talk while we’re doing it. So finding something in common is helping…

    As for has he changed? I’m noticing two things: yes and no. No, in the sense that at times he actually regresses to toddlerhood again (like most adolescents) where he does dumb and senseless stuff, or just reaches out for reassurance in immature ways. Yes, in terms of him standing taller, if that makes sense. He has a new sense of assurance that two months after his 13th birthday is obvious to me and others…

    Let us know what you experiment with, Joe.


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