The movie Courageous has powerful insights for dads in just about every scene, including one that asks us to ponder the question, “When did you know you were a man?”
Some of the characters’ answers include: “When I moved out on my own.” “When I turned twenty-one.” “When I got my driver’s license.” “When I got my first job.” Then one says, “When my father told me I was.” He was seventeen and his dad was leaving town for work; he needed to help care for the family.
Here’s the video clip:
How did you know when you were a man? Was your dad part of the process? If he wasn’t, do you wish he had been?
These are deep and powerful questions, and for fathers of sons, they should lead us to consider our role to provide those rites of passage. More than anyone else, our boys look to us to signal that they’re growing and maturing in significant ways, and even more, that we’re proud of them as they go through the process.
There are some great resources available to guide you through rite-of-passage experiences with your boys (see below) — and some for daughters. The main idea is to be intentional and purposeful.
Just to give you some ideas, here are four topics I discussed with my son when he was thirteen. Each of these is worthy of its own in-depth conversation, but I’ll provide some brief thoughts:
1. Give him information about physical and emotional changes. He needs your insights about how his body is changing and some of the emotions that often come with it. Many boys are preoccupied with living up to measures of masculinity that they perceive out there. They have questions like, “Are these changes normal?” “Am I strong enough?” “Can I be a man even if I’m not very athletic?” And as you know, they’re starting to ask their own questions about sex.
2. Answer those questions about sex — the “facts of life” a young man needs to know. You’ll probably be surprised at how much he already knows. I sure was. Be honest and factual about the physical aspects, but also include what you believe regarding the moral and spiritual side. How should he handle that desire? Give him specific strategies he can use. Shoot straight about the things he could see on TV, in movies and online. Some things might seem fulfilling at first, but what really leads to lasting fulfillment? Make it clear that he’s accountable for his behavior — accountable to his own future, to his future wife, to his parents, and to all the young women he will date. If you’re a man of faith, tell him that he’s ultimately accountable to God, and that there are great benefits to following that path.
3. Insist on respect for women. Set expectations for how women should be thought of and treated. They are not to be appreciated only for their appearance, but rather valued for their fascinating character, their integrity, and the feminine qualities that complement and complete our masculine approach. So, how should that show up in his actions — toward women in general and including his mother and sisters? And dad, since your modeling is key in this area, encourage him to call you out whenever you forget to hold a door open or you miss out on other opportunities to show respect and thoughtfulness.
4. Ask for his trust. As I gave my son a vision for what Dad expects of him as a young man, I also recognized that the teen years can be challenging for parents and children. He’s going through some big and scary changes, and he has a father who’s far from perfect. So I also told him, “Son, no matter what, you can trust your mom and pop. You can trust your dad. Come to us. Ask us about any situation.” I hope he will, and in the meantime, I’m doing everything I can to maintain a strong relationship, so he feels safe to come to me about anything.
Those are the things I shared. Adapt them to your own approach. And as I wrote earlier, make the most of your opportunities during your son’s transition to manhood. Be there to coach him. Don’t let significant events in your son’s life go unnoticed. Don’t leave him wondering what a man is and whether he measures up.
- Give your son new privileges — and responsibilities — that correspond with his maturity level.
- With teenage sons, create opportunities for “sideways” conversations. He’s more likely to open up when you’re working on a project together, shooting hoops, running errands, or doing something he enjoys.
- Talk with him about the true characteristics of manhood. Point out examples of people who are getting it right … or who are missing the mark.
- Remember, this not a one-time event. These rite of passage moments should happen continually along the journey. Keep pouring out good words, sincere praise and high expectations into your son’s developing character.