The definition of “Man” has become awfully ambiguous. Some people claim to be men trapped in women’s bodies; some claim to be women trapped in men’s bodies. Parents fight for their boy’s rights to take part in “girl stuff” and for their girl’s rights to do “boy’s stuff.” People declare themselves to be neutral, bi, queer, homo, hetero, machinist, etc. Also, sometimes others declare a person to be any one of the above, and the subject of the declaration becomes convinced of the truth of the declaration and accepts it as a lifestyle.
And all that is not even what I’m talking about here; I just opened this post that way to point out the reasonable confusion a teenager might have in figuring it all out in this day and age. For example, take what may be the simplest form of the problem: when does a “boy” become a “man?” And who answers? If there is someone that everyone can agree to qualified to answer the million dollar question here, that would take us to our conclusion.
Jewish friends celebrate a young male’s “bar mitzvah” at age 13 and they have done so for centuries. The Satere’ Mawe’ tribe in the Amazon take their 13 year olds through a ritual of wearing gloves of stinging ants to prove their manhood by not exhibiting pain while the ants sting them. The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania take their young men between 10 and 20 years of age out to camp, drink and eat before they circumcize them. They prove their manhood by not flinching when the blade makes its cut.
In these cultures, and many others, becoming a man (or a woman, for that matter) is something either bestowed upon you, or proven by you, or both. In a monarchy, only the monarch or a revolt (overpowering the monarch) can create a new monarch. I have read – and I can’t help but agree – that manhood goes likewise. It must be bestowed by someone who unquestionably possesses it, or it must be taken by overcoming someone widely accepted to possess it. If neither of these ever happen in the life of a young male, he is left to figure out who or what he is, with little or no objective standard to measure himself. Even if he is not confused by what has been made by society into a multiple choice question, the young male of a “civilized” nation no longer has a standard by which to know when he is the “man” he has been trying to be. Our relativistic society has removed the finish line, so to speak. Or at least we have made the line one that anyone can draw wherever they wish, which is the equal to removing it.
I know my sons pretty well, I think, and I believe they want to be men. We’ve talked. Part of my role as the Dad is to encourage them, give them opportunities to prove their manhood, and then recognize it and finally bestow it so they have no question about it. Having no question about something equals confidence. When my sons each turned 13, I took each one, with no one else, on a canoeing/camping trip where we talked over issues of manhood and all subjects were open for discussion and questioning. As I explained to them, age was only step one. We will take another set of trips when they each begin making money to support themselves. My effort is to specifically acknowledge and show them proof of their maturity so they will not question it, even if others do.
Because there will always be others that do. I cannot count how many times someone has suggested that I am less than a man: in junior high because I didn’t play football, in high school because I wasn’t dating, in college because I didn’t drink or smoke. Because of my size, or clothing, or the way my hair is combed, or my vocabulary. My dad passed away before he ever confirmed me, and I figured it out on my own, but it often takes longer to prove a point to yourself than it does to prove it to another. Especially if people have doubted you all your life.
My point: Men, confirm your sons when it’s time. There’s a good chance they will always lack that little bit of self confidence if you don’t confirm them. Moms: same for daughters. Don’t let your children wait to find confirmation in sex or money or prestige, because that stuff comes and goes and is and should be more temporal than their identity. Men who assault women, or other men, often do so to prove their own manhood to themselves and others. Something went wrong there.
And let’s do it before the world convinces them they are something that they don’t even want to be, or they seek drastic ways to claim their own sovereignty.