Three years ago I became a single mom. I have three boys. Two of them are still homeschooling and one that graduated this year. Like all mothers, I want to give my boys the world, but there is one thing I cannot give them…the keys to becoming a man. Raising boys to be men is impossible. This is the role of the man…to invite boys into manhood.
When my oldest son (who is now 18) was just learning to speak, he refused to say “mama.” He would call me “dada” all the time and the bigger reaction he got out of me, the harder he laughed. He did this for years! One day, he fell down and got hurt. In the midst of streaming tears, he let it slip, “Maaammmaaa!” Don’t you know, in a moment when I should’ve been comforting my son, all I could do was yell “AHA!! YOU CALLED ME MAMA!!” Immediately, his eyes got as big as saucers and he started back pedaling, “I MEAN DADA, DADA, DADA!” But it was too late. He said it and I relished in that moment that when he needed comfort and reassurance, he called “mama.”
Boys learn by imitation
That same year, Halloween was approaching. I asked him, “what do you want to be for Halloween?”
“I want to be Dada!” He insisted and danced around in circles at the idea.
So “dada” he was. I used black mascara to dab a 5 o’clock shadow on his face; dressed him up in overalls, a hard hat and some pint sized work boots and he was quickly transformed into mini-dada.
Boys are a mystery to women
Looking back over the years of taking photos like this, I now realize that I have been trying so desperately to understand the wiring of my children…my boys. I would spend hours in the hunting stand with them (a former vegetarian and PETA Member here); I would take them camping, hiking, fishing, and shooting. All in hopes of discovering what makes them tick, do what they do and think they way they think, what makes them come alive and fall apart, and what the secret is to making them the best that they can possibly be.
But still, they are a complete and utter mystery to me.
I’ve read of the great men in the scriptures and the men of valor in our history books. I’ve been in the presence of strong and wise men. But, if simply admiring a masterpiece could cause me to create a masterpiece, then surely my deep admiration of my sons would be enough to make them into men. Right??? Not a chance. It just isn’t that simple.
Single moms, married moms, widowed moms…we all bear the same cross with our sons. We are only half of the image of their maker. Do you think our sons look at US…the MOMS….to figure out how to become men? Do our daughters look at their fathers to figure out what it takes to be a woman?
Raising Boys to be Men: What is Man?
To even define what it means to be a MAN is a perplexing task. Siri just told me, “Man is an adult male human. Prior to adulthood, a male human is referred to as a boy.” Siri goes on to distinguish men from women by explaining their biological makeup of having one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. Scrolling down further, there is a subheading for “masculinity” which discusses research that beyond socially constructed attributes, behaviors and roles associated with boys and men, some research shows that some behaviors are considered biologically influenced. WOW! It’s almost as if God purposely intended for men to play a specific role that is different from women.
In the book Wild at Heart by John Eldredge, he writes, “God meant something when he meant man…What has he set in the masculine heart? Instead of asking what you think you ought to do to become a better man…I want to ask, What makes you come alive?” There is no doubt that God meant something in His creation of Adam. I do not believe His intentions have changed.
There is no need not to define man nor understand God’s divine intentions for me to know and accept the truth that manhood is different from womanhood and just as life begets life, man begets man. In all of my studying, observing, and dwelling with man, I still do not understand the inner workings of God’s male masterpiece. However, I trust in God’s model that He is trying to offer the world a glimpse of who He is by creating both man and woman in His image…IMAGO DEI.
Opposing force to boys becoming men
In this world there is another force. One whose sole purpose it is to destroy all that is true, good and beautiful. What better way to accomplish this than to attack the very image of that creature he wishes to destroy? If we do not know who we are, or who’s we are or why we are, then how can we accomplish anything?
If only it were as simple as instinct
Spiders are born never meeting their parents nor ever being trained up on what they are to do here. The knowledge of what they are, what they are to do and how they are to do it is already written on their DNA. It’s fascinating really. How does God do that? Pass that knowledge and wisdom from parent to offspring in some kind of code in their molecular make-up. Amazing!
Raising boys to be men means doing it different than women!
As well they should. They are not here to do things like women do. If you have found yourself frustrated at this fact, remind yourself that they aren’t suppose to do it your way. This reminds me of the time when all the guys were getting ready for a weekend at the hunting camp. Only the dads and the sons, who were old enough to sit quietly for long periods of time, were going. This was a time for all things testosterone: no showers, eating bad food, unrestrained bodily functions and probably a little cursing. One of the father’s asked his son, “did you pack a coat?” His son reassured his father that he wouldn’t need one. All the moms cringed at this exchange. The instinct to grab a coat and force it upon the boy was overwhelming, but the father held his hand up as a sign not to interfere and said, “he’ll learn.” You know what? It was a hard lesson and his father was right. The boy didn’t die, but he did learn.
Manhood is practiced over a lifetime
Manhood requires life experience to offer up scenarios and circumstances just like this, that challenge a boy’s character, that press in on his fears, that expose his pride. It also requires a manly influence to encourage a boy to face himself and tame himself. Practicing these manly traits and behaviors are not a one and done, but a life time of wrestling with the flesh to conform to the spirit. It requires an instructor that understands the battle within and the beast that has to be tamed and when to let the beast be wild. It takes deep contemplation and divine revelation. After all, to be a man is to bear the image of the Almighty One that created him.
My son, keep your father’s COMMANDS and do not forsake your mother’s TEACHING. Proverbs 6:20
What moms can help boys to know
As their mom, I am commissioned to teach my boys the truth of their origin and to instill in them the virtues and values that will be the foundation of their existence. It is my duty to introduce my boys to Jesus and help them understand that there is more to their existence than just the physical. They are so much more complex than just a body…they have a mind and soul that needs tending to as well. There is a reason why they are here and there is no one else on earth that can fulfill the roles and responsibilities that were divinely planned for them and them only. The enemy that wants them to fail must be recognize and discerned. They have to know that they will choose at some point what kind of man they will be. It is my job to give them the tools to help them choose. However, the one that commands the man inside of them to come out, must be a man.
Rite of passage into manhood
There are many tribal examples of ceremonial traditions marking the rite of passage for a boy into manhood and they are horrific and torturous. I won’t retell those bloody stories here, but if you are curious click here for an article from Art of Manliness. However, since culture has weeded out these types of ceremonies or definitive moment of passage for a boy, many are left unable to answer the question, “when did you become a man?” This results in young men feeling stuck and never really sure of when or IF they have ever “manned-up.”
Boys need a delineation to know exactly when he is to begin thinking like a man, conducting himself as an adult and when others should begin respecting him as a man. These are important markers for a boy to transition out of dependency into shouldering responsibility; from expecting to be served to becoming the server; and most importantly from waiting on someone else to lead to leading.
What’s important to note in historic rite of passage ceremonies is that men who have gone through the rituals themselves are the ones to guide the youth in their journey, controlling the rite of passage. It is the Men that decide when a boy becomes a man. The boy has a question written on his heart that can only be affirmed by another man, “do I have what it takes?”
Resources for moms…
As their mother, my voice cannot affirm them in their transition to manhood. So, I pray: for their father to answer that question; for God to surround my boys with strong, wise, godly men that will pour into their lives; and for God to do what I cannot and I trust in Him to do so.
Accepting the fact that I don’t understand what it means to be a man and the fact that raising boys to be men is not my role, hasn’t stopped me from trying to shrink the knowledge gap as much as possible. I listen to podcasts: my favorite one being Art of Manliness. I’ve read books upon books about raising boys to be men. Two of my all-time favorite books on the subject is Wild at Heart by John Eldridge and Great Men Bow Down by Gordon Lawrence, an author from my childhood stomping grounds of Lawrenceville, Georgia. [BTW, this post contains affiliate links…as seen below.]
Click here to read more about Great Men Bow Down.
After all that I have read and studied to prepare for this post, I am more convinced now then I was when I started, that raising boys to be men requires a man. I’m also convinced that men need men… MENtors if you will. It’s worth noting that the word Mentor is the name of a character found in Homer’s Odyssey. Mentor was a friend of Odysseus and a counselor to Telemachus. If you have read the Odyssey, then you know that this friend or mentor was actually Athena, the goddess, in disguise. How’s that for flipping the script?