Making Men Again: Adventures in the Journey to Manhood
Six months ago, I crossed the threshold into fatherhood. Welcoming my newborn son into the world continued my quest to identify and embrace the nurturing father within me. I beheld my son, spoke his name for the first time, and felt my heart turn towards his in a bond of unconditional love. Sitting in the delivery room with my son nearby I considered the many adventures (like hunting with 223 ammo) he would experience in his own journey and the role I would play in guiding him on his quest to manhood. In a moment of retrospection, I thanked all of the men that guided, mentored, coached, and nurtured me into the man and father I had become.
In my experience, many men have been shaped by the father wound, which can be described as the abandonment, distrust, and devastation felt by young men that have little to no contact with their biological fathers. There are no self-made men. When left to their own devices, young men develop their own rites and initiations in gangs and crews without the wisdom and guidance of the older men. With all the talk of making America great again, I wondered what it would mean for men to be intentional about making men again.
The days in our society when men took responsibility for guiding young men on the journey to manhood are gone. As Robert Bly notes in his book Iron John, “the fault is that the old men outside the nuclear family no longer offer an effective way for the son to break his link with his parents without doing harm to himself.” Our ancestors understood the importance of certain rites of passage in guiding boys in their communities on the journey to manhood. Men today can participate in this journey by reclaiming the rites of mentoring, coaching, fathering, and nurturing young men.
My African ancestors lost their rites in the Middle Passage. My forefathers replaced them with a Judeo-Christian heritage that I’ve come to embrace. This heritage is rooted in the biblical narrative and is filled with exemplars of the roles men can play in guiding young men along the adventures to manhood. As Paul writes to the church in Corinth: “For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus, I became your father through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4.15).
The first example that came to mind was Samuel. Samuel was hearing God’s voice by night. Eli mentored Samuel and encouraged Samuel to wait, listen, and respond to God’s call. In the process, Samuel would become a prophet of great renown. Next, Elijah was a prophet’s prophet and took great risk in maintaining fidelity to God’s instructions. Elijah threw his mantle on Elisha and coached him in the prophetic ministry before Elisha requested a “double portion” of Elijah’s anointing and ability as a prophet.
From the New Testament, Timothy’s biography is similar to many black and brown boys today. His grandmother and mother are acknowledged for their role in his growth and development with no mention of his father. Paul calls Timothy “his beloved and faithful son in the Lord” (1 Cor 4.17). Paul demonstrates the importance of “fathering” (nurturing and caring for) young men who are without regular contact with their biological fathers.
During Advent (the liturgical season before Christmas), Christians are called to remember and celebrate the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Joseph is asked to take on the great responsibility of caring for Mary and “fathering” God’s son. Jesus, the God-made man, began his journey in the lowly, meek, and mild form of a newborn in a manger. The gospels tell of Jesus’s adventures from boyhood to manhood, of how he grew in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and men, of his trials and ordeals, and ultimately of the completion of his redemptive work as God’s Messiah.
Two months after my son was born, I also began a new stage in my own journey to reclaim the rites of mentoring, coaching, fathering, and nurturing young men in my community as a Becoming a Man (BAM) counselor. BAM is a school-based group counseling and mentoring program for young men facilitated by men. BAM combines clinical theory, men’s rites of passage work, and a dynamic approach to youth engagement and mentoring to equip young men with the tools and guidance they need to develop into healthy and responsible adults. I have the honor and privilege to serve as a guide to over 50 young men on their own journey to manhood.
Jesus, as mentor, coach, guide, and redeemer, set out to make disciples of men and women of all nations. In doing so, he established the requirements for making God’s kingdom great again. As we celebrate the birth and coronation of Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, I challenge men to give the gift of mentoring, coaching, fathering, and discipling to the young men in their midst. By doing so, we will endeavor to make our families, communities, cities, and nation great by making men again.
Over the summer, I lost a friend to old age. Thinking about
it, we were 48 years apart. I have friends my age, but there was something
about Miss Betty that kept our friendship going for many years. She lived next
door to me for years. Un-married. No children. Devout Catholic. Miss Betty was
an independent person. She loved her home and all her possessions. After her
stroke and a weak heart, she had no choice but to move into a senior living
facility. First an apartment to herself and then hospice care in her last
years. When I went to visit at the facility, we talked about her health, my
family, work, money, you name it. At every ending of our time together, we
prayed. She said she loved my prayers. I mean Pentecostals pray a prayer! I
knew she would not make it for long. Every time I left her place, I would say,
“I’ll see you again.” I never knew the day before she passed, that would be the
last time I said those words.
Prior to Miss Betty’s passing, I told my good friend about our
wonderful conversations and how we talked about God. My spiritual friend asked,
“Have you ever led her into the sinner’s prayer?” I responded, “We prayed, but
I never ask her to invite Christ into her life.” My friend told me to start
your prayer and say repeat after me. I mean hearing those simple words gave me
the confidence to do it. And the week before Miss Betty passed, she accepted
Christ. It came from my mouth, but it was Holy Spirit guiding me. In my
lifetime, I have always asked those I encountered, “Do you want to accept
Christ as your Savior?” Some said yes, while others said not at this time.
Jesus talked a lot about seed planting. Even if the person
you share the Word with says, not this time, you are still planting the seed!
As God works through us and we share our faith with others, we never know if
the Word we share will take root or when. I’ve known Miss Betty for many years,
but the moment she received Christ as her personal Savior it was God’s time! I
miss my friend but I know she’s in glory with our Heavenly Father. We
Be encouraged that our sowing of the Good News might, even
after many years, be received by someone who will “accept it, and produce a