When did you become a man?
Getting suspended from school for a fight didn’t do the trick. Losing my virginity didn’t bolster my manhood. Reaching my goal of becoming a millionaire by 30 did nothing for the way I felt inside. Winning a bodybuilding competition only changed the way I looked on the outside.
As author Gordon Dalbey notes in Healing the Masculine Soul:
What does my own culture offer as a validation of manhood? The driver’s license at sixteen; freedom at eighteen to join the army, attend pornographic graphic movies, and to buy cigarettes and beer. The message is clear: Becoming a man means operating a powerful machine, killing other men, masturbating, destroying your lungs, and getting drunk.
The 80s men’s movement recognized the absence of rites of passage for today’s young men. A rite of passage is a ceremony performed by men to welcome the boy into manhood. Some modern tribes have preserved these ancient traditions of their forefathers.
Whether or not a rite of passage is necessary or not for one to become a man, identifying a moment when you understand your manhood is helpful.
Author Stephen Mansfield recounts in Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men a moment he was recognized as a man. When he told a group of Arab men he was a father, they celebrated and gave him a new name. He wrote,
…never before in all of my life had I ever been welcomed into the fellowship of men. Not once. Not ever. Nor had I ever undergone any sort of ritual to mark any of the important turning points in my life as a man. No one had ever said to me, ‘Congratulations. You are now a man among men.’
I’ve yet to have that congratulatory moment. However, I can recall a defining moment when I was welcomed into a group of men.
When I was a freshman in college, I got invited to go on a road trip with some upper class men. The goal: drive from MO to Atlanta, GA for a conference. The means of transportation: one Lincoln town car for 5 big upper class men and me.
Since I was the skinniest and the youngest, I was elected to sit on the “hump seat.” In the mid 90s, the “hump seat” was the front center armrest with no back support. The only space for my legs was the dashboard.
I’d probably ridden “hump” across town before, but never had I endured an 11 hour road trip. And it was brutal. We left at midnight and I remember watching the sun come up in Nashville, TN.
Tim, the driver, and I were the only ones awake at dawn. My back was in agony. But, something happened to me in that moment. I welled up with pride. I’d been accepted into a group of guys I admired and respected! I finally felt like I was part of something much bigger than myself. Because of their acceptance, I felt like a man.
Becoming a man seems to be more about process than achievement. I often wonder if I’ll ever reach the peak. I’ve found solace knowing I’m not alone.
In an interesting study, Australian men were asked, “When did you become a man?” Surprisingly the author David Crawford found no one could quite answer this question.
For all the males, there has been no memorable moment or process in their lives, physically personal to them, marking their passage to male adulthood. All the males in this study have been left to become men by accident by themselves, however they can.
When did you become a man?
This might be a question you can’t answer right now, and that’s ok. We’re all on a journey, and can grown and learn from others. Share your story in the comment section.