Structured coming of age methods

One of the important insights I have gathered from studying sexuality is that becoming a man is both imitative and performative. Because of this, boys seem to benefit greatly from structured methods of becoming men: tests, milestones, rituals and the like.

This seems to be almost never talked about in Christian circles. The one very interesting and helpful exception is Vern Poythress, who has written up how he moved his boys into manhood through a system he dubbed the Bar Jeshua, drawing inspiration from the Jewish Bar Mitzvah:

https://frame-poythress.org/how-i-helped-my-boys-to-become-christian-men/

I think the specifics of Poythress’ method are less helpful than the general idea and the detail he provides of how he went about it, since it is so academic, and neglects other manly pursuits. But it makes me wonder if anyone else has done anything like this—even if less formalized. What are you all doing, or have done, with your own sons?

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I remember being fascinated by his idea as well.

I think there are parts of manhood that come earlier. Even if you have some sort of final milestone, don’t forget earlier ones. Giving my eldest son his first pocket knife and teaching him to use it safely and responsibly was a fun milestone, for example. Most of the things I’m thinking of require some level of trust/danger.

I’m looking forward to reading what other men have done here. Great question.

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I’m picturing a huge bonfire in the deep heart of some ancient old growth forest in the dead of night. Illuminated by the hissing flames a father hands off Excalibur and a shield with the family crest to his 12 year old son. “Survive this next week on your own, and you will be a man… also here’s a GPS phone so your mother can call you.”

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In scouting that was called the Order of the Arrow. No phones, no talking. We had a oath of silence. Overnight in the woods. Alone. Till the next day.

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Really interested to see how others answer this!

We’ve got three boys right now, and the eldest is 8. Our goal is to add privileges and responsibilities over time. Here’s what we’ve done so far:

  • age 4: can begin to use a steak knife at meals
  • age 5: chess set
  • age 6: given a hand saw and will be paid a nickel for each length of lumber sawn (firewood). When next boy turns six and gets the privilege of being paid to saw lumber, then the older one loses the privilege of getting paid to do it and it becomes an unpaid chore
  • age 7: library card and pocket knife
  • age 8: bow & arrows, will be paid for mowing portions of the yard
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A fascinating article with a lot of practical wisdom in it. Thanks for posting it.

There’s another thing about this that I especially like. One problem we have in American “coming-of-age” expectations is that we actually have a weird stage in between the boy-to-man transition which, for lack of a more official title, I’ll call being a “student.” College students no longer live under their parent’s roofs, but are not even supposed to live like responsible adults, since significant portions of the classic “college experience” presuppose immature or evil behavior. In fact, when college students do act mature for their age, they jokingly refer to it as “adulting,” implying that they don’t really consider themselves adults (or at least, only do so ironically).

I think he gestures in this direction when he points out the danger inherent in having no official transition:

… There is no clear point of transition. There is no one “rite of passage.” One of the unfortunate effects can be that boys are insecure. They don’t know when they are men. Again and again they may try to prove that they are “grown up.” Sometimes they may choose destructive ways-join a gang, go hotrodding, learn to smoke, get drunk, take a girl to bed.

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Does anybody know how the Poythress boys have turned out? It’s been, what, 20 years now, so we could conceivably find out if this was effective.

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Very well, I think. One is a pastor up in Inday, at a PCA church.

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Our rite of manhood in the Bayly home was getting out without having become embittered against their dad.

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Just read an article by Justin Poythress about Bible reading/memorization. It looks like he holds his dad in high regard. Good sign.

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My son is about to turn two so no insights here, though I remember being fascinated with the Poythress article a while back. If I’m not mistaken, the Art of Manliness also did a podcast on this topic that is worth listening to.

All in all, it seems to me that, as previously pointed out, yearly increases in responsibilities mount up over time and young men are capable of a lot more than we often put them up to.

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