“It’s becoming clear to us that manhood doesn’t happen by itself; it doesn’t happen just because we eat Wheaties. The active intervention of the older men means that older men welcome the younger man into the ancient, mythologized, instinctive male world.” – Robert Bly
I remember the precise moment that I felt welcomed into the “instinctive male world.” I was 12-years old when my friend Thom invited me to hunt pheasant with him, his dad, and a few other sportsmen. I took a hunter safety class, and on the first Saturday in November 1983, before sunrise, Thom, Dave, and I drove me to the field. I distinctly remember the smells from that morning—the coffee in the front seat, the orange juice in the back, and especially, the gunpowder blasting from the end of my barrel.
I also remember the feeling of the cold metal of the Remington 870 in my right hand. As I held that gun, walking between two adults, I thought, “I can’t believe that these men trust me to carry a gun in the field with them.” I walked so tall and felt so responsible. I was acutely aware of everything happening around me, and I studied the other men in our hunting party all morning in order to learn the sport.
Obviously, pheasant hunting doesn’t turn a boy into a man. But, in my case, it helped initiate that process. I wish I could say that the picture of masculinity I was given by the various men in my life was entirely positive, but it wasn’t. We live in a culture that calls porn “adult entertainment,” and strip bars “gentlemen clubs.” (Those terms are so wickedly ironic, it’s as if the devil himself came up with them.) I had a water polo coach in high school who let us look at his “magazine collection” after practice, and told us that real men get in fights, and win most of them. As a sophomore in high school, I believed him.
Then, in 1990, I met Jesus, and He redefined my ideas of masculinity. He also inspired me to seek out other men—leaders and thinkers and lion-hearted Christ-followers—to help fill out my picture. And, while I have gained just as much wisdom from the women in my life, it is the men who have taught me to be a man. Robert Bly also states this idea well:
“Once could say that many young men in the sixties tried to accept initiation from women. But only men can initiate men, as only women can initiate women. Women can change the embryo to a boy, but only men can change the boy into a man. Initiators say that boys need a second birth, this time a birth from men.”
(Quotes taken from Robert Bly’s book, Iron John: A Book about Men. Da Capo Press, 2004)