What Men Need to Grow Up

You don’t have to look very far to see “the immature masculine” or “toxic masculinity” rampant in our culture     Men commonly put down any sign of “weakness” or sensitivity in other men starting in boyhood and effectively police their behavior by shaming or bullying them. Being a “real man” gets equated with suffering pain, never showing vulnerability or any feelings besides anger.

 I highly recommend you see the movie, “The Mask You live In” with its poignant interviews of teenage boys and men on being stuck in the “man box”. A box where they are limited in what they can express or feel.

How did this belief system get started and how can we lead our young boys to be healthy men”?

I believe it began with the loss of boys connection to their fathers in the Industrial Revolution. Prior to that time boys grew up working alongside their fathers, uncles and other men. They did this while on a farm, learning a trade or being apprenticed. In those various relationships they learned about the world of mature men by working side by side with men. 

man in cap

With the coming of industrialization fathers left home early in the morning to work in factories. This was a dehumanizing process that required men to follow the mechanical timing of machines.  The whistle began and ended the work day rather than the rhythms and cycles of the seasons or the cycles of the human body. They returned home often exhausted depriving them of the patience needed to deal with the energy of young boys waiting restlessly for them. With that breaking of the bond between boys and men a rift opened where a boy’s peers became their “pack” where the biggest, rather than the wisest lead the group. This was the birth of the Immature Masculine. Those boys were only guessing, and often wrongly, about what was required to be a man. It is what we see so often now where men behave more like physically large boys, unable to control feelings or express tenderness.

The boys in those succeeding generation had lost something important to help them become healthy men. These were what are called Rites of Initiation. Ancient and contemporary Aboriginal peoples have Rites of Initiation where the older males pass on the secrets of being mature men in the society. These rites when passed identifies them as “Men” and no longer boys. They were successful candidates expected to behave in ways that showed respect to themselves and others. They did not have to wonder if they were men, like many men in our culture do.  Contemporary male’s efforts to posture, preen and “have the most toys” are ways they try to show they are men while still feeling like boys inside.

Traditionally the boys were ritually “kidnapped” from their mothers by the men of the tribe. They were lead away to master the ordeals presented to them. If they passed the ordeals they were ready to receive the knowledge and wisdom to be considered men of the tribe. The elder males instructed them in the “male wisdom.”

Among the wisdom and responsibilities that are passed on include:

  1. Your relationships are the most important things you have in your life so honor and protect them.
  2. Treat your spouse, mother in law and other women with respect. They are the bearers of your children and brought you into this life.
  3. Be honorable and act with integrity with others. You word is your bond.
  4. Take care of and honor the elders. They hold the wisdom of the people and have sacrificed
  5. Your children deserve your time and attention. Be attentive to them.

If these messages were passed on to men in our culture and lived out we would not see the abuse of power, immature behavior and disregard that men have towards other men and women. 

So, what can be done now as those rituals are (largely) lost in time?

I encourage men to join a facilitated men’s group so that they can have a safe place to explore what it means to be men today. There they can find acceptance to be all of themselves: sad, angry, joyful and grieve the loss of not having healthy fathers in their lives.

What I have learned is that men can become models to each other for the fathers they never had and help each other to grow into being the accountable, emotionally present fathers, husbands and men.  All of us benefit from having these kinds of emotionally expressive and grounded men in our lives. 

You can find out more on men's counseling here.