In the case of initiation, when the boy returns, having fulfilled his rites of passage, “the boy’s mother pretends not to know him. She asks to be introduced to ‘the young man’.”
— John Eldredge (paraphrasing Robert Bly)
This is a hard word for women with sons, but it is necessarily true in the folklore of masculinity.
Men need men and boys more so. If the root of many of the crimes within society committed today lay exposed, we would acknowledge the great injustice that is spurned against most if not all young men, that the rites of initiation are largely lost in our modern Western culture.
The lack of men in men’s lives has harmed our men for decades, if not centuries.
The ancient tradition was for boys and young men to work with their fathers, and, at the age of about 12, be sent off for a little while with the older men to learn men’s ways. What is vital about this is that ‘men’s ways’—properly constituted—are critical for the safe and healthy functioning of society.
Knowing men’s ways, and being approved by other men to that end, means a young man is comfortable in and with himself.
When a man is comfortable with himself as a man he is gentle, and particularly gentle with women. He is respectful and sensitive and able to be intimate. He earns and values trust. He’s not overly fearful. He is responsible and, indeed, a hard worker, with the right motivation to work. He knows his role in the family and in society and he rarely needs to be reminded. This is a real man.
This may seem a perfect picture, and, though none of us are perfect, he is the man all men should strive to be.
What Mothers Can Do For Their Sons
This is a truth that applies to all mothers with sons, whether married, widowed, divorced, or single. One of the most important tasks is to enlist the help of responsible male role model. With the right man to look up to a boy learns to emulate manly attitudes, values, and behaviours. It works without effort. All that is required is time, and an intentional focus on behalf of the mother and the male role model (whether it is his father or not).
In doing this, the mother is, for her son’s own good, to let go during these times; and to let go, in the ultimate sense, when he reaches ‘age’—about age 12-13. A big part of the letting go process is in not shaming him.
If the son has been mentored appropriately he will be ready to take up the mantle of a young man at age 12-13. He is not a man yet, and cannot be expected to be a man, but the transition to manhood is very well underway. Any mother that refuses their son this privilege is holding him back and damaging him. Yes, this is a hard word!
One of the responsibilities of mothers with sons is the letting go process—knowing when and how to let go; so in ascribing to him his manly dignity. And whilst the mother is always there to pick him up should he fall, she should allow him to fall, for no one is destroyed in the falling.
This is very much a wisdom task for the mother with a son.
For a boy to become a man—a safe man, who is safe in himself and caring with others, especially women—he must be trained and approved by other men. Women and mothers, no matter how well they try, struggle to take him through this transformation. Real men—responsible men—know how important it is to encourage and how to gently push men (and boys) younger than themselves. They know the importance of men for a man’s self-esteem.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.