Manhood Ceremony: Creating Our Own Family Tradition
It’s tough to pinpoint the moment when a teenager becomes a man, but I’m confident that a recent manhood ceremony will influence my 19-year-old son Eric, as he becomes an outstanding man.
What’s a manhood ceremony? It’s a unique celebration, something like a rite of passage that guides a young adult toward becoming a man. I learned about manhood ceremony models through different writers and speakers from men’s groups.
Manhood ceremonies can range from a simple occasion to extraordinary events that cover days and culminate in a special moment. For my older son, Drew, now 22, I organized a dinner with eight men. For Eric, I took a different approach.
We had about 25 people, including my wife, our older son, grandparents, and other family and friends. We rented our community recreation center gym for two hours so that Eric and his 10 closest friends could play basketball for the last 45 minutes.
The evening began with clips from some of Eric’s favorite movies. One movie clip came from Undefeated, a 2011 documentary about an underdog football team led by coach Bill Courtney. I reached out to Courtney’s publicist and received a personal note to Eric with a signed copy of his 2014 book, Against the Grain. Eric was overwhelmed.
Another movie clip was from Happy, a far-reaching 2011 documentary based on research about what makes people happy. I sent a note to the director, Roko Belic, who sent a two-page letter for Eric.
I also presented Eric with a signed photo of world famous marathoners, Dick and Rick Hoyt. We played a video about their athletic triumphs. Rick, who has cerebral palsy, asked his dad to enter numerous competitions with him.
We watched Jim Valvano’s 1993 ESPY Awards acceptance speech. (Jim died of cancer several weeks after being honored.) “To me, there are three things we all should do every day… No. 1 is laugh. You should laugh every day. No. 2 is think. You should spend some time in thought. And No. 3 is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
Before the basketball fun kicked into gear, Eric spent some one-on-one court time with a special friend he met two summers ago while volunteering at our church’s annual sports camp. The friendly fifth-grader with mental and physical challenges took a liking to Eric who patiently worked with him during basketball drills during the week-long camps.
Eric sized up the manhood event this way:
“I had absolutely no idea what was going on. It was a total surprise. It meant a lot to see how many people showed up, just for me. And I couldn’t believe my dad found a way to get the book, letter, Hoyt photo and more. It was cool how he reached out to people who have inspired me. It took a while for it to sink in that it was all for me.”
Here are sections of my own letter to Eric:
A Letter To My Teenage Son
Keep seeking people who are different. Go to their festivals, eat their food, wear some of their clothes, dance with them, laugh with them, cry with them, rejoice with them and live in their homes (or invite them spend time in yours).
If you’re blessed to be a father, you should repeatedly tell your sons and daughters these four things:
1. I love you.
2. I’m proud of you.
3. You’re good at _____________.
4. You have what it takes.
Learn to love sacrificially. Sometimes it means you spend more time with your family than a close friend. Sometimes you’ll need to be away from your family to be with that same close friend.
Think better of others than yourself. And it doesn’t mean having a low self-esteem. It’s about humility.
No matter what course you choose, no matter what decisions you make, I … want the best for you.
Eric, my son, I have always loved you. And I always will…