Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rites of Passage

My youngest son turns 18 today.

This is a significant event - one of increasing responsibility on the journey from boy to man. Turning sixteen and getting a driver's license, going on the first date, the first job - all of these events are signficant - but they are not really a "rite of passage."

Ancient cultures (and some modern ones) have different methods for marking the movement from boyhood to manhood. Many of these rituals would seem primiive, even barbaric, to our civilized society. and yet these cultures have something our culture does not - well-defined rites of passage that allow a boy to know when he becomes a man.

While I'm not advocating for a return to boys spending days in the wilderness, hunting wild game, or being methodically beaten by your elders, there is something to be said for rituals. They are intimately bound up with a sense of accomplishment, the achievment of an adult identity, a connection with adult socitety, and the memory of overcoming the obstacles needed to get there.

A rite of passage is a marker of sorts - marking a change in status. It marks what will now be, not just what is. The child is now recognized by others to be leaving one stage and entering the next stage of maturity.

For my son, I don't think of a single event, but a progression of events - especially in the last year - that mark the passage of adolescent into young adulthood:
  • Being a camp counselor for the past two summers at a Christian boy's camp
  • Taking active leadership roles at his church - not only in the youth area, but in the church at large
  • Taking younger guys under his wing to train them in technical roles at church
  • Exploring his artistic side - taking culinary classes in school, preparing meals for the teachers, and bringing those skills home
  • Demonstrating academic skills in his senior exit project
  • Beginning to understand financial responsibilities (job, car, etc.)
No single event above - or even all of them collectively - signify that my son is now a man. But they do indicate progress along the path.

Turning 18 is only the end of the beginning.

Happy birthday, Aaron!

I love you!


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