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Boys and the Rite of Passage

After reading the book Boys Adrift, by Dr. Leonard Sax, I decided to design a rite of passage for my boys. In his book, Dr. Leonard Sax insists that one of the main reasons male achievement in school, post-secondary institutions, and in society is decreasing is because of this missing element in our western culture: a rite of passage.


What is a rite of passage?


It is a journey of hardship and difficulty over a certain period of time that indicates to both the father and the community of men that this boy is ready to begin the journey of manhood. Take note, however, that a rite of passage begins around fourteen years of age, and that becoming a man isn't tied to an eighteenth birthday; rather, it is a journey.


Let me expand on this.


The underlying premise of a rite of passage is that there is no such thing as the floundering, awkward teenage years.


What? Seriously?!


It is true.

I believe that this is so because we've allowed it to be so. They've risen to the bar we’ve set for them, and that bar has been very low. It’s shameful, but true.

Many of our young boys growing up in western society act immature, spend oodles of time in front of video games, look at pornography, hate reading, are poor writers, and have a very difficult time engaging in hard work.


I believe that this is so because we've allowed it to be so. They've risen to the bar we’ve set for them, and that bar has been very low. It’s shameful, but true.


The second underlying premise is that just because a boy turns eighteen, it doesn't mean he is a man.


Masculinity is formed in a boy through responsibility and hardship endured over an extended period of time. And herein lies the purpose of a rite of passage.


My son is turning fourteen. He received the Sacrament of Confirmation and we began his rite of passage. The expectations my wife and I have set for him are high. We expect self-discipline, hard work, work done well, and growth in virtue. The amazing thing is that he is rising to the bar!


Here is what his rite of passage looks like. It is a six month process and is broken up into different areas:


I. Ongoing Obligations

He is to keep a daily journal and exercise three times a week.


II. Reading Requirements

He is required to read a book and give a 1 page reflection or summary of said book to the person who assigned it. He receives one book from his dad, one from his Confirmation sponsor, and one from his Godfather. For example, he is reading Theology for Beginners, by Frank Sheed, chapter by chapter with his Confirmation sponsor; The Right Mountain, by Jim Hayhurst, from his father; and Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, from his Godfather.

III. Skill Developments

My son is expected to learn some manly skills in various areas over the next six months. These include BBQing various types of meat, ironing dress pants/shirts, getting his gun/hunting license, building something with wood with dad's power tools, catching, skinning, cooking an animal for dinner, whitewater kayaking, and orienteering.


IV. Spiritual Growth

For his spiritual growth, he is doing Exodus 90 with me as we speak. He is to plan a pilgrimage and lead us on it. There are passages of Scripture to be memorized by him and the entire Bible must read from cover to cover. Further, one evening per week, we sit down together and discuss Catholic apologetics.


V. Mentorship

Since a proper rite of passage is done in community with other men, my son is being mentored by two great men in his life. One of them is helping him make a bow and arrow set from scratch, and the other is teaching him how to invest money, make it grow, and help his candle making business.


VI. Finale:

The finale will be a 24hr solo outing on an island wherein he'll have minimal supplies and will have to survive the night praying and making responsible decisions for himself in the wilderness.


VII. Ceremony and Celebration

Finally, we will end with a joyous celebration consisting of food, gifts, and ceremony. When the rite is completed, he will be welcomed into the community of men as a young man beginning his journey of manhood.


This entire process is incredibly rich. It binds the father and son together. The son grows, changes, and matures.


Imagine if all boys had this type of journey to mark their passage into manhood instead of the kind we currently practice in western society—a night at the bar drinking themselves silly.


I imagine the world would be a different place.



Semper Fidelis,


Kenton E. Biffert


Kenton works at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College as an adjunct professor and the Dean of Students. Together with his wife, they homeschool their 7 children, and they recently welcomed another little one into the family. Together, they like to explore the wilds of Ontario in the canoe and read voraciously. To learn more about the art of fatherhood, visit Kenton's personal blog, Art of Fatherhood.

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