Part 2 of 5….When the parents in my son’s class started talking about holding a rites of passage for boys, I asked if anyone had been initiated themselves, and sought to discover the skills and experience we had between us to create a meaningful event to mark the boys’ journeys towards adulthood. . There was little response, and, aside from a couple of the boys’ being confirmed within the Christian faith, the discussions came to nothing.
Around this time, an international mentoring and rites of passage organisation for adolescent boys, the Boys to Men Mentoring Network, was brought to the UK (later to be called ‘Journeyman UK’). This created a possibility to give my son what I never experienced – yet what I believe to be an essential part of helping boys (and girls) to become emotionally mature, resilient, accountable and confident adults. I was inspired to become a Journeyman mentor myself and to play a major role in the development and implementation of the organisation’s structure.
The charity runs group mentoring circles in a community setting every two weeks and an annual rite of passage event. It also delivers a unique training course that re-connects men to their own teenage experiences.
By experiencing this training, I was able to become clearer on some of the difficulties I had been dragging around since that age. The course helped me to reflect on how best to support adolescent boys and to understand what to do if difficult emotions from my own teenage years came to the surface. This involved approaches like not trying to rescue the boys from experiencing challenging emotions, and not giving them unsolicited advice. The main thing I got was to reconnect with my own teenage experience, which meant I could be around my own children and other teenagers in a clearer better way.
Our own adolescence is more often than not full of stories of pain, loneliness, fear, violence, abuse, sadness, being cut down, self-harm, drugs and alcohol, being bullied or being the bully. Experiences that led to so much suffering. No wonder we don’t want to be around teenagers as adults. All that past pain is triggered and then projected onto those kids out there now. And many experiences of wonder and great fruitfulness can become obscured and need bringing into the light of awareness.
Sadly the wounding that many adults experienced in childhood is often passed on to their children. We isolate them, are violent towards them, abuse them, cut them down, blame them, belittle them, don’t big them up, bully them and feel bullied by them. As a parent I lived through what was described by Alice Miller’s ‘For your own good’. I treated my own son as I had been, violently in family and culture, and those very words ‘it’s for your own good’ or ‘he needs to be taught a lesson’ were used. This caused a lot of upset in my home and my wife was angry with the way I treated my son…and so the cycle continued. The chain-breaking antidote? To own it, to face into what had happened to me and to decide wholeheartedly that it stops here, with me and the way I choose to be as a Father. With support from my men’s group and others this has been possible.
As for my daughter and wife, well …that’s another story; let’s say I faced into the long history of misogyny and sexual messed-up-ness that was pickled into my core from a working class northern background. I discovered SLAA, co-dependency, boundaries, shadow work, Byron Katie, women’s work, and more.
I had always had strong female partners and I treated my daughter accordingly, encouraging her to enjoy carpentry, be practical (‘you are a builder’s daughter!’) and to be physical as much as playing with dolls…..which she also did! . As she got older we had many robust scraps, where I passed on my martial arts skills, and encouraged her to be powerful and self-reliant. Equally, having a Steiner education enabled my son to learn how to knit, sing, act and do free running, staff fighting, arts and crafts. Both did maths and science, ethics and moral studies. Maybe my mum was an early feminist; she reckoned her three sons should cook and clean as much as her daughter, I figured likewise.
So our problem is not the boys, or the girls …..It’s us!
To read part three of this article see: leading by example.
Journeyman UK is a mentoring charity, dedicated to supporting boys aged 13 to 17 to discover their unique potential and apply their gifts in service to themselves, each other and their community at large.