Initiating Sons Into Manhood

A dad in a bandana with his teen son in the wilderness

Years ago I began meeting with two good friends, Bill Wellons and Bill Parkinson, to research, discuss and plan how to raise our sons into manhood. Then Ann Parkinson asked me a question I couldn't answer. She said: "Robert, how does a young man know when he has become a man?" As the mother of three teenage boys, Ann wanted to know.

The more I thought about the question, the more I realized Bill, Bill and I needed to do something to initiate our sons into manhood. Something tangible. Something memorable. With seven sons between us, we wanted to create something that would empower our boys. So the three concerned fathers got together and took tentative steps toward designing manhood ceremonies.

At our first meeting, someone mentioned the idea of creating a family crest. Bill Parkinson then independently researched the subject of heraldry and brought back some examples.3(A book that helped us in creating our crest is The Oxford Guide to Heraldry, by Thomas Woodcock and John Martin Robinson (New York: Oxford, 1988). It is available in most public libraries. A Complete Guide to Heraldry by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (New York: Gramercy, 1978) is also useful. Both books detail hundreds of examples of ancient crests, explaining symbolism and history.) Using these as a guide, we fashioned a crest that reflected our values. Then we took our idea to Nancy Carter, a graphic artist employed by our church. Nancy played with the concept and the colors and developed the finished product. We then had three copies matted and framed and placed in prominent locations in our homes.

Our crest is in the common form of a shield. The Greek words across the top say "Fight the good fight," an allusion to Paul's admonition in 2 Timothy 4:7. The helmet symbolizes the fight of faith. The Greek phrase at the bottom of the crest means, "One Lord, one faith, one hope."

Three major sections make up the crest. The section on the left — with the sword in the shape of a cross — represents the "conventional" manhood that must be surrendered to Jesus Christ. The section on the right with the crown and wreath symbolizes authentic manhood. (The crown with three jewels stands for the three imperatives of real manhood: rejecting passivity, accepting responsibility, leading courageously; the wreath below stands for the promise of greater reward, God's reward.) The three swords in the middle represent not only our three families, but the ongoing masculine truths each dad offers a son to fight with for an honorable life.

Key Passages in a Boy's Life

We now had a major symbol, but we still lacked a process. As our discussions continued, the three of us identified some key passages in a boy's journey to manhood. With our own experiences as a plumbline, we settled upon these four:

  1. Puberty — that great transition at the start of adolescence when a boy's body wreaks havoc with his mind.
  2. High school graduation — when, for the first time, a young man experiences unbridled freedom.
  3. College graduation — when a man must face the world and begin to provide for himself. (If your son chooses not to attend college, identify a similar milestone: completion of a vocational training program; beginning of a career-oriented job; conclusion of a military assignment.)
  4. Marriage — when a man assumes responsibility for a wife and the leadership of a family.

We then decide to craft ceremonies to commemorate these passages and to empower each of our sons with a vision for the next stage. The next articles will go into more details about each ceremony.

Excerpted and adapted from Robert Lewis' book Raising a Modern-Day Knight, a Focus on the Family book. Copyright © 2007, Robert Lewis. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.