Age 13 is a pivotal time in a boy’s life. A chemical called testosterone, the male sex hormone, which has always been present in smaller amounts, begins to appear in large quantities. Testosterone triggers the development of muscle tissue and transforms a boy’s physical features. It breeds whiskers, pubic hair and often promotes rapid growth.
But the changes are not just physical. As Dr. James Dobson writes in his book Parenting Isn’t for Cowards:
I believe parents and even behavioral scientists have underestimated the impact of the biochemical changes occurring in puberty. We can see the effect of these hormones on the physical body, but something equally dynamic is occurring in the brain. How else can we explain why a happy, contented, cooperative twelve-year-old suddenly becomes a sullen, angry, depressed, thirteen-year-old?
At this stage in his development, a boy’s body often outpaces his ability to comprehend the changes taking place inside him. Puberty is a confusing time for a young man. His sexual desires become intense and predominating. A boy needs a father’s help to make sense of the confusion.
Before my oldest son, Garrett, turned 13, I asked him to join me in listening to and discussing Dr. Dobson’s tape series called “Preparing for Adolescence.” This seven-part study covers such issues as emotions, physical changes, sex and self-esteem. We went to the church in the early mornings for our study, then concluded our times with breakfast at a local restaurant. Each session, including breakfast, took approximately two hours. It was a great time of preparing Garrett for this personally significant transition he was about to experience.
Our talks were lively, sometimes explicit (we talked candidly about sex), and relationally bonding for father and son. At the conclusion of our study (which I coordinated with his thirteenth birthday), I prepared a simple ceremony and took Garrett to dinner and let him order any meal on the menu. He chose his favorite: steak.
For an hour, the two of us sat and talked about adolescence and manhood and his growing responsibilities. At this time, I introduced the manhood definition: “A man is someone who rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously and expects the greater reward — God’s reward.” I explained these phrases and illustrated each concept in a simple way.
I then asked Garrett to memorize the definition, which he did almost immediately. I told him this would be the “north star” for his manhood and that I planned to refer to it often in the years ahead. We then finished this special ceremonial occasion with my prayer for God’s blessing in his life.
Reinforcing the Lesson
The unexpected surprises from that ceremony came later. Since that time, I’ve been amazed at how many opportunities I’ve had to shape my son’s behavior by referring back to our definition of manhood. This is the beauty of clarifying and defining values.
I remember the time our family went to dinner and Garrett charged inside the restaurant, forgetting to hold the door for his mother and sisters. I stopped him in mid-stride and said, “Hey, what does a real man do in a situation like this?”
Garrett immediately said, “Well, Dad, I guess a real man accepts responsibility for the women he’s with.” Bingo!
“So, instead of charging into the restaurant,” I replied, “act the gentleman and become the door holder.”
Once you’ve defined manhood for your son, small day-to-day experiences such as this become opportunities to reinforce a biblical portrait of manhood.
My wife, Sherard, told me a few months ago about a girl at school who took an interest in Garrett. Another young lady, acting as a mediator for this budding relationship, began calling him on the phone to explore the possibility of a romance with her friend.
Garrett pondered this for awhile. Then one night he took charge and called the interested girl directly. He told her he couldn’t be her boyfriend.
Sherard overheard the conversation (no, she wasn’t listening on the other extension), and when Garrett hung up, she complimented him on the way he had handled the situation. Without hesitation — almost matter-of-factly — Garrett replied, “Mom, a real man must reject passivity and accept responsibility for things like this!”
Nothing warms a father’s heart like progress.
Even our daughters, Elizabeth and Rebekah — both older than Garrett — have benefited from our ongoing discussion. They have heard us refer again and again to the characteristics of an authentic man. Whether they realize it or not, they are subconsciously forming an image of what real men are like.