Today, just before dusk, he loaded up into the sidecar of his Daddy's motorcycle and rode up and out of the driveway. His helmet bouncing like a bobble-head as he turned to wave one last time. With a tent and two sleeping bags in the compartment behind him, and chocolate milk and donuts at his feet, father and son drove past the bougainvillea that shouted after them over the fence, as the night blooming jasmine added her parting thoughts. And I stood there as they rattled out of sight, left alone in the fragrance of it all, thinking how my youngest is growing into a man before our eyes. They all are.
But the littlest, who thinks himself the biggest and always has, he turns 7 on Sunday! So his Dad took him camping up in the mountains beyond our home. They set up camp in the headlight of the motorcycle, then father taught son to start a campfire (without older brothers elbowing their way in). Come morning they will hike together and throw a ball back and forth, breathing deeply the crisp mountain air. It may sting their lungs on a cool winter's day, but it's a good kind of sting.
When they tire of the ball they will break down camp and drive into the small orchard town for lunch and a slice of apple pie. Then comes the gift; father will take son to the knife shop and help him choose his first pocket knife. And eyes will glint like the blade. Manhood.
Last weekend we took our family up another mountain for another growing up celebration.
We climbed the Southern California mountain range seeing only a dusting of snow. The oldest had the dream of snow boarding, the middlest talked incessantly of hot cocoa, and the youngest man-child was breathless and silent, praying there'd be enough to ski upon. And there was. We rounded the last bend and there before us were pathways of snow, helped by the machine that turns water to ice. And we cheered.
Checking little people into their first ski lessons we learned that Asher's class was sold out for the day, so his dad and I shrugged and took him up the bunny slope together. It was an awkward first three minutes and then he was skiing. All six years and 51 weeks of him, pointing his tips straight down the mountain. When he built up speed he snowplowed to the right and then to the left. Controlling each turn, slowing down to avoid other skiers who had fallen, and making it to the foot of the run before the rest of us. He took our breath away and inspired tears to traverse the slopes of my cheeks multiple times because it was all so ridiculously beautiful.
I have had many bouts of doubts about raising these boys into men. I had this picture in my head that masculinity meant every Saturday at the ball-field, but my husband isn't a ball-field sort of dad. "Don't worry," he always said, "they will grow up to be men.
Men aren't made in the company of little boys. Men are made with their fathers, doing masculine things."
On the chair lift we took a picture and drank in the view together. Then our biggest / littlest said, quite matter of fact, "Do you know why I'm so good at this?"
"No, Asher, why are you so good at skiing?"
"Because I believe in myself."
His father nodded then said, "Happy, (for that is his nickname) lots of people believe in themselves, but..."
"No, you don't understand," Asher interrupted, "God made me good at this, and so I believe I can do it. And so I do it. With Him this is possible."
We nodded and sat in silence some more. And there was time for it all because we were taking the chair to the top. All the way to the top with this boy-turning-man who believed in himself, because God gave him this unique ability. Near the top Asher spoke again, "You know how I used to want to be a professional surfer and tell people about Jesus?... Well now I'm thinking I could be a professional snow skier and tell people about Jesus."
Do you ever worry that you aren't doing enough or doing it right or doing it like the other parents are doing it there on your cul de sac? I do sometimes. But my husband reminds me faithfully that these boys will grow to men, and that it will not be by accident. Tonight I believe him.
Do you have any rites of passage that you walk your boys through? An age when they get their first pocket knife or go on their first father / son adventure? A party just for them when they hit a certain age, to celebrate their growing up into a man? Might I suggest the wonderful, inspiring book, Raising a Modern Day Knight: A Father's Guide to Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood, that encourages these ritual celebrations. It casts a vision for the growing up adventure our sons are on and invites us to participate purposefully. There is no one way to do this celebratory journey, except to commit to traveling it intentionally beside them, up the mountain, with pocket knife securely fastened to their belt.
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