An Open Window & A Steel Curtain

December 21st, 2012 by | Print

My all-time favorite television sitcom is a show called “The Wonder Years”.  It’s the saga of a teenage boy growing up in the late 1960s.  Kevin Arnold, the show’s protagonist, chronicles the inner thoughts and feelings of a middle school boy finding his way in a turbulent world.   Back in college, “The Wonder Years” absolutely captivated me and I’ve only recently figured out why.

 The truth is, there’s a teenage boy living somewhere inside all men.  No matter what age, in some way, we still see the world through the eyes of a 13-year old boy.  Yes, we walk around in big boy bodies doing our big boy things every day.  But if we are completely honest, we still desire for the world to be comfortable for us and for things to work out the way we want them to, which is the mindset of a typical middle schooler.  Like the adult narrator from “The Wonder Years”, I have a tendency to revert back to my teenage psyche to cope with life’s most pressing challenges.  Why do I do this?  It’s where I feel most comfortable.

Middle school was the last time in my life that my heart was so open to the possibility of what life could truly become.  At age 13, I was on the cusp of manhood, but I knew I was still a boy.  It was the last time in life that there wasn’t very much being required of me and it felt like freedom.  I recall feeling a huge anticipation of what was to become.  I felt like I was on the verge of something great but I was also scared and confused at the same time wondering if I had “what it takes” to be a man.  I remember wishing I could have stayed where I was – soaking it all in for a while longer.  The teenage years are in fact the “The Wonder Years” and I think that most men glamorize that time and subliminally want to stay there. It’s no coincidence that this is the perfect time to teach the ways of manhood.

There’s an incredible window of opportunity we have to equip our young men with all the tools they need for manhood.  Between the ages of 12-14, a young man’s mind and heart are wide open to learning from an adult male.  But most will require a push.  As they are on the precipice of responsibility, they will naturally want to pause there.  They will instinctively want to stay where things are safe, comfortable and easy.  Without the active guidance from an adult man, that is exactly where they will stay.  A lot of men, never really move off of that emotional mark and will spend their adult lives trying to recapture that false comfort.  Most of us will get stuck in a virtual teenage emotional time capsule – seeing the world through the eyes of a 13-year old boy.

This is why the active initiation of teenage boys is so imperative in our society.   As it turns out, the window of opportunity to impart the true essence of manhood to a teenage boy is over very quickly.  When a young man reaches high school, a steel curtain seems to drop down and put a seal on his concept of masculinity.   What he’s learned up to that point is pretty much the playbook he will use for the rest of his life. A man’s core masculine psyche is normally defined by the age of 15.  If you miss it, then his concept of masculinity is pretty much locked in and it’s very difficult to retrace those steps.  If you don’t believe me, then think about your middle school buddies.  Have they matured much over the years?  While their physical features have changed quite a bit, I would imagine they’re outlook on life is pretty much the same as it was in 8th grade.

This is currently taking place in my own family.  Last year my 14-year old son went on a trip to Haiti with his youth group and had a very powerful experience.  This year my wife is going to India on a mission trip and he wants nothing to do with it.  He literally said he’s going through his “self-absorbed” phase and if he ever does another mission trip it will be with his friends (not his mommy). It’s no surprise that my twelve-year old son is now begging her to take him.

This window of opportunity is over in the blink of an eye so we must act quickly. Most dads will miss it thinking that my “boy is too young” or “not ready” to engage in the intentional dialogue that a “Man Quest” requires.  Then before you know it, he’s developing facial hair, getting his first job, a girlfriend, a driver’s license, and the steel curtain drops down in dramatic fashion.  The window is difficult to recognize and it closes so abruptly that all dads, grandfathers, brothers, uncles and mentors must act quickly.  There’s no doubt that the longer you wait to relay a real and true definition of manhood – the harder it gets.

As it turns out, as a man, I am still wrestling with my inner teenage boy.  He’s still alive and well, but I am constantly re-training him on what it takes to be a man.  As it turns out, it’s never too late to teach him. When he wants to take the easy route and keep life nice and simple, then I challenge him to step up.  I don’t want to kill the Kevin Arnold who lives inside of me.  He reminds me not to take myself so seriously and to live life to the full – which every man needs.  He gives me optimism and a thirst for something greater – which I desperately hope for.  And from time to time when I am tempted to revert back to my selfish adolescent mindset, I remind the little boy to “man-up” and embrace the actions of a man.

Man Quest Guideposts (Actions of a Man)

1. Accept Responsibility

2. Lead Courageously

3. Pretend About Nothing

4. Journey With God

5. Protect Your Heart

6. Engage In Deep & Meaningful Relationships

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The recent murder/suicide by an NFL player has shocked the country and put a national spotlight on the issue of male violence in our society.   The statistics on American men and violence are getting scarier every day.  One out of every 75 U.S. males is currently incarcerated and every eight seconds a violent act is perpetrated against a woman in our country.  These frightening stats prove something that we can no longer ignore – American men are in crisis.

 

The problem is that most men, no matter what age, seem to see the world through the eyes of a teenage boy.  There are lots of little boys, walking around in big boy bodies, doing a lot of damage in our society because nobody ever told them what it truly means to be a man.  You can name any social issue in our society today and I can argue that the lies of false masculinity are at the root cause.

 

Very few guys are ever given a clear and compelling definition of manhood so we opt for the cultural definition of money, sex and power.  These cultural lessons are learned at an early age and reinforced by every beer commercial on television.  We’ve been bombarded with a 24/7 onslaught of lies, distortions and fabrications about what it means to be a man.  Nobody ever told us what a man should say or do in this world so the culture has filled in all the gaps.  And without anything real and true to believe in – we’ve bought into the lie.   There are lots of angry guys out there with a warped definition of masculinity that keeps them locked in a virtual teenage time capsule.

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