Ancient peoples invented rites of passage in part to break the spell of childhood and move the initiate from the mother’s lap to the lap of the world. To this day, a person must dismantle the spell of childhood or fail to find their place in life.
Adolescents are not monsters. They are just people trying to learn how to make it among the adults in the world, who are probably not so sure themselves.
The images of adult manhood given by the popular culture are worn-out; a man can no longer depend on them. By the time a man is thirty-five he knows that the images of the right man, the tough man . . . which he received in high school do not work in life.
People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands — literally thousands — of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.
Why do children want to grow up? Because they experience their lives as constrained by immaturity and perceive adulthood as a condition of greater freedom and opportunity. But what is there today, in America, that . . . adolescents want to do but cannot do? Not much: they can do drugs, have sex, make babies, and get money. . . . For such adolescents, adulthood becomes synonymous with responsibility rather than liberty. Is it any surprise that they remain adolescents?
“I don’t want to be a man,” said Jace. “I want to be an angst-ridden teenager who can’t confront his own inner demons and takes it out verbally on other people instead.”
“Well,” said Luke, “you’re doing a fantastic job.”
It seems that it is only the recent West that has deemed it unnecessary to “initiate” young men. Otherwise, culture after culture felt that if the young man were not introduced to “the mysteries,” he would not know what to do with his pain and would almost always abuse his power. It looks like they were right.
Growing up female in America. What a liability! You grew up with your ears full of cosmetic ads, love songs, advice columns, whoreoscopes, Hollywood gossip, and moral dilemmas on the level of tv soap operas. What litanies the advertisers of the good life chanted at you! What curious catechisms!
Doing all the little tricky things it takes to grow up, step by step, into an anxious and unsettling world.
Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later . . . that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps, love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life.
God help all children as they move into a time of life they do not understand and must struggle through with precepts they have picked from the garbage cans of older people, clinging with the passion of the lost to odds and ends that will mess them up for all time, or hating the trash so much they will waste their future on the hatred.
To acknowledge our ancestors means we are aware that we did not make ourselves, that the line stretches all the way back, perhaps, to God; or to Gods. We remember them because it is an easy thing to forget: that we are not the first to suffer, rebel, fight, love, and die. The grace with which we embrace life, in spite of the pain, the sorrows, is always a measure of what has gone before.
I looked at Lucas with the pang that a parent feels when he knows his child will be hurt and that it’s no one’s fault and that to try to preempt the rites of passage is an act of contempt for the child’s courage.
He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.