Sons’ Rites of Passage

Some moments you and your son will remember forever.

You’re out in the country with your fourteen-year-old son, coming back from someone’s house. You pull the car over to the side of the deserted dirt road and turn off the ignition. “Dad, what’s going on?” your son asks.

You take the car keys and dangle them in front of his face. “Son,” you say, “why don’t we trade places.”

Your son gets a look on his face that is elation combined with fear. He gets behind the wheel and you don’t even have to remind him to buckle his seat belt. He starts the car and revs it a few times. His left hand tries to find just the right place on the wheel; his right hand grips the stick shift. He flashes you a smile, slips the car into gear, and both of your hearts race as you spin down the road. You have communicated that you trust him with your car—and actually with your very life!

It is a father’s unique privilege to bring his son through various rites of passage. Maybe you’ll get him up early on Saturday to go out to breakfast with you and your adult friends. Maybe it will be the first time you let him stay home without a baby-sitter while you and your wife go out of town for a few days. Or the first time you trust him with your credit card or your electric razor. Or when you take him down to open his first checking account.

These are big moments for all boys, and as fathers we need to be there to share them. I suppose a driver’s ed. instructor could teach him to drive just as well. Another dad in the neighborhood could help him check the oil in the car or change his first tire.

But there’s something different, something special about a boy learning these things from his father.

Some years ago on the Johnny Carson show, Carson asked Burt Reynolds, “What makes a man?” Johnny may have expected a wise-guy reply about loving women or career achievements. But Reynolds thought about it a few seconds and said, “You’re not a man until your father says you’re a man.”

You are your son’s measuring stick for manhood. And there are many ways you can tell him, “I’m proud of the way you’re growing into a young man.”



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