Do We Need Rites of Passage? – Part 2

OntogenyOntogeny – the 25¢ word of the day, but you’re living it right now. From a strict biological perspective, ontogeny refers to the physical development of an organism from embryo to adult form. In a broader context (and more to the point here), it refers to the comprehensive development (e.g. physical, social, cognitive, spiritual) of an individual throughout the life cycle. Paul Shepherd discusses broader ontogeny at length in his book Coming Home to the Pleistocene, explaining “Because of our evolutionary past and the extraordinary way life has shaped our mind and bodies, we are required by the genome to proceed along a path of roles, perceptions, performances, understandings, and needs, none of which is specifically detailed by the genome but must be presented by the culture.” In other words, the progressive structure is there, waiting for our cultures to fill in the details and direct us through the scene changes. Do they? Do they need to? What happened to the social constructs to support these basic life transitions? What happened to rites of passage?

Ethnographers have long observed how communities observe life transitions, including the coming-of-age, threshold to manhood/womanhood, marriage, parenthood, and elderhood in addition to specific role transitions (leader, shaman/healer). Although the means involved in some of these rituals can range from intriguing but perhaps harrowing (Aborigine walkabout) to shockingly violent (mutilation rituals), in the observance itself there’s clarity, purpose, affirmation, belonging.

French ethnographer Arnold van Gennep’s seminal work, The Rites of Passage, examined the social ceremonies of these life stage/status events. He observed a common set of steps – separation, transition, and incorporation – that defined the process of these rites. The individual, in anticipation of the change is separated from the community. The transition can vary but marks the events/challenges/choices that bring about the change in stage/status itself. Finally, the individual is actively and respectfully reincorporated into the society within the new role. In Gennep’s interpretation, these processes were social deaths and rebirths.

Although we moderns all witness each other growing up, gaining maturity (hopefully), and getting older, things are much different now. Shepard and a number of psychologists (from Jung to modern evolutionary psychologist Anthony Stevens) have argued that modern society has done away with the ceremonial observance and particularly with the community guidance/support that used to accompany peoples’ life transitions. We’re more confused and drifting for it – as individuals and communities, they suggest. Life transitions, formally seen as socially significant and beneficial to the community, are now experienced as individually focused, even emotionally isolating events.

I explored this topic in a blog post late last year. I find this a fascinating topic because I do think something has been lost. Although our present cultures are supposed to fill in the “content” of these passages, I wonder how many of us feel supported through the full process of change. Therapy, as beneficial as it is for many life struggles, shouldn’t have to be a stand-in for normal life transitions. Left to our own devices in these shifting stages, we might feel separated. Many of us will likely feel the bewilderment of the “liminal” transition stage, when we’re entering a new phase or role in our lives (e.g. parenthood, middle age, empty nester, retirement, etc.). Finally, what does “reincorporation” look like in our modern culture? Do we find our own way back to the fold? Do we feel the same enhanced sense of belonging and new purpose? How much more effort and struggle and maybe even shame do we put ourselves through than if the passage were situated culturally in the same way? I don’t really have any specific or “should” kinds of answers to these questions, but I think they’re worth asking – intriguing if nothing else.

It’s not that we don’t understand the arc of development. Theorists like Erik and Joan Erikson, among others, have written extensively about developmental stages and the life cycle. For Erikson’s part, he suggested a series of stages and the core conflicts inherent to each (e.g. young adulthood – intimacy vs. isolation, adulthood – generativity vs. stagnation, old age – ego integrity vs. despair). Nonetheless, there’s a difference between intellectualizing the concept theoretically and practicing it communally.

These days “life crises” keep piling up in the popular imagination. No more are we just talking midlife crises (a post unto itself). Quarter life crisis is part of the common vernacular now. I’ve even heard people talk lately of a “one-third” life crisis. (That one doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as smoothly.) On the one hand, you could argue we’re becoming a more indulged and whining society. On the other, you could say we’ve never been further estranged from the age-old social constructs that could circumscribe and define the legitimate conflicts and core experiences involved in these “crisis” intervals. As the philosopher Kierkegaard said, “Life must be remembered backward, but lived forward.” We only see the significance of these life shifts in retrospect. Hence, there’s a significance to the cultural rites that traditionally guide each community member through a significant passage. As with most modern disturbances, the developmental phenomena are natural – primal. The problem comes in the mismatch between our elemental make-up and our contemporary environment.

How, then, do we bridge the psychic gap as moderns? How do we usher ourselves more confidently through life’s passages? How do we find community, if not ritual, to offer context in the midst of life challenges and changes?

Did you read my first article on this topic back in November? Did you take it to heart and explore rites of passage in your own life or your family members’ lives? If so, what has that looked like? Thanks for reading today, everyone.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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50 thoughts on “Do We Need Rites of Passage? – Part 2”

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  1. This comes at a very approriate time for me. Tomorrow my son has his driver’s licence test and I was debating what/if to do a special family event to commemorate his (likely) passing of his test. Now I will make sure to plan a special dinner, card, and gift for him to make this a more significant passage. Thank you!

  2. As my Dad (biologist) always told us, “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” — which, aside from being a great ice-breaker phrase at a party, underlines the Primal idea that we’re part of a organic continuum. (used up my $.25 words…)

    1. so how does the knowledge that those pictures in your high school textbook were faked change your statement?

      1. Did I miss a post? Curious where the fake textbook pictures comment comes from.

      2. ^ Either he is making fun of people who mock evolution, or he is a creationist troll

  3. I am part of the Christian tradition and we typically take rites of passage pretty seriously.

    Although we certainly play off of the Jewish idea of adulthood our family puts our own spin on things.

    My youngest son, now 12, and I plan to hike part of the Appalachian Trail when he is 18 with the goal of hiking the whole thing together over the next few decades.

    We also plan to visit China (his dream destination) to help out an orphanage.

    When he is 16 we plan to hike Philmont (BSA Camp) together.

    I like the outdoors, but he loves it! In the outdoors he knows he can do things that appear far beyond him.

    Because of that we have built smaller rites of passage around his love of the outdoors.

    Great post Mark!

  4. I’ve wondered if the modern day lack of rites of passage are why there are so many 20something ‘children’ nowadays.

    1. Or how about the forced extended adolescence of compulsory schooling? (not to be confused with education)

    2. Interesting thought. Taking it one step further…I wonder if having more clearly defined rites of passage would help inform society how to treat people at certain stages.

      For example, perhaps these 20something ‘children’ exist because they’ve been enabled to behave a certain way throughout their lives. I remember reading an article somewhere that starts out with a tribal girl getting a boat ride and how she immediately starts contributing to the group and doing all these tasks…then the article reveals the girl is only 5 or 6 years old.

      How many college students still have mothers that do their laundry? Parents that bail them out of every sticky financial situation. Adults who write them off as ‘dumb college kids’?

      Just a thought about how the rites of passage can serve both sides of the equation…the individual and the society.

      1. ^^I don’t think those college kids are the issue most of the time, I think it’s got more to do with the child’s expectations of their parents. For instance, I grew up very independent of my parents, packed my things and left to live 3000 miles away at age 18. However, my brother grew up constantly needing help from my parents, and to this day (he’s almost 20), still requires that help in order to function (and still lives at home). Same exact upbringing, just two different children.

        1. It be totally wishy-washy about it, it’s the interaction of the parent-child personalities that creates the sitation. 🙂

          Some children are far more prone to dependent souls. Others like you, are “hard-wired” to want their freedom.

          Where the parents come in is in recognizing the greater context of their children’s personalities and attempt to take reasonable balancing action.

          Parents that aren’t that thoughtful (or themselves struggling with many issues) will often “weaken the weak, and strengthen the strong”. In other words, they end up encouraging dependent personalities to stay that way and push the independent ones out of the nest as soon as possible.

          Parents can make choices that encourage independence in those prone to dependence and give the independent ones a few more growing years. It’s tough, though. There are no hard and fast rules. 🙁

    3. I’ll disagree that it’s because of the lack of rites of passage. I think it is more a symptom of the college atmosphere and because so many people MUST get a bachelors degree in order to get a job anymore. The days of graduating high school and going out into the big world are long gone.

      Aside from parents helping out financially, anyone can get enough loans to make it through college without having to work (and then bury themselves in the grave of their own debt). Plus, so many big universities are “party schools.” The whole atmosphere just promotes the extension of adolescence.

      When you do graduate, you’re not even guaranteed the “rite of passage” of getting a *real* job. At least not in this economy. It’s one thing to have rites of passage in your own family, but for a society as a whole to have universal rites of passage, members in all life phases need to have defined roles. In our ever-shifting society, roles can be whatever, whenever, which makes it very difficult to come up with any rites.

      We still have weddings to bring the community together in celebration of marriage, we still have baby showers to bring the community together in celebration of a new baby, and we have ceremonies for conferring a high school diploma. Those are all defined because those are things that, as a whole society, we can expect and that mark a significant change in position. I guess my question is, how many rites of passage do we really need? I think many of the ones discussed here, like getting a driver’s license, are fine being celebrated in-house as opposed to a big society. But more rites of passage isn’t going to change the lack of clearly defined social roles; instead, they would arise as a result of defined social roles, and our society values the perception that there are no set roles. Everyone can be whoever and whatever they want. How do you create a bunch of rites for “be yourself!”

  5. Rites of passage are good. They serve as benchmarks on our journey through life–events that we like to look back on with a sense of pride or accomplishment. I do think they shouId be limited to very special occasions, however. If too many things are commemorated, then none of them will seem very special.

  6. I love how this site incorporates a wide range of ancestral topics–proper nutrition and exercise aren’t everything for a biological organism as complex as humans.

    I do wonder if the reason for no such modern rites to exist in our society is the massive emphasis placed on individualism. In our melting pot society, very few groups or organizations or identities are pervasive throughout one’s whole life. Time spent with family, specific friends, and other acquaintances shifts drastically and frequently. When the pulls of an ever-changing world create drastic changes in one’s beliefs and behaviors, I wonder what significance a modern rite of passage would carry. Five years from now, I’m sure I will be a completely different person. Would I look back and still see the value in such an event?

    I do believe that initiation rites or rights of passage are integral to human history and human relations, but I wonder how this concept could be adapted to modern living.

    1. “I do wonder if the reason for no such modern rites to exist in our society is the massive emphasis placed on individualism.”

      To me, this the problem in a nutshell. You can’t have rites of passage unless you agree *as a society* what you’re passing from and to. In a society focused on individualism, there’s not much room for that.

      For instance, weddings were the mark of several important transitions for young people. It represented the forming of a new family and (ideally) both partners passage into mature sexual behavior. For better or worse, this partnership was a forever relationship in a societies that frowned on/made outcasts of divorcees.

      In a society where it’s okay for people to live together and have multiple sexual partners before marriage and get easy divorces after, a wedding doesn’t really mean nearly as much. We try, I think, by making it one of the few times we drag out our tea luncheon dress and manners.

      It’s a not a substitute, though, for the what would have been a very real transition just 2 or 3 generations ago. For a couple already living together, it’s a way to celebrate their commitment and run around with scanners at their favorite stores. However, the transition to a family unit and sexual maturity- one of the original points of the wedding – has already happened without much fanfare.

      (By the way, I’m not passing judgement on these behaviors — I’m just pointing out the connection between individualism and loss of meaning for rituals.)

      We can have rites of passage that mean more if we want to. But it means individuals losing some of their freedom and conforming to societies greater values, instead of their own.

      1. I’m fully liberated when it comes to having… let’s say… “marital relations” outside of marriage. But you have a great point. And you’re hilarious.

  7. I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail as part of a mid-life crisis. More like a “I don’t want to do this career anymore but I don’t know what else to do” crisis. Oddly, I’m still in the same career!

    I think nowadays there is too much emphasis on safety. Being safe is the number one priority for a lot of people. You cannot grow much without some risk. The classic “hero’s journey” involves descending into a near-death struggle and emerging on the other side stronger for it. We all need some kind of hero’s journey to feel whole, I believe.

    The internet and social media is a problem, too. Because people can be so nasty in website comment sections we’re seeing a rise in people who don’t have an opinion until they see the comments, and who don’t make decisions without first posting a question and seeing whether the comments approve or disapprove.

    My life has been one big giant liminal phase the entire time. I used to be upset about that, about never knowing what I wanted to be when I grow up, never knowing where I’m going, not having any really big goals. I’ve come to accept that I’ll never know and that liminal times are the normal times. Every achievement is followed by a new cycle of confusion, of not knowing where to go next, of slowly figuring it out, achieving a goal and starting over again just as lost as I ever was.

    I’m nearly 50 years old, too. It took that long.

  8. In Brazilian jiu jitsu the rites of passage or clearly delineated. White belt to blue belt to purple to brown and finally black. Each step is commemorated with a different color.

    Clear demarcations marking your progress to the rest of the community. You can walk into any academy and know your place in the hierarchy.

    This simplicity is very appealing in its own right.

  9. Just love this subject. I’m a firm believer in the fasting and Vision Quests of the American Indian and the Australian Walkabout. I got to experience this (vision quest) in the Canyonlands back in the early 80’s and it changed my life forever. Wish I had more guidance when I was young, instead I took many, many psychedelics while trying to find my own painful way in this strange world. And I think since many of our youth don’t have more guidance and ritual, we have more drugs and more addicts (let’s party, man). Many native cultures of the past used plant halucinogens with respect and absolutely no addictive behavior within that culture. It was a growing and learning tool. Why didn’t they have substance abuse within that culture? We can learn from them! Now when I imbibe, it is with deep respect and to learn and grow. Seems we just throw our kids out there with a drivers license and a prayer and say goodluck or “just say no”, which is really lame ass. This is deeply lacking.

    1. “Why didn’t they have substance abuse within that culture?”

      Because not every culture feels the need to air their dirty laundry. I betcha I could find at least an addict or two within every group that choose to imbibe. The diverse cultural landscape is amazing but humanity is also remarkably similar in many respects.

      1. I’m sure within any culture that had alcohol, there was abuse, but in cultures with hallucinogens, it would be much tougher to go off the deep end. Some of the stuff in the Amazon is muy, muy fuerte…try something like Ayahuasca that has DMT in it and tell me you would abuse that! Or peyote buttons in our own Southwest of the USA.

        1. Sure, hallucinogens are different from that pesky (and Western) alcohol…..Or possibly not. All I can say is, be very careful about your own personal drug habits. I’d hate to be right. 🙁

  10. My oldest daughter is graduating high school in a month and will be going away to college in August. I have been a stay-at-home mom since she was born, and her leaving is going to alter the family dynamic more dramatically than anything else has, including the divorce. I am less worried about her managing her independence than the “hole” that will be created for me, her dad, and her younger siblings. This article has me thinking about what I can do to prepare the family for her absence as well as give the younger ones a framework for what they can expect when it’s their turn.

  11. I am a part of the Jewish tradition, which has a habit, at least in more traditional circles, of marking important moments in a person’s life with rituals that have been on going for centuries. Of course, most people are aware of the bar mitzvah ritual marking a boy’s passage from childhood to “adult” responsibility for his religious observance but there are many others as well. The rituals are primarily intended to emphasize the role of the community one belongs to in your life but also acknowledge key waypoints in a person’s life.

  12. While this topic is interesting, I don’t feel that everyone should have the same rites of passage. Particularly in the US, I’ve seen people go overboard with Sweet 16 parties, etc., that instead of celebrating, everyone is comparing themselves to one another, trying to 1-up the person next to them.

    I feel like I missed out on quite a few “traditional” rites of passage (being baptized, a Sweet 16, a big hoopla for graduating high school/college, etc.), but of the more “nontraditional” ones I’ve done (first fish, first hunt, first punk concert, first time abroad, graduate school, etc.), I feel much more accomplished than I imagine I would have with the “traditional” ones. The quoted words are used quite loosely 😉

    I’d say that great rites of passage are useful ones passed down from generation to generation or moments in life where you begin to see (and appreciate) the world differently.

  13. It’s not that the past is “right” and the “present” is wrong. To discard a previous generation’s rite of passage does not mean that rites of passage have been discarded, new ones have yet to form. Our contemporary society is transitioning out of traditions that have lost their usefulness and have yet to transition to new ones that effectively fill this void. You can look at this transition not as a mistake, but getting in touch with the “new” primal (essential being) and just struggling to find it. Evolution is not slow, it moves quickly as epigenetics (still showing up as spelled wrong) is showing us. The old ways are broken down and reformed with the new, this new “life” takes awhile to learn to walk.

  14. Hey Mark,

    I’m almost 30 and have seen in my own life, my brother’s life, and many of my friends’ lives how we have all but been abandoned in many ways in trying to figure things out.

    It is interesting to me to see how society has absolutely developed “adolescence” and labeled a period of time so vaguely without any constraints of how or when to get out or leave it. It has been fabricated without any rules in other words. We look at children when they do something inappropriate and dismiss it as “they are just kids”. Then one day (and this is different for every individual) we decide that a guy/gal should just have “known better”, but according to what? When did these individuals become “young adults” and should know better?

    It seems that the generations older than me find it convenient to call me a “youngster” or “pup” in context to them having more experience in the work force, school, field of expertise, etc…but when it is no longer convenient to dismiss my actions or chalk them up to “ineperienced” or “he did not know better”, it is only then that I am held to a higher standard.

    Now I’ve never done anything to get myself in trouble or anything that has put me in a truly bitter place. These things are simply observances I have made. I studied sociology at the University of Oklahoma and this topic came up often in courses. The social construct of adolescence has thrown multiple generations into an arrested state of development (which is why we probably relate and love Arrested Development so much) and it is in the state of limbo in life we get lost and confused. That leads a lot of people right into a place of directional anxiety because of the lack of, as you put, guidance from the surrounding communities to offer support/encouragement/advice/words of truth spoken into our lives. Maybe people are afraid of being wrong or maybe some people think that it is not their duty or right to offer such things, but I beg to differ.

    Therapists and counselors used to be a lot less frequent when we could turn to a family member, grandparent, sister,brother, parent, neighbor, teacher and get good advice about life issues and lessons. Instead, now we divulge our inner most secrets to a stranger as we continue to walk through deserts without a map.

    I genuinely think that expecting more from our youth is an absolute necessity. We should expect more from our youth. We should expect greatness from our youth. Though we should probably be careful to not shame those that do not fulfill our expectations. I think you have to continue to believe that they can change and grow. You have to continue to speak identity over them. When a person you respected told you that you were good at something when you were younger, you threw yourself into that very thing more than ever before, even if you were very average and mediocre. You thought you could be great. You cannot squash the dreams of youth, but rather, offer realistic guidance down a path of trying to achieve something. A place of true apathy is where desolation begins and it is really hard to come back from.

    A generation that cares about nothing, nobody, and where there is nothing that is sacred or that matters is a really easy way live and lazy way to live. But in this place, not achieving anything is perfectly okay. That is nice, because you then will not fail or let anyone down when you do not fulfill expectations. You cannot give up on youth and let them ever think that apathy is okay. So many people do not know how to invest or not give up on youth. I don’t think their are bad “kids” out there, simply misguided. And it will always take a village to raise a child, so be mindful of your words and actions.

        1. Indeed!

          Now I know why myself from one continent together with my husband from another continent we are stressed out while raising our toddlers on a third continent…no village to rely on just 2 people well just me cos someone has to work…this stress is constant for at least 18 years from now on!!!

          Good comment!

    1. You don’t need to expect greatness from adolescents. Just make them chop wood and do dishes. Also laundry, cooking, shopping and managing their own money.

    2. “We should expect more from our youth. We should expect greatness from our youth.”

      We already expect too much from our youth. It’s not okay for them to lose or to feel pain or stumble repeatedly. What all of humanity has struggled with for millennia is off limits to them. It’s not good enough to grow up to have an honest job and raise a decent family.

      No, they have to Save the World while becoming that Rock Star Medical Doctor while Being An Awesome Parent to their 1.5 kids! (Don’t forget to recycle.) Anything else is simply unacceptable. That’s part of the reason of that the Millennials struggle. American society has fed everyone under 35 the lie (and given them the Herculean burden) of telling them can be anything they want to be. We need the young to find their vocations instead of us older farts trying to live our fantasies through them.

      It *is* good enough to live an honest life and help out your neighbor when called upon. It is a big enough dream. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is all about this concept. The premise of the movie is very dark, oddly so for a “Christmas” classic. But it has to be, to show the impact of an “ordinary” life lived to it’s fullest, even though it’s not on a grand scale.

      ” And it will always take a village to raise a child, so be mindful of your words and actions.”

      It will always take people who care to raise a child. Unfortunately, “the village” always has something else to do. The therapists are “the village” and poor substitute for people who matter. It only takes 1 person, willing to sacrifice and be there, to raise a child.

  15. We do indeed live in a strange land where many people’s (at least in my age-bracket) coming of age was getting to go to Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight. I am right smack in the middle of my own mid-life/empty-nester crisis right now and have to say that I do indeed feel separated from the community rather than like I am moving into a new era.

    And what kind of new era will this be in my modern age? My first garden-club meeting? Will I be invited to join some social organization for the “older ladies” in town? I find this a bit disheartening and would rather do like the poster above and hike the Appalachian Trail or go skydiving instead. But those acts are also separating acts.

    I’ve been telling everyone that for my 50th birthday (in a couple of years) I’m going to get my first tattoo. But for many, that event marks their adulthood rite of passage. Maybe then I can buy a motorcycle and enter that community along with many other middle-agers. (Wait a minute. I am not a middle ager! I can’t be. I’m still 27. It’s 1994, right?)

  16. A few years back I attended a confirmation ceremony in Norway. The kid had opted for a secular confirmation instead of the church-related variety (cool that this option exists), where all the kids aged 15 or 16 took a course and spent a weekend roughing it (I think it was designed to learn about what it was like to be a refugee), then participated in some sort of swearing in ceremony at city hall where they are recognized as full citizens and adults. I’m probably getting it all wrong. Anyway, there was a big party after that, speeches, a dinner, presents. It was a really important moment–like a mini wedding– and really touching. I thought it was really cool that there was a rite of passage that was totally non-religious.

  17. The “quarter/third life crisis” really holds true for myself.

    I’ve just put my job on hold, sold my house, ended my relationship and plan on travelling the world for 12 months.

    I think this experience would have been significantly more beneficial had I had it earlier in life, so the European/US backpacking ideal early in life really appeals to me as a “rite of passage”

  18. As a recent college grad, I feel as though I lost a sense of seasons and progression that came with the academic calendar. There was a cycle to look forward to every year, with set points at which I’d learn how I was doing, and a few big “transition” moments from junior high to high school, high school to college, then college graduation. Also, I was not alone in these; I was always among a class that was undergoing similar tests, rewards, and transitions.

    To join the “real world” and leave behind this cyclical, somewhat ritualistic schedule was much more of a shock than I imagined it would be. This sort of cyclical progression, and the sense of a community of people progressing through it with you, can be found in religion but not many other spheres of the modern secular world. At least, not here in New York. I’m happy to be part of the secular world but a large part of me longs to be part of a community rallying around specific causes and buoying me up as I strive to reach specific goals.

    In fact, part of why I really enjoy the blogosphere might be that it keeps me abreast of all kinds of holidays and special times. I tend to be reminded it’s an awareness month or that it’s nearly Cinco de Mayo by the wave of blog posts that focus on these topics. Of course, maybe everyone’s just desperately avoiding writer’s block. And spending a ton of time online isn’t the best way ever to become involved in something greater than myself, either. Still, though, it’s nice the way both minor and major events are recognized, elevated, and amplified by the online community.

  19. Have you read Jed Diamond’s work on male menopause? He talks about the importance of rites of passage for boys becoming young men, and equally and perhaps more urgently, for men coming into “middlessence.” I am a woman but would love to see a post here on andropause and how men can navigate it more smoothly. (I speak as a wife whose husband is displaying classic signs–the irritability over small things, fatigue, depression masked as anger, the feeling that he wants to escape, etc.)

  20. I don’t think the issue is that we expect too much from our youth. I think the issue is we expect the wrong things from them. I was just talking with my cousin about this the other day. we were enjoying some cold water after pulling an engine from a project car, and talking about how much the youth of today miss things like that. He and I grew up around cars that you had to work on. It was part of life. so was tending to a dozen cattle…or fixing a leaky roof. or understanding how to work the back hoe on my grandpa’s Dozer so we could move a ton or two of earth to the right place.

    As my son and his friends grow up, get ready for future life as an adult, they start to express many things. My sons best friend plays college B-ball. he’s very good, and deals with tons of court pressure every day, in addition to training for his sport. You’d think with all that training, and competition (our modern culture says its great and healthy!) but he just expressed to me a while back that he was always afraid of driving a manual transmission car. I was like, “What? you’ve never driven a stick” So i grabbed the keys to my 1982 Jeep CJ5, and got him and my son out to the church parking lot for some lessons in how to drive a stick (in a fun way…it was sunny, the top was down). They still talk about that day. he loves coming over and driving the Jeep, even if it’s just to the store.

    I walked him through his first oil change the other day too. We talk all the time about going to college, making ends meet, getting good grades…but I’ve never seen them (son, best friends) more happier when we were sitting there talking about cars while my sons buddy got oil all over his arms in his first oil change. We plan on putting a new engine in my sons VW this summer, and they are all amped about it. My cousin and I realized that these things are connections. I don’t care whether you believe in evolution or creation or whatever…Rite of passage is more then just a “Challenge”. My sons friend deals with challenges in college basketball every day…but working on cars was a connection to being an adult in a way that I never realized until I thought about it.

    It’s about connection. Tradition is really just a way to pass along this connection. “Here you go son, this is what you come from, this is where our family/people have been.” There’s something profound in this process to help the youth transition to adulthood. It answers in many ways a key question, “why am I here? what was before me.” and, i think unfortunately in our continually devolving culture of technology, and in our continual push to do “bigger and greater” things, we lose sight of these transient aspects of people. Robert Bly wrote allot on this subject. He actually counsels men, and he sees this one foundational issue as a core issue with just about every man he comes across in therapy. Lack of role models, and lack of a solid transition into adulthood (which usually requires a role model…part in parcel) . in his research he has found that America is one of the few cultures that does not (anymore) have a broader tradition for this Rite of passage.

    It is more then a challenge. It is more then a father/son or mother/daughter bonding. It is a connection to what you came from, and helps define who you are. In some cultures, it’s so important that the whole culture is involved in it. I think in our day and age of isolation we forget the importance of cultural connection. In a day when the government is our parent figure, and its more safe/efficient to deal with things on your own, we lose sight of what we are. we are a communal species, plain and simple, and our development needs these connections.

    1. You nailed it. I could have used more connection as a kid and teenager. I’m just now in my late 20’s learning to “bond”. I told a friend a couple weeks ago that I’m very lonely, and always have been. But I’m learning to let people in. Connection with my dad and others would have helped some.

  21. Two rites of passage I skipped out on: my high school graduation ceremony and prom. I had better things to do than waste a whole evening to walk on stage in front of hundreds of people just to get a piece of paper (which hasn’t done much good anyway), or spend $70 just to gain access to a room somewhere, where drunk people try to act cool by showing off their rented outfits.