Manly Man Talk: Passage to Manhood

When did you become a Man?

Navy and Marine Divers

A portrait of my Navy Dive School graduating class (Thanks to Hap Belisle, top row, second from right, for the easy access to this image).


Writer’s Note: This is the last day of my children’s one week vacation from school, them having had a time off for President’s “Day” break. So this is the last day of this unusual flexibility I’ve had to write in the morning without the restriction of having to rush off to breakfast and loading them into the car to get to school on time.

Yesterday’s subject of “Moving Forwards: Backwards First” actually transitions well into today’s subject because it has to do with the rite of passage for men, or more accurately, the problems induced by society because of a lack of a rite of passage for men.

As men, we often go through many ceremonies, but few if any come straight out and say to a boy growing up into adulthood that “YOU ARE A MAN.”

Captain Douglas Wright awarded me my Dolphins on August 21, 1983, while underway on nuclear power.

Captain Douglas Wright awarded me my Dolphins on August 21, 1983, while underway on nuclear power.


I would even say that, for example, my own passage and indoctrination into being a qualified navy submariner, which is bristling with testosterone among a community of men is still not hitting the nail directly on the head – if it was hitting that task dead-on this check-out would be on our Submariner’s Qualification-Card:

“YOU ARE A MAN- AND AS A MAN THIS IS WHAT YOU MUST DO (You must get this checked off by Commanding Officer, the Head-Man).”


What is your role as a man and what should you be doing, as a man? Intriguing subject, and that is why I picked this book to read.

Let’s get moving…

Abraham's Clan, image source

Abraham’s Clan, image source

Today I’m finally again, on, going to refer to an excerpt from a book “Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men” (2013) by Stephen Mansfield. I’ve only just begun to read this book, but last month I was already captivated by the introduction of it when Mansfield was interviewed on Family Life Today radio. He gave a rich and colorful description of a time when he was 41 years old and was unexpectedly given a new understanding of life during what would have been a particularly non-adventurous stay in Damascus, Syria.

Mansfield proceeds to describe an impromptu social gathering at top of a “soaring Damascus hotel” surrounded by an elite group of “government officials”, some protected by submachinegun-armed bodyguards, who were strangers and unable to communicate very well with him. Yet the feeling of the gathering of the small group carried a festive attitude.

Caught off-guard, Mansfield was asked:

“A son. Do you have?”

I’m telling you every man on that roof top stopped what he was doing and turned to hear my answer.

“I do.” He replied.

“Ah.” [the questioner] grew excited. “His name?”

“Jonathan,” I answered.

The man slapped his knee and shouted, “Aha! Then you have a new name! You are Abujon!” Suddenly, there was a lot of smiling and head nodding and Arab voices one on top of the other.

From there on proceeded a celebration, which included the gun-toting bodyguards, lasting deep into the night. Mansfield became “Abujon” meaning “The Father of Jon”.

That colorful and wondrous experience changed Mansfield’s life.

Now I will excerpt from his book and let him describe in detail more of what that experience means to him and what it could mean to you and me as men (or if you are a woman, the man of men in your life):

A Syrian Market. Image source:

A Syrian Market. Image source:

I should tell you this: by the time of that night in Damascus, I was forty-one years old. I had been a Christian for twenty-three years. I had been a husband for seventeen years. I had been a father for thirteen years.

Yet never before in all of my life had I ever been welcomed into the fellowship of men. Not once. Not ever. Nor had I ever undergone any sort of ritual to mark any of the important turning points in my life as a man. No one had ever said to me, “Congratulations. You are now a man among men.”

Frankly, I didn’t know I needed to hear it.

When the moment finally did come, it was a gift of Arab men who issued the welcome with hardly a word. They named me. They celebrated me. They gave me gifts. They made it clear they understood. They counted me as one of their own.

It is impossible to fully describe what all this has meant since. The impact of that night is probably best captured in a single word: honor. Now, I had not lacked for honor in my life before that moment. I grew up the son of a decorated US Army officer. I eagerly played three sports a year in my youth and was recruited to play college football. I had friends who were sworn to me and I to them. I knew a bit about honor.

Still, never had I been honored in such a way that it summoned dormant forces from within me. Never before had honor given definition to my life, sealed me to men of common experience, or imparted meaning.

Yet all this and more had happened on that extraordinary night. Stirring new perspectives embedded themselves in my mind. To be a man. To have a son. To suddenly understand manhood as both a life to live and a tribe to belong to. For all my years yet to come, to be shaped by the calm, fierce knowing that I would live them as a man- not merely as a male – and as a father. To know the good this could be for those I loved.


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7:57 proofed a couple times, tagged, publish, need to get going…

I’ll see you… on the next page

Challen Yee

Challen Yee

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