As my oldest son begins his teen years, I have noted the way he latches on to men, enjoying their company and wanting to learn from them. I once read of a culture in Africa where, at 14, boys are taken away from their mothers for a process of initiation. They spend two years away with the men of the tribe, and are then reunited with their mothers in a special ceremony which marks the beginning of a new relationship between the mother and her son as a man. I remember this as I note quietly that my boy is increasingly unwilling to listen to me, and I try not to let it upset me, but to see it as a normal part of his growth. My husband is much better able to get through at the moment. I remember too a book I read by Steve Biddulph, "Raising Boys", in which he talks about the years of strongest influence on boys ... From 0-6 years, he suggests, boys belong to their mothers, then from 6-14 the focus shifts to Dad (or a familiar older man). From 14, he suggests the boy will look outwards from his family to other men in the community. Look out for good men, mentors, in your community who will catch your boy when he turns and looks outwards.
In the summer, we had some work done on our new house. It was quite substantial work over some months involving extension to the rear and the installation of a new kitchen. On the job were two men - Sam and his Dad, Keith. My oldest son loved having these guys around and he spent a lot of time hanging out with them at the back of the house, observing their work, talking to them about what they were doing, helping where he was able to. These guys were great with him and very tolerant. I think he really enjoyed the experience and I am sure he learned a lot about construction - and manhood. As he learns primarily through talking to people and asking questions, experiences like this are invaluable, in my opinion. Unfortunately, our society doesn't seem to give a lot of opportunity for boys to hang out with men all that much. In schools, the relationship between pupils and teachers is different, as the focus is on the imparting of a curriculum rather than sharing life and work. This doesn't usually allow the same kind of mentoring role to develop. I think it is really important that we find and encourage these mentoring relationships to help our sons become men. Where might we find & build such relationships? In the family, at youth groups, community groups, sports clubs, at work ... Where do your son's interests lie? Can you find men with similar interests who might be willing and able to get alongside during these crucial years?