The ground is moist and has started seeping into my boots as I make my way through the dense under brush looking for some semblance of a path. I’m hot and sweating profusely as I duck under another low hanging oak tree branch which has probably been here since long before my great-grandfather was born.
There is an eerie stillness in the air, and my thoughts turn to a favorite book of mine, “The Hobbit”, specifically the part where Bilbo Baggins and thirteen dwarves are trapped in Mirkwood Forest. “I hope I don’t run into any giant spiders,” I think to myself, pushing aside yet another branch hindering my progress.
I’m not sure what possessed me to go into the woods around my home and take this day hike, but now I’m beginning to regret my decision. The hours pass by and I become painfully aware of my lack of provisions. A penknife, small bottle of water in my back pocket and a cell phone getting no signal is all I carry with me. I realize if I don’t find my way soon, I’ll end up like the guys on those survivor television shows, the only difference being they’re equipped with the skills needed to survive in the wild, and I’m not.
Since I was in my teens, I’ve often wondered if I have what it takes to be a “real” man. I’m fifty-two now and the crazy thing is this thought still hounds me like a jackal chasing its prey. Put me in a social setting where I’m expected to have conversations with other men, and I feel as lost as I do now in these woods.
Why do I have this feeling of inadequacy in the presence of other men? Why is it I feel I don’t have what it takes to be a real man? Where does this come from? The answer is simple enough; I was never invited or initiated into manhood as a boy.
I read an interesting article a few years ago about a tribe in Africa. At around the age of twelve, the men of the village come to the boy’s home and in an elaborate ceremony, literally pul him from the arms of his mother; taking him out into the wild. There they instruct the boy about what it means to be a man and leave him to prove himself. The boy must build a house, plant a garden and become a productive member of the tribe before he can ever return home to visit his mother.
This was not my experience. I was pretty much left to myself to figure out what it meant to be a man. And since most of my instruction came from the world of movies and television, the knowledge I gained is, shall we say in short supply. It wasn’t until I realized I was going to have to teach my own boys what it meant to be men and show my daughter how her future husband should act that I really began to search for answers.
I found them in another one of my favorite books, “Wild at Heart” written by John Eldredge. In it I found the knowledge I needed and like a compass it put me on the correct heading, bringing me to a point in my life where I could actually believe I do have what it takes to be a real and authentic man.
As dusk gathered around me, I pushed aside the last limb and stepped out of the woods. There in the distance I could see my truck. Relieved, I promised myself I would never again wander in the woods without a little more preparation. Yet in my heart something stirred; it was faint, almost non-existent, but I knew it for what it was, the knowledge I do have what it takes and I am a man after all.
Now you know what I think, what do you think?