Manual Transmission to Manhood

From do we grow up? Seriously. When do we truly grow up? I’m not just talking about getting a hair cut and getting a job like your big brother Bob, but honest to goodness growing up. Is growing up maturing? Or is maturation into adulthood truly what growing up is?

In his 2004 book Hurt (and the 2011 update Hurt 2.0) Chap Clark, professor of Youth and Family at Fuller Seminary, speaks of how adolescence is now separated into three categories–early adolescence, mid adolescence, and late adolescence. Early adolescence is the tween years (think middle school there abouts), mid adolescence is around the high school years. But what about late adolescence? Ah, yes. Late adolescence goes up to age 26 now. Age 26. That same age in which many should’ve gotten a job by now after college or if not then been working for the last number of years. Instead, up to age 26, they aren’t all grow’d up yet.

Is it the parents who won’t let them grow up? Is it culture itself not allowing them to grow up? Is it the insurmountable student loan debt after college and lack of employment that drives them into their parents basement where they play X-Box all day long? Who knows. But there isn’t a transition into adulthood. The age range keeps growing. And even then, they are called young adults until age 35 or so, no longer adolescents but no yet full blown adults.

Worse yet are men. Or boys really. Not meaning to be harsh, but that’s what many are still calling these males who still thrive in their late adolescence or even young adulthood, a grown man on the outside, a child still on the inside and not in the fun way either.

John Eldredge talks about this in his book Wild at Heart. Men are still boys in many ways. There is no transition into adulthood. Not just that, but into manhood. Now, there are some in gender studies that state that forcing a label upon on specific gender in which they must live is not proper nor healthy to their development or sexual identity. Okay, fine. Then tell me why even the youngest boy regularly builds only to destroy. I’ve watched young boy after boy, not old enough to speak yet old enough to walk and use some sort of fine motor skills act in ways differing than girls. I’m not saying that one is better than the other but that there are differences (and of course, this is but a broad stroke of the pen and there are exceptions, but I want to look at the broad strokes here).

Being the English major that I am (though I graduated with it back in 2001, I still remain one in my heart) I look back through literature over the ages–from the epic of Gilgamesh and the epic poem Ramayana to The Odyssey, to Treasure Island by Robert Luis Stevenson to Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain to Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie–and see a universal desire to understand what it means to be a man. There is a wonder of what it means to transition from boyhood into manhood. To transition one’s identity with their parents, even more so a boy with his father, to their own self identity.

Robert Bly’s quintessential book Iron John speaks of a lack of transition for men today. He speaks of “soft males.” Not to be mean, but more so at an attempt to be gentle there is a loss of the need for the masculine (again, I understand there are gender studies out there and labels, but remember–broad strokes here). He speaks of how as boys there is no longer the leaving of the family and going into the unknown. Instead there is the remaining amongst the familiar, never growing up, never stepping into new and uncharted terrain.

When looking to see what a man is or should be, I try to turn people’s attention to Jesus. Yet even Jesus is seen too many times as meek and mild, a pacifist peaching love who died for a good cause. Or lately he’s been portrayed as a political activist who is the founder of social justice and came to tear down the privileged and elite.


That’s not who Jesus was.

Jesus made a clear distinction between himself and his family at age 12 when he was found in the temple discussing (really teaching) the rabbi’s and teachers of the law there (see Luke 2:41-52). Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus made the clear call to separate oneself from family and the past and to move forward boldly in his name, serving him. This wasn’t just to men, but to all. It was a call to forget the former things and to move forward in Jesus, knowing him as their Lord and Savior.

Art by Josh Benton

Many have taken time to use the metaphor of a warrior for being a man, especially a man of God. And to be honest, yes, there is a deep warrior inside men. Some have repressed it. Some have ignored it. Some have embraced it in unhealthy ways. Some try to understand it. Yet none fully grasp it until we see Jesus upon the cross.

Jesus himself walked to the cross willingly. He willingly died so that we might live. From the Anglo-Saxons to the Klingons, no greater valued death is that of one who dies to save others in glorious combat. And the greatest way to fight sometimes is through not fighting though you have great power to do so.

Some of the greatest warriors in history never raised a weapon or fist but a pen–Ghandi, Martin Luther King jr. Jesus went boldly to the cross to die so that we might live.

And when he comes again, he will come as a great warrior. He will come with sword in hand and riding a war horse (Revelation 19:11-16). A mighty warrior indeed.

Yet we do not call our boys, our young men, our late adolescents to step forward, into the great unknown, uncharted territory in order to truly be men. There is no transition between being a child, being a boy, and being a man. It isn’t when one gets their drivers license. It isn’t when one gets their high school diploma or college degree or first job. There is still the limitedness of being meek and mild, holding to the parents, trying to please a father who may or may not care, and hiding wounds because boys don’t cry.

How can we help men become men? How can we help men become men of God. Not abusing their power of men, not lording over and misinterpreting ideas of submission, nor controlling of women and children, but of Godly men, strong men, men like Jesus. How?

There seems to be no shift of gears, no clutch and manual transmission to move from the speed of boyhood and adolescence into manhood. And I have no answer to give to this, only more questions to ask.

What are your thoughts on this?


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