Rites of Passage and Father Figures
Fire, transitions, and fellowship
Hello friends! This is Peregrino, a newsletter about the journey. You’re about to read essay #28 of “40 Before 40,” a memoir I intend to finish before I enter midlife.
And just like that, it’s November. There are 12 more essays to go before I wrap up this chapter in Peregrino’s brief existence. If you have been here since the beginning, thank you. If you have joined us recently, welcome! I’m glad you are walking with us. We’re very close to reaching 100, and I couldn’t be more excited.
The light from the sun was almost gone when the troop leader addressed us: “Your childhood ends today. You’re about to enter into a new chapter of your life. You will shed your cub skin (our gray shirts) and put on your new skin (troop members wore green shirts). You will work together in the dark to find the place marked on this map. If you make it there, you will be found worthy.” These may not have been his exact words, but that’s how I remember it. About a dozen teens, me included, started hiking that night toward our destiny. I remember being scared of getting lost or hurt. What if we failed or were found not worthy?
Thankfully, we found the place. We saw the silhouettes of a group of people but couldn’t recognize their faces, hidden in the darkness of the night. Each kid stood with a wood pile behind them. One by one, fires started. The troop leader instructed us to turn around. I saw my mom and dad standing before me, holding my green shirt. It was an emotional moment, charged with a lot of significance. It was the closest thing I experienced as a rite of passage from childhood to my teenage years. It left a mark on me because I still think about that from time to time, and how, in retrospect, I’m very thankful for that troop leader (may he rest in peace) going out of his way to put together this ceremony for a bunch of boys.
A couple of years after that, in a scouting event, I met the manliest man—besides my dad—I had ever seen. In this event, our troop joined others to create a mega troop, and this man (whose name I don’t remember) led us. He was a tall, stocky man with a full black beard. He also happened to wear a beret and smoke a pipe around us—it was the 90s. He named our mega troop after the Maasai and fashioned a war cry to go with it. You could smell the testosterone in the air.
Years went by, and for better or worse, I lived with my parents until I moved to the US in 2012. And that was a rite of passage of sorts. At the tender age of twenty-eight, I was in a different country, paying my rent, utilities, and groceries, doing the laundry, cooking, and cleaning. The first couple of months were rough. The loneliness got the best part of me. I remember attending Mass at the Church close to my first apartment in Phoenix and sobbing while talking to the Deacon after Mass. He pointed me to Our Lady of Guadalupe and reminded me that she is my mother and takes good care of her children. A few weeks later, I landed at St. Joan of Arc, and I was no longer an island.
I’m lucky to have extraordinary spiritual fathers in the priests of the Diocese of Phoenix. I’m afraid to name names and miss some of them, so I’ll leave it as a blank statement. However, I need to say that Bishop Emeritus Thomas Olmsted has been a significant influence in my adult life. Bishop Olmsted’s Apostolic Exhortation “Into the Breach” was a wake-up call to live more authentically as a Catholic man. Then, in “Complete My Joy,” he called husbands and wives to commit themselves and their families to a deeper relationship with Christ.
Going from a single man to a married man and starting a new family with Diana presented unique challenges. And once again, I was blessed with brothers in Christ and mentors that shared their wisdom freely and abundantly. I’ve had extraordinary spiritual directors at different stages of my adult life, and for them, I’m thankful. I’ve also been able to choose my brothers from another mother and walk with them while we strive to follow Christ more closely. You can see the theme.
I recognize that as my children grow older, they will idolize me, demonize me, and eventually humanize me. I have done that, and I’m positive most of you have had a similar experience. I’m trying my best to surround my boys with as many like-minded men as possible so that when they don’t come to me with questions, they may go to one of their “uncles” and get a sound answer.
Men need other men to teach them how to be men. Boys don’t have a physical marker like girls do when entering womanhood; therefore, boys need their fathers to tell them when they have become men. I’m not talking about circumcision without anesthesia or gloves full of bullet ants, but at least something with a degree of difficulty akin to a great physical and mental challenge.
Fathers of boys today have the odds stacked against them. If I want to teach my sons traditional roles, if I show them the importance of having a healthy body, a healthy mind, and being chivalrous, virtuous, and masculine, this could be labeled as toxic. I don’t want my boys to be eternal bachelors or extend their teenage years into their thirties. I want to give them the best chance to be the best men they can become.
And the best way to show them how is to become the best man I can be. If they learn to love God above all else and their neighbor as themselves, I’ll consider myself satisfied. If I can have my way and they’re also healthy, strong, and virtuous, I could die a happy man. I know they are watching me and learning from my actions, so I better walk the walk.
I also want to be there for dads beginning their journey and return the favor I got when I was a newbie. I get a particular kind of satisfaction when I know I can make someone’s life easier by showing them what worked for me after some trial and error. Not getting tired of offering help and learning to accept help when offered is an exercise in trust and humility. A generous and grateful heart is what I want.
I am the bearded pipe-smoking man now; I need a beret.
Before you go
I have some questions for you.
Have you had a rite of passage?
What father figure(s) have been influential in your life?
Do you have a mentor?
Do you have a solid group of friends to lean on?
What color beret should I get?