In June 2008 I headed to the Lakes for a 5 day holiday with the guys. Well actually it was the Men's Rites of Passage with a load of guys I had never seen nor met. It was with a sense of uncertainty and openness that I approached the venue. If I am really honest I also carried with me a sense of relief (though tinged with a hint of guilt) that I was to have a prolonged break from a sick wife and two young children.
Leading up to the Rites and afterwards I realised I had so far missed out on any sort of initiation in the positive sense. I experienced initiation into things like, alcohol, drugs, sex, violence, but not manhood. I was often offered kind advice on how to be a real man, like: "Stand up and fight, ye puff", "Stop drinking like a pussy and get it doon ye", "Give her a good dig and show her who's boss" and "Smoke that and it'll put hairs on your chest". The measure of your worth as a man was based upon your fighting skills, how much danger you were willing to put yourself in, how much alcohol you could hold and your ability to bed women (or lie about it). Ever since I was 15 years old I struggled through trying to make my own way and find some sense in it all. Whilst trying to grow up and mature in my twenties, I often felt lost as a man, embarrassed to be a man, strange, confused and unsure of what a man was - or more importantly, of what sort of man I should be. I often felt like I should apologise for myself and all other men's behaviour, and sometimes I actually did.
I was unable to identify and accept who I was and what I should do, so I decided I would become PERFECT. I tried to become the perfect husband, father, son and employee. The cracks soon began to appear and between the ages of 30 and 34 I crashed, faulty and haywire, definitely not perfect.
So here I was, ready for my male initiation, and at 36 I felt ready to enter the gladiatorial arena and become a man... or die! Mad thoughts still bothered me; like what sort of initiation will it be? Visions of sleeping in a bed of nettles, scaling barbed wire fences, being up to my neck in quick sand, and sprouts being forced down my throat, filled my head. Or walking through fire (that would be cool, I've always wanted to try that or to run the gauntlet...) My imagination even travelled as far as tribal dances with naked painted bodies and lots of spears.
If the Men's Rites Of Passage had a brochure and it promised sun, relaxation, luxurious accommodation and candlelit meals I would have sued! It was wet, it rained in and out of the tent, the alcohol...was dry - there was none. Still at least it was full board ....apart from the 24hour fast! Did I care? - not one bit. It was a journey into the unknown, the unspoken and the untried... We had rhythm, though - well, we made noise with drums, but it was still awesome. There were testimonies and live rituals that took my breath away ( -which takes a lot). We had small sharing groups and I got to know guys better than people I have known for 20 years. It was raw, honest, heart-wrenching, stomach-churning and even hilarious at times. The sense of togetherness was amazing. Though I went not knowing what I wanted, this was definitely what I needed!
We had time alone, real time, to think, to ponder: and for me I had time to just BE. To let all the things I have no control over BE as they are, to accept where I am from, where I have been and where I might be going. I touched , tasted, saw, smelt and heard God like never before. It was an experience that I won't even try to fully explain, it would only take away from what happened. It can only be experienced.
The Rites did not make all the hard stuff in life better; it didn't even necessarily make sense of it all or answer my big questions. What it gave me was acceptance. It allowed me to accept that it is OK to be me and to be a man. It was time to pick up all the good, the bad and the ugly, embrace it, live with it and move on. I came away feeling liberated in my skin as a man. For the first time I knew what kind of a man, father and husband I could be; not a perfect one but a good one.
Oh and actually the food was great, you could have coleslaw on your cereal and no one batted an eyelid... as long as you didn't finish the cereal.
There is so much more I could say but I think it is best leaving it to be experienced. Maybe it is an individual thing too. I will say that when I returned home my wife said something had changed, my eyes were different. She was right... something had changed.