In the movie Courageous, Adam Mitchell (Played by Alex Kendrick) asked a group of co-workers, “When did you first become a man?” It’s a great question – and the answer among the group is unclear. This leads to a ceremony where these men commit to raise their sons to be men of Character.
Five years ago my son David and I headed off to the Adirondack mountains for six days. David was thirteen and my wife and I had agreed that this would be a great time for me to spend some extended time with my oldest son to get him thinking less like a boy and more like a man. To create a point of transition much like the ceremony proposed in Courageous. I’ve referred to this trip often in our Raising Entrepreneurs Seminars to encourage fathers to get more involved in the process of raising their sons. So recently a father wrote asking me exactly what we talked about for six days…it’s a great question so I thought I would provide a summary here.
Getting the Idea – Raising Modern Day Knights
The idea originated after reading Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood, by Robert Lewis. In this book he encourages fathers to consider three aspects:
- a vision
- a code of conduct
- a cause
This is basically what we did.
I chose the Adirondacks because that is where I learned a lot about my relationship with God and observed men leading young men. As a boy I would attend camp sessions at Northern Frontier Camp, and later I became a counselor over several summers, following in the footsteps of some of my mentors. When I was 16 I participated in a 5 day backpacking trip through the high-peaks region, and later at age 18 attempted to climb the highest peak (Mt. Marcy) in January. We came close but some of our team experienced frostbite and a case of hypothermia, forcing us to retreat back to our base camp. The decision to turn back was a testimony to the maturity of the men leading this trip.
I wanted my son to share the experiences I had in the high-peaks. It was a way to share a memory of something very special to me. But it also took us a long way from anything we’ve experienced living in the south. It took us away from people, distractions, friends, and even the safety of being in more familiar surroundings. It pushed both of us to our limits, and required us to work together without any outside help – other than God himself.
This trip required more than a simple packing of our gear. We trained together for two months, running, working out, and mountain biking together, with great anticipation. We pulled out maps and books, researched the latest laws, purchased special equipment, and talked a lot about what to expect. There’s no way to predict all of the challenges – so instead we committed our time to prayer, took what precautions we could, and trusted that God would watch over us. We did take a satellite phone with us in case of emergency. Our learning experiences included:
- Our packs were heavy – 6 days is a long trip when you’re 13 years old. Think of it this way, 13 year olds eat like men but are half the size. We took little in the way of clothing, but made sure we had enough to eat. You can see David’s pack in the picture above. This is a man-sized pack.
- The Adirondacks are rugged. I’ve gotten soft living in the south. We’ve hiked extensively in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, but there is just nothing here that seems to compare to the High-Peaks in the Adirondacks. We learned to not complain, but rather to keep a pace good for both of us and to share the load.
- We learned to serve each other – cooking together, doing the camp chores, and watching out for each other.
- One night we sat up in a major storm – up on the side of a mountain in severe thunder storms and massive down-pour. Some the tents around us washed out – praise God ours did not. In the morning we had to make our way over Mount Marcy in what might turn into another thunder storm. We brought this matter to the Lord, wondering what kind of sign he might provide – how would we know for sure? We were fearful. An amazing thing happened, and we believed it was confirmation to go- we did and it worked out to be the right decision. David saw God answering prayers.
- At one point we could not find a place to camp due to flooding – it was late in the day and we were exhausted. We had to push on two more miles, nearly at the end of our own strength (David was so exhausted he fell face first several times, fighting to keep going). We cried out to God for help and he miraculously provided a site for us. Again, we saw something that only God could have done.
- There were other events – but working together through these situations with much prayer and discernment served as a powerful lesson in what it means to lead and take responsibility, and most importantly what it means to trust God when in need.
Taking Time to Talk
I came to this trip prepared to talk to my son. The three areas above served as an outline, for which I prepared before going. This was not a “Birds and Bees” discussion – it was about vision, conduct, and cause. What does it mean to be a man – a man of God and a man of character?
Vision – vision is a long range goal. We often talk about this in business, but how often do fathers really work on the long range goal with their sons? I think most fathers think their job is to get their children through high-school and into college. And then its over. We talked about what it means to be successful in God’s eyes and what disciplines and character must be built over the coming years to get there. Success means walking in victory with Christ, having a successful marriage one day, successful family – children walking with the Lord, success in providing for every aspect of your family’s needs, and becoming a light to the World as we carry out the special callings God puts on our lives.
Conduct – the Bible is full of cause and effect. Good choices and bad choices, and the results. People try to dismiss this as Old Testament thinking, but the Bible doesn’t read like that. We talked about the need for Godly character and making commitments. We talked about what God demands His people to be like and how Christ empowers us to be like Himself. We talked about freedom in Christ and the grace given to us as believers – and we talked about the need to remain pure – to confess our sins and steer clear of hidden sin.
Cause – we talked about life purpose and seeking out the calling God has prepared for us – our gifts and talents and how they are to be used by God. We talked about having something worth living for and worth dying for. Our cause is Christ and the more we understand about who God is, and who we are in Christ, the more victorious we will be when we hit a challenge.
We talked about moving away from all play and taking on the challenge of building for the future – Godliness, Godly Character, and equipping for the future – vocation, marriage, family, and service.
Taking on the Challenge
I wanted to challenge my son physically and spiritually. I wanted him to act like a man in the face of hardship and fear. I wanted us to learn to work as a team and to be in prayer. I wanted him to learn to carry his burden without complaining and to work hard. He rose to the occasion. There were times when I was hurting and he offered to carry more. Often he would cook our meals after a long day of hiking. I wanted him to prove to himself that he had more endurance than he thought…and he did. I also wanted to express to him my gratefulness for him and all that he did for me on this trip…I wanted him to know that I really love him and am willing to lay down my life for him.
This is a memory…we often look back on the pictures and video we took. There are times when his peers are going off to some activity that we don’t feel is wise. In most cases a young man would feel left out, and perhaps dwell on missing out on all the fun stuff. We’ve continued to take trips into the mountains, biking and backpacking – winter and summer. These memories are a constant reminder that, while we may not participate in some of the local activities, we do participate in some amazing things that others will never get to do. This trip was one of those amazing experiences, and David often refers to it as one of the most memorable experiences.
The Good News
This September, my second son Jonathan and I will be trekking through the Adirondacks! Stay tuned for some great pictures this fall.
© 2013, David Stelzl