By Melissa Walsh
“Writers are the custodians of memory,” says William Zinsser in his book On Writing Well, a guide for writing nonfiction. Memoir is recorded memory that is only yours to share. If not recorded, the memory dies with you; memoir is legacy.
Your Time Machine
Think back to a period of your life that was significant in adding wisdom into your thinking, forming a song in your soul, and leaving a cry in your heart. Recall the moments that tested, revealed, and impacted your character and altered the way you perceive yourself and others and their circumstances.
With memoir, you hit rewind on your life and go back in time; then you hit “stop” and present to an audience, ”Look here. Let me show you what happened and how it impacted me.”
Did this period demand courage, faith, and perseverance? Were you knocked down? Tripped up? Did you fall into a well? Leap off a cliff? Did you dive head-first into a stormy sea? Or were you blind-sided and pushed overboard?
Did you rise?
With memoir, you can show (not tell) readers where you once were and how you rose. You’ll present who you were and are.
This is uniquely your story; only you can tell it. And until you do, your story remains unknown to many and misunderstood by the rest.
“Your biggest stories will often have less to do with their subject than with their significance,” Zinsser teaches in the chapter “Writing Family History and Memoir.”
Though book retailers like Amazon.com group biography and memoir together in a single category, publishers consider these separate genres. Autobiography chronologically presents the author’s life from birth to present. Memoir delves into a particular aspect or event of the author’s life, usually a challenging or tragic period that the author had to overcome and grow from emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. Yet memoir is not about the situation, challenge, or tragedy itself, rather about how events and people related to that situation, challenge, or tragedy impacted the author.
Writing memoir requires discipline and devotion. It may be unpleasant. The self-examination required in writing memoir detoxifies the soul the way a cleanse regimen of healthy foods detoxifies the body. The author of a memoir requires a higher dosage of long walks and sitting quietly. There might be increased therapy and one-on-one chat sessions with old trusted friends. For believers, prayer time ramps up while undertaking memoir writing.
“Think small,” is Zinsser’s advice in beginning your memoir. “Tackle your life in manageable chunks.”
So to begin your memoir, you reflect. You jot down a few notes and draft an outline that may evolve into your table of contents. You dust off your old journals. You read. You weep. You laugh. You sigh. You take a deep breath and decide where to begin in presenting your experience and how it shaped your character and refined your soul.
Writing memoir demands revisiting the pain, anxiety, and despair of a difficult period or series of events in the author’s life. Paradoxically, as the author processes and writes about these memories, he or she also recalls and reveals nearly forgotten joys and pleasant discoveries of the human spirit. The author revisits the dark times of life with the flashlight of hindsight, noticing perhaps for the first time hidden treasures of sparkle that can only be seen by shining light onto dark.
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious,” wrote Carl Jung (in “The Philosophical Tree,” Alchemical Studies).
What do people associate with darkness of life? For some it is loss. For others doubt. It may be fear or loneliness. It might be surviving abuse. What becomes their light? And how do they find it? Memoir brings readers stories that invite them into life's questions and the search for answers. Memoir also entertains, because true life is wilder than fiction.
“No one’s list is exactly like anyone else’s," says Barbara Brown Tayler in Learning to Walk in the Dark. “It fits the way a shadow fits, because darkness is sticky. It attracts meaning like a magnet, picking up everything in its vicinity that is not fully lit.”
And this is what outstanding memoir achieves. Consider distinguished memoirs like Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, and Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. Each author revisits, collects, and reveals his or her greatest loves and heartaches, hopes and disappointments, joys and sorrows. Each offers readers insight and perspective into misunderstood community and compassion for little-known lives.
“When I stopped trying to block my sadness and let it move me instead,” says Taylor, “it led me to a bridge with people on the other side. Every one of them knew sorrow.” Memoir is a person achieving significant understanding and connecting it to readers wanting to complete their understanding.
Living a full human life includes experiencing a dark period of the soul. For those who demonstrate wisdom beyond their years, that darkness came in their youth. For others, the soul is severely tested in the dark at middle age or later. The darkness descends and overwhelms in different ways. It may be while mourning a death, surviving abuse, or being forced with a decision at a crossroads of intersecting unknowns. Each person’s dark place is theirs to own. The only way to move from it is to move through it. In that journey of moving through it, the soul seeks sources of light and stumbles upon objects reflecting light. Discovered light illuminates the soul’s perspective, generating warmth of compassion, energy of insight, and momentum of will.
For the writer’s soul, the best way to make sense of the darkness of night is to present its impact in the daylight of writing memoir, which done well becomes a ray of hope and a recorded legacy of how we rise.
© Powerplay Communications
By Melissa Walsh
They open their own jars, kill their own bugs, and mow their own lawns. They not only own toolboxes; they know exactly how to use the right tools to fix a leaky faucet, change a brake light, repair a vacuum cleaner, install a screen door, or assemble a backyard playscape.
Who are these guys? These guys are single moms who've manned up to lead fatherless families. They're strong. They're tough. They're mighty.
Are they scary? Sometimes, if you get in their way. Mean? If necessary. Defensive? You bet. Single moms run on adrenaline daily to go the distance to care for their families. So don't label them “needy,” and their kids “at risk.”
Okay, I had fun writing the above caricature of the super strong single mom. I can do this, because for many years I was that “guy,” that hybrid dad/mom fearlessly leading and defending her fam through life's crazy highs and lows. I was courageous and driven to raise and protect my kids and certainly wasn't looking for sympathy or thanksgiving baskets. I didn't have the time or patience for a mentoring program.
From those around me (relatives, friends, co-workers), I did crave some recognition and respect for how strong I had to be every day and regular doses of encouragement to keep going strong. From time to time, I needed a quick reminder to stay brave and stay close to God. I needed help remembering that God truly loved me and my boys and wants the best for us. I needed help in growing my faith in God's promise that I would get through this long, hard season and that my boys and I would make it through to the other side.
Being a strong single mom dramatically altered my character. During those years of manning up as a single mom, I became super strong, mostly an asset to my character, but at times a shortcoming. I became so strong that it became difficult for me to feel compassion for and with people whom I perceived as emotionally weak.
During your thrilling and harrowing single-mom adventures, allow God's strength to flow through all you do and all you say. Instead of sporting an “S” on your chest and a cape on your back, you may just want to hang a simple cross around your neck as a symbol of how you found your amazing single-mom strength.
When you have to become the rock, you eventually get out of practice being warm and soft.
Recently I admitted to a friend that I feel really awkward when I find myself in a setting where women are crying, like in a Bible study or prayer circle. I look around and find that I'm the only one in the room not crying. I think, “What's wrong with me? Should I be crying?”
The friend said, “You know, Jesus wept.” He was referring to John 11:35, when Jesus burst into tears upon hearing of his friend Lazarus' death. That got me thinking. In this passage, the Greek for “wept” can also be translated as “shed tears.” Jesus' eyes didn't just tear up; he burst into tears. He cried. He grieved with those who grieved.
You don't get any stronger than Jesus. So how do we balance super strength like Jesus' with authentic compassion and empathy for others? When it comes to loving God and others, how can we be both a rock and a soft place to land?
I think that Romans 12 tells us exactly how to be strong God's way:
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what GodÊ¼s will is –his good, pleasing and perfect will.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the LordÊ¼s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for GodÊ¼s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
So here are biblical guidelines for being “single mom strong”: 1- be a “living sacrifice;” 2- serve others humbly; and 3- love God and others sincerely. There it is. Romans 12 is God's prescription for being strong, including falling into the difficult role of becoming super hero (or super shero) for your kids.
During your thrilling and harrowing single-mom adventures, allow GodÊ¼s strength to flow through all you do and all you say. Instead of sporting an “S” on your chest and a cape on your back, you may just want to hang a simple cross around your neck as a symbol of how you found your amazing single-mom strength.
By Melissa Walsh
One of my favorite books is The Jesus I Never Knew by Phil Yancey. Over 15 years ago, when I first read it, my imagination was swept away with Yancey’s challenge to think of Jesus as a real person, living with a real family, having real friends, real feelings, real problems, real pain, real joy. I imagined Jesus as a little boy with a cute little boy laugh, as a lanky teen goofing off with his brothers, as a young man taking care of his mom, making new friends, and being rejected by the people of his home town. I saw Jesus as a renegade peacemaker, as a champion for women, as the voice of the marginalized, as an advocate for the poor, as a guy who had compassion for kids, as a courageous speaker, as an amazingly brilliant storyteller, and as a man with a fantastic sense of wit.
This week, I reread The Jesus I Never Knew for the third or fourth time. This time Yancey jumped out of the pages and grabbed my attention with these words: “I do not get to know God, then do his will; I get to know him by doing his will.”
But how can we know we’re in God’s will? How do we know if our vision matches God’s?
My experiences have taught me that doing God’s will requires my stepping out into the unknown. It requires purity in my intentions. God’s vision has no room for my pride and selfishness. It requires prayer without ceasing.
An Irish hymn I love explains how to discern whether your vision matches God’s vision. Here’s the first verse:
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou my best Thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
You know God’s will, or vision, by thinking about him ... all the time. Still unclear? Let’s look at what it means to cast a vision in scripture.
Luke 5:1-11 is an awesome cast-a-vision story. It’s kind of a funny story too.
1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God.
2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets.
3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.
7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,
10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”
11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Picture it. Imagine how this might have played out? I see Simon Peter muttering under his breath about Jesus as he rows out to deeper water. I see him totally rolling his eyes and whispering to his buddies, “This guy’s nuts, man.”
Then bingo, bango, whamo, fish are ripping the nets, and the boat is beginning to sink because the catch is so enormous. I wonder if Jesus had a good laugh. I bet the disciples chuckled later as they retold this story around the campfire. That Jesus ... he’s full of surprises.
When my first marriage was in jeopardy, I prayed and prayed and prayed a simple request. “Lord, please help my family. Save this marriage,” I begged God each night as I cried myself to sleep. The prayer was so desperate. I was so scared. My sons were just babies. “Certainly, God will show up,” I thought. “He will make things right. He will protect us from the evil forces that were attacking the marriage.”
When the marriage ended, my simple and desperate prayer became, “Lord, help me learn about boys. Give me the wisdom to raise boys well.” This became my prayer many years ago and is still my prayer today.
When my oldest son was in third grade, I was offered an interview for a marketing position with Snap-on Diagnostics in Auburn Hills. I was living in Grosse Pointe at the time caring for my four young sons and working as a freelance writer. My first inclination was to turn down the interview for this position. Commuting an hour away would be too hard on my boys, I reasoned. In addition, I had been a publishing professional my entire career and wasn’t at all interested in switching industries. However, a friend talked me into at least going to the interview.
A couple days after the interview, I was offered the job. Though I wasn’t happy about it, the money and benefits were good; so I accepted it. After just a few months into the job, I started to enjoy working in the automotive service and repair industry. I enjoyed learning about the diagnostic tool I was marketing. I enjoyed traveling with the OEM customers to speak with the tool endusers, dealership mechanics. I enjoyed learning from the mechanics and getting familiar with the shop environment. After about two years at Snap-on, I went back to college for applied engineering (auto tech). I found myself in automotive electronics and engine-repair classes with all men, mostly very young men fresh out of high school. I became more and more familiar with guys and their experiences.
When I was notified that I was being laid off from Snap-on, I was devastated. I loved working in the automotive service and repair industry. After an anxious three months of trying to land another job in that industry, I was offered a position in military vehicle logistics with General Dynamics Land Systems. Though I wasn’t eager to join the defense industry, the salary and benefits were good. And I was happy to find myself in a shop environment again, this time working alongside several former and active-duty service men and women.
After a few weeks with GDLS, it hit me. God answered my prayer. He answered big. Boy oh boy, was he ever teaching me about guys. By leading me into the deep waters of two extremely masculine industries, God answered my request to gain boy-rearing wisdom.
It’s like God was saying to me, “Okay, Melissa, think about it now. I wanted you to venture out into the deep waters of car repair. You didn’t want to go, but you went. Then I sent you into the even deeper waters of military vehicle programs. You didn’t want to go, but you went. All the while you were casting your net to catch wisdom about raising boys. So tell me, what did you catch?”
I started to sense God’s loving laughter as I hoisted bountiful nets of boy wisdom into my boat. And I laughed with him.
These days, I frequently come home from the office to a house packed with teen boys. It’s great. Those squirrelly boys, with their endless appetites, testosterone spikes, loudness, and stinky shoes, are part of that pure vision I cast long ago. Those wonderful boys, with their keen senses, sharp minds, and potential for greatness, are essential to God’s unshakable purpose. It’s an honor and a joy to know them and care for them. (I may not appear to be joyful when they break things, but deep down I truly am.)
With a pure heart, cast your vision. God will bring your vision to life. It will become so lively and abundant, that it will surprise you. It might even make you laugh.
Share your story with us: What vision have you cast for you family? What have you found in the net?
But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. Exodus 9:16
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
By Melissa Walsh
As a single parent, do you feel as if you’re constantly moving? Are you facing one challenge after another? Do you regularly feel forced to expand well beyond your comfort zone physically, emotionally, and spiritually?
If you answered yes, I feel your pain, sister, because I’ve been there. For many years as a single working mom of four little boys, I was overwhelmed. overburdened, and overtaxed.
I was tired and lonely a lot. Mostly, I was scared. I fretted each month about making ends meet financially. Keeping a roof over my small sons’ heads, food in their mouths, and shoes on their feet were really tough to manage, that with childcare expenses. I was also concerned about not being there for my boys during the day, uncomfortable with having to hire a “mother” for them while I was at work. I constantly wondered whether they would be emotionally damaged by the whole single-parenting situation. I certainly felt emotionally damaged myself.
The sweet dreams I had for raising my children were shattered. Gone. Parenting instead became more akin to a scary, wild, dangerous adventure -- like finding the way out of a dark, critter-dwelling cave, or going whitewater rafting without life jackets. Many days it felt like zip-lining without a security harness.
During those years, I recall people saying to me, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” Trying to hold a smile, I would think, “Sure he does!” Getting through each day was a miraculous feat of strength -- the kind of strength I couldn’t have mustered up without divine intervention.
Life for us for many years was surviving one day at a time. Each day I had to take a leap of faith into life, with the hope that God would catch me and my sons should we fall. And He did. In His grace, He strengthened me.
Those years were really hard and very painful, but amazingly, I’m grateful for them. They taught me and my sons so much about the world, about people, about struggle, and about how much God loves us.
...like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.
Deuteronomy 32:11 (NIV translation)
This verse is taken from the chapter of the Bible known as “The Song of Moses.” It’s a lyrical account of God’s leading and protection of the Israelites during their exodus out of slavery in Egypt and their journey to the Promised Land. God chose Moses to lead them through that frightful and miraculous adventure. Verse 11 is a metaphor within a larger passage that details God’s love and guard over His people.
Not only is the eagle imagery an illustration of God’s promise to His people, it is also a model of faithful and hopeful parenting.
Consider the verbs “to stir” and “to hover over.” The New Living Translation uses “rouse” instead of “stir.” The King James and American Standard versions use “flutter over” instead of “hover over.”
Do you have a visual in your mind? The eagle rouses, stirs her young. She wakes them up, gets them moving until they take a leap from the nest to learn what flight feels like. Then she hovers or flutters over them, watching them. Should they fall, she dives below them and catches them on her strong wings. She carries them back to the safety of the nest until it’s time for the next stirring into flight.
Remember that statement about God not giving you more than what you can handle? A better statement to a struggling single mom might be, “God grows your wings and its feathers. Care for them and trust in the strength God designed in them.”
You see, like eaglets, once we have grown wings and feathers, God allows seasons of irritating stirring from our comfy nests. Then He urges us to fly in faith. He tells us clearly in his word to trust him during our flight, to know that He’ll bear us on His wings should we fall.
God has designed special wings for each of us. And with our wings we tap power for flight. Our job is to clean and preen our wings, so that we may soar to great heights. Properly maintained, our wings can carry us through and above stormy weather. They’ll be sturdy enough for us to bear our children during flight.
Trusting that God has equipped us with strong wings, we can confidently parent our children, even without an earthly partner. In fact, I believe that God refurbishes and reinforces our wings when we find ourselves parenting in crisis. If we allow Him, He will lengthen our wing-span, grow our feathers longer, and strengthen our muscle to parent our children alone. He will also sharpen our senses and balance the winds.
Single moms are known to have some very powerful wings. How? God, that’s how.
Many individuals who have stepped out to do amazing things with their lives were raised by single moms. Pastor of my church of Kensington Orion, Dave Wilson, was raised by a single mom. So were Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Alexander Haig, Ed Bradley, Halle Berry, Alicia Keys, and Ricky Henderson.
Detroit’s own Ben Carson, the renowned pediatric neurosurgeon, was raised by a young woman who grew up in foster homes, was married at age 13, then was on her own to raise Ben and his brother alone. When Ben’s grades radically declined, she required him to read two books a week, among other disciplinary measures. His grades soared, and he grew up to become a great surgeon. Commenting about his life, Carson said, “My story is really my mother’s story.... Over the years my mother’s steadfast faith in God has inspired me, particularly when I had to perform extremely difficult surgical procedures or when I found myself faced with my own medical scare.”
Oh, the power of trusting God during struggle. He can meet us in our struggle in creative and awesome ways. (In my experience, He often shows up in humorous ways too -- a topic for a future blog entry.)
So as society seeks to label the single mom’s nest as “broken” and her eaglets “at-risk,” soar above shame and fear. With God, your family can be complete and your children can know and realize their purpose.
Our job is to care for our wings by praying and meditating on God’s word, to be alert to the needs of our brood, and to have faith that our heavenly father is watching over our single-parent flight. With God, you and your brood will soar to amazing heights.
...but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:31 (NIV translation)
My mother’s quest to understand boys recently prompted me to re-read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn while traveling with my family over spring break. I’m so glad I did. As a mother of four “rapscallions,” the experience of re-reading the adventures of Mark Twain’s “rapscallion” Huck Finn was an epiphany.
Huck’s narration reinforced for me how critical it is for those of us mentoring boys to nurture patiently and boldly a boy’s “rapscallion” instincts into the sense of noble purpose he’ll require for his rite of passage into manhood. Twain provided several mentors for Huck, from the widow who sought to “sivilize” him to Aunt Sally who nearly lost her sane mind caring for him and Tom as they executed their “elegant” plan to rescue Jim. And just as Huck’s pap was the antithesis of a father’s love and respect for a son, Jim became the man- hero Huck and Tom needed.
My first reading of this great classic was as a high school student. I must not have gotten much out of the story back then, because I didn’t remember much about it. But now having re-read this story as a mother of sons, recognizing more clearly my calling to raise boys as the most important mission of my life, Twain’s prose echoes in my mind each time I feel that urge to scream at the top of my lungs, “Boys, what are you doing?!!!! What were you thinking?!!!!”
Three of my four sons are about the age of Huck and Tom, early adolescence. And because we live very close to the middle school, I often find myself hosting half a dozen or more adolescent boys in my home after school. Arriving home from my day at the office, I step over the mound of large shoes kicked off near the doorway, holding my breath for the stink of course, and head straight to the kitchen to bake scores of pizza rolls and stir a fresh pitcher of kool-aid.
Sure, adolescent boys don’t smell great, they track in mud, they’re loud, they eat a lot, and they’ve destroyed many things in my home, “by accident” of course, but I’m so glad to know where they are and what they’re up to. And it’s been fascinating to observe them up close. Soon they’ll have driver’s licenses and be lost into the world. Yet though I fully appreciate how precious these American sons are, their squirreliness leads me to feeling from time to time quite “looney,” just as Huck described Aunt Sally after the spoon prank. (I identified strongly with the character of Aunt Sally.) Instead of aiming to “sivilize” them, as Huck accused the widow of aiming to do, I send them outside into the suburban wilderness of manicured lawns and blacktop or insist that they work off the testosterone spikes with the free-weight set in the basement (a worthwhile investment for any family with adolescent boys).
Increasingly, I grow a deeper fondness and empathy for boys this age. I enjoy their child’s curiosity coupled with their rather mature conclusions about the events and people around them. I smile noticing how their total height has yet to fall into proportion with their long, lanky limbs and large feet, like six-month old floppy-eared pups awkwardly scurrying about on oversized paws. Re-reading Huck Finn enhanced my appreciation for adolescent boys, as Huck’s narration of his journey invited me into the heart and mind of an adolescent boy. I learned that an adolescent boy’s rationale and motivation are more dependent on what he senses in the present and less on what he visualizes for the future, though ironically so much of what the boy discovers in the now shapes the man he will become.
We (mentors of boys) must learn to live in the moment with them as they, in the here and now, discover who they are and will become. I’m convinced that adolescent boys do not discover their identity and purpose by pondering it, but rather experiencing it. They actively pursue discovery of their identity and purpose through hands-on exploration and action-packed challenges.
In The Wonder of Boys, educator and therapist Michael Gurian concluded that American parents and mentors are failing boys by not supporting them properly during adolescence, a period of life he dubs “the hero’s journey.” According to Gurian: "Our culture has robbed boys of the hero’s journey in myriad ways. Some among us have feared its warrior extremes and thus tried to teach boys to deny their need to perform and compete. Some among us, seeking to utterly destroy the male sense of role, have taught boys to avoid protecting and providing, to avoid that piece of their heroism. Some among us, too busy to help boys become the hero each needs to be, have neglected our elder responsibility. Most of us, feeling unheroic ourselves, have avoided looking into a boy’s eyes and seeing his desire to be a hero."
So what would Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) think about how we’re raising American boys today? I suspect he’d be disappointed that beer commercials have become the premier medium for conveying a manning-up message, that drinking alcohol is prescribed for manliness. I also suspect Twain would be appalled at the pervasiveness of ADD diagnoses, labeling typical “rapscallion” qualities as disorders and then drugging the Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer out of our boys.
A great truth that Mark Twain so brilliantly presents in Huck Finn is that adolescent boys are, at their core, seekers. We ought not so readily label them dysfunctional, criminal, at-risk, or hyperactive misfits. Every adolescent boy is a sapling of a man-tree living in the moment of discovering what kind of tree he was designed to be, each wanting to grow up tall and straight and each wondering what kind of fruit he was created to bear. Adolescent boys take risks to discover their courage, wrestle with one another to discover their strength, tease one another to discover their propensity for wit and humility, and roam the neighborhood to discover independence. We, their mentors, must be there for them to enable them to discover their virtues freely and responsibly on the hero’s journey. We must be present, discretely holding our breath while stepping over their shoes. We must live in the questions of discovery with them, actively listening, respectfully advising, and unconditionally loving them as they experience the joys and struggles and endure the consequences of the hero’s journey.
Mark Twain said, “There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy’s life that he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure.” Well said. Let’s embrace the rapscallion that is at the core of a boy and support it, not tame it, into becoming a man on a good mission.
“A boy remains a boy until a man is required,” warned Daniel Boone’s mother. Indeed, let’s remain close to our adolescent sons as they meet requirements for manhood. As we patiently and boldly nurture them with a concoction of equal parts love and respect, let’s remember to listen up, laugh it up, and lighten up.