Monthly Archives: December 2012

Iron John – An Initiation – Wrapping Up

Over the past months, we’ve explored the journey of Iron John and how the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale can be applied to the lives of boys seeking to transition into manhood. Thanks to the work of Robert Bly, we’ve watched the young prince bond with his mother and father, then separate from them. He was carried off by Iron John to the woods and was mentored there, finding a bridge to his greatness. As he grew and moved on, he learned to control his hurricane energy. His journey culminates in his marriage to the queen, a symbol of a young man embracing his “softer” side.

I think it is only fitting, as I move on from this short investigation, to offer some reflection on the journey all boys must take as they grow up.

This journey is not a solo endeavor.

As we see through the young boy’s journey to manhood, he is rarely alone as he grows up. He has his parents first, then his mentor in Iron John. Even when he is sent away from the forest, Iron John still serves as a protector, stepping in if the prince needs him. So, too, in the lives on young boys today, their journey cannot be one of solitude. There are times when a boy must step out on his own, but he cannot be left to his own devices to develop his masculinity. If left without parents or the key mentor(s), boys turn to one another for initiation, the blind leading the blind on the road to a false masculinity. Those who are parents or respected elders in boys’ lives must step up into the role of mentor and guide the boys along their journey. Even without offering specific guidance, which I would highly encourage, parents and elders serve as models for what boys can hope to become. Giving a picture of the future is extremely important, especially in a long process such as this.

Side note on solitude.

There is a time in a boy’s life when he does need to strike out on his own and not be dependent on others for his development. I believe this comes between the mentor’s arrival and the apprenticeship to the hurricane energy, and possibly as a part of the latter. In processing through this fairy tale, I saw many similarities between it and the monomyth that Joseph Campbell offers as part of the hero’s journey. There is a portion of the hero’s journey where the hero steps out on his own, then returns. (For more information and reading on the hero’s journey, I highly recommend my friend Chad Ellsworth’s blog on the subject –

All of the steps are important.

While you may not agree that the steps follow this progression or must happen independently of one another, they are all important to the growth and development of manhood. There are adult males who still rely on their mothers for care, comfort, and advice. I’m not disparaging this, however, as a male matures, he must strike a balance in this area and others. Thus, the first two stages are extremely important, especially in a society where at college-age or closely after, children move away from home and strike out on their own. The male mentor is, to me, the most important phase. He provides a different perspective than what a boy has grown up with and gives further encouragement to the development of a boy’s masculinity. Skipping any of these steps will yield a separated man, incomplete and acting as such.

Reflection is crucial.

As I’ve been pondering these stages, I have recognized the great need for reflection, especially in the latter stages (stages 3-5). As a boy grows up, he must begin to look inwardly, at his strengths and weaknesses. The male mentor helps with this, as he shows the boy what he can become and helps him begin building the bridge to that greatness. The reflection is especially important as the boy tames the hurricane energy and marries the queen. In order to tame one’s aggressive, “masculine” energies, you must first understand what they are. It’s akin to identifying your nature and bad habits and seeking to take hold of them. In the same way, discovering and cultivating the “feminine” virtues requires reflection and contemplation on your action and attitudes. It wasn’t until I began reflecting on my life and how I had grown and changed, that I realized where I still had improvement to make and what aspects of my character had developed and were continuing to develop. Reflection gives direction, but it also gives hope and pride when you see where you were and are now.

You are never done.

Even after going through all five stages, you are not done. Just as real leaders produce other leaders, real men produce other real men. Why would you take a gift that you have and keep it to yourself. As a mature man, you have the honor, privilege, and responsibility to serve as a mentor to boys as they develop. If you are blessed with sons, you have even more responsibility to mentor and guide them in their growth. Additionally, you cannot sit back and allow manhood to be corrupted by those boys who seek machismo without actual growth and development. Finally, you must fight against the injustices that are perpetrated by those false men.

Wrapping up this series, if there is one idea I would leave above all, it is that this is a long, hard journey. You cannot accomplish it alone, but there are many who would be willing to help. Seek out mentors. Serve as mentors. Be good fathers, mothers, and guides. If you’re ready, your journey can start today. My hope is that understanding the route you have to take will make the transition from boyhood to manhood just a little easier. That understanding is what “Navigating the Wild” is all about.

To developing strong men who love, inspire, and foster deep masculinity in others,


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Posted by on December 30, 2012 in Rites of Passage


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Iron John – An Initiation – Marriage to the Queen


As we near the end of our young fellow’s journey to being a man, I feel it is only proper to look back at how far he has come thus far. After his birth, he became both physically and psychologically connected to his mother. If he was lucky, he also had that opportunity with his father, and if very lucky, it actually occurred. Then came the difficult part, separating from parents he loved so much and striking out into the world, relying on them for support, but not as the controllers in his life. His parents have moved from the “spread-the-peanut-butter-on-the-bread Mother/Father role to trusted consultant” (Okun, VoiceMale, Summer 2012). As his parents were shifting roles, a new person entered his life, the male mentor. This man became a trusted friend, ally, and champion for our young fellow, helping him to see his potential and then building a bridge to reach it. Possibly there were more than one, and possibly they weren’t all male; the truth of the matter is that our young fellow needs that bridge builder to help him connect with his potential. Along this path, he discovered that he has power. He learned of his emotions and tendency towards a natural energy, and learned how to harness that hurricane force so that his “masculine energies” might not harm others, but rather be used for good.

The Final Steps

Now he approaches that final step in the journey describe by Robert Bly in his analysis of Iron John. He “marries the queen”. It is interesting that in Robert Bly’s book, this aspect of the journey does not get much mention. He touches on it briefly, but does not expound on it, leaving us to determine what it means. If we view the arrival of the hurricane energy to be the taming of the traditional masculine emotions, then, I believe, we can only conclude that marriage to the queen is the acknowledgment and embracing of those traditionally feminine virtues, emotions, and ideals.

This stage is the time when the young fellow comes into touch with his feminine side, when he sees patience, love, and tenderness not as things that weaken an individual, but things that strengthen and add depth to life and character. In this stage, our fellow almost seems to slow down, to begin to reflect on life, and to somewhat soften his approach to life. The young man who is marrying himself to the queen no longer sees things as masculine or feminine, but rather incorporates the best of all worlds and emotions into his life and habits. This is a man who is truly in touch with his emotions, not just controlling them but also allowing them to be evident. Finally, this is a man who learns how to go deeper into himself and in relationships with others, to be vulnerable and open about his life and his struggles.

In my work with fraternity men on a college campus, I have seen how difficult this final stage is. We still have a strict male code that attempts to define what masculinity is. We still have struggles to “be men”, as Dr. Pepper offers its 10 drink for MEN, Dial makes soap for “men, for manly, manly men”, and Dockers tells men to “wear the pants” again. If we look at what society says, it offers a very one-sided view of what being a man is, that of running, hunting, fighting, going all-out and never crying. And, thus, our boys are told how to be good at being a man. Is this enough?

In an interview with the Good Men Project, Jack Donovan discusses the difference between being a good man and being good at being a man. The latter is a tactical move, one sure to help men advance in society; the former, a way that society enslaves men into behaving a certain way. I see the former slightly differently, not that it enslaves a man, but that it gives a man a goal to reach. Yes, it is a fulfillment of a social contract, but we all ought to treat one another with love and respect. That is what marriage to the queen is all about: coming full circle from being good at being a man (as society would define it) to being a good man (defined by the social contract that we have). 

The man who has “married the queen” is no longer concerned with being good at being a man. Rather, he seeks to be a good man. This throws out gender stereotypes, allows him to be sympathetic, to laugh and cry along with the highs and lows in life, and prompts a more dimensional version of personhood, one in touch with all his emotions and all his abilities. A true man is never a man until he realizes all aspects of himself.

Always Continued

As our young fellow concludes his path, we must recognize that this journey is never finished. He may have realized his potential, harnessed his energies, and brought forth some that he never knew he had, but he still needs to continue to develop and reflect. Men don’t sit in silence. They don’t merely reach a point and stay there. Men are ever growing, ever reflecting, ever revisiting these final three steps, speaking with their mentors, developing and harnessing their energy for good, and learning to be more compassionate, loving, and respectful men. Only then can they truly be that: Men.

To guiding others along the journey to manhood,


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Posted by on December 18, 2012 in Rites of Passage


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Iron John – An Initiation – Taming the Hurricane Energy

In his journey thus far, our boy has bonded to and separated from his mother and his father and found one, and possibly more, male mentors to help him bridge the path to greatness. By my personal estimation, chronologically at this point, this boy is most likely no younger than 23 (the average age of college graduation in the US), although he may have accomplished the first three components more quickly given a focused upbringing and parents that did provide for several rites of passage.

Now we approach the final two phases, the first of which involves learning and harnessing those virtues and aspects we commonly associate with men and masculinity. (Note: I recognize that all virtues can be held by either gender. I am merely attempting to provide a starting point for this conversation by outlining those virtues commonly thought to be masculine, as they are the ideas and virtues behind and fueling the hurricane energy we will speak about momentarily.)

Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos list out virtues commonly associated with femininity and then those associated with masculinity in “The Wild Man’s Journey”. They (1996) list virtues such as “self-possession, leadership, truthfulness, decisiveness, responsibility, closure, intelligence, inner authority, challenge, courage, and risk taking” (p. 132) as those thought to be more masculine based. Feminine virtues are “humility, obedience, openness, receptivity, trust, forgiveness, patience, and long-suffering” (p. 132). 

I feel comfortable believing that there is a difference in how men and women express emotions, given the research done into male and female emotions, summarized by Leslie Brody (2001) in her tome “Gender, Emotion, and the Family”. She states that 

     “a brief overview indicates that relative to men, women verbalize or use facial expressions to communicate more intense self-conscious emotions, such as sadness, embarrassment, and shame; emotions connoting vulnerability, such as fear and hurt; positive emotions, such as warmth, affection, and joy; and empathic feelings, such as distress. Only the emotions of contempt, pride, guilt, and loneliness are sometimes, but not always, expressed more intensely in words by men than by women. … Men express anger with more aggression and physical reactivity than women do.” (p. 79)

With that background, we pause to consider the next phase of the journey to masculinity described by Robert Bly. This phase is called apprenticeship to the hurricane energy. Previously, we saw the male mentor arrive and help the young boy understand how he can build a bridge to his greatness using his strengths and abilities. Now, the male mentor (the same, or another) continues to help the boy grow through helping him to subdue or bring forth (in a controlled manner) those more aggressive traits and virtues he may have. In their book, “King Warrior Magician Lover”, Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette (1991) paint a picture of the Jungian archetype I most closely associate with this hurricane energy: that of the Warrior. The Warrior demonstrates appropriate aggressiveness. He is a man of decisive action, “concerned with skill, power, and accuracy, and with control, both inner and outer, psychological and physical” (Moore & Gillette, 1991, p. 83). The Warrior seeks positive and purposive construction.

Unfortunately, if this apprenticeship to the hurricane energy, this teaching of how to handle the more masculine virtues, is not undertaken, a boy runs the chance of falling to either side of the Jungian archetype, into the areas of either the sadist or the masochist. Someone that does not know how to harness his inner energy will either become abusive to himself or to others in his life. Thus, we must teach boys how to control their aggressive nature, not to beat it out of them, but to enable it to be presented as a positive factor in a boy’s life and in the lives of others.

What does this look like in the relationship with the male mentor?

The male mentor must first be in touch with his own hurricane energy. If he does not have self-control (which is ultimately at the root of this phase), he will be unable to teach his protege how to have self-control. I personally learned self-control through seeing the results of my actions on other people, as well as through the continued questioning of what use my anger and aggression might have in a given situation. The goal here is not to eliminate the Warrior inside; it is to harness its energy to be used positively. There are many far older and wiser than I who have tackled this, and I do believe that this patience and contemplative spirit come with age as well as with training. Still, the more we speak with younger males about the results of their actions or proposed actions and the more we allow for positive release of the hurricane energy, the more we allow for their development into true Warriors, not merely the hurtful shadows of the Warrior.

As Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette (1991) remark, “if we are accessing the Warrior appropriately, we will be energetic, decisive, courageous, enduring, persevering, and loyal to some greater good beyond our own personal gain” (p. 95). These are the qualities of a true man and should be the end result of this fourth step, the apprenticeship to the hurricane energy.

To using our hurricane and warrior energy to positively construct and serve those around us,


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Posted by on December 11, 2012 in Rites of Passage


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Iron John – An Initiation – Male Mentor Arrives

As our young boy continues his journey to becoming a man, he enters the third phase that Robert Bly describes in his book “Iron John”. Previously we’ve discussed the bonding to and separation from the mother and bonding to and separation from the father. Now we come to what I believe to be the most important phase of the journey: the arrival of the male mentor.

In the fairy tale, Iron John serves as the male mentor for the boy. He begins this process somewhat at the boy’s request, carrying him away from the castle after the boy frees him. In this, Iron John also serves to help the boy separate from both his mother and his father. Once in the forest, Iron John gives the boy trials to undertake, focused on developing discipline for him. When the boy fails the trials, in part due to wounds he received in the past (the fairy tale demonstrates these as physical wounds, a sore finger; Robert Bly and I agree that most likely the wounds are metaphors for psychological wounds), Iron John sends him on his way, but promises to always be there if the boy needs help.

From this portion, we see the primary characteristics of a mentor. I will outline those, then describe my own experience with my male mentor which, I hope, will demonstrate the need. Finally, I will give some advice to those serving as mentors and to those who are being mentored.

Although seemingly gruff, Iron John is a stellar mentor for this boy. He helps him to separate from his parents, something that before he arrived was seemingly impossible. As a boy matures, he is always looking for a hero, for a role model. This is why boys idolize sports heroes, military men, and firefighters, or in the negative realm, gangsters, criminals. They are looking for someone to be their hero. Initially, this is their parents, but as they grow up, they need additional older external influences in their lives to help them develop into the man they will be. 

This is why mentors are so important. If older men do not step in, younger men are left to initiate them, and as Robert Bly states (and I have repeated many times), “manhood doesn’t happen by itself … the active intervention of older men means that older men welcome the younger man into the ancient, mythologized, instinctive male world” (p. 15). Geoffrey Canada, in his book “Reaching Up for Manhood”, describes what can happen when young boys are left without older male figures. They turn to those that are a few years older than them for initiation and approval, something that those boys are also incapable of providing, thus wrecking the developmental process. 

How many mentors should a boy have? Ideally, they will have more than one, because as my mentor once told me “Mentors reproduce their weaknesses in those they are mentoring”. To be well-rounded, boys need more than just one mentor in their life.

So, Iron John provides a picture of the additional male role model, who helps the boy see beyond his parent’s home. Additionally, he gives the boy a sense of mission and purpose, assigning him a task to complete. When the boy fails, Iron John gives him two more chances. Finally, Iron John recognizes that the boy needs to go outside of the safety of the forest into the real world to make his own way. A good mentor does this. He challenges his protege (I’m not a fan of the word mentee), provides him with the tools necessary for success, then allows him to go to make his own way. Additionally, he recognizes when his primary work is complete and doesn’t cling to his protege. But, and this is important, the mentor is always there, always available for advice and help. Throughout the remainder of the story, we see Iron John there, ready to help and sharing in the boy’s triumphs and trials. A good mentor is always there.


Kevin (left) and me (right) at a conference

In my own life, I’ve been privileged enough to have a fantastic mentor – Kevin. I first met Kevin as a young undergraduate, who, if you asked the people around me, cared for only myself and was certainly not a mature man. Over the last five years, Kevin mentored and discipled me, teaching me how to be a strong Christian man, an honest and hard-working employee, and a dedicated and loving husband. Our relationship began with him pushing and challenging me; then, as I learned and grew, we both sharpened one another. I referenced in the Separation from the Mother posting how Kevin helped me to established an adult relationship with my mother. He still to this day provides me with counsel and advice, and even though we’re not meeting on a weekly basis or even in the same area, I know that he is always there if I need him. Without Kevin, I would have let other 20-22 year old males define what it means to be a man for me, something they had no experience in or knowledge of.

In his book, “The Element”, Dr. Ken Robinson, one of the world’s leading thinkers on creativity and education, describes four roles of the mentor:

Recognition – Mentors identify skills that others haven’t seen in their proteges.

Encouragement – “Mentors lead us to believe that we can achieve something that seemed improbable or impossible to us before we met them” (pp. 181-182).

Facilitating – Mentors help us to grow those skills they helped us find.

Stretching – Mentors help us to not settle, but to always push our limits.

I know Kevin was not a 100% perfect mentor; there is only one of those who has ever lived. However, from his example, I have some suggestions for older men who are serving (or hopefully begin serving) as mentors:

Know yourself. You need to know your weaknesses and strengths. This means that you need to be reflecting as much, if not more than, your protege. If you’re not able to help your protege grow in an area, know someone that can. Don’t be afraid to ask for outside help.

Know your protege. You would not believe how helpful it was to have Kevin be able to look deeper than what I was saying and identify where my thoughts and feelings were truly coming from. He saved me a lot of struggle and embarrassment by pointing out the root of some issues I was having.

Never stop improving. You can’t settle and rest on what you’ve got. If you stop learning and reflecting, your protege can only grow so much.

Be selective. Just because someone approaches you as a mentor, does not mean that you have to accept. You need to delve into the rationale behind it and make sure that you are the most beneficial person for them. If you don’t have time, or don’t share similar interests (remember, men relate shoulder to shoulder, through activities), then help them find someone who is better suited for them.

Be available. This means that if you are a mature man who has come into his own, please, please mentor someone. Additionally, if you’re going to do it, be there for them, not just when it’s convenient for you. Mentoring takes time and effort.

For those boys who are looking for that mentor, I have four recommendations:

Be selective. Just as mentors should be selective, so should you. Find a man whom you respect and whom you have seen doing good in his workplace, his home, and his community.

Be FAT. Kevin always described the best protege as FAT: Faithful, Available, Teachable. Show up when you say you will; come ready to learn and engage; and be open to knowledge. If you can’t be FAT, then you’re not using your time or your mentor’s time well.

Engage for the long run. Yes, some mentors may come and go, but you need a male mentor who will be a role model and guide for you for a long time. You can’t jump from mentor to mentor, because you’ll have to establish that relationship all over again each time.

Be honest. If you are going to lie to your mentor, that doesn’t help you. For him to honestly guide you into masculinity, he needs to know your struggles, your interests, what you wish to become. And if you don’t know all of these, tell him. More than likely, he can help.

A boy needs to learn how to be a man from multiple sources. His dad and mom are just two of these, and once he moves out from under their roof, he needs a mentor to guide him. If you are someone without a positive mentor in your life, I encourage you to find one. If you’re having trouble, I would be happy to help how I can. And, if you are a mature man (respectful, reverent, and responsible), you owe it to those who have mentored you and to all those who need men in their lives to be mentors.

To men stepping up, reaching over to younger men, and helping them up into masculinity,


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Posted by on December 4, 2012 in Rites of Passage


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