Are the Children Well?

Jeffrey Erkelens
Nov 22, 2019 · 4 min read
Maasai children by Kiko at Hiker Bible

Kasserian Ingera?” is a common greeting among male warriors of the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania. “Are the children well?

I’m afraid they’re not, at least in this part of the world. I mean, the girls seem to be doing fine; it’s boys I’m worried about.

They are killing themselves at increasing rates, venting their suffering through mass shootings, falling further behind at school, crowding our prisons, and twice as likely to be labeled “emotionally disturbed” than girls. Over ten million are being raised without their father’s presence.

“There is a tribe of invisible boys who move around us like shadows — have you felt them? They cannot be seen except when they die… only then do they become visible.” — Nakasak, Eskimo poet.

“What’s needed,” says Steve Biddulph in ‘Raising Boys,’ is something that will engage the spirit of a boy… to pull him headlong into some creative effort or passion that gives his life wings. Many of the things that parents have nightmares about (risk taking, alcohol, drugs, and criminal activity) happen because we do not find channels for young men’s desire for glory and heroic roles. Boys look out at the larger society and see little to believe in or join with. They want to jump somewhere better and higher, but that place is nowhere in sight.”

When they do jump, it is often into the jaws of online hate groups led by dark mentors who use the promise of belonging, power, and respect to lure boys into their sordid, dangerous world.

Many others timidly retreat to their dark bedrooms to live out their heroic fantasies through video games, secretly yearning for someone to burst down their door and lead them on the path of noble purpose.

Dr. Michael Gurian, author ‘Saving our Sons’ recently said that in thirty years of working with children, he has never been more worried. “Nearly every problem we face in our civilization today,” he explained, “intersects in some way with the state of boyhood in America.”

If we don’t initiate the young, they will burn down the village to feel the heat. — African proverb,

In traditional societies, initiating boys into manhood was the purview of the male elders of the tribe. In today’s contemporary society, this crucial rite of passage is mostly relegated to the obtainment of a driver’s license or tattoo, or a blackout induced by alcohol. Underprivileged boys often choose the only alternative: gangs, which provide protection, identification of the ‘Other’ (rival gangs), territoriality, discipline, allegiance to ‘strong’ leaders, and a sense of belonging through clothing and ritual scarification.

Where are the male elders? The fierce gentlemen of the modern human tribe whose duty it is to initiate boys into an evolved conception of manhood and train them on the character strengths needed to become caring and passionate men of noble purpose?

Having lacked proper initiation themselves, it appears many are equally disoriented and adrift.

Stu Weber, author of ‘Tender Warrior,’ thinks of these men as “vessels with no prow, no stern, no rudder, and — worse yet — no keel.” I picture them, Weber says, “with an oar in the water, paddling here and there, solemnly going around and around in circles, forever asking, ‘What makes a man? Who am I? What do I do?’ Conspicuously absent is a sense of purpose. No vision shimmering on the horizon. No mountain peaks calling from the purple distance. No steely convictions glinting in their eyes. There is only confusion and mist. The soft fog of self-talk with neither direction nor resolution… going nowhere at all and despising every moment of the fruitless journey.”

The purpose of aging is to become a Wizard, I wrote in a recent article, and initiating boys is the sphere of wizards.

Greek philosopher Aristotle tutored young Alexander the Great.

Professor Dumbledore took Harry Potter under his wing.

Guided by Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker became a Jedi Warrior.

Old Gandalf mentored Frodo Baggins.

Dr. Miyagi trained the Karate Kid.

“The spirit of a boy is too great for just a family to contain and his horizons are wider than a family can provide for,” says Steve Biddulph in ‘Raising Boys.’ “By his mid-teens, a boy wants to leap into his future but there must be a place for him to leap to and strong arms to steady him.”

Fathers are not meant to mentor their sons, either because they love them too much so keep them from daring greatly or away from unconventional paths, or they’re too intense, feel time is running out, and want to prevent their sons from repeating their mistakes or, worse, push their sons to live-out their disallowed dreams.

Absent positive male mentors, especially for the millions of boys being raised by single mothers, we will continue seeing villages burning, mass shootings, suicides and despair, and won’t be able to respond to “kasserian ingera?” with “sapati ingera— “All the children are well.”

Jeffrey Erkelens

Written by

Flying fish. Iconoclast. Currently writing ‘The Hero in You,’ a book for boys:

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