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Losing things, Part 3: Stories

Losing things, Part 3: Stories

by Wolf Pascoe on January 28, 2013

When one has not had a good father, one must create one. –Friedrich Nietzsche

I often wonder why I didn’t get into more trouble when I was a teenager.

I had a rebellious streak, but kept it in check. I sought out older men—teachers, scoutmasters, coaches, camp counselors, male relatives—willing to become mentors to me.

I tried hard to do well in school to please my mother, who had a fantasy that I would save the world.

I got very good at pleasing other people. I stayed out of trouble and had a productive life.

I did these things without knowing why.

I didn’t grow up until at age thirty-five I met Bly, and began to consciously connect to other men in a formal, feeling way. A man needs a safe place to speak his heart to other men. It’s as simple as that.




The nature of adolescent males is eruptive, and in our culture there are many angry, violent young men. Although most of these young men come from troubled homes, it’s too simple to blame the anger and violence on a lack of good fathering.

Good fathering is contributory, but not sufficient, to turn a boy into a man. The whole village has to act in concert.

Some years ago a woman friend of mine asked me to organize an initiation ceremony for her fourteen-year-old son. I had no idea how to do this, but she seemed certain that if a group of older males took the boy with them into the woods, something would happen.

That’s what we did, spending three days together at a camp on the Rogue River in Oregon. Many words were spoken that weekend, and many times we sat in silence, not knowing what to say.

When it was over, I knew that how we spoke was more important than what we spoke. A few years later I ran across this story of Martin Buber’s:

When the Master of the Good Name, the Baal Shem Tov, saw misfortune threatening the community, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and a miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted.

Later, when the Baal Shem’s disciple, the Maggid of Mezritch, had occasion for the same reason to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say, “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer.” Again the miracle would be accomplished.

Still later, Rabbi Moshe-leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say, “I do not know how to light the fire. I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient, and the miracle was accomplished.

Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhin to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God, “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer and I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.”

And it was.

What we had done for most of that weekend was to tell stories.




Since that time I’ve participated in other ceremonies for adolescent boys. I know other men who have done so as well. There is no magic formula. I know only one thing about such matters. A young man needs a safe place to speak his heart.

Much as I might wish for it, there will come no group of elders to descend on our house one night and spirit Nick off to a secret camp, where, with the other boys, he will be initiated into the mysteries and responsibilities of tribal adulthood. That is long gone, though its footprint holds place in the psyche.

I like hearing stories of older men mentoring younger ones. I like it that when I go off to a meeting with my men’s group, Nick often gives me something he’s made to show them. I like it that the school we found in Portland has built community service into its curriculum.

In our culture, we have remnants of initiation, nights in treehouses, weekends in the woods, longings, images, baby steps.

I don’t know the prayer, the place in the forest, or the exact way to light the fire. But I do know the story–and I can try to hold the vision for Nick.

I can try to stay awake.



This is the third of a three-part post. Part 1: Social Security, Part 2: Rites of Passage

A story about fathers and sons




Frederick Marx, a man I met at the Dad’s Summit last year, is making a film documenting efforts to mentor young men and women. As I watched this eight minute trailer I started to weep.





Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie January 28, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Beautiful, Wolf.

My sweet boy is 6 1/2 and I have LONGED for a community for him to grow up within, one that would act as the village that my own family does not provide. I long for mentors for him, strong male role models who view the importance of ritual and rights of passage. We have none of this. Not really. And it scares me because I worry I can’t do it all on my own. That my husband and I aren’t sufficient enough for guiding him into adulthood. I love this story, though, and will hold it close to my heart as I try to navigate these tricky waters. Thank you for your voice, here. It always speaks my heart. xo


Wolf Pascoe January 29, 2013 at 8:05 pm

We all long for this community. A man once came to Jung with a dream he’d had: there were women and men in a desert and they were building a basilica. He wanted to know the dream’s meaning. “I know this dream,” said Jung. “They are building the new religion. The work will take about 600 years.”


The Exception January 28, 2013 at 1:32 pm

During a rough time in my parenting life, someone suggested that I read Iron John. Even though I have a daughter, I found so much in the book that could apply to girls in a different, but simlar, manner. My dad did a lot with my brother; my brother has five boys and his relationship with them does not carry on the rituals and the together/conversation time. I have made an effort to bring ritual and celebration into my daughter’s life.

Having read Iron John and the Council of Dads, I am increasingly aware of the importance of giving our children ritual, community, raising them with a sense of greater connectedness and equinimity.

*sigh* It takes people and really, a village, to raise children – there is no app to replace the human factor.


Wolf Pascoe January 29, 2013 at 7:03 pm

“there is no app to replace the human factor”

“The purpose of ritual is to wake up the old mind in us, to put it to work. The old ones inside us, the collective unconscious, the many lives, the different eternal parts, the senses and the parts of the brain that have been ignored. Those parts do not speak English. They do not care about television. But they do understand candlelight and colors. They understand nature.”

— Z. Budapest


BigLittleWolf January 28, 2013 at 6:26 pm

I fear my sons missed so many opportunities, the sorts of things that echo in your words. Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps there are a few that remain from when they were little and their dad was around. Perhaps there are some with their dad that I don’t know about.

I hope so. To think that they haven’t known this critical male community makes me terribly sad.


Wolf Pascoe January 29, 2013 at 8:10 pm

At the risk of sounding oracular, I believe something of what they needed must have come to them, otherwise they would not be where they now are. What more they need, they’ll find. It’s never too late.


Jim Parkevich January 28, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Hi Wolf
You and I share a special bond……….. You know the story..the story of how you want your boy to grow with integrity, courage, caring for the world and the community of humans everywhere.. You envision him as filled with the wisdom of family now long gone, and all they endured to bring you into the world. And you have fulfilled some of that responsibility to bring him thus far. And he is longing for the rest of the story. You are right about the power of a campout. Youngsters away from mom and dad, many for the first time..scared unsure, gangly little boys. But as you surely do care, I hope you get to watch as I did.
One day, a young man will suddenly “be there”; Nick will grow to be tall, solid and will lean down on your shoulder and tassel your hair. He will call her “mother” not mom..But, don’t forget all the small things..walks in a park, hammering a few boards and nails, learning to tie knots and to make a campfire.
I am so privileged to have had so many boys pass thru my Boy Scout Troop..to grow to great men with families of their own and who maintain their friendships more than 20 years later…..There is help everywhere..only people who seek, shall find the help…..


Wolf Pascoe January 29, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Jim, you are my man.


Barbara January 30, 2013 at 11:44 am

Although the Boy Scouts of America open themselves up to lots of criticism, I have to say that the scout program was an amazing experience for both of my boys. They traveled through it from age 6 to 18, when they attained Eagle rank. I was able to be an active witness in Cub Scouts, but it was all male after that. It got fathers involved in ways they couldn’t or wouldn’t have otherwise. I balked about committing to it at that first meeting so long ago, but I’m so grateful for the program now, for all of the reasons you mentioned above.


Wolf Pascoe January 31, 2013 at 1:02 am

What is needed is both good mentoring and inclusiveness, together. Such a joy when it happens.


Kyle Bradford January 30, 2013 at 8:41 pm

This is just one of the reasons why I asked you to be the first person I interview for my new project.

Deep thinker, intelligent writer.


Wolf Pascoe January 31, 2013 at 1:05 am

I’m looking forward to this conversation, Kyle.


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