"He wants to learn how to do things - how to drive a car, to hunt birds, to build a loft in his room. And now the Question of a man's soul begins to present itself in nearly everything the boy-becoming-a-young-man does: Do you have what it takes? In the cowboy stage the answer comes partly through adventure, and partly through hard work."
What does this quote mean to you? Do you remember being that age? When the work and play started to become one and the same? Or play become something done after work? It seems to me that this is what this stage is all about. Adventuring on a grand scale. As a boy, we adventure and push the limits that we have but as a cowboy, those limits begin to fade into the glory of being independent and aware of the world we are now inhabiting.
Eldredge mentions the hard work that gets experienced at this stage. I feel that for me, this is a true statement. I have spent many long days working and learning how to do things that men do. And I have been taught by men. A teacher from high school asked me one spring to help him build a house... a straw house. So we spent the next five summers doing just that. His property is in Central Oregon in a little town called La Pine. It's a three and a half hour drive just to get there and once you're there, you are almost nowhere. During the nights, you can see more stars than there are hairs on your head. The days are hot and long and the nights are cold and beautiful. When we first started the house, we slept in the pump-house. Mornings were cold but we had to get up to go to work. And we had to work to finish the house. This man, now a dear friend, worked with me, coached me and taught me. He taught me the process of building a house (a straw house at least), he taught me how to use certain tools and other building techniques. And then he let me work. And it wasn't just the work, it was working with him that made such a difference.
Another friend of mine was building a house. He is retired and is a vet. We were building his and his wife's retirement house... just the three of us. I think it was here that I learned the most about getting the job done. There were days where we would start at six because of the heat. I learned very well the idea of working hard to play later. I also learned the tangible benefits of coffee! It was learning from a master, being taught how to do something and then being expected to do it. It was here I think that a good foundation was laid that allowed me to believe in myself, to have confidence that I can do the things other men can do.
"Life is hard. While he is the beloved son, a boy is largely shielded from this reality. But a young man needs to know that life is hard, that it won't come to you like Mom used to make it come to you, all soft and warm and to your liking, with icing. It comes to you more the day Dad makes it come to you - with testing, as on a long hike or trying to get en exhaust manifold replaced. Until a man learns to deal with the fact that life is hard, he will spend his days chasing hte wrong thing, Using all his energies trying to make life comfortable, soft, nice and that is no way for any man to
spend his life."
Ya, life has been hard. I have struggled. Who am I kidding though, everybody's life has been hard. We all have our own relative struggles that weigh us down and give us cause to turn tail and flee. I believe the crucial variable at this point is having interpreters. My definition of an interpreter in this case is someone who has been through this process and, for the most part, inhabits a further stage than yours. They are someone who can look at what you're doing and see the potential paths, forks and turns you will experience. We each need someone who we can talk to and trust. This doesn't have to be our biological dads but it has to be a man who understands the process and a man we trust. If there's no trust then the structural criticism will be ignored and there will be no growth, or at least it will be much more difficult to attain.
As Eldredge points out, so many men get lost or stuck at this stage. They get addicted to the feelings of freedom and have no grounding principles that bring them back to reality. I think these are men who needed the adventure and maybe got into it with another man, and interpreter, who didn't understand the process and offered a false image what is important. Because it's not the adventuring that's important, it's how we are changed in that adventure. What do we come back with, what do we process when we are in the rawness of the moment. When we are laid bare to the world and to the elements and yet challenge everyone for more. Test me, let me show you I have what it takes!
So go adventure. Go experience your limits, find them and then break them. But come back, talk about it, process it. Share it with those men around you and listen. Listen to their experiences and listen to their wisdom. Then go test it again!