When I was a teacher, boys’ education was a big focus of mine. Spurred by an incredible day of learning with Steve Biddulph, and gaps in my own learning about what it meant to be a male in my own upbringing, I sought to try and be a positive influence for a lot of the young men that came through my classroom. Sometimes this resulted in advice, sometimes a sympathetic ear, sometimes tears. Like so much of teaching, you just never knew where things were going to go, but I would like to think that for a lot of those boys, some of whom have their own children now themselves, our interactions left us both better off.
As a part of my research into this area of education, the concept of rituals and rites of passage came up a lot in my reading. From ancient indigenous ceremonies to drumming circles to religious rites, it all came up, but not having a son of my own and not really being able to introduce these at school, my interest was more passing than anything, and sometimes a mirror to hold up to my own experiences as a teenager trying to navigate through the amazing transition which is adolescence.
Of course, this has all changed with my son’s own transition, within his own search for what it is to be him. Amongst all of the questions and clarifications that have been our lives over the past year or so, it’s only been recently that I’ve remembered where my own journey with all of this came from, and that I now have a son that will need the milestones in his life recognized and celebrated, perhaps with ritual and ceremony, rites and reflections.
This was all brought to a head for me just over a week ago when I was fortunate enough to watch a screening of the Australian documentary “Zach’s Ceremony”. http://www.zachsceremony.com It’s about a young man making the transition from teenager to manhood in a modern world, but, as an Indigenous Australian, this was also framed within the traditions of the oldest continual culture on earth. It was a fascinating movie, with the brilliance of it being in the openness of Zach’s people, allowing viewers to see a side to Aboriginal culture which has been a protected secret for so long, and rightfully so, when you consider how many different groups have tried to strip them of all traditions in the past.
Still from Zach's Ceremony
Zach’s father, Alec Doomagee, who made the film, was in attendance, and was glad to respond to questions after the screening. The whole experience opened up some wounds for me, wounds that are so common within the souls of fathers and sons who have made the same mistakes since time began, which of course made me consider the relationship that I have with my own son. It was a period of reflection that took place overlooking a massive Arnhem Land escarpment, on the traditional ceremonial grounds of the Gumatj people, who host the Garma festival every year. You couldn’t imagine ground more steeped in lore, ceremony, rites and celebration. But as a white Australian, and having just watched Zach’s own journey, I suddenly felt awfully empty inside, knowing that my culture does not come from that place of passage, of transition, of ritual and care.
And where does that leave my own son? Going through a process that is so utterly foreign to almost everybody else in his society? And how do I help him on that course, and how can the traditions of the past be a part of that?
I honestly don’t know the answers, but I am beginning to ask the questions. If you have any suggestions, please leave them below. But what I have realized most of all is that it doesn’t matter when your journey might begin, even if it’s not at birth, even if you have to jump tracks half way down the line, that’s ok. Parenting is always about responding to the unknown, I’m just hoping that my own life as a man, and my experience as a teacher, can be useful in the times ahead as Jackson and myself try to negotiate some of the more specific challenges of the life that lies ahead of him.
Rainbow Cliffs, East Arnhem Land
Shannon's business card reads "photographer, writer, connector, narrator, autodidact, storyteller, wanderer, communicator, collaborator" which is mostly him, but he's also a mad Star Wars fan, a fur dad to two gorgeous little dachshunds and the biased father of one beautifully complicated child.
By day he's apparently working on a classified project that requires a top secret magic decoder ring, and by night he can be found recharging his batteries, usually wearing some sort of flannel.