A lot of young men today struggle in finding their footing in adulthood. They feel lost, directionless, and unsure of who they are and how to confidently and competently navigate the world.
Part of the reason for this is that most young men today lack something which was once a part of nearly every culture in the world, but has now almost entirely disappeared: a rite of passage.
My guest today didn’t want his son to flounder on the way to maturity, nor to miss out on having an initiation into manhood, so he set out to create a 6-year journey for him that would help him move from boy to man. His name is Jon Tyson, and he’s the author of The Intentional Father: A Practical Guide to Raise Sons of Courage and Character. Today on the show, Jon unpacks the components of the years-long journey into manhood he created for his son, beginning with how he brainstormed those components by doing “The Day Your Son Leaves Home” exercise. We then discuss how old Jon’s son was when he started his rite of passage and why it began with him having a “severing dinner” with his mom. We get into what his rite of passage consisted of, from the kickoff ceremony to the challenges, experiences, trips, and daily rituals Jon used to impart values and teach his son the “5 Shifts of Manhood.” Jon shares how moving his son’s focus from being a good man, to being good at being a man, helped him get remotivated to continue the process, why his rite of passage included a gap year after high school, and how Jon celebrated the end of his son’s journey into becoming a man. We also discuss whether Jon did something similar with his daughter. We end our conversation with some key principles any dad can use to start intentionally helping their kids become well-rounded individuals who can confidently step out on their own and into the world.
Resources Related to the Podcast
- AoM Article: The Importance of Fathers
- AoM Article: The Importance of Male Rites of Passage
- AoM Article: Male Rites of Passage From Around the World
- AoM Article & Podcast: Man’s Need for Ritual
- AoM Series on the origins, elements, and future of manhood
- AoM Article: The 7 Habits — Begin With the End in Mind
- AoM Article: The 3 Families Every Young Man Needs to Grow Up Well
- James Hollis
- AoM Article: Carry the Fire
- Art of Manliness’ Carry the Fire Zippo Lighter
- AoM Article: What Is Manliness?
- AoM Podcast #527 With Richard Rohr
- The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip and Dan Heath
- The Way of Men by Jack Donovan
- AoM Podcast #49 With Jack Donovan
- AoM Series on the Four Archetypes of the Mature Masculine
- AoM Article: 100 Skills Every Man Should Know
- AoM Article: 80+ Quotes on Men & Manhood
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. A lot of young men today struggle in finding their footing in adulthood. If you’re lost, directionless and unsure of who they are and how to confidently and competently navigate the world. Part of the reason for this is that most young men today lack something which was once part of nearly every culture in the world, but has now almost entirely disappeared: A rite of passage. My guest today didn’t want his son to flounder on the way to maturity nor miss out on having an initiation into manhood, so he set out to create a six-year journey for him that would help him move from boy to man. His name is Jon Tyson, and he’s the author of The Intentional Father: A Practical Guide to Raise Sons of Courage and Character. Today on the show, Jon impacts the components of the years-long journey into manhood he created for his son, beginning with how he brainstormed these components by doing the day-your-son-leaves-home exercise.
We then discuss how old Jon’s son was when he started his rite of passage and why it began with him having a severing dinner with his mom. We get into what his rite of passage consisted of, from the kick-off ceremony to the challenges, experiences, trips and daily rituals Jon used to impart values, teach his son the five shifts of manhood. Jon shares how moving his son’s focus from being a good man to being good at being a man helped him get re-motivated to continue the process, why his rite of passage included a gap year after high school and how Jon celebrated the end of his son’s journey into becoming a man. We also discuss whether Jon did something similar with his daughter. We end our conversation with some key principles any dad can use to start intentionally helping their kids become well-rounded individuals who can confidently step out on their own and into the world. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/passage.
And away we go. Alright, Jon Tyson, welcome to the show.
Jon Tyson: Good day, mate. How are you? Thanks for having me on.
Brett McKay: So you got a book out called The Intentional Father: A Practical Guide to Raise Sons of Courage and Character. And in this book, you walk readers through on how you developed and carried out a years-long rite of passage into manhood for your son. So let’s talk about this. When did you first get the idea of doing this sort of… This was involved. This started… This was years long, right? Started when he became a teenager, went through… Till he left the house. When did you come up with this idea?
Jon Tyson: I think the first moment it really hit me was driving back from the doctor when they told me, “Hey, do you wanna know if your son’s a boy or a girl?” And I said, obviously, “It’s a boy.” And I just had this profound sense of being overwhelmed that I personally did not have what it took to help my son become a man. I got married young and faced all the challenges of my own inadequacy, dealing with the complications of life, and I thought, “I have got to do better for my son.” And that’s where the idea was born. So I think another key moment, I was meeting with a local faith leader, and he was talking about the way their community helped young men move from adolescence to manhood, and I thought, “I don’t have anything like that, and I have got to build something like that.” Yeah, so very, very early on, and I spent about a decade reading, trying to figure out how to do it.
Brett McKay: Did you have something like that in your own life when you were a boy transitioning to manhood? Did you get a rite of passage?
Jon Tyson: I had absolutely nothing. I mean, zero. So I was working from a pretty big deficit, and I think a lot of dads are. A lot of folks out there sort of feel there’s a hole in their life, and they’re trying to figure out how to catch up, fill that and then do something better for their own kids.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I think a lot of men are like that. They didn’t have that experience but they want it for their own sons, so they’re trying to give their sons the experience that they didn’t have.
Jon Tyson: Yeah, totally.
Brett McKay: And something you start off in the book talking about is the research. You’ve done a lot of research about what happens when boys don’t have fathers, don’t have involved fathers. What does the research say as to what happens to boys when they lack a strong father figure?
Jon Tyson: Well, it’s actually very, very clear. Sort of the go-to research most people reference is from fatherhood.org, but it’s basically what you think. Kids are four times more likely to live in poverty, more likely to suffer emotional behavioral problems, higher levels of risky and aggressive behavior, two times the risk of infant mortality which is crazy, more likely to go to prison, only one in five inmates grew up in a home where their father was present, twice as likely to be involved in early sexual activity. So the presence of a dad in a home makes an incredible difference. With all of our conversations about justice in the world today, I don’t know why this one doesn’t get more attention, because one of the greatest cultural advantages that someone could have in life is a present, loving father figure. So yeah, the impact is massive.
Brett McKay: Well, and besides, you’re trying to move beyond just having a present, involved dad. Your ideal of a good dad is an intentional father, where a father intentionally thinks about walking their sons through an initiation process. What do you think men lack when they transition into adulthood without having almost like a ritual to carry them into manhood?
Jon Tyson: Well, I think there’s some kind of deep, internal inadequacy. There’s some sense of a desire to bless, pass on, and help, but they don’t have a source to get it from. So I think there’s a lot of confusion. I think there’s a lot of pain. Our culture has gotten rid of most of the sort of life passages other than formal education, and so there’s a lot of people walking around really wondering, “Am I even a man?” When are you a man? When you lose your virginity? The first time you drink alcohol? When you get your first paycheck? When you leave home? No one seems to know when manhood is conferred on them, and then how they distribute it to other people. So yeah, I think there’s a hole in the soul of most men and they’re seeking and striving to catch up with it.
Brett McKay: And something you talk about in the book, one way men often fill that hole is they create self-initiations for themselves.
Jon Tyson: Yeah. You see this… Young people… I mean, you obviously remember this. When you hit puberty, the whole world changes. Your body is filled with testosterone, you got chemicals pumping, you got all of this energy. And the number one thing you’re trying to figure out what to do with it is, how do you channel this in a life-giving rather than destructive way? And that’s what these rites of passage historically were designed to do, to create guard rails, so the gift of male energy could be channeled for the good of the community and the man. Without those guard rails, you see all the damage we see in our world today. Without initiation, young men will seek to do something with their energy that confers a sense of confidence and blessing.
So, whether it’s risky behavior, whether it’s underaged drinking, whether it is sexual behavior or whatever, you’ve basically got young men saying, “Help me figure out what to do with this energy.” And when you look at some of the other rites of passage that other cultures have had, they are… Some of ’em are harrowing. And we would probably take kids away from parents who did some of these ancient rites of passage. They can sound kind of barbaric. But when you look at the levels of anxiety with our young people today, depression with young men, the challenges that teenage boys face, our lack of initiation at scale is more damaging than the initiation cultures, no matter how intense they were, of other societies. So, yeah, I’m a big believer that we have to reclaim rites of passage, create guard rails, so that male energy can be channeled for the good of society. And that’s definitely what I’m trying to address in the book.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I like that… The idea of… This is… The idea is to channel male energy or masculine energy. And it’s one of the analogies I’ve used throughout the years when I’ve tried to explain difference between masculinity and manliness. Masculinity is just that energy and vigor that’s borne through testosterone, right?
Jon Tyson: Yes.
Brett McKay: And then manliness is a culture that you use to direct that energy, or manhood is a culture that you direct that energy. So it’s kind of like electricity. Masculinity is electricity. You create a culture of manliness or manhood to funnel that energy. But if you don’t have any wires that’s directing that masculine energy, it becomes dangerous.
Jon Tyson: Yeah, definitely. Totally agree. Yeah.
Brett McKay: Okay. So let’s talk about… You had this idea, your son was born, you’re like, “Okay, I’m gonna… I wanna create an initiation for him, to give him things that I didn’t have. And so when you started this planning process, you went through this exercise you call, the-day-your-son-leaves-home exercise. Walk us through that. What kinda questions are you asking yourself as you guide yourself through this thought process?
Jon Tyson: Yeah. I got the idea from Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, where it talks about, Begin with the end in mind. And it has that exercise where you pretend it’s your funeral, and then you go back and sort of ask yourself the question, “What sort of life and legacy do I wanna leave?” And I thought, that’s a great framework to apply to a ton of different areas of life. And I thought, I’m gonna apply this to the day where I send my son off to either college or some sort of gap year or whatever. And I did… I thought about this when he was really young. And I basically just worked my way backwards, try to keep that day very, very vivid and real in my heart, and then ask a series of questions to design this pathway for him. The first one was like, What do I want my son to know? I want him to be a man of wisdom. I want him to be able to navigate the complexities of life. Number two, Who do I want my son to be? And this was about his moral, ethical and character formation. Then, What do I want my son to be able to do? And this is sort of skill acquisition. A man should be able to do stuff, step in a room and add value through skill acquisition. And then, What experiences do I need to design to make this happen? With all the best intentions in the world, without a conscious pathway and designing experiences where these things are developed, it’s never gonna be there.
So, yeah, I basically worked backwards. And just like you do with a college degree, sort of you say, “Hey, in order to get a degree, you’re gonna have to do X amount of classes, and it’s gonna have to either be a two-year associates or a four-year or a graduate degree.” I just worked backwards, starting at around age 13 when he was hitting puberty, and then worked it out till he was 18, and then created a pathway around knowledge and character and skill development and the experiences to help him do that. And then one of the things I did was to basically ask the question, Who can help me with this? I’m a big believer that dads are fundamental in a young man’s formation. But we’re living in a world where a lot of people don’t have dads or step dads or they’re asking the question about mentoring. And so I sort of came up with this idea of building a tribe or a cohort of fathers who do this together, and then coming up, with those dads, with an asset map. And sort of everybody puts in the middle of the room, What assets do you have available in your life? Someone may say, “Hey, we have a lake house.” Someone may say, “I got a second car, and I’m willing to let the boys learn to drive in it.” Someone may say, “Hey, I’ve got a series of key relationships in my industry, and I can… ” Or that, “I’ve got access to some cool sporting events.” And then you sort of start dreaming from there.
So it was like a big white board exercise. And then I worked my way backwards, and that was how I basically designed what I call the Primal Path, which is the sort of six-year journey I came up with.
Brett McKay: No, the-day-your-son-leaves-home exercise is really powerful. I went through it through my head and trying to imagine what my son… He’s 11 right now, and imagine when he’s 18, and he’s leaving the roost. It’s just… It really gets you…
Jon Tyson: It’s heavy. Yeah.
Brett McKay: It’s a gut punch. You’re just like… And you wanna know, like, What is he gonna be like? What do I want him to be like?
Jon Tyson: Yeah, totally.
Brett McKay: And I like this idea of developing an asset map. So it’s… You get the idea of what… The things that you want your son to know, understand, be able to do. But then try to figure out, Okay, what do I have at my disposal to make that happen? And not just things, but, Who are the other people in my life that can help me make this happen? I think that was… I loved how you focused on that in making this a community project. Oftentimes, when I think… When I hear dads talk about, “I wanna do a rite of passage for my son,” it’s just him and their son. That’s fine. But I think something… There’s a power when you bring other men into the process as well.
Jon Tyson:Yeah. If you put too much pressure on a dad… No dad is gonna be a perfect father. And so to put all that psychic pressure on a dad can be overwhelming, but to distribute that through a community of men where a father or a mentor plays a primary role, but is surrounded by this cast of other sort of like wise, passionate, helpful men, I think that is a real gift. And I think it’s actually something that young men ache for. Why is there such devotion to teams, team sports, having coaches around? It’s ’cause we need that sense of community and belonging as we grow and develop. So it was very important for me, not just to be, my son and I, but it was like my son and I and a cohort of other guys walking through this.
Brett McKay: Well, I think too, part of the… What you’re trying to do in an initiation or rite of passage is help the boy cut themselves off in a way from their family. So if it’s just the dad, that’s a problem. That’s gonna be hard to do. ‘Cause if you’re always there in the process, it’s hard to cut yourself off away from your father. But if you have another man there, you can have those periods where you can experience that. And I’ve noticed in my own life, I look back in my own life, my dad was always there and he taught me a lot of important things. But I remember, it really… Like a lot of times, oftentimes, the things that he told me or he modeled hit home when there was another man that wasn’t my father…
Jon Tyson: Yeah, totally agree.
Brett McKay: Showing me that. Okay. So you came with this idea what you wanted your son to be like, then you did… You started off an initial ceremony, but it was with your wife. It was mom that kick-started this thing off. What’s… That’s… I think that a lot of guys think, what’s going on there? Why’d you do that?
Jon Tyson: Well, that was interestingly enough, the most controversial piece of this period. And this is the place I get the most feedback. Just to take a little half step back, James Hollis who was I think the president of the Jungian society, he’s written a ton of books on midlife, on pathways, on stage development and theory. He basically said all societies have a six-step process of walking boys through adolescence into manhood, and one of those stages is what he calls the death of childhood thinking.
And it’s an environment where you’ve gotta be cut off from the primary influences of childhood in order to enter liminal space. And one of the things that a lot of societies did was consciously severed an overemphasized bond between mother and child, so that he could learn to be formed by the community of men. So I did what I called a severing dinner, which the publisher reduced down to a directional dinner, which sounded less threatening. And it was basically, I talked my wife into doing this, and my wife’s an absolute legend. She’s an incredible woman. And I said,” Hey, look, I need Nate not to shrink back to you for comfort, but I need you to push him back to me for formation and for challenge.” And so she took him out for a dinner to his favorite restaurant. Even though I’m from Australia, she took him to Outback. It’s a cliche, but it is what it is. [chuckle] And he’s at Outback steakhouse and then she gave him a series of gifts.
And then, I come from a faith background, so she prayed a prayer of blessing over him, sort of like an important marking moment. And then she said to him, “Hey, I’m your mother. I love you. I’ll always be here for you and I’ll care for you, but you need to be handed to your father to learn how to become a man. This is gonna be hard. It’s gonna be a challenge, and you’re gonna want to come back to me to ease and find comfort for the discomfort and challenges you’re facing. And I want you to know I’m gonna push you back to your dad and I’m not gonna nurture your immaturity.” And that was a really powerful moment. Now, to fast forward several years, when I was with my son closing out our journey together, I said to him, “Hey, Nate, I’m getting quite a bit of pushback on the dinner that you did with mom.” And he said, “No, no, no, no, you have to include that.” He said, “I cannot put into words how psychologically powerful that was for me, to realize I was entering this journey primarily being formed by men.” And he was like, “That jump-started this whole thing in my heart that I was actually entering into a different stage together.” So, yeah, it began with my wife and then sort of moved to a formal initiation ceremony on a beach off the coast of New York City.
Brett McKay: And what did that ceremony look like? Who was there and what did you do?
Jon Tyson: So I basically got three other dads together. I’ve been in New York city for the last 17 years. So, it was a few other dads who were my son’s closest friends, and basically cast this vision for him about building this pathway from adolescence into manhood. And then we designed an initiation ceremony. So we hyped it up for a few months, so they’d be a little nervous and also excited. And then when the day came, when all the boys had turned 13, this is late summer, we took them out to the beach and sat them in the sand and gathered around, told them a series of stories, shared some of our own personal lessons and learning. And then sort of tried to put… To say it in a good way, sort of inspire them and paint a picture of what was coming, and put the fear of God in them about how hard this was gonna be.
So there was sort of like that anticipatory terror. And then they ran into the water sort of like a religious baptism into this journey, dying to their old ways of childhood. And then, rising into this journey. And then we took them to Coney Island where they played a bunch of games together. And that was the kickoff. I then gave my son some gifts. I’m a big believer in the power of artifacts. And there’s something potent of one generation passing on something to the next generation that they can handle and know that they’re in a part of a continuing story. So I gave my son a really strong leather journal, I gave him a really nice pen. And then along the way, a whole series of gifts to sort of like mark it out and get along. I had this vision before I started where I wanted my son to start on the coast of New York. And I wanted his journey to end on the coast of Spain. And there’s a little town called Finisterre, and it’s a place where pilgrims, after they do this long hike, leave behind something at the end of their pilgrimage. And I had planned to sort of like go into the ocean in New York and go into the ocean in Spain. And so I had it planned to bookend and so that’s why it was done at the beach, and that’s why water was an important part of that.
Brett McKay: You were thinking way… You were thinking with the end in mind, again going back to Stephen Covey.
Jon Tyson: Yeah. That’s exactly right. Yeah. And when he leaves home, I really just… And this is one thing I would encourage dads or mentors to do. A lot of times men get into the workplace and they have…
They’re casting vision. They’re thinking abut sales or strategy or how to build things out, how to take ground, and they’ve got a ton of energy and gifts of vision casting, and that sort of stuff. But when it comes to their own kids we don’t apply any of the skills we have in our jobs to our parenting. And, if you were to put me on like a strength finder test, strategic would be number two for me. So I was like, “Hey, I’m a pretty strategic person. Why not apply this to fatherhood and then build this out?” So yeah, I had thought through this journey and tried to figure out the core components of it, and that certainly took away a lot of the panic and fear, even though there still was a ton of that being a dad.
Brett McKay: So when do you think a son should start the rite of passage? Like how do you know that they’re ready?
Jon Tyson: I think, universally through history, it’s sort of around the age of 13 or so. And I don’t know if that is… I don’t know if there’s anything culturally specific around that. Certainly not in our world anymore. Turning 13, I guess you’re a teenager, but that’s not that big a deal. I think it’s more connected to puberty. It’s when your body’s beginning to change. It’s when testosterones coming in. It’s when you start to think about sexuality. It’s when you start to think about your strength. It’s when competition really sets in. That’s when you start thinking about even a sense of vocation. You stop wanting to be the things you say when you’re four or five, and you’ve got a bit more of a realistic sense of where it is. You’re getting into sports or into academics in a new way. And so I think, again, it’s about that male energy. You’re trying to figure out “What do I do with this?” It can be very, very confusing and disorienting energy too. So right around the time this is happening within you, you want a community of men to come around you and to tell you the energy is good. It’s a gift. It must be channeled the right way and here is the path. So yeah. Universally, it seems to be sort around 13, around the age of puberty.
Brett McKay: Okay. So your son does the ceremony with his mom. You have the initiation ceremony with his friends and some other dads at the beach. The first part of this initiation, year’s long initiation process, was you actually took your son back home where you grew up. Why did you do that? What was the point of this?
Jon Tyson: Well, I mean, if I could sum up modern culture in one phrase, it would be this, project self. Project self. We live in a world that’s telling you all the time, “You are the center of everything.” Narcissism is at epidemic proportions in our world today. And particularly when you’re a teenager, you can be pretty inwardly focused. It is a confusing time. And you can think that there’s nothing outside of yourself and that there’s nothing that mattered before you showed up. And I wanted my son to have a bigger picture of life. I wanted my son to realize what shaped me, what was gonna be shaping him, and I wanted him to step into sort of a family narrative. Various family traditions, some ethnic, some religious, record family trees for different reasons. I happen to have a cousin who was a history buff, and has got a PhD in history, and he traced our family line back to the 10th century. And so he presented me like this hundreds of pages of book of our family story. And, I mean the whole thing, family crest, family mottos, it was amazing. And so, I presented that to my son, “Hey, you’re a part of a long line of Tyson men and this is what it means.” And then I wanted him to see where I grew up and what it was like for me to develop my own values.
So I took him back to Australia where I grew up, I’m from a city called Adelaide, and basically had him go through the places that formed the values of my life so that when I talked about something, he’d knew where it was. I wanted him to have a context for the story that he was stepping into. And I think without… Alastair McIntyre said this, “We can only ask the question, what am I to do if I can answer the previous question, what stories am I a part of? Or what story or stories am I a part of?” And so if you’re gonna figure out your role you’ve gotta figure out the story that you’re in, and I really felt it was important to give my son the sense of continuity and history so he could understand the story that he was extending.
Brett McKay: Now, I think that’s important. I think another way you could sum up modern life is lack of context. A lot of people were just… You’re kind of thrown into this milieu where it’s just, you’re getting bombarded by all these different stories, and you don’t have a story that you’re embedded in. And so, you’re disoriented. And I think telling your kid like, “Hey, this is… You’re part of this story. This is our family story. This is what you’re part of,” gives them some context. Now, I think this is important because it can give them, one, they could step into that and lean into it. But even if they decide not to, by giving them that story, they’re able to know like, “Oh, how can I make myself different?” It gives them something to push back against if that makes sense.
Jon Tyson: Yeah. Yeah, totally.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I think a lot of young people, they’re just kind of flapping their arms. They don’t know what they’re doing.
Jon Tyson: And I think there’s a… I think it’s important too to tell the family story in a compelling way and an honest way. The whole idea of a family reunion where it’s like a bunch of people you don’t really like wearing weird t-shirts, I wasn’t trying to do that with my son. I was trying to let him know, “Hey man, our family has an incredible history. It’s a history of people who have taken big risks. It’s a history of people who’ve sacrificed. It’s a history of people who’ve paid a real price for you to be where you are in the world today. And I want you to know you come from good stock. To be a Tyson, Tyson means fire brand, like carry the fire.” I have the Carry the Fire lighters from Art of Manliness.
But like that whole concept man, this you are born into a legacy and you don’t get to invent a universe from nothing. And there’s good things I want you to have. There’s bad things I wanna warn you about that could flow into your life because of the things we’ve been through, and then I wanna figure out how to help you carry this forward through your calling and your personality. And that was actually a really, really amazing time. I’ve had a pretty wild life. I dropped outta high school, worked in a meat factory, bought a house when I was 19, immigrated to another country. I’ve had pretty wild teenage years, and I wanted my son to sort of like see that and feel the weight of that so he could understand the context that I was parenting out of. So he really enjoyed that time even though I was heartbroken that he came back saying, “Dad, American food is better than Australian food.” But what can you do?
Brett McKay: And what I like about what you did too is you would take him to places where you made really big decisions in your own life.
Jon Tyson: Yeah.
Brett McKay: And I think that’s a really great idea cause it allows your son… It gives him a pattern to follow, when he’s making his own big decisions.
Jon Tyson: Yeah. My values were vision, passion, discipline and risk. When I go back through history, I’ve always valued visionary men. They look beyond the horizons of what is possible, and they dream bigger dreams for themselves and for the culture. I’ve always loved men of passion. I’ve respected men of discipline, who have channeled again their energy to something redemptive and something good. And then if you’re good at those things, if you’ve got vision and passion in your discipline, you’re gonna get opportunities that’s gonna require risk. So, I took him to the four places I learned those values. And again, I totally agree, when something emerges in your life, in order for it to be internalized and to become a sacred part of your story, you go to market. The power of ritual and recognition, so our life is not just a blur of ordinary days. So yeah. And I see my son doing that now. My son will take time and say, “This place matters to me. This is an important part of my story. Those sorts of things.” So yeah. He learned that by seeing it on that trip.
Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. And now back to the show. So one of your big goals through this whole entire process was to teach your son values, family values, to help him develop his own personal values, but you also had this idea like, “I wanna inculcate masculine values into my son.” What were those values and why do you think that was important?
Jon Tyson: It is a confusing time in our culture to ask the question, “What is a man? What does it mean to be a man?” There’s a lot of stereotypes out there. There’s a lot of negative press in there. One of the things I try to emphasize to sort of get away from the controversy, and there is a lot of controversy, was the power of classical virtues. So the four classical versus: Justice, wisdom, courage, and self-restraint. I felt like the men we need in our world today are embodied in these values. We need just men in a world of tyrants. We need restrained men in a world of excess. We need wise men in a world of fools. And we need courageous men in a world of fear. Again, as someone from a faith tradition, the most important values according to St. Paul are faith, hope and love. And so to extend that I’m like, “We need faithful men in a world of compromise. We need hopeful men in a time of despair. We need loving men in a world of hate.”
So, I try to take these noble historically proven virtues and make those the baseline. And, particularly in Greco-Roman culture, these were masculine values. These were values that were associated with men. And so rather than just sort of pluck from thin air, choose random cultural values, I tried to find something that was a little more timeless and rooted.
Brett McKay: And one way you passed on these values or taught your son these values, you did this, you’d take him on trips and you’d of you’d just show it. I think that’s a very… I think that’s probably the most powerful way. But then you’d have these… Every morning you’d sit down with him and you’d have these little talks, and you’d also assign him books to read. Tell us about that.
Jon Tyson: Yeah. Well, again, I think I got the vision of just college or high school, which is, “What do you need to cover in order to graduate? How do you graduate into manhood? What do you need to have passed?” And again, getting back to know be and do as the sort of core tenants there. So yeah. I got a calendar and I worked back through a series of months, and I just said, “Here’s the content I wanna cover in this time,” and then I just broke it up into little chunks and then we just talked through it. So yeah. I just wanted to have this point every day where I was connecting. When you ask the question, “How does somebody grow? How does somebody change? How are they really shaped or formed?” It’s normally two things. It’s big, powerful, catalytic defining moments, and then it’s like the ordinary everyday habitual repetitive stuff we do in our lives. And so, that’s what I was doing in the daily little check-ins. Sometimes they were 15 minutes, sometimes they were 40 minutes, depending on what we were talking about. But it was just getting up early before school and then picking the theme we were working on, whether it was like one of the archetypes or one of the shifts.
And then I’d just come up with content and we’d just talk it through. So, I think just sowing those small seeds every day over the course of years produces a massive kind of fruit. So, I asked my son like, “What are some of the takeaways that you got from that?” And a lot of it were like pithy little phrases. My son said the number one thing that I’ve taken away from all of these years of content was this idea, “You are who you are when no one’s looking. That’s your true self. When you’re accountable as your own man in the world before your creator, that’s who you really are, without people pushing you.” And that was just something like I winged one morning. It was just like, “Okay, let me just throw that in. You know?” So again, you never know by sowing those seeds what’s gonna stick and what’s really gonna like impact and help.
Brett McKay: And then also throughout the process, you’d read books together or you’d even watch movies. So if you were talking about courage, you would watch Band of Brothers, for example.
Jon Tyson: Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean we just churned through the movies. If you’re a busy dad, I can tell you, come up with a few discussion questions, watch a movie, make him thoughtful, and you can have a great night together. Yeah, the Band of Brothers and barbecue was a very, very strong season that we did. So we would just like talk about… Watch an episode, talk about what we learned in the characters, and then we’d go out and eat meat. And we sort of went through the… Because I used to be a butcher, we would go to different barbecue restaurants, and we honestly sort of ate our way around New York City as a reward for doing these nights together. So that was a lot of fun. Build your traditions. With my daughter, we did it with cookies. She didn’t wanna eat brisket every week, so…
Brett McKay: Yeah, I wanna talk about something, what you do with your daughter, in a bit here. Okay, so one of the things you did with this right of passage process is you used the work, or looked at the work of Richard Rohr. We’ve had him on the podcast before. Franciscan Monk, who’s thought and does a lot about male initiation. And you took this idea that Rohr has, of the five rules of manhood that every boy needs to learn in order to become a man, and then you modified it to… And you called them the shifts of manhood. So what are the five shifts of manhood?
Jon Tyson: Yeah, I mean, Rohr is obviously a sage. He spent half a lifetime thinking about this stuff and has some very, very strong works on that. But I felt like, I mean how do you say to a 13-year-old kid, “You are gonna die. You’re not that important. Life is not about you.” And then how do you help him see that he’s making progress on that? And so, I sort of converted him into these shifts. Yeah, so the shifts are from ease to difficulty. Boys embrace ease men embrace difficulty, from self to others. Boys are about themselves, men are about others. From the whole to a part, boys are all about themselves, men realize they’re only a part of a greater story. From control to surrender, boys think they can maintain control, men understand the mysterious power of surrender. And then, from the temporary to the eternal, boys only think about what matters right now, but men think out of a larger picture. And then, yeah. I designed these units to help him really learn these lessons.
And so, to be able to say, “Hey, boys are about ease themselves, the whole thing, control and temporary things, and men are about difficulty, others, humility, surrender, thinking big picture.” So yeah. I would take a couple of months on each of these, have a little daily talk about it, do this weekly thing that we call man school, and then at the end of it we would do a challenge.
So from ease to difficulty, for example, my son’s terrified of heights. So I took him in Australia to the highest ropes course and Mike, this thing was… I hate heights too. This was horrific but I wanted him to see, “Hey man, if you do this, you’ve passed like you have now embraced difficulty. Like you’re ready to move on to the next unit.” And so it was a real joy seeing him do an actual challenge that kind of scared him a bit where he had to overcome something. But it was just a way of showing progress. I think there’s nothing more demoralizing for men than working hard and seeing no progress from your labor. And so I wanted to build in this sense of “I am taking ground. I am moving down the path. I am heading down the road from adolescence into manhood” and this was something that, particularly with my son, was very, very effective.
Brett McKay: No. And I love one for the shift for temporary to the eternal like you took him to a graveyard and that was really impactful. That was one of those other things that really stuck with your son when you asked him, “What was some of the things that stuck?” And he was like, “This pithy off-the-cuff remark about “You look at a gravestone and you see the date someone’s born, then a dash and then the date they die.” And you said, “That dash, that was their life. And what’s gonna be what’s gonna be your dash?”
Jon Tyson: Yeah. What’s your dash? That was actually a really meaningful moment. And my son, anytime we go past a graveyard would to this day be like, “What’s your dash, dad? Make it count.” And it is kind of amazing to think there’s that person, their life is over. They’d do anything to get a second chance at it. Gosh. Don’t squander your life man. Time is a gift. Time is the most important commodity. And so, think properly and steward your time. And I think to this day, my son is very time-conscious as a result of that moment.
Brett McKay: Okay, so these five shifts, you would spend a few months and would you revisit like, say if you did… From whole story to part of the story, a year before, would you revisit it and say, “Hey, we’re gonna talk about this and more?”
Jon Tyson: Yeah. I’m always just… When we talk about how memory works, we forget in a week 75% of what we’ve heard a week earlier. And so you’ve got to do what they call deep encoding. And that primarily comes through spaced repetition. And we all know that you can cram overnight and pass a test and learn nothing, or you can study, which means like every couple of days you’re like loading it back into your mind, and yeah. I was constantly trying to reinforce the core ideas. And I did that over the course of several years. So yeah. Spaced repetition is really important. Keep hitting the same things again and again and again, and I think all people that educate well get this just like refocusing, putting the emphasis on these things, so they go from external into an internal component where they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Brett McKay: Another thing that I really, I like that you talked about in the book is this idea of preparing for moments that your adolescent’s gonna face as they go through puberty right into adulthood. And I think these moments are often, if you don’t have a conscious, intentional rite of passage, these moments often become the rite of passage.
Jon Tyson: Yeah.
Brett McKay: But what you’re trying to do with this idea of preparing for moments is making these moments part of a larger rite of passage. And so these are things like, first shave, when your kid gets their first cell phone, when they get a driver’s license. And you thought about like, “What can I do to make these… Make my son see, these moments are part of a bigger picture?”
Jon Tyson: Yeah. I’m a big believer that the book, The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, that was just a masterclass. As a leader… As a person, your life is really a series of defining moments that have shaped you. If you were to sort of map out your story, you’re basically gonna pull out some disproportionately impactful moments, either of pain or of wounding. And I was like, okay, so these moments like we’re gonna be shaped by these moments. Is there a way to consciously cultivate them, to prepare in advance when the young men ones happen, but then sort of have a framework on how to do it? And so I was very, very aware. And I think scientists tell us as well, like the memories we form in our late teens and early 20s tend to be the strongest memories we carry our whole life, because we’re going through so many firsts and they find their way into our long term memory, they’re converted into long term memory by the potency and novelty of the event.
So, yeah, I was trying to figure out how to do those things and how to and how to build them up. A classic, my son got his driver’s license. He passed his test in New York City, and you wanna talk about a harrowing adventure, taking your driving test in New York City. And when he comes back, he didn’t even know if he passed or not. The lady just said to him, “You need to work on your three-point turns.” And then hands him a sheet. And I was like, “Did you pass or not?” He was like, “I don’t know.” I thought, “What a missed opportunity.” She could have said to him, “Young man, congratulations. You now can drive to California if you want. The car is yours, the roads are yours. Welcome to freedom.” She could have built this into a thing, and he would remember that forever. Instead, he had a terrible moment and he barely remembers it. So I had to mark that moment for him.
So, how do you make these moments and use them in ways that bring healing and blessing to our kids rather than our wounds? One of the big ideas they say in the book that I love is “Beware the soul-sucking voice of reasonableness.” And you can blow a moment out into a lifetime memory by adding 15% or 20% more energy to it. So just by adding a few more little details to it, you can change the whole experience. So I’ll give you a practical example. I had some dads who read my book, who flew in from Colorado to have a cigar and talk with me about the book. So here’s what I could have done, I could have sat them down and I could have said, “Hey, thanks for coming fellows.” But that’s not what I did. I went and brought a couple of bottles of very, very exquisite beverages to pair with the cigars. I got them a box of these Melanio cigars. I had this elaborate presentation and when they sat down, they were kind of dumbfounded. “Who’s this for?” I’m like, “This is for you. You came all of this way, I wanted to create a great experience for you.” And at the end of the night, I let him keep the glasses so that every time they use that glass they can remember the story, and it’s like those guys will remember that for a very, very long time because a normal moment was turned into a powerful moment.
And so I wanted to get a black belt in creating moments that shape people. And so I encourage dads that to be intentional, to think about these in advance, to have a plan. What are you gonna do if you find out your kid’s looking at porn, which statistically almost 90% of kids at some point will look at porn. How are you gonna respond to that? Are you gonna create a culture of shame or are you gonna help them understand sexuality and who women are? Yeah, so I just went through those moments and I’ve got a list of them in a book. Some of the big ones that you can think through and begin to plan around, but to me, getting those moments right is a huge, huge part of helping our son move through the world with blessing rather than wounds.
Brett McKay: So as you went through this process, I’m sure your kid was really excited at the beginning, ’cause beginnings are always exciting and new ’cause you’re doing new things.
Jon Tyson: Yeah.
Brett McKay: But then your son hit wall with this process.
Jon Tyson: Yes.
Brett McKay: He kinda started to lose interest, he’s like, “Ah, jeez. Dad, do we really have to do these morning talks?”
Jon Tyson: Yes.
Brett McKay: But this is hard part in any endeavor, this is the part where whether you’re starting a business, you’re doing a fitness routine, start training, start a fitness routine, this is the wall.
Jon Tyson: Yeah.
Brett McKay: You made a shift at this point to make the process not just about becoming a good man. So here’s what your trying to do. You’re trying to help your son harness his masculine energy to be… For the good of the community, but then you shifted it to about becoming good at being a man. What’s the difference and why did that shift reignite the fire in your son?
Jon Tyson: Yeah, you’ve had Jack Donovan on before. In his book The Way of Men, and he’s a somewhat controversial figure, I wanna note. But he had a core concept and I think really, really shook me, and his concept was he talked about Christian men’s movements, and that’s a part of the tradition that I come from, and he talked about a vision of good men in our society today looks typically like an overwhelmed suburban dad struggling to get his life together, and that’s basically it. It’s an overwhelmed, somewhat bored dad driven by obligation, trying to get his life together, and that’s what we think a good man is. He’s defined by what he doesn’t do. He’s not cheating on his wife, he’s not out there wasting his money, and it’s actually a pretty kind of time vision. It’s not super compelling at all, and he says, “What men actually want is to be good at being a man.” Which means when a man walks in the room, he should have a sense of confidence that he’s adding value. And so when you’re good at being a man, which means like, “I am good at understanding how women work. I am good at understanding what money is. I am good at practical skills around the home.” Obviously which your website is a…
You are a part of our central curriculum. There’s thousands of articles on practical stuff. And so I said to my son, “Hey, why do you think we’re doing this?” And he says, “You want me to be a good man.” And I said, “I do not want you to be a good man.” And he was kind of like, “What?” I was like, “No, I want you to be good at being a man” I was like, “Do you wanna walk into a room and understand how women think and not be intimidated?” And he’s like, “Yes.” I said, “Do you wanna be able to get through your high school years and have social skills where you can navigate bullies and build friends?” He’s like, “Yes.” So just like I’m trying to do the Winston Churchill which is like, get them saying yes or no. And I said, “Well, that’s what we’re here for. Man, I am here to help you be good at being a man, not to be some opaque kind of good man.” And that’s when it really kicked in, and that’s when I sort of unleashed the archetype content which is about like how to understand women and be a lover. How to understand and influence and be a leader, how to get in the fight, or how to have a cause and be a warrior, how to be a friend. What does it mean to be a brother, how do you be a sage in the world of fools, that sort of a thing.
And so when I sort of rolled out that those components, his motivation was so high, setting his own alarm, disciplining his life to get involved with it. So yeah, I kind of bland feeble morality with the stereotypical roles that has no passion, no teeth, no consequence, I’m not interested in that. And I think a lot of people today are sort of living half their lives because they’ve been shoved into these passionless scripts, and they think that this is what it is to be a man. I wanted to turn him loose, give him a bit of, as they say, fire in the belly. And that just had a massive impact on him. So it went from me trying to get him up to him voluntarily getting up. It was a real breakthrough.
Brett McKay: How old was he when this happened?
Jon Tyson: Oh gosh, he was 15.
Brett McKay: Okay, so you…
Jon Tyson: 15, so a couple of years in.
Brett McKay: And I liked how you took this idea of being good at being a man and tied it into these different roles that you started talking about. As a man, these are the roles you’re gonna have to fulfill as an adult. How can you be good at fulfilling that role? And I think that gives some direction for that, again, that masculine energy that teenage boys are starting to turn on.
Jon Tyson: Yeah, I totally agree. If you don’t… There’s nothing worse than standing in a room and feeling awkward. I don’t know how to talk to people, I don’t feel like I’m good at anything, and I don’t know why I’m here. If you’re projecting that sort of emotional field, it’s not gonna go well, for you, and that’s gonna lead… That’s gonna spiral into unhealthy places, so to begin to logically, sequentially, strategically break down the elements of how to be a man in the world and tell him, “You can do this, you can do this, man. And I’m gonna train you to be able to do those things.” That produces a ton of confidence, and I said… And then here’s what you do when you don’t know. You don’t fake it, you ask people who are better than you, and then you compliment them, and then they feel confident in themselves because they’re teaching you and they’re endeared to you, so… Now we did so much stuff on all the practical sort of like archetype stuff of how to be in the world.
When I asked my son today, he turns 22 this next week, I said, “Okay man, we’re a couple of years out for this. You’re a junior in college now. What’s your number one takeaway?” And he said, “The number one takeaway is the mental framework that I can figure out and handle anything.” And I was like, “Touch down, mate, that’s it.” If you can get that kind of internal confidence in a young man’s heart where he feels like he can face the challenges of life, that just felt like such a win for me.
Brett McKay: Oh, so just… You’d mentioned some of these roles. You had lover, so you talk about, okay, how can I be… How can I get along with women? How can I attract a mate? I think a lot of boys, they’re interested in that ’cause they just feel awkward. A leader, you had that.
Jon Tyson: Yep.
Brett McKay: I guess if you’re going back to union archetypes, to be the king, that would be the…
Jon Tyson: Yeah totally. Yes.
Brett McKay: Go ahead.
Jon Tyson: Yeah, the leader, the warrior, the brother, the wise man. There’s probably a few more you can put in there, but these… I try to sort of put these in things I felt my son from my tradition needed. And so one of it was a faith one, which is being a disciple, one was understanding women, one was about how to have the influence in the world through leadership, how to get the fire, there’s so much. In many ways, we’re driven by two forces, hope and hate, we’re driven by what we want to happen, and the thing that’s stopping it, the threat against the thing that’s stopping it. That’s what the warrior energy is, it’s like going after the thing you want, and then fighting off the thing that’s a threat to that. Then the power of friendships. Male friendships are so awkward, particularly that age, social media has definitely complicated it. But how do you be a faithful brother to somebody else, how do you stay the course, how do you build long-term friendships?
And I’m so grateful for that. My son did a gap year and in that gap year, he just got a crew, and because of some of the stuff we’ve talked about, they now do an annual reunion, so they’re three years removed, a couple of them have gone on and gotten married, but every year they’ve got this little tribe that gets together to mark the milestones of their life and just talk about the joys and sorrows they have been through the previous year. So it’s been a real joy to see him build a little brotherhood. And then how do you be a wise man? And the world’s filled with fools, it’s filled with pain, regret, lack of certainty, confusion, and how do you navigate some of the complexities of life? So we spent a lot of time talking about what is wisdom, what is the wisdom tradition? And how do you learn to grow in wisdom? The book of Proverbs talks about five kinds of fools, and there’s five ways of being foolish in the world and there’s five kinds of wisdom to overcome the five fools. So we spend time talking through that, that sort of stuff.
Brett McKay: One idea that I really liked and I’m gonna swipe from you, I’m gonna use it with my own kids is the life arc interview.
Jon Tyson: Yeah.
Brett McKay: What is that? And what did your son get out of them?
Jon Tyson: Well, the life arc interview is basically saying life is a series of seasons, it’s a series of stages, and without a sense of knowing what stage you’re in, what season you’re in, life can just feel very long and very painful and very, very confusing. But if you realize that hey, there’s certain things you gotta get right, certain things to look out for, certain things to avoid at these various stages, you’re gonna go in with your eyes wide open. And so it’s sort of a stage orientation. When you’re a freshman at college, they do a campus orientation, they do a freshman orientation and they’re basically trying to say to you, open your eyes, and here is how to navigate this well. So I wanted my son to go through life and figure out what to do with each decade or each stage of life. So to sit down with someone and basically ask, hey, what did you most enjoy about this stage and why? What are three or four of your favorite memories from this stage, what are the biggest regrets you had in this particular stage of your life? If you could do it again, what would you do differently? What do I have to get right? What do I… What must I absolutely avoid?
And then you begin to get a bit of an arc of what life is, and so one of the great challenges with young people today is they want the lifestyle in their 20s that their parents worked for in their 40s. And so if you say, hey man your 20s are not for wealth accumulation, as much as they are about vocational experimentation and understanding yourself, you’re gonna put some relief valves from the pressure of success and confusion. And then hopefully they’ve gotta have their own chronology, their friends got their own journey to walk, their own challenges and their own pace that they have to navigate, but then at least get some sense about like, “Here’s the territory,” if you go on any journey, at some point, you’re gonna break the journey down into stages. Hey, there’s a mountainous stage, there’s a flat stage, there’s a hot stage, there’s a stop here, see this. We do this on all trips in life, why don’t we do it for life itself? So that was my vision to sort of break that down and send him out talking to people older than him who have navigated this with some measure of skill, so he can get their accumulated wisdom and have an idea of where to go from there.
Brett McKay: Yeah, when I read that, I was thinking, man, I need to do this for my kid, like get… Or find an 18-year-old or a 20-year-old who’s just on it, who was a great kid, had a great teenage part of their life, and to be also to have my son just talked to him, what did you do? I was… I’m thinking when… If when I was a kid, when I was like 12, 13 and I got to rub shoulders with some really cool 18 year old that has a big impact.
Jon Tyson: 100%. And, you know, it’s amazing you’re actually helping form that 18 year old because you’re gonna make him sort of like codify what he’s learned. He’s gonna realize, hey, “I’m 18, but I’ve learned a lot.” So that’s gonna be a gift to him as well. And that’ll be something they could pass on to someone else, people… You do the best… You learn your lessons best when you teach it to other people. So yeah, I’m definitely grateful to be a part of a community that is multigenerational and living in the middle of New York City. My son’s growing up in Manhattan for 17 years before he left home. And… So for him, you know, he was surrounded by some like very, very accomplished people, but also people with a lot of pain, like, you know, unhealthy ambition and lack of focus. And so like, yeah, that being surrounded by a multigenerational community was a real gift. I encourage everybody to try and find that… This I think is… This sort of multigenerational long term thinking doesn’t happen in our world at large. And this is definitely something that I think kids will appreciate.
Brett McKay: So you mentioned your son took a Gap Year. Was this part of the initiation process?
Jon Tyson: 100%. 100%. All of these traditions, like when James Hollis talks about this, he says that all traditions have this thing called the ordeal. And the ordeal was to send the young man out into the world to see whether or not he has internalized and taken on the lessons that have been given to him from the community. And again, various traditions have done this. Some communities have a mission that they go on, they send people off. I grew up in Australia very, very common to do a Gap Year which is basically debaucherous hitchhiking across parts of Europe. Here’s what my vision was. I was like, “Okay, I’ve put a lot of content and a lot of experiences in my son, and college is such a formative experience.” I mean, it just swallows you whole. And I was like, I need to give him a little bit of space before he just rushes headlong into college to sort of see the kind of man he has become away from me where he could test it in the real world. So I also had a goal I wanna know, like I’m surrounded by a lot of wealth in Manhattan where he grew up and a lot of privilege. And I was like, “I wanna irreparably break my son’s heart for the global poor.” I want him to see that the privilege is growing in the disparity in the world. I want him to feel the pain of that gap, and I want him to be exposed to other places in other cultures.
So he’s not just like, “An American only in terms of his worldview and his thinking”. So he did a nine month trip. He went to a Swaziland, he went to Guatemala. He went all over the place and has since traveled all over the place. And he came back. And I gotta tell you, he was a different kid. He was like being being with a few friends. Like I said, “He built this little brotherhood, this little tribe and stuff that like so… ” The biggest example my son and I don’t say this to to sort of put him down. He’s actually a remarkable young man. But like he was a whiner. He would just complain. He just would just complain. And it was like such an unattractive quality to just complain. And, you know, I’d have my wife’s daughters come over and talk like how attractive… Like a little panel. So, like, here’s five women and here’s my son interviewing these five women on the panel. And I’d say, like, you know, do you think… What do you think about men who complain? They’re like, oh, it’s so unattractive. But even that these like attractive young women in their twenties on this little panel that my wife had formed, not none of that worked. But he comes back from this trip. My son is like, Yes, sir on it, sir kinda kid. And I’m like, “Where did this come from?” He said, “Dad, two weeks in, I realized I was a whiny, complaining child and I had a mirror amongst my peers of how unattractive it was.”
And I was like, “I do not want to be that guy.” And to this day, my son just like owns it and solves it. That that never would have happened with all of my years of effort, I couldn’t get that done. He gets in the world, sees the world, that sort of stuff is formed in him. He also just came back from… He just did another three month trip that he went on and he was in Turkey for that trip. And again he came back and I was like, “The maturity that was developed by getting out of his regular life in context was massive.” So I’m a big believer, you know, one bad year of college can undo 18 years of good parenting. And so I think there’s a lot of wisdom in having a liminal space where they can go through the world and sort of figure it out. So, yeah, that’s… That Was the vision for that. And he was willing to do it, interestingly enough, like my daughter did not want to do that. So that was something I had to sort of cast some vision for, for my son. He was worried like, hey, “All my friends are going to college, I’m gonna get left behind.” And we processed that. And eventually he came over and realized, “Hey, this probably be good for me.”
Brett McKay: So part of this Gap Year, we’re getting to the end, right? This is the ordeal.
Jon Tyson: Yes. Six years.
Brett McKay: Six years. He goes through his ordeal, he passes it changes him. This mission accomplished. You have this capstone ceremony. How did you cap this journey off into manhood with your son?
Jon Tyson: Well, one of the things I realized by talking… So, I said, “There’s quite a few sort of different groups and different organizations that will facilitate a Gap Year.” I think it’s becoming more and more popular. And one of the things in my research about sort of the comedown from the high of the Gap Year is that they didn’t debrief him too well.
So I said, “I’m gonna to do the Camino de Santiago.” Which is a 500 mile hike across Spain. And it took us 33 days to do it. I said, “We’re just gonna walk 500 miles.” There’s nothing to do but talk and we’re just gonna debrief this journey together. We’re gonna debrief the Gap Year. What happened in him? What did he learn? We’re gonna debrief all the content we went through. So I did like a series of questions every day. So to recap, in the six year journey, just trying to again, deep in coding reinforcement and then we just had a ton of fun.
And at the end of the 33 days, you come to the city, and there’s this big cathedral, it’s actually like, it’s overwhelming. You weep, if you talk about it, it’s such a profound experience, and you come into this cathedral of the city, and then it’s another 80 kilometer walk or so where you end in this village called Finisterre.
And you know the idea of a pilgrimage was you’re leaving something behind. And our idea for this pilgrimage was his leaving his childhood behind, so we end up in the city called… This little town Finisterre, and we go to this cove on a beach, and I’ve got all these letters from these men who’ve been journeying with him spoken into his life, men he respects, and I take him down on this beach and I’m like, “May I wanna tell you right now, man, this is well done, you have passed every test, you have earned this for the rest of your life, you need to know in your heart you are a man. You’re a blessed man.” In the Christian tradition, there’s a scene in the life of Jesus where he is baptized at the start of the gospels, and a voice from Heaven says, “This is my beloved son, who I love, in him I’m well pleased.” And because Jesus knew He was beloved at the start of his ministry, he had the courage and security in His identity to heal the sick, confront hypocrisy, fight off evil forces in his confrontation with the devil, so he was blessed to…
His sense of identity enabled him to overcome, and I wanted to say to my son, “You have my blessing, you are moving through the world, a blessed man, and you can overcome anything because you have what it takes within you.” So anyway, so he runs into the ocean like he did when he was 13, but now he’s 19. And he comes out and I do this big booming voice, like my god voice or whatever, and I’m just like, “Who is this man emerging from the ocean? Behold this is my son.” And then he comes out and we just cry, it’s a super, super powerful and emotional moment, and it was just. It was a blessing ceremony, and we both have a tattoo on our arms, the only tattoo I have, he’s got a few more, but it’s of our journey together to my inner arm, it’s the route of that Camino that ends in this little bay, this little cove where we did this journey, and that’s it. He left his childhood behind. So if you were to ask my son, how do you know you’re a man? He will say, “I died to childhood psychology, I went on a journey, I’ve learned the archetypes, I’ve made the shifts, I’ve done the ordeal. I’ve been blessed by my Father, I know I’m a man because I’ve earned it.” Bingo what a gift. So that was such a definitive moment that was six years in the making. So it wasn’t just the moment itself, it was marking a journey that he had been through that we had sort of done together, and a really, really significant a real gift to be a part of.
Brett McKay: That’s really powerful. See you have a daughter?
Jon Tyson: Yes, yes, I have a daughter, 19. She’s in… Studying Nursing in university.
Brett McKay: Well, have you and your wife done anything similar with her?
Jon Tyson: We did. It’s a little different, my wife played sort of the primary role in the formation of my daughter, so she’s got a whole thing she did, you know starting when she hit puberty and walked her through her teenage years. In her senior year, she came to me and she said, “Dad like I want you to just give me a year of your best development into adulthood.” So I did a thing with her that I just, I’m a bit of a branding guy, I’m a bit of a program guy so I created this thing for her called 50 pieces of my heart, 50 key deposits every dad has to make in his daughter’s life before she leaves home. So I did 50 weeks, and it was like a little daily check-in, and then one dinner a week where we talked about like the 50 most important things I wanted her to know about life and… Yeah, so we did that for a year. Sadly, her senior year was in COVID, and my daughter loves beauty, like my son loved the challenge, so on the Camino, when we’re walking 500 miles, it’s a heat wave, we’ve got blisters that are almost down to the bone, we lost 20 pounds, it was like a wild ordeal, my daughter loves beauty.
So one of the only countries that was open in COVID was Iceland, and so we did a ring road together, we rented a car and we drove around the country of Iceland, and I sort of created this experience for her recapping these important things and just like filling her heart with beauty. It was framed by a Frederick Buechner quote. Buechner ‘s obviously a very, very prolific, gifted author. And the quote says, “Here is the world, beautiful and terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid.” And so our whole year was based around beauty and terror, like the terror of life and the beauty of life, and not being afraid to enter into it, and so that Iceland trip was an immersion in beauty and again, that was like a really powerful time, so very very different relationship with her. My daughter is a very feminine in the traditional sense, and wonderful, wonderful young woman, she’s a helper, very kind studying Nursing and so. But my wife will have to write the book of what she did with her, I was just intentional in my relationship with her, but really did a strong year with her to sort of close out her adolescence and not to send her off.
I tell you a very, very, very, very moving moment about the importance of seizing time, I was the last person to drop her at college, my wife left the day before and I had one bone to stay with her, and after 18 years of meeting with her, every week this really intense year. We spent an hour together every day for a year, and at the end of it, we had our final dinner, and I’m walking back to my car and she’s walking to her dorm so we have this one last hug, and she hugs me and she will not let go. And she says, “Dad, I need more time. I need more time with you, I don’t have the wisdom, I don’t have everything, I need you, I need more time.” And I was like, “Sweet girl, you’ve got what it takes. This is in you. You’re gonna be fine. I’m still with you. And I walked off in tears. But I was like, Oh, those words, I need more time. I was like, that was the thing. I was like, “Gosh, our kids had gone before we know it,” and so a lot of times people say, “Jon, this sounds pretty intense,” and listen man, I am a busy man in the middle of New York City, I got a lot on my plate, lot of responsibilities, lot of stuff I handle, so it was a real sacrifice to take the time to do this for my kids, but now that they’re both gone…
If I had my time again, I’d go harder, I’d sacrifice more. Those days like I just entrusted into the hands of God and say, “Hey, I did what I could, I did this with love, I did my best and I’m gonna have to trust Him and them.” But I tell you, I’d go harder again. So it probably yeah, maybe someone’s listening to this and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, this sounds like a lot.” Yeah, it is a lot, but it’s worth it. Absolutely worth it.
Brett McKay: Well, let’s say you guys listening to this is like, “Well, maybe I just… I can’t do everything. This is awesome, what you do is awesome.” Then maybe some guys just don’t have the bandwidth, creativity, etcetera. What would you say? Okay, just to get the ball rolling, ’cause I think oftentimes once you get the ball rolling, you pick up steam and you start adding to it. What are a few practices that you would think could help that?
Jon Tyson: I would say this, consistency is more important than intensity. I would say, it’s like if you wanna lose weight, yeah, you can do a liquid fast for 30 days and then intermittent fast and then eat one meal a day. And you’ll probably do that for six weeks and put all the weight back on. Or you can cut out soda for three months, and then you can cut out soda, and then you can cut out dessert. It’s just like it’s what can you do consistently? That’s what has the formative power. You gotta find like every kid that is different, you’ve gotta find that tension of like, is this actually making a difference in their life or not, and how much does each kid need in what season after that? I would say this, let me give you a larger principle rather than a specific because that’s so personal. I think the number one goal is to build and maintain an emotional bond, that is the whole thing.
Because if that bond is there in the relationship, you can pass anything through that bond. That bond can handle any teenage rebellion, that bond can handle any hard conversation, but if that bond is not there, it is very, very hard to reinsert yourself because it just sounds like moralizing or lecturing. To me it would be like whatever it takes to build that bond. You might do something as simple as I know on your website you’ve got a list of quotes, you might just do something as simple of like sit down and create a ritual where you read one quote a day about a thing. Or maybe it’s like one night a week. But whatever it is that keeps that bond alive that’s the most important factor, and then play the long game, put a date on your calendar and work backwards and just say, “Okay, here’s what I’m gonna do from now till then. And then I’ll also say two other thoughts.
Number one, something is better than nothing. Do what you can do, don’t be overwhelmed by what you can’t do. Something is better than nothing. And then secondly, if your kids are gone and maybe you’re sitting here with a sense of regret, I would just say to you, it’s never too late. You just don’t know the power of a father or a mentor’s heart moving towards a kid with repentance and with hope. They just like I’ve got so many stories. Part of what I do is I lead the faith community in New York, and over the past almost 20 years, thousands and thousands of stories of impossible relational reconciliations. When you’re willing to move with forgiveness and humility. So don’t give up hope, set your heart and move towards your kids slowly in love and you just… You’d be amazed at the blessing they ache for, the relationship they ache for, and the power of restoration if you do it with humility and consistency.
Brett McKay: Well, Jon, this has been a fantastic conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
Jon Tyson: I’ve got a course on this, it’s at primalpath.co. That’s dot C-O. And on there there’s a link for a weekly email. Every week I send out like a short thought for dads and men about how to navigate the complexity of being a man in the modern world. You can sign up for that, absolutely free. And then if you go to Amazon and just look at The Intentional Father, you’ll see that that book is there available in all formats.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Jon Tyson, thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Jon Tyson: Okay, cheers mate, thank you.
Brett McKay: My guest here was Jon Tyson. He’s the author of the book, The Intentional Father. It’s available on amazon.com. You can find more information about his work at primalpath.co. Also check out our show notes at aom.is/passage where you can find links to resources where we delve deeper into this topic.
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Until next time, this is Brett McKay. Reminding you all listening to the podcast to put what you’ve heard into action.