Steve Wiley is Jackalope Ranch's Parent Hood. He's a slightly unorthodox father of five who will weigh in weekly with his mildly-rebellious views and observations. Wiley has spent the past 25 years managing and owning Valley record stores, including the past 14 at his beloved Hoodlums Music. If you'd like to see how he came to write this column, watch the video.
"Initiation into manhood just ain't what it used to be." So began my teaching moment with my 14 year-old son.
In late October, we were sequestered in the back room of our darkened house, avoiding would-be trick- or-treaters because we didn't have any candy (our ASU neighborhood doesn't have many front porch lights illuminated on Halloween, and we have lamely given in to the Dark Side as well).
He wasn't happy about it. After all, we're talking about missing out on nine or ten pounds of candy in a pillowcase. Lest you think we are hard-asses, let me put the "boy" in perspective for you. He's 5' 11" and 180 lbs. A freshman in High School.
But Dad, Why Can't I Trick-or-Treat? Mom had taken his two siblings to a party, or to a more trick-or-treat-friendly neighborhood (I'm not sure because I only sorta pay attention to details), and for the first time ever, my eldest son was not part of the candy-collecting clan.
I began to explain to the man-child just why he was stuck hiding out with the old man: He's gotten too big to be showing up on people's doorsteps in the dark. I implored him to imagine the scene where some little old lady opens the door to a giant, hairy, un- costumed goofball booming out "Trick or Treat" in his now-deep voice (which can still be heard in the next county, just like when it was a higher octave).
I told him that he should think of his removal from the candy-begging ranks as a ritual into manhood. Unimpressed, he stuck to his claim of mistreatment.
Come and Play With Us, Danny
Earlier, we had decided to watch The Shining, which to me holds up as one of the scariest (and most well-made) movies of all-time. He's been starting to watch R-rated movies (thankfully, as we've watched every decent PG-13 movie on Earth twice), and he's a big movie fan. He knows how I feel about this one, and he's been begging me to watch it since he was twelve, but I've been holding out.
I felt like he was ready for it. All we had to do was fold some clothes, and then it was show time. But alas, the whining continued.
Back to that Lecture, er, Teaching Moment. So I launched:
"Oh my God, you really do have it rough here in the 21st century. Scrapping trick-or- treating to watch The Shining is your manhood ritual? Do you know what they used to put kids through in the old days?"
Poor kid. Little did he know that I just finished the magnificent "Power of Myth" with Joseph Campbell (which prompted me to pick up three other Campbell books), so I am brimming with mythological information, including rituals galore. I jumped at the chance to use the knowledge on the kid (like it's a spell or something).
I went on the describe the Okipa Ceremony of the Mandan Indians. The young men of the tribe weren't allowed to eat (not even candy), drink, or sleep for four days. Then they were strung up by the ceiling of a hut... by the muscles in their chest. Weights were put on them until they passed out. When they awoke, their left pinkie was severed off with a hatchet.
Then they'd see who was really tough.
They'd race with the weights and skewers still in place to see who was the strongest. (Campbell says that mythologically, it brings them as close to death as possible, which forces them to embrace death, and they are "reborn" as men. I say no thanks.)
Listen to Me Now, But Hear Me Later
I think I got through to him. There was a grunt. I'll let you know in eight to ten years, when he (hopefully) realizes my wisdom (and I use that word loosely).
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At the very least, it helped him get through his harrowing (I wish there was a sarcasm button, like the "bold" button, that I could just click on that word) ritual.
The ever-awesome Shining may or may not have brought him close enough to death for a total rebirth, but it kept him on his toes (and it provided some serious perspective on just how tough a father could make things on a family).
The whole night brought him a little closer to manhood in my eyes.