When 12-year-old Steven Arms’ father, David Arms, surprised him by saying they would be doing something special out of town for his 13th birthday — just the two of them — the boy wasn’t enthused.

But the weekend turned out to be a life-changing rite of passage into manhood, with not only his father but also his maternal grandfather and two uncles.

The Arms family had hit upon a family solution to a societal need: a rite of passage for a boy becoming a man.

“If a father does not give his son a meaningful rite of passage about the time he is becoming a man, then a boy will come up with his own form of a rite of passage,” said Steven Arms, now 30.

Steven and David Arms — now Deacon David Arms — wrote a book about how their family provided that rite of passage for their sons and how other families can do the same.

Steven Arms, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Northwest Portland with two children of his own, gives a lot of credit to the Holy Spirit for both the book and for his family’s tradition.

The tradition began nearly 20 years ago, on his older brother’s 13th birthday, although, Arms said, looking deeper it began even earlier, when Deacon Arms, who grew up without a father, determined his sons’ lives would be different. He did that in part by marrying the right woman — who had the right father.

The Arms decided they wanted to share the family’s tradition with the broader community. They had heretofore kept it secret so that each next initiate would be surprised.

“It was profound for me to share this family tradition with other fathers, who can adapt it to make it work for their sons,” said Arms. “That was the most meaningful part about it. That to me is where I see the Holy Spirit in the book.”

The Arms, father and son, also wanted to write the book to honor Bobo — that is, Richard Bona, Deacon Arms’ father-in-law and Steven Arms’ grandfather. “He played a pivotal role in creating this rite of passage,” said Arms.

Bona died in 2016.

The Arms begin their book with a brief survey of rites of passage in different cultures and how boys have coped without those rites — including gang activity, pornography and extreme stunts.

“If you don’t tell your son that he’s a man in a meaningful way, then he will try to prove it to himself,” said Arms.

The book is meant to help fathers fill that need. “When his father, uncles and grandfather have told him he’s a man, he doesn’t feel as great a need to prove it to himself and his peers,” added Arms.

The deacon, who serves at St. Luke Parish in Foster City, California, in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, writes in the book’s preface, “When my eldest son turned thirteen, I wanted to share with him what it really means to be a man, instead of letting him figure it out on his own.”

The book’s first chapter is Steven Arms’ entertaining description of his weekend in a fishing cabin that becomes a sacred space with his father, two uncles and grandfather.

An appealing aspect of the Arms’ tradition is that the family crafted their ritual themselves, and they show how other families can do that as well. It includes an abundance of Bible verses and prayer.

There’s a section on how single mothers can make a rite of passage happen for a son and a short section explaining that the Arms family also has rites of passage for their daughters — but that Steven Arms and Deacon David Arms did not feel they were the right authors for that book.

The Arms are natural writers and “Milestone to Manhood” never bogs down in explanations, theology or too-long descriptions. Each section flows to the next.

The Arms explain the difference between becoming a man and becoming an adult. “There are many adults who do not act like men but act like boys instead,” they write. “It is a man who respects the dignity of women, tells the truth, and maintains a relationship with God, and we can and should expect that out of a thirteen-year-old.”



Learn more

milestonetomanhood.com

milestonetomanhood@gmail.com

Steven Arms is available as a speaker and the book is available at amazon.com