Becoming a Man

Stephen Mansfield was in Damascus on his way to work with a relief ministry. Something was wrong with his passport so he was stuck. A friend, who is a member of the Syrian parliament, heard he was stranded and found him. The friend took him to officials who could help and then took him to his Orthodox church. The Syrian friend wanted to show off his American friend and to put that American next to his local friends. Ultimately, they ended up on the roof of a hotel in downtown Damascus with a dozen Arab men.

“That’s where I became a man,” the writer says.

Nadeem decided to host a small party over Mansfield’s objection.

“I found myself…surrounded by high-ranking government officials, their submachine gun-toting bodyguards, several expensively dressed businessmen, and one man in a shemagh—the traditional Arab cloth headdress—who looked to me as thought he had just come in from the desert. Of course, the desert was about three blocks away.

“Nadeem…began introducing me to his friends, and he insisted I recount my life since birth along with everything he and I had ever discussed. This got the party started, meaning we spoke to each other as well as we could—which was badly—while we ate cashews the size of a man’s thumb and bowls of watermelon. Some of the older ones smoked the nargillah, the intriguing Arab water pipe often called a hookah. All were gracious and interested.”

Because they had limited understanding of each other’s language, the conversation lagged. That motivated the fellow wearing the shemagh to lean forward and ask a question.

“There was great wonder in his face, as though he was inquiring about one of the great mysteries of God.

“‘A son. Do you have?’ I’m telling you every man on that roof stopped what he was doing and turned to hear my answer.

“ ‘I do,’ I replied.”

“ ‘Ah,’ he grew excited. ‘His name?’

“Jonathan,’ I answered.

“The man slapped his knee and shouted, ‘Aha!’ Then you have a new name! You are Abujon!’ Suddenly, there was a lot of smiling and head nodding and Arab voices one on top of the other.

“They could tell I didn’t understand. Nadeem tried to explain. Apparently, when an Arab man has a son, his name changes. From that moment on, he is addressed with a combination of Abu, which means father, and the name of his son. Apparently, Arabs consider fatherhood so important that once a man becomes a father to a son, he is honored for it the rest of his life.

“So I became Abujon.

“When this was announced that rooftop erupted. Men started shaking my hand and slapping me on the back. Food arrived by the platter-full: the best lamb I have ever had and a dozen types of baklava. It just wouldn’t end. After a while, music sounded from somewhere, and several of the men started teaching me an Arab dance, one holding his submachine gun in his other hand. It was a night! Finally, at three or four in the morning, they drove me back to my hotel and backslapped me out the car door.

“ ‘Gooooodnyett, Abujon.’

“I went to my room, as spent as I was, I sat up for hours longer staring out the window at the brilliant Damascus night. Something had happened to me. I could feel it but couldn’t put words to it.

“It came to me a day or two later. At first it was a great sadness, and then it became a ferocity and strength that has never left me. … Never before in all of my life had I ever been welcomed into the fellowship of men. Not once. Not ever. Nor had I ever undergone any sort of ritual to mark any of the important turning points in my life as a man. No one had ever said to me, ‘Congratulations. You are now a man among men.

“Frankly, I didn’t know I needed to hear it.

“When the moment finally did come, it was a gift of Arab men who issued the welcome with hardly a word. They named me. They celebrated me. They gave me gifts. They made it clear they understood. They counted me as one of their own.”

“Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men” by Stephen Mansfield, (2013 Nelson Books)

Carole and I were having a discussion about yesterday’s post which referenced this. It didn’t speak to her and we questioned whether men would read this. Our discussion was interrupted by the police scanner announcing a non-medical emergency on a street corner we could see from our kitchen window. The police were on their way to help a man in a life-death crisis. I did not know the man, but I knew that whatever was going on, it had to do with his perception that he was a failure as a man. It may have been work-related, or marriage or parenting, it didn’t matter. It was that he was feeling like a loser as a man.

Only a man or group of men can confer manhood onto a boy or another man. Mansfield talks about this in the book.  The book is currently on sale at Amazon Kindle. It will help mothers and wives understand.


©2016  D. Dean Benton—writer & wonderer


Twitter:       @DeanBenton




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