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Sages and Stages

Well I got my card in the mail today, and I don’t mean a Father’s Day card. I am now, according to the NSW Government ‘a senior’. Because so much of our work is voluntary my wife put me in for a seniors card. It gives me some discounts for train travel and a few other privileges but I must admit I preferred my non-senior status, but at 60 my wife tells me I have to get with the program and take advantage of the rewards of getting older and embrace the opportunity.
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John Eldredge, the world renowned men’s movement leader and author of New York Times Bestseller, Wild at Heart would probably tell me the same thing as my wife. Get with the program and accept the reality of getting older and don’t run from it. Eldredge’s book The Way of the Wild at Heart, or Fathered by God as it has been renamed, is one of the greatest books on manhood and fatherhood I have ever read. It articulates my wife’s words in man speak. I will allow Andrew Allen, from the Humanities 360 Blog to sing its praises:

The Way of the Wild Heart is a continuation of the topics covered in the book “Wild at Heart” and has good expansion and further development of the themes. Eldridge’s basic premise is that there are 6 stages of the full masculine journey in life.

That of the boy, cowboy/ranger, warrior, lover, king, and sage. In each stage the boy/man walks through crucial elements in his development as a man. The boy stage is when he is young and enjoying doing boy stuff like playing outside, exploring, climbing trees, basically having fun and being delighted in by his parents and family.

The cowboy/ranger stage is when the boy moves more into the young manhood stage where he goes out exploring on his own and begins learning the things of the masculine world such as how to fix a car, working with power tools, going on backpacking journeys in the woods either alone or with some of his friends. This could also include such adventures as backpacking across Europe. The main part of this stage is his learning the answer to the question “do I have what it takes/can I handle this?”

The warrior stage is when the man is beginning his quest and mission in life which may include beginning a career such as a teacher, lawyer, doctor, consultant, mechanic, salesman, or becoming a missionary overseas. This is the stage in which he is finding his cause to fight for and the things that are important to him and what he will work towards during his life.

The lover stage sometimes crosses over with the warrior stage. This is when the man is learning to appreciate beauty and how to love. It is not necessarily when he pursues a woman and learns to love in that sense but can also include the awakening to the beautiful things in life such as nature, art, and music. Full development in this stage will include learning to love and be loved by God in an intimate way.

Something Eldridge said which makes sense is that it is best for the man to have established himself as a warrior before entering this stage. Many women can be frustrated with the men they marry who don’t seem to have a sense of purpose to their lives and Eldridge indicates that it is best for the man to come to the woman from a state of strength and having journeyed through at least parts of the warrior stage.

The king stage is when the man becomes responsible for leading others. This might include being the head of his household, becoming a manager at work, or a coach of a team. During this stage, warriors may be working for the king.

The final stage is that of the sage. This occurs when a man steps down as a king but does not fade into the distance. He will commonly be an adviser to kings and provide the wisdom that comes only through years of living through the various stages. Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings trilogy would fit this category.

During each of the stages, the man will likely experience parts of all the stages but will generally be centred upon one of them. I highly recommend this book as an excellent understanding of the development of a man and what makes a whole and complete man.

I agree with the above writer, I highly recommend this book to all serious students of manhood and fatherhood.

But what does John Eldredge have to say about the Sage? We pick up his words on page 192 of his book:

Thus, regarding the sage, I will be brief.

I would place the stage of the Sage as beginning in the waning years of the king, sometime between the ages of sixty and seventy. There comes a time when the kind must yield the throne. This does not mean failure. It means it’s time to become a sage, and let another man be king. Too many kings hold on to their thrones too long, and they literally fade away once they have lost them (which tells us they were drawing too much of their identity from their position).

It will appear that at this stage a man’s ‘kingdom’ may be shrinking – he retires from his career position, perhaps moves into a smaller home or apartment, lives on a fixed income. But, his influence should actually increase. This is not the time to move to the Ft Lauderdale (Sunshine Coast), “wandering through malls”, as Billy Crystal described it, “looking for the ultimate soft yoghurt and muttering, ‘How come the kids don’t call, how come the kids don’t call?’” For now the man is a mentor to the men who are shaping history.

The biblical archetype would of course be Solomon, but I often think of Paul, writing his letters from jail. . . Certainly the great mythic archetype would be Merlin, without whom Arthur could never have been king. (A king needs a sage, and a good test of his humility is whether or not he has one and whether or not he listens to him.) CS Lewis resurrects Merlin in one of his great novels, That Hideous Strength, and the old Celt becomes counsellor to a remnant of Christians in a desperate holdout against an evil power seeking to control the world. . .

Knowing how hard it is to find a sage, you might for the time being draw strength and inspiration from those we find in books and film. Yoda is a classic sage: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hatred, hatred leads to suffering”. . . .

Finally, there is Gandalf, the hero behind all the other heroes in The Lord of the Rings. To him everyone looks – the young cowboys, the warriors, and the kinds. I believe he is the secret to the trilogy’s success, for he embodies that mythic longing deep in all our hearts for a true sage to walk the road with us.

Certainly he completes the stages of the masculine journey as portrayed in this epic. He is the first chosen by Elrond for the Fellowship of the Ring, “for this shall be his great task, and maybe the end of his labours”. And when Middle Earth has been made secure, Aragorn chooses to be crowned by him: “Let Mithrandir [Gandalf] set it upon my head, if he will; for he has been the mover of all that has been accomplished, and this is his victory”.

Proverbs says, “The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendour of the old” (20:29 NLT). How necessary is gray hair (or any hair at all, some might ask with hope)? All of the sages I just mentioned had gray hair. Perhaps with the exception of Yoda, whose three hairs look green to me, and come from his ears (which might also be a comfort to you aging men). Can a younger man be a sage? Certainly, to some extent, Solomon was king when he wrote Proverbs, But then again, he was given an extraordinary gift of wisdom from God.

You can see why I recommend John Eldredge’s work so highly! Understanding the truth of these stages is quite liberating and helps us all as fathers to be who we need to be, for our children’s sake.

Lovework

We all need sages. I have a couple and it looks like I am becoming one myself by default. I know this to be a fact because I have green hair growing out of my ears. I guess this weekly newsletter is a kind of sage for younger fathers who want to avoid the pitfalls of their own fathers. Hopefully this reflection on the stages of manhood will give you the encouragement to keep climbing out of bed and being the best dad possible for your children and grow old wisely.

Yours for growing old wisely
Warwick Marsh

PS. Thanks again for those who recently contributed to our recent Dads4Kids ‘Help the Children’ Father’s Day Appeal. Our goal is $25,000 and we can announce today that we have had some last minute donations come through that have pushed our combined giving up to $20,010. With your help we have reached over 2.3 million Australians with the message of excellence in fathering. With your help we have saved many children from the heartbreak of growing up fatherless. This is the last opportunity today to give to this special Father’s Day Appeal. GIVE NOW

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