Last weekend, I went bouldering at Joshua Tree National Park. If you are unfamiliar with what exactly bouldering entails, let me enlighten you.
Bouldering, by definition is “a style of rock climbing undertaken without a rope and normally limited to very short climbs. It is typically practiced on large natural boulders or artificial boulders in gyms and outdoor urban areas. However, it may also be practiced at the base of larger rock faces.” Thank you Wikipedia for that one.
In the simplest of terms, bouldering is basically just walking around, up, down, over, and under a bunch of big rocks. Rocks like these:
Or like the ones behind these Joshua Trees:
Though it’s not nearly as strenuous or dangerous as rock climbing (helmets, rope, and hooks are not necessary) it was still quite challenging for a guy like me who’s lived his entire life in a state known for being flatter than a pancake.
Despite my novice bouldering abilities, I had a really great time climbing, walking around on the rocks, and exploring Joshua Tree.
And do you know what made it such a great day?
It wasn’t the beautiful weather and a chance to escape the frozen tundra of Oklahoma. It wasn’t the amazing scenery. It wasn’t even the feeling of accomplishment that came with climbing up a rocky cliff to the point where I took the first picture in this post.
What made the day so great is that I had the privilege of bouldering and hanging out with a man, 20 years my senior, who I consider to be a great friend and mentor. Every time we get a chance to hang out, he ends up challenging me to be a better man in some way. We talk about manly things. We talk about spiritual things. We talk about our struggles. And we even talk about things that have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on our lives but that are just fun to talk about.
In addition to being a really great guy and wise man, my friend is also somewhat of an avid rock climber. Last summer, he took a group of about 100 men out to Joshua Tree for a weekend retreat of climbing, camping, and just good ol’ fashioned male bonding. You don’t lead trips like that if you don’t know your way around the rocks.
It was great being out there with him because all I had to do was watch him, follow him, and step where he stepped. If he hesitated from one boulder to another, I hesitated. If he went fearlessly forward or up, I went fearlessly forward or up. If he balanced himself on a boulder that looked a bit suspect to me, I balanced myself on the same boulder.
What made it so awesome was that on my own, I would have been full of apprehension. I wouldn’t have known which boulders to step on and which ones to avoid. However, with him guiding me, I avoided the dangerous ones and was able to use the solid ones to get higher. I didn’t have to worry one bit because I knew that I was following a climbing expert and as long as I did what he did, I’d be in good shape.
And that’s the point of this post.
As we were making our way up, over, and around the massive crags (I show my novice by likely misusing that word), I couldn’t help but think about how what we were doing was a great analogy for manhood.
As a man, there are a lot of boulders I’m going to have to scale in my life. If I try to climb them myself, I may have some success, but the odds of getting completely past them on my own without stumbling, losing my footing, and getting hurt along the way are pretty slim.
And yet, when I take the time to cultivate relationships with other men who have likely faced similar challenges in their own lives, I don’t have to scale those boulders on my own. I can ask for help, advice, and wisdom. I can follow in their footsteps. I can avoid the things they learned to avoid, even those things they learned to avoid by trial and error.
And that’s exactly why I think men need other men. Men who’ve been there, done that in the ways of life.
That’s I why I like spending time with men who are 10, 20, 30, 40 years my senior. Maybe I’m weird, but I love listening to older dudes tell stories that start with the phrase, “When I was your age…” or “The first time I…” Sure, sometimes those stories have absolutely no relevance for my life. But sometimes I walk away from conversations like that with a new perspective on some challenge in my own life.
A real man is intentional about observing, learning from, and sometimes following the footsteps of other (more experienced) men. I have what I consider to be a really good relationship with my dad. I also have a handful of other older men who I occasionally look to for advice or wisdom. And I have a handful of really good friends my own age that I know will always be there should I need to call them for help. Even so, I need to be more intentional about seeking and cultivating friendships with both other older, more experienced men and with younger dudes who can benefit from things I’ve learned in my brief 29 years of life.