Heroic Path: A Conversation with John Sowers

John Sowers

John Sowers is an author and the President of The Mentoring Project, a movement rewriting the fatherless story through mentoring. He wrote the critically-acclaimed, Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story, (HarperCollins, 2010.) His second book, The Heroic Path: In Search of the Masculine Heart, was just released.

John received the President’s Champion of Change Award at the White House for his work with fatherless youth, and his work has been featured by CNN, Maria Shriver / NBC, Fox News, RELEVANT Magazine, Air-One, Christianity Today, and others. He received his Master of Divinity from Trinity in Chicago and his Doctorate from Gordon Conwell in Boston.

KW: Can you describe an event or experience that led you to the need to write a book about recovering masculinity?

JS: When my twin daughters were born, I was thrilled but afraid. I felt exposed. That night, I wrote it down in a journal. I looked around for models – for man guides – looking for help and guidance. I realized my generation has rare few elders, no rites of passage, and no framework for masculine initiation. We don’t even have a language for it.

KW: What are some of the cultural events that have shaped the current issues with men in America?

JS: I think there are several cultural events shaping our ideas of masculinity.

One is the single-parent household – a generation is growing up fatherless. This is the first fatherless generation since WW2 – except those guys left to do something honorable – to save the world from a tyrant. The fathers are leaving out of selfishness, in the name of convenience. Many of them go on to create another “franchise family” in another city, then repeat the process. Children aspire to be what they see – and if all they see is on television or in music, there are rare few examples.

Another is the post-industrial revolution – men used to work closer to home, work with their hands and invite their children into the work. There is nothing wrong with modern technology – but now many men commute hours to work – via car or plane – and boys are never invited to work.

A third is a cultural idea that boys can drift in perpetual “adult license” into their teens, twenties, and thirties. We have flipped the work/responsibility/reward model. Now, the reward is valued over responsibility – not only reward but instant reward. Culture has made it the norm for boys to disengage and sink into their smartphones or video games – unable to have dinner conversations or engage in household chores without sinking away. Not only are they are addicted to reward / games/media – a false affirmation – but the outcome is an addiction to disengagement. This sinking continues into adulthood.

Lastly – it’s easy to make fun of the pop-culture stereotypes. Huge Pickup Truck Guy. Gym Guy. Fantasy Football Guy. Video-Game Guy. MotherBoy. These stereotypes exist because we have no elders – no one showing us what a man really is. At times, I have been each one of these guys. And we have all types of random ideas filling the void.

KW: Who are some of the men you look at in the book for example? Why did you choose them?

JS: I include several men who I look to as “Man Guides.” One underrated group of men is the men in my imagination. I say up to a third of your Elder Circle can exist in your mind. (No more than a third.) The main content of the book hinges on a “conversation” I had with these men of the past – the then atheist CS Lewis and the catholic Tolkien, as they argued about myth. They spoke to me and helped show me the mythic path towards manhood. This same path has been written and spoken and sung for generations – and it is true, especially as it points to what Tolkien calls, the One, True Myth – where history and legend have fused. Their conversation shaped the book.

KW: Can you briefly articulate the wild, masculine heart of God’s intentions for men?

JS: In terms of God’s wild heart – I don’t talk about that in the book. I do talk about the steps Jesus took from the ages of 30-33, from carpenter to Messiah, from village underwater, into wilderness, and back to the village. There and back again. When he returned to the village – he was no longer the carpenter from Nazareth. (Theologically – he never changed or never changes – Hebrews 13:8) But these mythic steps were his steps into his Messianic purpose. It was his time. These mythic steps are walked by every hero from history and legend, and they are our mythic steps into the wild masculine.

KW: How do women fit into your view of masculinity?

JS: Women play a key role in masculinity – women can: awaken a man, help a man, love a man, seduce a man, shipwreck a man, or tether a man to boyhood. One of the key steps away from the village is a step away from women, especially from mom’s house. This was a step Jesus took – as the Son of Mary, when he came out of the water, the Father said, “You are my beloved Son.” In every man’s life, there must be moved from the house of the mother to the house of the Father. Only then can a man move from the passive receptivity of boyhood into the life-giving initiation of manhood. The right woman, when the man is ready to marry, can compel a man forward unlike anything else in Creation.

KW: What message do you want men to take away from your book?

JS: I pray the mythic steps of Jesus – from carpenter to Messiah – create our framework for masculine initiation. The steps Jesus took were intentional. John the Baptist was right, Jesus needed to be the baptizer, not him. But … it is critical Jesus still took these steps. He stepped away from the village and under the water. Jesus was identified and empowered and transformed. He confronted the enemy in the desert – then returned to the village to save it. This is the Heroic Path.

Lastly, I think a lot of people get intimidated by “Man Books.” I do, too. These books usually point us to bravado – the tough guy that beats his chest and eats red meat. Bravado is really just enthusiastic on testosterone. Bravado is not all bad – but it’s not the end game. It is important to be resilient and “buck up” sometimes, but when a book or even a manhood movement is built on bravado – it is only surface-level, lacking the depth for sustainable transformation. I hope people don’t lump me into that category because there is a bear on the book cover.



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