Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

From boys to men - the ‘rite journey’:

Caroline writes about a mentoring program at her 14-year-old's school & the difference it's making already.
By Caroline McMahon
Date: March 21 2014
Editor Rating:

It is a typically hot February Perth evening. No zephyr of the ‘Fremantle Doctor’ arriving anytime soon.

I gaze out at the stunning array of yellows and deep oranges as the hot sun sets in Fremantle, from Monument Hill. I look down at the boy standing in front of me, his size 13 feet matched up against the man’s feet who stands next to him. I make a mental note that they must have the same size feet.

I lift my eyes over both frames standing in front of me. To the right, the messy wind blown hair, the boyish face coyly looking down and the little soft, barely there whiskers poking through the skin that not so long ago I use to wipe with a washer after his meals and kiss as many times in a day as I could. This is in stark contrast to the chiselled masculine and clean-shaven features of the taller man to the left. Standing strikingly tall and looking confidently in front, he seems to know his path ahead.  

Our family has been invited here by my son Nic’s school to attend the ‘Calling Ceremony’, as part of the Rite Journey. Christian Brothers College Fremantle have embarked on the Rite Journey program to focus on the Year 9 boys preparing to become gentlemen.

Tonight’s ceremony is a symbolic ritual in the boys watching the sunset on their childhood - to farewell the fond times and freedom of their boyhood and their parents who were a big part of getting to them where they are today; to realise how lucky that they have been to have grown up surrounded by love, and to look to tomorrow as the first day of starting to become a man.

Nic is my 14-year-old son standing to the right in front of me. He was asked to find a male mentor to accompany him not only tonight but on his journey to manhood, someone he admires and would hope to be like.

Nic is lucky, he had many strong male role models available to him, but for Nic, his choice was a simple one.  He looked outside our usual friendship circle to ask a man that he admires and would like to know better, to be his mentor.  Our shy young teenager was showing his first signs of mental maturity by stepping outside of his comfort zone. With a little help from his ever supportive dad, Nic nervously spoke to an Olympian and fellow Melville Water Polo Club player, Aaron Younger.

Nic had long admired many of the Fremantle Mariners National League water polo players, and with Aaron recently returning to Fremantle from living and playing professionally in Szeged, Hungary, he was an obvious choice for Nic. He wanted a man that was not only empathetic to his water polo lifestyle, but someone who could really understand exactly what Nic does, what drives him, upsets and frustrates him, as well as the joys and high points associated with sport and growing up in Fremantle.

Aaron Younger, now aged 24, was the youngest member of the Australian Mens Sharks Water Polo team at the 2012 London Olympics. He made his international debut at age 17. He grew up in the Fremantle district and attended John Curtin Senior High School, visible from our Monument Hill vantage point. He, too, played as a junior at Melville Water Polo club and progressed to playing seniors at a young age, just where Nic is at now.

Nic knew that Aaron was the perfect mentor choice as he has walked the path before Nic, he understands all too well what he sacrifices to train and play most days of the week, twice-on-Sundays all year round. He knows how to manage school work, self-confidence, peers, parents, coaches and I am sure there will be a few tips on goals and plays that Nic is working on.

This mentor program for adolescent boys is a fabulous way that the men in our community can support students such as Nic, not only being a physical presence in their lives, but by giving Nic a connection and, more importantly, permission to approach a very driven and successful man, and to get to know him as a person.

Aaron now has the opportunity to pass on the wisdom of his sporting career, his life lessons and own path to manhood to a young person who is coming into a traditionally bumpy adolescent ride. He can help Nic to successfully navigate this important transition and remain on the trajectory that he has set for himself.  

Having a mature positive influence on the younger boys, the mentors serve to help the boys from getting side-tracked with the ever-present and increasing dangers of drugs and alcohol, risky behaviour, peer group relationships and pressures, social media usage and understanding, body image, mental anxiety and depression, and parental relationships that are often overlooked in this vulnerable age group.

This transition is to be celebrated and remembered, not a dark period in their growth, that being barked at with “toughen up son”, “boys don’t cry or hug” or “get a grip of yourself”. How are they successfully meant to grow up if no one teaches them?  How are they to learn to embrace responsibility, problem-solve or share themselves with others?  

The Rite Journey offers a practical and realistic way for men to support young men and show self worth value and belief in themselves.

Nic’s face lights up when he returns home from training to find a quick message from Younger on Facebook, checking in with him. Nic enjoys watching Aaron play at their shared home-club pool and now has the confidence to approach Younger after the game and offer his congratulations on a great personal game and team win. I see Nic growing each week and how much he is enjoying the new confidence that this relationship brings.  

I am sure that I will see a deeper bond between these two at the end of year ‘Returning’ ceremony, where the boys are returned to their families, as men.

A big thank you to Aaron for not only generously and selflessly giving his time to join us at the Calling Ceremony, but for being open to taking an interest in the younger boys of his home club and realising that he has so much to give and share with us all.

Aaron Younger in the pool playing for Australia


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