“Dad, How Will I Know When I’m a Man?” 

By Bill Francavilla

While most Christians love to read and quote the book of Proverbs for snappy sayings, we often forget the context in which it was written – a father to his son. It was Solomon’s way of teaching his son Rehoboam the value wisdom can provide in his life. 

Unfortunately for them both, Solomon’s words fell on deaf ears, and Rehoboam’s actions caused an irreparable split in the kingdom of Israel that will not be fixed until the day the Lord returns. 

A map of Bill and Liam’s ten-day trip from Williamsburg, Virginia, to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Far be it from me to compare myself to the wisest man who ever lived, but I have always seen my children with all the potential to change the world. It’s been my prayer that I can guide them in the right direction. 

My father is a great man. When I was growing up, he always made himself available to me. He led me through the journey into manhood with experiences for which I could never thank him enough. So when my oldest son, Liam, was about to turn twelve, he and I had a deep discussion on what it meant for him to be a man. It means new challenges, new experiences, and new responsibilities.  

We talked a lot about the Jewish tradition of the Bar Mitzvah, where the entire community recognizes a thirteen-year-old boy’s journey into adulthood. Our church has enjoyed praying over our young people as they turn thirteen, something I intended for Liam, but I could tell he wanted more.  

“But Dad,” he said, “how will I know that I’m a man?”  

[Liam] would not be satisfied with just a simple prayer, so we came up with something very different. We put together a list of 25 measurable goals for Liam to accomplish before he
turned thirteen. And I have to say, completing this task in 365 days was not as easy as we thought it would be. 

The first goal on our list was obvious: Read the entire New Testament and the Psalms. But then Liam expressed a desire to do something physical, so we added Run 100 miles or more (not all at once). 

Liam learning the dulcimer.

Then we started getting creative: Go camping without technology and Play on the worship team on a Sunday morning. He also wanted to serve others, so we added Volunteer at a food pantry and Teach at youth group. 

Of course, Liam wanted to do some fun things, so we included Go indoor skydiving, Hike a trail with the family, and although I didn’t know how we were going to do it,
See three new states. 

We felt it would be important to do something – not just nice – but GRAND for each one in our family, so we wrote down for him to do a grand gesture for every family member. Finally, and perhaps most important, we added Ask God to do a miracle through me. And we had finished our list. 

On the day he turned twelve, August 11, 2021, we were up at the crack of dawn to run his first mile. When we got home, we did our first devotion on Matthew 1-2 and Psalm 1.  

We felt good about the year we were going to have together and decided to knock out a few easy items. Within the first month I taught my son how to make my Italian great-grandmother’s recipe for tomato sauce, and we opened a checking account.  

When we saw Plant a tree on the list, we were inspired to ask my wife what kind of tree she would like for the yard. We wound up planting five. I was so thrilled that we were accomplishing these goals above and beyond. 

Liam standing in three states: Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas 

Before the end of September, I was able to take my son to his first concert in Washington DC, and by November, with a lot of practice, he was ready to play guitar with our worship team on a Sunday morning. It was not difficult to find a food pantry in need of volunteers around Christmas, and when we got home, we got to work writing his first song. He had written down that he wanted to learn the dulcimer too, so I told him if he wrote a song on the dulcimer, I would let him cross off both from his list.  

We wound up writing a song about the sin of singing Christmas songs when it isn’t Christmas, which made our whole family laugh. And everyone was blessed that the song ended by saying we should celebrate Jesus all year. 

All this time, I was preparing for seeing three new states. We decided that it could be possible to drive from Virginia to our youth conference in Ohio, then to St. Louis, Missouri, and finally, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, while seeing Kansas and Arkansas.   

Then so unexpectedly, gas prices skyrocketed. I wasn’t sure just how much this was going to change our plans, so we had a serious talk about what this trip might look like on a stricter budget, assuming we could even go at all. 

“That’s okay, Dad,” he said. “Maybe it’s time we pray for our miracle.” 

I envied my son’s faith as he prayed. That night a $500 donation came through from a perfect stranger who had heard about what we were doing and wanted to make this trip happen. Later that week more money came in from the church, and from then on, gas was nothing we had to worry about. 

Our ten-day trip was fantastic, just the two of us on the open road talking about life and what it means to be a man. When I first spotted the St. Louis Arch while crossing over the Mississippi River, I marveled at the number of things on this list that I myself had never done either. I realized there was nobody I would rather share these experiences with than my son.

Liam indoor skydiving.

We saw oddities across the country, but more important, I wanted Liam to learn about leadership and making tough decisions, so we visited the graves of five American presidents, including William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, and Andrew Johnson. We learned both good and bad aspects about our nation’s history. The trip was unforgettable. 

When we returned home, we realized that although we still had five months left, time was running out. Liam faced one of his fears and went indoor skydiving, and he did his grand gestures for each family member as his year closed. 

Liam turned thirteen a few weeks ago and kindly informed us that he wants to go by William now. He plays on our worship team with no fear. He enjoys his running still. He loves the Word. And we are closer than ever. I will never forget my son’s twelfth year on this earth as we prepared him to be a man. 

The best part for me is that my daughter Rita turned twelve shortly after William turned thirteen, and she has started her list with her mother. And as soon as my youngest son, Gino, turns twelve, I get to start all over again. He is ten now, but we’re already planning our special year. 

I’m not sure if Solomon and Rehoboam were able to walk alongside one another and truly bond. I wish there were more evidence and insight into their relationship. And while I’m positive Solomon was a lot busier than I am, I can’t help but wonder how investing in his son on a more personal level could have changed Israel’s history for the better. 

After all, we are raising world changers.

About the Author

Bill and Liam at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. 

Bill Francavilla (shown here with son Liam at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis) and his wife, Jessica, pastor Living Hope Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. Bill has served in many different ministries from teaching middle school Bible classes to serving as a chaplain at a retirement community. He holds a master’s degree in theological studies from Liberty University and has been active in missions to Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Cuba. Bill and Jessica have four children: Alex, Liam, Rita Grace, and Gino. 

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