Peter Meslow thought he was going to practice parallel parking with his dad.

Doug Meslow had something else in mind.

In a culture that recognizes 18th and 21st birthdays with gambling and guzzling, Doug and Jenny Meslow wanted to do something meaningful to mark Peter’s 16th birthday. They arranged for him to take a walk with seven adult male friends. And talk.

Their topic: What it means to become a man.

They dubbed it the “Walk to Manhood.”

“These were men who had advice to give him this day,” Doug Meslow says. “But these were people who he could look to for the rest of his life.”

The Meslows got the idea from Doug’s law partner, Robb Olson, who had recommended a book, “Raising a Modern Day Knight,” by pastor Robert Lewis. The Meslows adapted some of the ideas to their family.

They chose a four-mile walk, with each man walking a half-mile segment with Peter. There would be seven “pass-offs,” just like a relay – except Peter would be the “baton.” Doug Meslow would take the final leg.

The Meslows chose men who had a relationship with Peter. They came from different backgrounds and ranged in age from their 20s to their 50s.

Doug Meslow was concerned about excluding his wife, but Jenny Meslow pushed for the all-male celebration. She thought she was a role model in other ways and did not mind being behind the scenes this time.

“He’s learning what it means to be a man through men,” Jenny Meslow says.

The Meslows asked the men to pick topics about which they were passionate. Their choices also lent a natural order to the walk.

Jeff Meslow, Peter’s uncle, picked “family.” Dan Schuster, the husband of Peter’s former day-care provider, picked “faith.” Steve Grans, a church youth worker, picked “service.”

Former neighbor Mike Sonntag picked “peer pressure/college years.” Jamie Johnson, a family friend, picked “dating/relationships.” Bill Sonntag, Mike’s father, picked “career.” Bryan Sanders, a relative, picked “friendships.”

All the men shared deeply personal experiences. That made a big impression on Peter.

“They pretty much poured their guts out,” Peter says. “It helped to see someone who had gone through that sort of stuff.”

Peter listened intently. He could tell the men were well-prepared.

“There weren’t a lot of long pauses,” Peter says. “They pretty much motored along.”

Johnson was prepared to talk on three topics, but in the end chose dating and relationships. Johnson, 39, says he wished he could have had this kind of guidance when he was younger.

“It’s really important for boys turning into young men that they understand they don’t have to go it alone,” Johnson says.

At 29, Mike Sonntag was not far removed from the pressures of college life. But it was his final, carpe diem comment that left a lasting mark on Peter: “Never leave a birdie putt short.”

The men capped the day with a steak dinner. Peter sat at the head of the table. He received some gifts, including a watch from his father. It was inscribed: “WTM” – for Walk to Manhood – and the date.

“Seeing Peter sitting a little straighter, squaring his shoulders a little more–he was part of the club,” Doug Meslow says. “He knew he belonged.”

Doug, Jenny and Peter Meslow are trying to keep the walk a secret for three years. That’s when Peter’s younger brother, Scott, turns 16. But the three have talked about it.

Peter hasn’t divulged everything, and his parents don’t pry. But they do know that the walk made an impact.

Peter wants to be first in line when his little brother turns 16 and begins his own walk to manhood.

Copyright © 2002 Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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