Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Who Was HE?

Monday the sports world lost big time.  One of the granddaddies of modern sports, and unspoiled for over a century, the 117th running of the Boston Marathon was brutally attacked.  And I am fairly certain when and if the perpetrator of this sick crime is found out, it will be a man.

As a man who works to improve the state and reputation of masculinity, that cuts even deeper than the pain of losing something so special (I have personally run the Boston Marathon 4 times, and my family would wait to cheer me not very many feet away from where the second bomb went off - See  It is almost not even a question whether or not a man did it - it is just assumed.  We are the violent ones.

But we aren't just that! I often tell men that if they want to understand the fullness of masculinity they need look no further than between their legs.  Part of our apparatus is hard, and aggressive, and that part can be hurtful as well as the source of pleasure for our partners.  But the other part of our masculinity is soft and quite fragile (if you have ever gotten a kick in the nuts, you know how fragile they are).  That part of us must be protected.  That part of us is the source of our life-giving, life-creating gift.

We often, as men, say to each other, "Grab your balls, and do it!" as a way to communicate the sentiment of getting tough.  But I think we have it backwards.  We need to grab those puppies as a way to remember that we have a soft underbelly, that we are vulnerable to attack and that we (and our species) need to be protected.

Yea, a man probably did that - a man that had no balls! He had no sensitivity for others or for himself. He had no compassion for the human race and, in fact, assembled his weapon for maximum pain and carnage. I have a difficulty containing my rage for that man, but I know that violence only breeds more violence.  The only way to heal this is through love and compassion.

So, brothers, grab your balls, and squeeze tightly.  Remember how fragile you and your life are. Remember your capacity to create and sustain life. We have to show up bigger and stronger than he did.  It is the only way.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Man-Sized Issue

I joined in recently in an on-line discussion of the gun control diatribe (masquerading as dialogue). It wasn’t really a dialogue at all – just a bunch of angry, self-righteous men haranguing each other for the audacity to hold fast to a belief other than their own. So-called pacifists screaming (as best they can over internet type) at staunch defenders of the Second Amendment right to have a gun of their choice to defend their family and property; and the latter’s expletive-laden vitriol about how he will either kill or go to jail to defend that right.

That is not dialogue, and it is one of three main problems that lie at the source of this breakdown. The first problem is that there can no longer be dialogue.  We have lost the ability to discuss and dialogue with each other; unless of course you agree with absolutely everything I say, in which case, I contend, it is not dialogue. True dialogue is an exchange of ideals wherein listening occurs and through which both parties are changed. Dialogue is a creative resolution starting with opposing or differing points of view that results in a new, previously impossible (or improbable) thought. It cannot be reached when both parties start from the absolute point of view that I am right and you are dead wrong, and operate from a fundamental dualistic logic.  Right/wrong dualism renders anything the other person says automatically wrong and therefore not-listened-to. Where is the dialogue in that? So as a result, congress and my Facebook friends simply engage in angry positioning and demeaning name-calling.

But that is only one part of it.  The second source problem within the gun-control diatribe is that we have evolved into a state where we expect laws, legislation and other people to do the hard work or moral decision-making and critical thinking for us. It takes a ton of developmental work to build the capacity to think critically and in a fully mature way about such complex issues as justice, gun-control, global warming, sexual ethics, reproductive rights and human dignity (to name a few). These and other issues like them as immensely complex dilemmas that have no single or simple solutions. Yet as a society we want the simple solution; we want the silver bullet; we want washboard abs with only 15 seconds of exercise a day. 

Thirdly, we have de-evolved into a society who expects that if something is wrong, we can just take a pill to fix it, and that just is not the way things happen. And within that, we hold the expectation that someone else will do it for us. Dear brothers, it is not up to someone else (be that chemistry and pharmaceuticals or law-makers and their polity) to solve our problems for us. These are ours and we need to take ownership and responsibility for the issues we have. Having a law that polices how guns are sold (we have one), or requiring background checks, or magazine sizes will not solve the problem of accountability and responsibility.
So the long and short of it is that there is a way out or through this fiasco, but it will take a huge amount of work. First and foremost, we need to take full responsibility not only for the creation of a solution but for the control and use of any firearms out there. In a way the platitude that “guns don’t kill; people do” is right. But until every person who owns or sells, or touches weapons of any sort (let’s throw crossbows and bows and other forms of weaponry in there) takes full accountability of how each weapon is responsibly used, we will continue to have the problem of weapons getting into “the wrong hands.” We need to develop the lost skill of critical thinking to begin to address complex problems and complex solutions in a more mature and rational way.  But above all, we need to re-learn the art of true dialogue.  That is a tall order, but the consequences of ignoring the source issues are too costly; innocent children’s lives being snuffed out before they have even begun to live; malls and theatres becoming unsafe places to go; and young men thinking that the resolution of an argument is drawing and firing some sexy weapon. And  face it, while some women own and sell firearms, predominantly this is a men's issue! When the statistics are frightening enough perhaps the work will be done.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Is It Short-term or The Real Thing?

I had a conversation with a woman friend of the family today who was asking advice on what she should do with a relationship she was in. The bottom line was that they had been dating for a while but that, though she really liked him, they were experiencing some rough spots. She was asking if she should break it off and if so how.  She said she had heard an adage that you can’t ever make a long term committed relationship out of a short term recreational one, so she felt she had to call it quits. It’s a question I hear a lot, and one I would like to respond to more publicly.

First of all, it is not that can’t take a short term relationship and make a long term committed marriage out of it, many great marriages have started with no intention of ending up that way (married).  It’s just that the two types of relationships are based on different values and have different intentions.  A short term relationship – one that may include fun and lots of recreational type of sex – is mostly about you. So ultimately what has to survive in short term relationship is you not the relationship.  By contrast a long term committed relationship is focused on the relationship and therefore what must be preserved is the relationship. You actually take second seat to the relationship. So what happens when two people get into relationship is that they ultimately discover their differences.  It is inevitable that you will have differences simply because you are different people.  What committed people do is that they commit to resolving those differences. The differences and their associated difficulties become the reason for breaking up in a short term relationship, but they are the essence of what makes a committed relationship strong.

So the answer to my woman friend was not what she had called to find out. I told her that this sounded like one of those pivotal points where she had to decide if they wanted to make a go at a long term committed relationship. If that becomes the case – and it can only become the case if both parties agree to it – then this impasse becomes the first of many hurdles that they will encounter and must overcome. Just because the impasse had seemed problematic did not mean they had to break up. Unless, of course, this was only a short term adventure. In that case, she had better take care of herself, which most likely meant she needed to break the tie. “And how do I do that,” she asked.

Swiftly and bluntly – in no uncertain terms. In relationship, I told her, men do not understand subtleties. In fact it often requires a stick of dynamite or a two by four across the temple. We often don’t get it when you like us and want us to come after you , and we certainly don’t get it when you want us to go away.  So be clear and to the point.  Clean cuts heal faster and after you want out of there as quickly and cleanly as you can. Short term relationships are about you not him.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Generating Authentic Power

Our society, it seems, is set up as an accomplishment-driven world. What this means is that we value and measure each other - especially as men - by what we can and what we have done. I must tote around my resume of accomplishments in order to be seen either as a man of my word or as a valued, results-producing go-getter.

But when men reach a certain age or level of maturity, accomplishments are no longer the measure of worth.  In the second half of life (as Richard Rohr calls it) our goal is more about creating worth through what we give rather than what we get or win. This all came to a head yesterday as I talked with a friend and contemporary (he is as old as me) who was signing up for a goal-crunching program in order for him to up his personal integrity.  This man said that in his life he has seen where he has often not accomplished what he said he would and that he has not "shown up as his word" far too often.

I asked him what he though integrity meant to him and he told me that it meant doing what you say you will do.  Well, that may be true, especially in an accomplishment oriented first-half-of-life society.  Integrity is the consistency between what you say and what you do.  But in the second half of life we lose the fascination with trophies and points, so integrity of our word takes on a different texture and flavor. "What if," I asked him, "you looked at integrity as telling the truth about where you are right now?"

The wisdom and power of integrity at that point would look like telling others how much being out of integrity in the past has cost you.  You could look at the wounds and scars you have and say, "This is where I failed to do suchandso a thing, and here is what happens when you don't do that." and so on.  How powerful it is to be fully present to one's failures and the lessons learned from them, instead of pretending that history didn't teach him anything and having him try to (once again) white knuckle through another program of goals and accomplishments. Doing the later would no doubt result in another imbalanced list of losses and a few wins, and further the evidence of his life that he cannot accomplish these huge piles of goals - and that therefore he must suffer one more hit to his pride and integrity in the accomplishment world.

Enough is enough! He does not need anymore evidence.  What he needs, if anything, is the ability to tell the truth and to be fully aware and present to his results and lack thereof. Then, standing in the truth, fully aware of the associated pains and joys of his life, he can finally claim his authority - authority in his own life and his authority for the wisdom he dispenses. It may be hard to face the truth, and even harder to stay fully present to it, but the power that reveals is immense.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Defending the Caveman

It is rare that I feel compelled to respond to another person’s op-ed words, generally because I respect the art of writing and as a writer myself, I understand that editors can take whole hunks out of a writer’s presentation leaving it tattered and sometimes less than coherent. But sometimes, a person strings together such misinformation and assumptions that not only is the premise fouled in the process, he (in this case) creates massive disservice to entire groups of the population. Such is the case with Barry Nolan’s recent “Take” in Boston Magazine (September 2012, 50:9, pages 39 ff) entitled Attack of the 50-Foot Feminist Agenda.

As Mr. Nolan portrays the situation, men have somehow de-evolved from the drum-beating, new-age, poetry reading cool guys of the 80’s into a backlash of self-righteous cavemen who claim to be victims of the feminist movement.  Nolan reports that said men, enraged at the disservice the femininely sympathetic court system has given us men, are now waging a war of inane politics that blames the victims of domestic violence and seeks to pull down every step of progress made over the last thirty years.  

Now hold on there, Bucko, you sort have swept a pile of crap into those assumptions.

First of all, the men’s “movement” was neither started by Robert Bly nor was it organized in order to bang on drums and dance naked around the fire. For thousands of generations, men have supported other men in becoming the best they could be, whether that was in battle (which it was for most of that history) or as husbands, fathers and members of society. While there are some lessons we need to learn from our sisters, these men’s circles existed because there are just some things that women cannot teach us and that are best given by our peers. Borrowing from Bly a bit, some of that work, like grief work, most women would prefer not to see anyway – it is not pretty.  But men’s work is about supporting men to be great.

And part of what can be great about men is taking a stand against domestic violence. Men can be valiant or violent, says Alison Armstrong, and we certainly have the genetics stacked against being valiant. Some 10-20,000 years of selective evolution has ensured that the genes passed on were not the nice guys, but the Huns, Vikings, Visigoths, and other conquerors who took women as the spoils of their murderous raids. And we all walk around with that genetic time bomb ticking away inside. To be sure, most men are prone to violence, but it is men who must stop that cycle and come down hard on perpetrators of any violence against women and children. Many valiant men have stood side by side with our sisters in the service of women and children. Thank all that is holy that we, as a society, have made progress in ensuring safety and justice.

However, justice is not a one-size-fits-all issue. And many times fathers have lost their rights as parents and their place in the home through the well-meaning divorce courts. Granted, a violent man needs rehabilitation before any element of his social system (courts, extended families, churches or neighborhoods) thinks of allowing him near those whom he has victimized. But those rulings should not be dolled out in equal measure when we confuse a “normal” divorce with court-ordered separations. The fact that not one father has ever been awarded custody in any divorce proceedings in the entire recorded history of the State of New Hampshire or that our liberally-minded state is not too far in front of that, suggests that courts may have a bit of an anti-father bias.  It is for that advocacy that groups like Fathers & Families and were first organized - to assist fathers in their quest to maintain meaningful relationships with their children, and to work with the courts in reducing the financial burden of alimony when it is either disproportionately large or egregiously long.

Alimony and child support are both righteous principles but, like unions that were built to ensure fair treatment of employees, sometimes even the best ideas get out of hand. An overzealous union can cripple a company or an industry, and an overzealous court, attorney or judge can throw a man into such a financial bind that he is never able to live a productive life again. These and other men’s organizations have been working to even out such adjudications where they have become crippling.

In Mr. Nolan’s defense, could there be zealots who seem to push too far? I have no doubt. But were there not some feminists in the early years who pushed a radical agenda to wake up the nation and the world to the plight of women? Absolutely! Sometimes leaders must sacrifice themselves by going way over the line for the good of a cause that can only move only steps forward at a time.  But I fear that the nature of Mr. Nolan’s article may do more damage to any progress either side has made.

The battle is far from over. There are movements afoot within the political parties to legislate women’s reproductive rights.  There are parts of our country where violence to women and children is not thought of as morally wrong – it is condoned or ignored. Incest, spousal rape, psychological abuse and physical violence are at epidemic levels, yet much of it is never reported. Those of us who care about such things must band together instead of slinging mud at each other and inciting to riot! Hopefully in the battle for domestic justice, we can do better than our political system that seems to ignore the real, serious issues and instead resorts to name calling and slander.  Get your facts straight Mr. Nolan. Get your ass into a real men’s group and let them assist you in getting your head out of it.  There is work to be done, and right now you are just in the way and causing harm.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

When Knowing Isn't Enough

Whoopie shit!  So I write this blog and with Dave's great insights and help have written A Married Man's Survival Guide and now it's sequel, Thriving in the Jungle, and then something happens like this past week that causes me to question it all.  The occasion was when a close relative came to me because their marriage was about to fall apart. Real stuff that I have dealt with many times before with friends and buddies, but this one landed really close to home.

My first instinct was to think "What advice can I give that might make a difference?" But the pivotal phrase in that sentence is "make a difference" and all the advice in the world has never made any difference - to anybody.  That isn't what matters when the bomb goes off right next to you.  All that matters is that you are there.  All that matters is that you listen (without editorializing), just listen.

Oh to be certain, I have an opinion.  I have failed at marriage and have gotten divorced and I have lived through dealing with the monster that occupies the space between failure and the final decree.  And all I can really say is that it sucks - as in it sucks all of the life out of you, all of the oxygen out of your lungs - and you cannot think or breathe or move. And what is worse is that the way that felt for me is different than how it will feel for my brother or my kids or for you going through that same in-between space.

I (or you) can never know what it is like for another, no matter how well we know that person or the path they are walking.  We just have no insight into what they are experiencing, and even when they tell us of that unique brand of suckitude fron which they are presently suffering, we will only understand it in terms of what we have as words and history and feelings.  We won't understand theirs.  So all of that knowing is for shit - it has no relevance in the space in-between.

So we laid there and stared up at the ceiling and I listened into the confusion and pain. And as quietly as I could I let the tears of remembrance slide down into my hairline so I wouldn't interfere the telling and spewing that was happening beside me.  And eventually we laughed and went to sleep, so we could get up and talk and listen some more.

It's not over and I am not deluding myself into thinking that I made even an iota of difference.  But I did no harm by assuming that I knew more or different or better.  Sometimes the experiences and pains of life teach you that we all have those periods - those explosions - in our lives and what matters is that we aren't alone.  My pain has taught me compassion for the pain of others so that I can listen without opinion - and for a short while maybe it didn't hurt as much.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Somebody That I Used to Know

I am haunted lately by the song by Gotye and Kimbra that chronicles a broken relationship. He singing from the perspective of one reeling from the end of the current relationship and she from having made the choice to leave because he hadn't let go of another previous relationship. Go figger! Does that really happen? Actually the question might be when does it not happen or how often is that the case?

Living in relationship is a process of entangling the very fibers of your being with those of another and if and when that ends in a break up the fingerprints of that relationship do not disappear immediately, if ever. In Bob Seger's song Traveling Man, he says that each love left traces on his soul. I kind of think of them as being etched into my soul.  I gave my life to each one for the time we were together and is that supposed to fade into nothingness after we are no longer an item? And as for marriage - readers who are familiar with me know that these 20 years of marriage were not my first - I have been married before and fathered two outstanding daughters from that previous marriage. And is their mother supposed to be just somebody that I used to know? I think not.

The relationship did not end well. I was stupid and made very stupid choices that left my ex no alternatives but to divorce me.  But when I came to, I realized that I was still deeply committed as a father and that meant I needed to forge a relationship with their mom.  It took work and it took time, but it has been worth regaining her as someone I still know and cherish.  Recently one of our adult daughters did something pretty spectacular, something about which I knew we were both deeply proud of.  I took the occasion (as I have done many times in the past) to call up my ex-wife and praise her for the magnificent job she did as a mother.  She tried to deflect and say I had a part, but I would not be deterred. I knew that the bulk of parenting through their formative years had hers - and I just wanted to thank her for what she had done.

But the point of this story is that I am clear that she is not just somebody that I used to know. I know that she and each lover I have known has become an inextricable part of who I am.  And I am just another man. We men do that.  Women think we fear commitment. But nothing could be further from the truth.  We commit hard and we commit fully. And when that relationship ends, our commitment somehow does not.  It lingers and hangs out in the deeper recesses of our memory. Their traces on our soul are pretty much permanent.

So  when asked by your current (wife, lover, girlfriend - you fill in the blank) if you are "over" your last love, you can lie and say you're done.  But if she is a normal woman with their uncanny sixth sense that sees through walls and senses even the slightest change in mood or temperature, she will eventually know someone else is still in there.  And if she is hung up on being the exclusive tenant of your soul you may end up singing along with Gotye and Kindra that she's just somebody you used to know.