May 3, 2016

Initiating Teenage Lads in the UK

It makes me happy to know that men around the world are supporting young guys on their path toward manhood. It's good work for men and always good for the boys. Dick Baker is a leader and mentor with JourneymanUK in Stroud, Gloucestershire, Great Britain. This is his story of how he found some direction for his life when he connected with other men and formed a group to initiate boys.



As I approach my 50th year, I feel grateful for an amazing first half of my life. I have always been an optimist, taken opportunities, and just gone with the flow. In many ways this has served me. But it was in my mid-thirties, after my wife and I had moved our family across the country for a better life, when I started to have questions about my purpose in life. Who was I really and how was I showing up in the world? Why had I spent so long without ever really asking these questions? I didn’t really know where to go for the answers, but having put out the questions, the answers, of course, came . . . just much later in life.

. . . an initiation of sorts in 2009
helped me to understand a lot more
about what it is to be a man.

As it turned out, going through an initiation of sorts in 2009 helped me to understand a lot more about what it is to be a man in today’s world and gave my life some meaningful direction. Some answers came as the result of my accepting an invitation to join other local men on an Inner Mentor Training (IMT) hosted by a Boys to Men leader from the United States.

Part of the IMT training was remembering what my teenage self was like. You see, my teenager didn't have many male role models to guide him. I hadn't learned to really trust myself, be true to myself, or even to accept myself. While there were men in my life, none of them took on the role of being a mentor and guide. I realized that if men had chosen to be involved in my life when I was a teenager, I might have stepped into early manhood more consciously and at the right age. I would have found I had real gifts to bring the world, was a person of value, and had men as guides for those difficult years.

To be honest after the IMT training, I was left feeling sad I had to wait to almost mid-life to find these gifts in myself. So when the men from Stroud were riding home from the training in a minibus, we all talked about how we might create something for teenage boys in our community. By the time we got home the seeds of movement were planted and JourneymanUK was born.


We held our first Rite of Passage Adventure Weekend in the spring of 2011. Since then our core of about 20 men, supported by many others, have done four passage weekends and held space for 52 boys to ‘initiate’ themselves on their way to manhood. After their weekend the boys earn the title of Journeyman or Jman, and there are now two Jman group mentoring circles for boys in Stroud and Bristol that meet regularly.

A Group Photo of the Whole Tribe

I recently asked a young man who went on his passage weekend in 2014 for feedback. He was still feeling the impact two years later. He said, “It hit me later on. When something comes up now, I understand it better. I think oh yeah that’s what Journeyman was about. It's like an epiphany! I’m feeling the benefits even more now."

. . . none of the men in JourneymanUK
can ever know what the impact
of having had this kind of initiation
earlier in our lives would have meant.

Like me, none of the men in JourneymanUK can ever know what the impact of having had this kind of initiation earlier in our lives would have meant. Yet, as we hold the space for today's boys, lovingly yet fierce, vulnerable yet standing strong, and often playful, we know we are doing important men's work and making a positive difference in the boys' lives. Today I know 52 boys who won't have to wait till mid-life to know they are seen, deemed trustworthy, appreciated, and have good men at their backs. In these experiences, I know I am not only serving the boys and thus the community, but healing my inner teenager along the way.



I've been on many passage weekends and each time I'm reminded that initiating and supporting young males moving toward manhood is really important and natural men's work. It's often life changing for the boys, and very good for the men, too! Even after fifteen years in the work, these weekend events always melt and reforms my masculine heart and makes me a better man. I'm thinking that's what's happened to Dick and the other men of JourneymanUK, and I hope you get a chance to discover that for yourself.

You can contact Dick Baker to learn about his experience at dick.baker@journeymanuk.org. On the JourneymanUK website you can learn more about the organization and their upcoming Rites of Passage Adventure Weekend on the 7th – 10th of July, 2016.



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April 20, 2016

The Male Emotional Suppression Cycle
and Human Volcanoes

I'm sitting in a boy's high school group across the circle from a young guy whose eyes are darting around the room. He is unconsciously biting his fingernails, and his right leg is continuously bouncing at a ferocious pace. Let’s call him Joe. Looking at Joe, it feels to me like I’m watching a wild animal that has been backed into a corner. I’ve known that kind of agitation as a teen and recognize what’s underneath. For the first few weeks of the group, whenever it was Joe’s turn to speak, he’d usually say there's nothing much going on in his life. We see a lot of guys like Joe.

Looking at Joe, it feels to me
like I’m watching a wild animal
that has been backed into a corner.

So much of what happens in the group is about working against the male stereotypes that say, man up, be tough, don’t show your pain, and just play hurt. It’s those messages that are at the core of Joe’s limited ability to really understand and work with his internal emotional life. More about Joe at the end of this post.

Teenage males like Joe have no choice but to live through the often difficult challenges of their home life, complex and mystifying social relationships, academic demands, and the multiple losses that are a common part of a young man's adolescence. Without a safe place, permission, and support to risk emotional expression, the internal pressure can only build. With no positive avenues for release, they become emotionally pressurized like Joe, a kind of human volcano. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised to see impatience, restlessness, anger, bullying, explosive violence, or the even the darker side of unexpressed feelings, hopelessness and depression.

With no positive avenues for release,
they become emotionally pressurized like Joe,
a kind of human volcano.

Mark Greene is the Executive Editor at The Good Men Project (GMP) and the author of a great new book, Remaking Manhood. In an article for GMP Mark offers us a beautifully simple graphic which begins to explain the trap in which young guys like Joe and so many men, are caught. It describes how, starting from early childhood, boys are taught to suppress their emotions and narrow their range of expression. Mark calls it The Male Emotional Suppression Cycle (MESC).


Some real life examples of the costs of The Male Emotional Suppression Cycle for men come from an article and video recently published in the UK HUFFPOST Lifestyle section. In the article by Kenny Mammarella-D'Cruz, titled Man Up!, he describes the wrenching emotional impact of a significant loss in his family life when he was a young man, how poorly he dealt with it, and the costs to him well into his adult life.

Kenny was also one of the men profiled in a powerful four minute documentary on BBC3 Online titled "It's Tough Being A Man." In the short video below, thirteen men describe the pressures they faced to be silent in the face of trauma in their lives, and why for them, it's tough being a man in Britain today.



If this clip doesn't show up use this link.

I'm hoping you're beginning to understand the importance of helping young men like Joe to get an early start on developing an emotional vocabulary and the ability to be vulnerable enough to use it in the right places.

You might be happy to hear Joe has continued to attend the school support group. It has taken weeks for him to learn to trust the men and other guys. The stories others have shared helped him to know he’s not alone in what he’s facing. Over time, Joe has given us a peek into his world. Gradually we’ve learned about his absent parents, his need to be always on guard in his violent neighborhood, and the very real fear he carries for his safety and that of his little brother and sister. Joe has started to unpack himself, decompress a little, and in the process, developed some allies who understand and care.

If guys (of any age) can find their way to a safe, non-judgmental, and supportive group where emotional truth is shared, there is enormous normalizing and healing power available. When that happens, men and boys no longer have to be alone with their fears, traumas, or shame. As a bonus, they also find a place to celebrate their joys and successes. I'm pretty sure there's a group like that near you if you can find the courage to go looking.

And then, how about showing up for the Joes in your world so they don't have to wait until mid-life to unpack themselves and find good adult male allies? If you’d like to talk about how to start a group for young guys, send me a quick message. All it takes is the courage to take the next step in that direction, and you just might find yourself making a big difference in some male lives. You can be sure the young men are waiting for you to show up!



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April 4, 2016

Boys, Men and the Father Wound

One element of the school support circles training for men is to invite them to revisit their own teen years. There are activities to help them remember and reconnect with the bittersweet, painful, and often confusing time in a man's life. Doing this increases a man's connection to the energy, feelings, and stories of today's young males.

While the clothing, music, and language has changed, the boys in our circles really are simply younger versions of the men. With a few exceptions, the boys bring the same challenges, hungers, fears, pain, confusion, and hopes for their future the men experienced in their teen years. When a man is clear about his own teen history, it’s easier for him to keep his unfinished business separate from those of the young guys across the circle. It creates a more compassionate, empathetic, and caring mentor.

One important aspect of the training is to look at the relationship between the man and his father. This relationship, for better and worse, is at the core of the man a boy will become. As the men share their experiences, the whole range of possible relationships with fathers is revealed. We hear about present and loving dads, ghost dads, who are there but in all ways unavailable, and the angry, damaging, addicted, demeaning and destructive fathers. There are stories about the unknown fathers, men who abandoned the young man and family early in the boy's life. These kinds of tough stories are what I call the father wound.

In the school data from The Boys to Men Mentoring Network in San Diego, 73% of the boys in the program do not have a father active in their life. In addition to fatherlessness, it's common that the young guys in our circles don't have any positive or durable adult male relationship for support. This is what I often refer to as the epidemic of under-male-nourished boys.

. . . 73% of the boys in the program
do not have a father active in their life.

In preparing for a recent training, I came across some powerful words about the confusion and complexity surrounding a man's relationship to his father and his father wound. They come from the 1999 movie, Smoke Signals. The film tells the story of the relationship between a father, Arnold Joseph, and his son Victor. The story unfolds after Arnold has died, and Victor and another young man from the reservation, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, set off to collect Arnold's pick-up truck and ashes.

Victor remembers his father leaving him as a child, and that he was an alcoholic and abusive father. He just drove off one day and never came back. On the road trip, the two men remember Victor’s father, but their memories about Arnold are very different. Victor learns many new and even some positive things about his father during this journey. In the end, he begins to better understand, forgive, and grieve his father's loss. Here are the questions he speaks in the final scene of the film as he tries to find his way through the complicated feelings of his father wound.



How do we forgive our fathers -- maybe in a dream?

Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us too often - or forever - when we were little?

Or maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage?

Or making us nervous because there didn't seem to be any rage at all?

Do we forgive our fathers for marrying or not marrying our mothers?

Or for divorcing or not divorcing our mothers?

And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth -- or coldness?

Shall we forgive them for pushing -- or leaning?

For shutting doors or speaking through walls,

Or never speaking

Or never being silent?

Do we forgive our fathers in our age or theirs?

Or in their deaths, saying it to them or not saying it?

If we forgive our fathers, what is left?



The poignant statements above accurately describe the complexity and confusion many adult men are still carrying about their fathers. In the training, some men surprise themselves with the depth and variety of feelings that come up during these conversations. I remind men the young guys are sitting in this same emotional confusion. The difference is the boys don't have the maturity, emotional vocabulary, or even permission to touch their father wound.

In the training, from a place of shared understanding and compassion, as a group we make a commitment to support all “our” boys in our circles. We want them to know they are heard, understood, cared for, and honored for standing strong in the face of their considerable challenges. We want them to know, without question, they have our support.

When a man holds this kind of attitude for the boys in our circles, it opens a door for healing his father wound, and it can be a life-giving gift for each boy he encounters.

I believe you wouldn't be reading this far if you weren't interested in this work in some way. You can go to this link to learn more about a school mentor's job description or you can send me a note and we can talk about what the next possible steps for you might be! I know you're the right man for the work and I'm just as sure the boys are waiting.



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March 14, 2016

A Mom Wants Heroes for Her Son

I got a challenging message from the mom of a ten-year-old boy named Aaron. Melody K. wrote, I find it hard to raise a boy to be a man and male mentors are not easy to find. There seem to be lots of resources to help women and girls but not much for boys and men. Even our local Boy Scout groups have more moms than dads involved. My son needs to have good male mentors and some positive male heroes he can look up to. Can you profile some of these men?

Some of our military men are really heroes and would be great role models. Another good example was Quannah Parker, the last war leader of the free Comanche. He had a very difficult life on the plains and was focused on helping his people withstand the challenges to their way of life. He was also a brave warrior.

I'd like to read about lots of positive male role models, all with their own unique strengths. Their stories would be so encouraging to boys like my son who are looking for guidance and thinking about what kind of man they are going to become.




Here's part of my response to Melody: First of all, I believe ALL men are role models for boys because as young males approach adolescence they start watching and emulating the men around them. Like it or not, while they may not yet be heroes, all men are in the business of mentoring boys, whether they know it or not.

. . . all men are in the business of mentoring boys
whether they know it or not.

As I look back on my life the real hero for me was the man who lived next door. Mark Moore was the father of two girls and I know he liked having a young guy around. He knew about the alcoholic messes that happened in my house and, without saying much, he took me under his protective wing.

I can still remember the winter day Mark showed me his tackle box, a thing of mystery and things masculine for sure. I spent many days that winter waiting for late spring and the day Mark and I headed out to go fishing, with all the adventure, things to learn, and the beauty of nature. I learned to put a hook on the line, add the bait, and then how to be patient while waiting for your dreams to come true. Sometimes we even caught fish and I had to learn about life and death. Mark also invited me into his garage woodshop where I learned about tools, planning, building things, and starting over when necessary.

I wrote a blog post about Mark Moore in 2010, when I learned about his death, because, while I didn't realize it at the time, he taught me so much about being a man without even trying. He was and is my hero.

. . . he taught me so much about being a man
without even trying.

For better and worse, there are always men in the media for boys to watch. Way back when I was a kid, I had superheroes. I’m old enough to remember the early ones like Lone Ranger, Sky King, Superman, and Batman. While those shows were much less graphic, sexy, and violent than today's versions, my heroes were always strong, clean, and capable. They were constantly busy nabbing bad guys and doing the right thing for the people they served. They didn’t swear, always stood for positive values, and were always humble about their good work. Life was so innocent back then!

When training men to work with young guys, I like to ask them about their heroes. The hero question is actually number 7 on my list of Questions for Men which you can find on the Man-Making website. The question is: As an adolescent boy, who was one of your male heroes from film, music, sports, or television? What did that man teach you about manhood? Was there another man who was less visible and maybe less famous who stood out for you? What did you learn about being a man from him?

. . . who are your male heroes today?

So dear reader, let's help Melody and her son Aaron out. Do you have your own stories about men, or a special man, who has inspired you? Who were your heroes growing up and who are your male heroes today? What good men, real heroes, or positive role models have you come across in your life, film, TV, or in books? Send a paragraph along to me and I'll publish them (anonymously if you like) on this blog. I'll also add them to the Men's Stories collection evolving on the Man-Making website.

For the record, if you're a man and reading this post, you are my hero! It's because you wouldn't be here reading this unless you've heard the call to Man-Making, however faint. Reading these posts IS a step toward increasing your young male literacy, moving you closer to action in support of a young guy . . . and maybe becoming some young guy's hero!



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February 29, 2016

Nine Things Boys Need and Get
from School Groups with Men

I just came from sitting with a group of teen males in a Boys to Men high school support group. My heart is open and full, I'm in awe, and I'm feeling very proud of the boys and men in the group.

The organization I'm with, the Desert Men's Council, has been in this school for three years now and we've developed a history with many of the boys. Each semester, when we restart the group, new young men show up and jump right in.

On my list of what I continue to find amazing about these groups and the young guys in them includes the following:
  • How much wisdom these young guys have accumulated in their short lives.

  • How very naive they are about so many of the realities of life. How much they really don't know or understand about the world because of a lack of modeling and intentional guidance.

  • How quickly they seem willing to trust us men, especially when so many of them have taken serious damage from the adult men in their lives.

  • How hard it is see the difficulty they have in thinking through the long-term consequences of their choices. We men know, and even some of the young guys know, they don't have a fully wired brain. But still they continue to steam along, fueled by testosterone, and making what are often foolish and sometimes dangerous choices.

  • Their willingness to be honest about the very difficult challenges they are facing. They are almost always willing to quickly drop the mask of teen bravado and share the hard stuff they are so tired of keeping bottled up inside.

  • How they ripen with the praise and honoring the men liberally offer. You can almost watch their self-esteem straightening their spines and making them stronger.

  • What amazing resilience and courage they display in the face of the wrenching losses, real fears, and deep disappointments that are so much a part of their lives.

These are just some of the reasons for me to be in awe of these young men. I feel honored to be witness to such strength and courage. I'm reminded of the words from one memorable movie, "You make me want to be a better man." I love the fact that being "me," my gloriously imperfect self, and just showing up as a man who cares about them, is all that's required.

You make me want to be a better man.

While I'm still in the afterglow of the group experience, in no particular order, here's my quick list of nine things boys need and get from school groups with men. Most of these were present in today's group:

  • A safe place to speak their truth. Any truth. The truth which if kept in the dark and secret places will do serious damage over a lifetime.

  • Adult male allies - men who are on their side and want the best for them.

  • Solid support for their existing life challenges. Everything from their family interactions, friendships, trouble with the girls in their lives, gang challenges, money problems, value based choices, and feeling/being lonely.

  • Good information about life/being a man.

  • An evolving vision of positive manhood. Having a picture created of the attributes of a good man, a man you'd respect and who'd be a role model for you.

  • Development of emotional vocabulary – Having a language to describe the complex emotional experiences and feelings they are having. Having a place to have feelings and not be negatively judged.

  • A place to decompress, to un-shame, to not be alone with the anger and pain, talk about age specific, maturity level appropriate, and life challenge relevant issues.

  • Belonging: In a school full of cliques, in group we are all brothers, alike, included, valued, and honored. Having other guys who are so much more that just a "what’s up?" friend.

  • A place to practice being a man - where they can try on being the man they want to become. Practice showing up with authenticity, accountability, responsibility, speaking directly/assertively, supporting others, receiving praise and constructive feedback, etc.
There's lots more, of course, this is just what's in my mind and heart after today's group.

If you want to talk about how you might become "a better man," from putting your gloriously imperfect self in contact with some young guys, give me a shout. I absolutely know it will change you for the better and I absolutely know the young guys are waiting for a guy, just like you, to show up.

I absolutely know the young guys are waiting
for a guy, just like you,
to show up.



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