June 19, 2016

An UN-Father's Day Message

Fathers, for better and worse, are THE most powerful man-making force on the planet. In this dad season, good fathers are my heroes, and certainly deserve high praise and celebration. That said, here's another way to think about Father's day.

. . . that stew pot of memories
called "Dad" . . .

As the commercial messages about Father's Day bring fathers and fatherhood into sharp focus, for me that stew pot of memories called "Dad," with its very mixed bag of confusing emotions, gets seriously stirred up. From my childhood through adolescence, my dad was lost in his marriage, was sick, and in the throes of alcoholism. While there were some gifts from him, too often he treated me horribly and I've been finding my way back ever since. Even though I know my father was the best dad he was able to be, I'm left feeling the complicated remnants of rage, love, sadness, hopelessness, and a kind of father-hunger driven emptiness at my core.

After years of self-discovery work and digging around in my family history, I've been able to find some true expressions of my dad's fatherly love. Like water in the desert, I treasure those few positive memories. Taken together, they form a small shield I can use to protect myself on Father's Day. At this point in my life, I'm exhausted by both talking and not talking about my dad issues. But when the third Sunday of June approaches each year, for me it's an Un-Father's Day. I find myself looking forward to the relief on the day after Father's Day when it all goes underground again.

In this dad season, I'm also very much reminded of the many men, adolescent males, and young boys I've come across in my man-making work who don't have any good dad memories at all to use as a defense on Father's Day. In fact, it's quite the opposite. I think of all the really bad dad stories shared across a circle by sobbing guys.

I'm just saying,
I've heard lots of really bad dad stories.

I have heard from countless men, young men, and boys who have never known a dad because he simply wasn't identifiable, because they were adopted at birth, or because of a court ordered separation from their fathers. There are all the dads who left during pregnancy, or the dads who were shot in the hood from gang violence. Then there are all the kids whose dads are in jail, or lost to PTSD or substance abuse. I remember a soft-spoken boy of ten whose initiation name was Steel Heart. He was in the room when his dad killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head. I'm just saying, I've heard lots of really bad dad stories.


I always wonder if just the idea of Father's Day results in re-wounding these fatherless males. I wonder if the day stirs up their deep, confusing, profound, and very well-defended sense of abandonment and father-loss. For them and me, again this year, it will be very much an Un-Father's Day.

So on this Father's Day, if you have the good fortune to have a good dad to honor, count yourself as lucky, and don't miss a chance to say thank you. However imperfectly he fathered you, he was there and doing the best he could do. He deserves to be thanked and celebrated. Thanks Dad, I love you.

After honoring your father, please take a moment to allow into your heart all those tragically abandoned or under-fathered young guys in the world around you. The boys, young men, and men who won't feel those good-dad feelings on Father's Day. Remember that on Father's Day, and every other day of the year, these guys will experience a profound hunger for the blessings that can only come from having a caring father in your life. Remember all the boys and men who, maybe like me, are just hoping all this complicated emotional dad business will pass by soon, go back underground, and that life somehow will get back to a survivable normal on the day after Un-Father's Day.

. . . I believe there is/was a father who loved you.

On my Un-Father's Day card I'd write:
Today I honor good dads everywhere. Thanks you for all you have done and will do. Blessings also on the dads who in some way checked-out, who walked or were not available to their sons, and on the sad legacy they have to live with as a result. And especially, blessings on confused, sad, and dad-hungry males everywhere. Buried underneath all the drama and tragedy that kept you and your father apart, in my heart I believe there is/was a father who loved you.


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May 29, 2016

Welcoming Young Men To Man's World

I believe men are hardwired for initiating young males into manhood, and if a hundred or so males of different ages were shipped off to a remote island, all the right things would eventually happen.

I believe men are hardwired
for initiating young males
into manhood.

Shortly after all the guys arrived on the island, a male hierarchy would quickly be established. All manner of tasks and challenges would be offered and met. Important survival skills would be taught, games and competitions would happen, and there would be a good deal of joking around, farting, and general playfulness.

Along the way, some serious conversations would take place, and important bonds would naturally occur. At some point, the young men would eventually be invited into the men's circles, and it would be a life-changing experience for everyone. I know that scenario is true because I've experienced it many times. Well, maybe not a hundred guys and not on an island, but almost!

Sadly, most men have forgotten their role and responsibility for this ancient and sacred man-making work with young males. The good news is there are places you can go to remember and relearn.


One place is the YMAW, or Young Men's Adventure Weekend. Imagine almost a hundred males, young, old, and older, gathering deep in a wilderness forest outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. It's camping around a large clearing, next to an impossibly beautiful lake, with big mountain backdrop, and in a very old forest. It feels primitive and a little wild just as you'd expect man's world should be. While the events that make up this experience are pretty well scripted, there is a lot of room for male chemistry to work it's magic on everyone.

Here's some beautiful photos from the 2015 YMAW that really tell the story visually.

For a more energized taste of the experience here's a video clip from a past YMAW. The theme for the weekend that year was Voyagers, and the young men were invited to see themselves as explorers and adventurers on their quest for manhood. In addition to the fun, watch for the caring conversations, the challenges to teams of young men, the forest background, and the incredible food! I especially love how the young adventurers arrive in Man's World!



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

This year the YMAW is being held July 8th - 10th and a spot for you, and maybe that of a young man you know, are waiting. The men who come from distant places are called outlanders but they are treated every bit like a very welcome guest. When you go, the YMAW men will connect with you in advance and assign you a weekend buddy to make sure you have a solid man at your back from arrival to departure. Your ground transportation and gear needs will be handled, so all you have to do is jump in and savor the experience. I've been there, experienced their caring treatment, and loved every minute. It's been going on for over 25 years so I can say these men really know what they are doing.

If you want to combine a trip to a truly beautiful place while hanging out with men in the business of changing young male lives, you really should take a trip to man's world at the YMAW. For more information on attending, or just to talk with the YMAW guys about this kind of man-making work, visit the YMAW website. You can also contact one of the YMAW founders, Brad Leslie at bradleslie@telus.net. I know the YMAW men will be happy to hear from you.



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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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