June 21, 2015

The Truth about Our Teen Boys

With the current news full of the story of yet another young man gone tragically wrong, it’s the perfect time for me to bring you a story about some really great young men. The guys that star in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl are good examples of what I've found to be true and deeply good about the teenage guys I've met, and I've met a lot of them. I think it's time we all hear more about what's right about our young men and less about the few lost and angry guys who get so much media attention.

At the start of the movie, we meet Greg (played by Thomas Mann), a high school senior, shy, and full of the pretty standard young male insecurities. He manages to stay socially hidden in background at high school as a way of coping with the complicated worlds of relationships. He subtly moves between all the cliques, like the jocks, stoners, goths, and theatre geeks, being a dabbler but not a member of any. Mostly, he remains a loner. Mostly.

Greg does have one main dude in his life named Earl (R.J. Cyler) who he’s known since childhood. Earl is from the (stereotypical) other side of town and is really Greg’s only true friend. Sadly, Greg is so afraid of what it means to have a real friend, he refers to Earl as his “co-worker.” In addition to their history, the two pals share a common interest in odd European art films. They work together making terrible but really funny amateur movies.


Friendships are a complicated business for young guys Greg and Earl's age. Sitting with teen males in groups, I’ve heard many of them talk about having what’s up friends. Those are the guys they hang out with between classes, at lunch, and sometimes after school. However, few of them say they have any got-your-back-no-matter-what, real friends.

. . . few of them say they have any
got-your-back-no-matter-what, real friends.


The movie really gets started when Greg’s mom (Connie Britton) insists that he check in on Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a distant acquaintance from school who has been diagnosed with leukemia. As his relationship with Rachel develops, a true friendship is born, and Greg begins to truly, but cautiously, care for her. You'll be able to pinpoint the moment in the film when Greg’s heart cracks open and he’s overwhelmed with the flood of feelings he has for Rachel he's been holding back.

As I've witnessed many times, when the I'm Okay Mask comes off, so many young men have amazing capacity to face the very hard parts of their lives, speak deep truths, and express big feelings. You’ll see a lot of that in this film. I’m here to tell you it’s not Hollywood, but a really honest depiction of what's alive behind teen male bravado.

There are tons of great laughs and sub-characters. Greg’s strange, sociology professor father (Nick Offerman), is a riot in weird clothing, odd behavior, and a love for exotic foods. In a non-funny way, it speaks to how so many young guys feel they come from embarrassing or sometimes shameful family situations.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, so it has great credentials. But for me, so much of what I saw was just flat out true about my own adolescence, and true about the good young men who sit across from me in school circles.

This film is both very funny and sad at the same time, but the laughs outweigh the tears. The film is worth seeing if you want to touch the angst of your own teen history, increase your young male-literacy, and have your heart lightly squeezed.

Here’s a little taste:


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



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June 8, 2015

A Man's World Adventure for You!

For years I've been a big fan of the annual YMAW or Young Man's Adventure Weekend held outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. It's a true rite of passage adventure in the world of men, mixing just the right amounts of pristine Canadian wilderness, challenges, playfulness, good food, male hierarchy, laughter, tears, and a large and multi-generational male tribe.

A YMAW is 50-60 men taking the emerging manhood of 40-50 young male lives very seriously. The men surrounding these young guys are bonded and transformed by the activities and spending time with other men in this important work.

. . . the YMAW community of men
want you to come join them!

The really good news is the YMAW community of men want you to come join them! This year there will be two YMAW's. The first weekend is held outside of Vancouver, from July 10th through the 12th. The second YMAW is outside of Edmonton, from August 7th through the 9th. At every YMAW they make room for volunteer staff men, called outlanders, who come from far and wide for the experience. If you go, the YMAW men will connect with you in advance, assign you a weekend buddy, include you in pre-event phone conversations, and take care of you from arrival to departure. I've been there, experienced that treatment, and loved every minute. It's been going on for over 25 years so these men know what they are doing.

They also invite and encourage you to bring any young men you know aged 12-17. If you know a young guy who is ready for this kind of passage experience, going as a pair couldn't be a better bonding experience to share. Your young friend or relative will have his own experience to be sure, but I can guarantee the trip home will be full of rich conversation about male lives changed forever.

To get a sense for how these weekends work, look through the photos from the 2014 YMAW or check out the video clip below from the year when the YMAW theme for the weekend invited the young men to see themselves as explorers and voyageurs.


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

If you are interested in men changing the lives of young males, and you've been wondering what to do for a unique summer experience, the YMAW should be on your list. For more information on attending, or just to talk with the YMAW guys about this kind of man-making work, call Dorian leslie, the event coordinator at 604 688 9997, or talk to any of the men listed on this page of the YMAW website. I know they be happy to hear from you.



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May 25, 2015

Bloke Time: Dads and Lads

Imagine a world where boys not only have dads in their lives, but those dads or other "father figures," are engaged, willing to teach their sons guy skills, and willing to risk real connection with them. That is what Phil Williams has created. He's the founder and project director of the Boys2Men Project (B2MP) in the United Kingdom.

I fully agree with the opening statement on their website, "Our project is based on the idea that every boy needs a guide or mentor to steer them through the challenging early teenage years, where so many boys flounder. The best guide a boy can have is his dad or father figure."

Dads appreciating their lads
into manhood.

Their website tag line states simply what the Boys2Men Project is all about, "Dads appreciating their lads into manhood." That statement is rich with feelings of fatherly love, caring, and by itself, it's a sweet description of a good dad's job description. Fathers are, after all, the most potent man-making force on the planet, IF they're engaged.

The B2MP video below shows lads and dads enjoying fun activities that are perfect for young guys. You'll see them working with tools, climbing on things, building a fire, cooking meat, canoeing, carving wood with a knife, riding a rope swing across a river, camping, and much more. In all the activities, the men are involved, teaching, and having fun with the young dudes. It's a young male's paradise, if you ask me.

Everyone working with men and boys knows when men show up for young guys, all the males involved are moved, changed, and made better for the experience. In the video, I loved listening to the men talk about ". . . complete bloke time with your lad . . .," watching the boys grow in front of their eyes, and the pleasure they took in the adventures and time with other men. In these outings, there are so many wins for everyone. Check out this video and see what you think.


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

I'm so proud of Phil for making B2MP happen, proud of the dads and "father figures" who showed up, and I'm especially happy for the young men who got to be immersed in that rich pool of male nutrients. At the same time, watching that video broke my heart twice.

. . . watching that video broke my heart twice.

The first heartbreak came from simply watching the video of these men and boys sharing "bloke time." I felt deep sadness because none of that happen in my life with my dad. I literally have only a couple memories of doing anything with my father that even remotely looked like the activities in the video. He was in the house, but never really connected with me unless it was to correct one of what he perceived as my many failings. I had a father, saw him around, but in so many of the important ways, I was really fatherless. I know I'm not alone with that story!

I'm way better now. I have worked hard to understand my father and his history. I've found compassion, forgiveness, and even love for him. I've also found healthy ways to fill in those boyhood blanks left because of what I didn't get from him. However, still today I'm vulnerable to images of fathers and sons having fun together. I'm always left feeling deep father hunger, sadness, and wondering who I'd have become if I'd had an overtly loving, involved, and supportive father.

The second heartbreak is knowing how many fatherless boys will never get this B2MP kind of experience. I've come face to face with the epidemic of under-male-nourished-boys and I've seen the cost of the plague of fatherlessness so prevalent in the world today. Most recently, twelve out of seventeen boys in a high school circle I was in had no connection to their father. They were living with a bad story about their dad and themselves as a result. I've felt their anger and witnessed tears in these brave young men. I've also seen them drink in the praise and support they take from the good men who sit with them in these circles.

If you're feeling up to it, you can read yet another set of dark statistics about the impact of fatherlessness on young males on the Boys2Men Project website. You can also send Phil Williams an email (philwilliams(at)boys2menproject.co.uk) to learn more about his version of dads and lads experiences.

If you want to simply consider some other ways you might support some young guys in your world, give me a shout and let's kick around some ideas. Just imagine the good that has resulted from a good man like Phil taking the risk to get a bunch of lads and dads together for some bloke time. That could be your legacy too! And the boys ARE waiting.



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May 2, 2015

Reverse Mentoring - Across the Generations

I've seen it on adventure outings, on Rite of Passage weekend experiences, at a cookout, and in school circles. Everyone is looking down the road of their life and on the lookout for a little guidance. It's a good bet that someone who has travelled the path ahead of you will be the carrier of some helpful wisdom. If you gather males in a pack with a mix of ages, creating a multi-generational male tribe, the right things happen. Boys, teenagers, young men, men, and the elders all have something to learn from each other. In fact, any time caring people connect across the generations a lot of very good things happen.

. . . reverse mentoring,
with youth bearing considerable gifts for the elders.

Recently, I came across an unusual twist on the idea of connecting across the generations. You could think of it as reverse mentoring with youth bearing considerable gifts for the elders. The program is called Cyber-Seniors - Connecting Generations. In their workshops, techno-savvy young people are partnered with a techno-impaired older person, and the exchanges are hilarious, heart-warming, and good for everyone involved.


Here is a short clip about the program taken from their award winning documentary film. You have to love grandma saying, ". . . can you explain a bit about this face . . . something and having to be a friend?"


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

What I really like about this program is how, over the course of the private training by the young person, a lot of important things are shared. Of course, there are all the techno-how to's, but I almost think that's the lesser of the gifts. How about the many elder stories shared, or a young person's esteem boosted as the "teacher." You can see the joy of discovery as the elder students discover the digital world and develop their skills. I know mutual caring was expressed, maybe in techno-patience by the young people. I'm just as certain elder blessings were poured out on the youngsters. In a world where so many family members are distant, a little grandparent/grand kid energy mingled can be a very good thing. And all that's just for starters, and it happens naturally!

Can you think of a way to help our young people connect across the generations? It doesn't have to be a "program." Any organizing principle, from a tire changing class, cooking something, a fishing expedition, building something with tools, or any excuse really is fine. Gather a multi-generational group with some kind of central focus and then just stand back and watch it work. And no, you don't even have to be "friends" to get started!

If you like the Cyber-Seniors idea and want to learn more about their offerings, visit their website. You can learn how to have the full documentary brought to a location near you.


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April 20, 2015

6 Reasons School Support Groups
Can Make Good Men Out of Boys

Having been in many different kinds of men's support groups over the last thirty years, and having sat in lots of groups with young men, I've seen the power of these groups to changes lives. As a result, I have become an unreserved and vocal advocate for this way of being together to become better men.

It's also why I think it is critical for teen males to get exposure to this powerful man-making experience. In a group of the willing, that's made safe with common agreements around confidentiality, where trust is high and there's no layered-over agenda by a sponsoring organization, the transformational juice is always flowing.

Six reasons support group circles produce better males:

Truth-Speaking: It's a rare thing for most guys to be with other males where you can be your transparent and authentic self. It's a total gift to be in a group where you can speak your darkest truths and long-buried inner thoughts. It's life-giving to be able to speak your negative internal messages and needed confessions, name failures, and claim your personal successes. It can be a relief to be where your heart's fondest hopes and deepest sadness can be spoken aloud.

Being in what I call a truth-speaking group, all by itself, is transformational. It means you are no longer alone and hidden with an "I'm okay" mask over it all. It means you no longer need to be going quietly crazy from the pent up emotional pressures and the effort of maintaining the mask. All of that goes away and the weight lifts when you're in a safe circle with other guys and take the risk to be your unfiltered self. This is true for males regardless of age.

. . . these circles are where guys go to feelings school,
expand their self-awareness, and cultivate emotional literacy!

Emotional Capacity: In a recent Man-Making Blog post, I wrote about helping young males expand their emotional vocabulary so they have more access to the complex emotional life going on inside them. As the sense of trust and safety builds in these groups, the sharing eventually moves from simply talking about your life and talking about your feelings, to actually having feelings as they naturally arise.

Many times in group I've surprised myself with a sudden up-welling of sadness, feelings of love, a lift in self-esteem from claiming a hard-won personal victory, or felt and spoke the visceral fears of feeling powerless, trapped, or victimized in some way. I've witnessed those same emotional responses in countless other men and boys. For teenage males, when the mask drops away, their capacity for honest and emotional expression is sometimes breath-taking. For me, these circles are where guys go to feelings school, expand their self-awareness, and cultivate emotional literacy.

Unconditional Acceptance: There is something in the mix of male DNA and cultural training that invites guys to put on armor and not be vulnerable. Very early on, males learn not to appear weak, to play hurt, to not show their pain, and to just handle whatever it is they're struggling with, and do it all alone. Some have been wearing their I'm okay mask for so long, they don't realize it's the face they show the world!

When a male joins a circle of other guys who are being more authentic, it's initially disorienting. For a new guy, sitting behind an I'm okay mask, it can be a shock to hear a guy talk about being a confused mess of fear, anger, denial, or grief and not hear someone make a joke, change the subject, or try to fix him with inane advice. Not only is witnessing emotional honesty uncomfortable, but it's just as unusual to hear the speaker be accepted, and honored for his courage, strength, and honesty.

For males of any age, it's a powerful and healing experience to be accepted when you're at your worst, most embarrassed, or your shame-laden self. Unconditional acceptance by others breeds self-acceptance and self-love when those qualities are the hardest to come by.

. . . unconditional acceptance by others
. . . breeds self-acceptance and self-love . . .

Learning You're Normal: A recent TIME online magazine article titled: Why Facebook Makes You Feel Bad About Yourself, describes research stating one out of three Facebook users tend to be more depressed than non-Facebookers. Viewing posts and photos of other people's wonderful lives can trigger feelings of envy, misery and loneliness. Comparing your not-always-wonderful world with the best face of other's lives is a prescription for depression.

However, when truth is shared in a guy's group, one very predictable outcome is that we soon learn, even with our darkest self-talk and stories, we are all much more like each other than we're different. We learn the "range of normal" is very broad, that we're not terminally defective in some way, and we really are okay! For young teens who are fully engaged in the school social struggle to fit in, learning you're really just like everyone else, is a soothing balm.

Finding a Path to Manhood: Truth-speaking in group is often hearing about how others are overcoming difficult challenges. Hearing about how other men and young guys have had success with their problems makes it possible to envision a path out of the places where you're stuck. You not only get good peer role models and inspiration, you also get good ideas about how to approach a problem, information about helpful resources, and allies with supportive skills. Whether it's someone for a young guy to talk to about a breakup with a girlfriend, his fear of STDs, or a community resource for support when getting kicked out of the house, very often the help you need is sitting right across the circle.

. . . very often the help you need
is sitting right across the circle.

Courage and Support: One of the most important gifts groups offer guys is the ability to use others for support. It means publicly naming your intentions to be a better person, and then using the group for accountability as you risk the new behaviors. It means getting help to not let yourself down by retreating to your old ways. It means knowing others will have your back as you courageously take the small but frightening steps to become that better version of yourself. For men or teens without people on their side, having allies in group on the journey to a better you is everything.



In the video below you'll hear from nine boys involved in Boys to Men middle school groups. They tell you what it has meant to them to get some of the benefits of being in a support group. You'll also hear from a school principal telling you what it has meant to her to have men like you show up in her school.

Most importantly, you'll begin to understand why I'd like young guys to experience these groups in their teen years, while they are still forming the vision of the man they will become. Their "I'm okay" masks are not yet so thick or as sealed on as they will eventually be.

Thank you to Boys to Men of San Diego for this video!


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

I feel so strongly about the benefits of men showing up in schools to support our boys I am offering training to interested schools or groups of men. If you even faintly hear that call to service, send me a quick message. I can assure you of a few things: it's not that difficult, the young guys are waiting for you to show up, and because you're still reading this, you're perfectly equipped for the job.

Think about it! Who would you be today
if you had access to a supportive circle with a few good men
when you were in middle or high school?



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