July 23, 2014

The Man-Making Power of Fathers

You've heard me say it here before, "Fathers are the most powerful man-making force on the planet . . . IF they're involved with their sons." Here are a few selections about fatherhood, and a much deserved shout out to engaged and committed fathers, and those working with them.



Being An Imperfect Father: Louis Szekely, known by his fans as Louis C.K., is a Mexican-American comedian, screenwriter, producer, film director, actor, and now, father. For Father's Day, he came out with this funny but intensely personal video (below) about what it means to be a real father. I love the truth-speaking and personal vulnerability with which he owns his lack of perfection as a dad. This is especially touching because C.K.'s parents divorced when he was ten and he said, "his father was around but he did not see him much."

. . . what it means to be a real father.

I think his admission about being a gloriously imperfect but committed father helps those of us who had complicated relationships with their dads to find the path to forgiveness. In giving us this little piece of truth about fatherhood, he gives every man, doing his best as a father, permission to hang in and keep going in spite of self-doubts or even other people's judgments.

Thanks C.K.



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



How Movies Teach Manhood: Colin Stokes is a father who is concerned about the images of manhood today's films convey to his young son and other boys. In his TED video, How Movies Teach Manhood (below), he says in films today it's too often the case, ". . . if you're a boy you're a dopey animal, and if you're a girl you should bring your warrior costume."


He also describes how fathers can be a good example of manhood and why dads need to manage the "Netflix queue" to be sure their sons are watching films with positive messages about manhood. In the TED talk clip below, I don't agree with all his examples, but I really like his invitation to fathers to be intentional about managing the flow of ideas their sons are taking away from films (and other media).

As Colin Stokes suggests, it's important fathers ensure their sons learn positive lessons like: cooperation is heroic, relationships are important, both genders can share power and be leaders, and women should be respected. It would be great if our young males felt this vision of manhood was more manly than just defeating the villain and getting the girl.



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



Support Groups for Dads: There are many good men working in support of fathers and families. Here are two good examples:

Haji Shearee directs the Fatherhood Initiative at The Children’s Trust, in Boston, Massachusetts. Haji is a licensed social worker whose goal is to strengthen families by increasing father involvement. Haji does this by facilitating father's groups. As a result of his work in those groups, he has just published the book, Facilitating Fathers' Groups: 22 Keys to Group Mastery.

In a recent Man-Making Blog post, I described some of the common elements of support groups for men and young men. Haji says while his book is focused on groups of fathers, it will be helpful to anyone doing groups with men and young guys. His book is available at Amazon now.



"A toolbox approach to fatherhood
in all its forms."

Fathers on the Move: Two solid brothers in mission with The MensWork Project are conducting a Fathers on the Move workshop. They are billing it as, "A toolbox approach to fatherhood in all its forms." The workshop will invite men to review their life’s journey and how the various aspects of fatherhood have impacted their lives. In a supportive group setting, men will explore personal experiences around topics such as:
  • The impact of your dad on your life, the outcomes, and your current options.
  • You as a father (or perhaps grandfather now) and the variety of feelings you are carrying about this role.
  • Your children’s experience of you as a father – including blended and step family situations.
  • Opportunities for enhancing/applying your fathering skills for your children/grandchildren.
The workshop is being facilitated by Geoff Paull and Wes Carter, men who each have a successful history of presenting personal growth workshops for men. I have no doubt that these two good men will deliver on their promise to help any man build his fatherhood toolbox, increase fathering skills, and change the direction of his life going forward. If this sounds good to you, and you are going to be in or near Perth, Australia on the 31st of August 2014, give them shout. Geoff Paull – contact@mensworkproject.org, or Wes Carter - menswork@iinet.net.au



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July 15, 2014

The Old Guy Next Door


In a past Man-Making Blog post, I wrote a tribute to the old guy, Mark Moore, who lived next door to my family when I was a young boy. I didn't have grandfathers, uncles, or any men from my family around me as a kid. That's why my time with Mark was always full of gifts. His garage workshop became a refuge from the alcoholic craziness in my house. He taught me lots of things about drills, wrenches, fishing gear, engines, lumber, and about being a (young) man. Most importantly, by simply giving his time and attention Mark showed me he cared about me. Without anything ever being said directly, in those difficult days of my life, Mark became a much needed, loved, and trusted old guy friend. That was what I needed most in those days.

. . . a beautiful tale of friendship across the ages . . .

So I felt a huge tug on my heart strings when I came across a story by my local news channel, KARE 11 News. They did a story about a friendship between 3-year-old Emmett and 89-year-old Erling from Farmington, Minnesota. It's a beautiful tale of friendship across the ages, full of the kind of unspoken, mutual love that comes naturally to the very young and very old.

Erling had simply been the old guy living next door to Emmett's family for ten years. The families really hadn't known each other very well until the 3-year-old reached out. Emmett simply walked over to Erling one day and asked him about his "matoes!" The full story is told in the video below. Warning, expect some man tears.



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

If this video reaches into your masculine heart as it did mine, it's most likely because you're in touch with the soft transformational power of a caring older man in a young guy's life. Emmett and Erling are at the extreme ends of the age continuum, yet the same can happen at almost any age. Who was the Erling or Mark Moore, the old guy in your life? Who was the older man who briefly or for a longer period of time showed up and gave you the gifts of his time and attention? We all have a few men like that you can find if you take the time to examine your life closely. The coach, a teacher, a scout master, someone from your spiritual community, or maybe it was the old guy next door.

The really important take-away here is . . .

The really important take-away here is that YOU could be that nice older man for some boy or young guy. It doesn't take any special training. Erling and Mark Moore didn't have any. In fact, it could really be as simple as a common love for "matoes!"



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July 4, 2014

Men and Young Men Sitting in a Circle


I recently heard from a brother in mission who wants to help others run support group circles for young men. His idea is to write an instruction manual for these groups and he was asking for guidance. His question gave me a chance to reflect on both the gifts that always result for all the males in these groups, and what might be included in a very basic group manual.

Being in groups of men
and also in young men's groups has
without question
made me a better man.

Over the last ten years or so, I've sat in somewhere between five hundred and a thousand circles for both men and young guys. The Man-Making Book and this blog are actually spin offs of my time in those circles. Being in groups of men and also in young men's groups has made me a better man. While these groups vary widely in their sponsorship, purpose, content focus, use of ritual, and general style, the best groups have some important commonalities. Here is a very short list of some of the common elements:

CIRCLES - The good ones put everyone in a circle. I love the idea that males around the world have, for centuries, been gathering in circles. Because of this fact, there is something about sitting in a circle of males that feels right and familiar. A circle represents a flat hierarchy. By its very shape, a circle says everyone is welcome, co-equal, and it allows all participants to be seen and heard.

PREDICTABLE FORMAT - Most circles have a simple format or flow of events which quickly becomes familiar to the participants. That structure creates a sense of predictability and safety.

BUSINESS - Prior to getting into the specific process of the group, there may be a few moments to deal with the business of group functioning like meeting times, arranging meeting places, information about upcoming events, or information about members not present. All the "stuff" of making the group work has a different tone and feel than the more personal work to follow, and it makes sense to get it out of the way upfront.

GUIDELINES - At the beginning of group, and often at the start of each meeting, the group's purpose statement and guidelines may be stated. Remembering why the circle exists helps focus the participants on their purpose and reasons for being in the group. Repeatedly hearing the guidelines sets the group expectations for behavior. Knowing the group norms helps everyone feel safe and leads to a climate of mutual respect.

RITUALIZED OPENING - In order to get the members focused, and to create the special environment for the more personal work to follow, there is often some form of ritualized opening. I've seen a wide variety of opening rituals, often rooted in the unique history and purpose of the group. Opening rituals can include special readings, lighting a fire, prayers or invocations, standing in physical contact with each other, burning of sage, the lighting of candles, or the presentation of a talking stick, special object, or photograph of special significance to the group. Whatever the opening process, formalized openings set an emotional tone of seriousness and clearly mark the line between the everyday world of people's daily lives and the special time/space the members are about to enter.

CHECKING IN - Often, groups begin by going around the circle and giving each member an opportunity to speak. It can be as simple as stating your name, a feeling, and your favorite ice cream. This simple check in guarantees that everyone has at least one chance to be heard in the circle. Check in could be a statement of what major issues in your life you need to temporarily let go of in your life outside of group so you can be fully present to the content and purpose of the circle. Another approach to check in can be asking for an amount of time to speak about a major issue going on in your life that you want to share with the circle. What happens during check in depends on the group's purpose and the degree of trust among members.

If the purpose of the group
is to really support the lives of individual members,
at some point, truth-speaking needs to occur.

TRUTH-SPEAKING - If the purpose of the group is to really support the lives of individual members, at some point, truth-speaking needs to occur. As trust, feelings of safety, and experience with each other grows, in a variety of ways, members are invited to share the literal and emotional truth about who they are and what is happening in their lives. This requires time together, good facilitation, modeling of personal vulnerability, and honoring those who take the risks of authenticity. How a group gets to a place where truth-speaking is the norm is about group design, facilitation, and technique. For now it's enough to say that in solid support groups, in addition to small talk, humor, and information sharing, truth-speaking becomes the most helpful aspect of a good group. Having the rare opportunity to sit in a circle of peers, where hard personal truths can be safely spoken and heard, is enormously helpful for all and the glue that keeps members coming back.

CLOSING - As a best practice, circles don't just drift away at the end. In order to capture the value of what was shared, and to mark the end of the special time spent together, it's important to close the circle with the same intention that was given to its opening. Creating a brief time for checking out with statements of gratitude, specific take-aways, or honoring of each other help members reflect on the value of the circle. It also creates another opportunity for the quieter members of the group to be heard. Closing statements, readings, prayers, are all ways to clearly mark the ending of special time together and cleanly close the group.

These are really just the large bones of a group outline, there is much more that could be added. Just below, I'll add links to some publications that describe different ways to do groups. But do it your way! All successful groups can and do whatever is necessary to make their group meaningful to the members. As part of a basic template, it can be helpful to add some training in how to best set up the group, facilitation skills, and perhaps some pre-group training to increase the young male literacy of the men sitting in young men's circles.

Or you could simply gather a group of men and young guys in a circle and see what happens. If indeed males are hard-wired for that experience, and if the men involved care about the young men in the circle, a lot of what's really important will just happen. The group will eventually teach the members how to be together and what needs to be said.

Please let me know what happens. 
The young men are waiting!



RESOURCES:

What follows are just a few examples of the many different publications you can find on the web about support groups. They describe groups with many different kinds of content and purpose focus, but in their descriptions of their group process you will find some guidance. Without endorsement and not in any order:

A Circle of Men: The Original Manual for Men's Support Groups. One of the early manuals (from a founder of Mankind Project).

A Gathering of Men: The story of creating a men's group to address perennial male issues.

Tending the Fire: The Ritual Men's Group.. Ally Press, $7.00. 60 pages.
Very old school from the beginnings of men's work.

Young Men's Work. This is a description of a kit for doing groups with young men. What I like about this document is that it lays out 26 content sessions, learner outcomes for each session, and lists the Academic Standards and Life Skills Standards met by the full course. Funders like this kind of background.

Working with Youth. A facilitator's guide from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in Canada.

How to Start a Men's Group in Prison. From the Inside Circle Foundation.

There are many examples about support groups you can find with a quick Google search. Some will have a topic specific focus (gender transformation, religious, violence prevention, teen parenting, recovery, etc.) They all contain some ideas about how to start a group from which you can add in the desired content focus.



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June 17, 2014

Supporting Fatherless Boys

Dave Bolduc is a Man-Making Blog subscriber, contributor, and true brother in mission. In the following story Dave reacts to the recent Man-Making Blog post titled Un-Father's Day, and describes how and why he shows up for the fatherless boys.



I am one of those guys Earl mentioned in his last blog post about Un-Father's Day. While my relationship with my dad was pretty good, we never really connected at a deep level because we really didn't know how to communicate our feelings to each other. He died unexpectedly one night, so I didn't get a last chance to have that important conversation, or even to say goodbye for that matter. I know he loved me and was proud of me; we just never put those feelings into words. I guess that's why, for me, working with young guys is so important. I want them to know they are really cared about.


I'm involved with a chapter of the Boys to Men Mentoring Network here in Virginia (BTMVA). In our group, I'd say most of the young men don't have a father present in their lives, and many of the boys never even knew their dads. In the picture below you'll see seven boys who are now J-Men, Journeymen graduates of our Rite of Passage Weekend on their graduation from 8th grade. Not one of them is connected with his father. The guys are from the projects, but they are kids lucky enough to go to a school, get a free education and at least a chance to succeed.


The picture on the right is me having a farewell dinner with a sixteen year-old boy named Robert. He was another one of our guys whose father was not in his life. Three years ago Robert was able to reconnect with his dad. With the skills he learned in BTMVA, and lots of support, after only a few months he was able to communicate with his dad and do his part to make their relationship strong. In BTMVA we helped Robert find new ways to express and deal with his considerable anger. That kept him out of trouble which made his dad proud.

. . . at least he's had a chance to speak to his father
and tell him he loves him.

Unfortunately, Robert is getting shipped off to live with his aunt and uncle for the summer, and he will likely be there until he turns 18. In reality, it' a better place for him to live rather than just roaming the streets bored. But his dad is dying and it's unlikely he'll be able to be with him when he dies. My heart aches for him. It's like my situation, but at least he's had a chance to speak to his father and tell him he loves him.

Supporting these guys in our Boys to Men group is how I give back. I do it for them to be sure, but I get so much back in the process. One example of how we support these boys is that on Father's Day, myself and seven other men accompanied eighteen boys to King's Dominion Amusement Park. The young guys were really excited about the giant rides, food and fun. I have to say I had a great time too. I know they loved the day out and important memories were created for everyone.

I really encourage more men to get involved. If you want some ideas about what you can do, give Earl a shout, or send me an email at dbolduc@kcc.com. Or simply look around! I'm pretty sure without looking too hard you can find an organization supporting fatherless boys in your community. Like our Boys to Men organization, they will very much appreciate your time. I guarantee the young guys will love it too, and you'll be a better man as a result.



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June 12, 2014

UN-Father's Day

Fathers, for better and worse, are THE most powerful man-making force on the planet.

On Father's Day, I can't help but think of my dad and his incredible influence in my life. 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, too often he treated me horribly and I've been finding my way back ever since.

. . . dad season . . .

As the commercial messages about Father's Day bring fathers and fatherhood into everyone's consciousness, for me that stew pot of memories called "Dad," with it's very mixed bag of confusing emotions, gets seriously stirred up. 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, 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 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. Then there are all the dads who left during pregnancy, or the dads who were shot in the hood from gang violence. 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. Then there are all the kids whose dads are in jail, or lost to PTSD or substance abuse. I'm just saying, I've heard lots of really bad dad stories.


I always wonder if just the idea of Father's Day has the result of 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, 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 honor a good dad, count your blessings and don't miss a chance to thank him. However imperfectly he fathered you, he was there and doing the best he could do. He deserves to be thanked and celebrated.

After giving your dad a blessing, take a moment to allow into your heart all those tragically abandoned or under-fathered young guys in the world around you 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 father in your life who cares about you. Remember all the boys and men who, maybe like me, are just hoping all this complicated 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.

So on my Un-Father's Day card I'd write:
Blessings on good dads everywhere. Blessings on the dads who in some way checked-out and on the sad legacy they have to live with. And especially, blessings on dad-hungry males everywhere. Buried underneath all the drama and tragedy that kept you and your father apart, I believe there is/was a father who loved you.


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