August 31, 2010

Evolving Men's Conference

You have to love the moxie of a guy that calls himself a men’s visionary, coach and contemporary psychology geek. It takes a guy with that kind of gonads to put out a call to the leaders of diverse men's organizations to come together and talk . . . collaborate . . . and co-create something even bigger. Apparently that something "bigger" means bigger than what they are currently leading.

Jayson Gaddis is hosting the Evolving Men's Conference-Build The Foundation Weekend in Boulder, Colorado on this September 25th and 26th. The stated purpose of the gathering is as follows, . . . to bring together established leaders of men’s groups, fatherhood groups, and men’s organizations to brainstorm and plan the development of an Evolving Men’s Conference. The intention is to galvanize the men’s movement, promote collaboration among different men’s organizations, and evolve the consciousness of men around the world.

In the clip just below, Jayson describes what he sees as men's tendencies to work in isolation, in their cave, and as a result he feels men's organizations are also isolated and missing the benefits of collaboration. Jayson says he is unaware of any national scale men's gathering and it sounds like he's hoping to create a men's Woodstock of sorts in Boulder. At the conference, Jayson is hoping to, blast through that “tired paradigm. . . . to practice collaboration and transparency, both hallmarks of the new and emerging masculine paradigm.

From where I sit, I see existing and mature men's organizations reinventing themselves for relevancy. There are new groups supporting men popping up all around the globe, and there are lots of men's groups serving diverse populations of boys, fathers, and women. All of these groups are becoming more visible because of the Internet.

While I'm not sure the men's "movement" is in need of "galvanizing," I am impressed with the scale and scope of Jayson's intention. As I've said in the past and continue to believe, anytime men gather for personal or organizational development, many good things always result. For that reason, I'm happy to support this gathering.

Check out this clip, visit the Evolving Men's Conference website, and decide for yourself if time with good men (and autumn in Boulder, CO) is right for you.

Go to this link if the video isn't visible.

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August 25, 2010

A Message to Gay Men

In the comments section of the last Man-Making Blog post, What Men Get, I received this anonymous and angry reply from a gay man:
While lambasting me with all the fire and brimstone, remember it is "your dominating culture" that said I had to alienate myself from mentoring, teaching, coaching, comforting, or healing boys because I am not heterosexual. So take your shame and cost calculations and shove it all where it came from. Thanks and good luck. 
In my response to him I told him I have a gay nephew and many gay men and women friends. I explained that I really do understand the ugly, bigoted, unfairness with which many GLBT people are treated. I pointed out that in this world because of pedophile priests and other damaged men, today any man who shows interest in mentoring boys is vulnerable to being labeled a predator. In fact, that fear was one of the common barriers to involvement with boys mentioned by men in the research for the Man-Making book. Getting past these fears is work many men will have to do in order to show up for young males in any way. I encouraged Anonymous to support the young guys in his family, reach out to the children of his GLBT and other friends, or to find his way to a mentoring organization that is open to GLBT mentors.

Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS)is one of many organizations that welcome GLBT mentors, and has for more than 20 years. It is their policy to ask the family of a potential mentee if they are open to a GLBT Big Brother or Sister for their son or daughter, and to invite the GLBT volunteer to take the same background check all mentor candidates must pass. The people at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities office in my home city of St. Paul said they were happy to have GLBT Big Brothers/Sister volunteers and they have many happy stories of matches with gay Bigs.

As I was preparing this post, I received another comment on the What Men Get post from a gay man named Dan. His response to Anonymous is a good message for us all:

Dear Anonymous,

I am a fellow gay guy. I had fears of becoming a mentor to boys because of the negative messaging we get from the community at large. I get your apprehension.

That said, I chose to break through the fear and do it anyway. I volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Minneapolis. It was an experience that made my life better. More importantly, it made the life of my Little Brother better. Though the match only lasted a year, I helped a shy Mexican boy grow to be more outgoing. He became so by simply having a friendship with me, an adult. He loved to fish. So we joined other BBBS matches for fishing outings and also used Minneapolis Park Programs for the same. By the end of that summer, a timid 7 year old became an 8 year old who was helping the other kids with their worms, untangling lines, and taking fish of the hooks. In such a short time, he grew and it made a difference for a lifetime. He was not gay, nor did his parents care that I was. It is the friendship that ultimately matters to all of us.

My experience with BBBS was good; and I would encourage you to try them. They interview kids and parents and ask them if they either prefer to have or not to have (or don't care) a Big that is gay. They then ask the Big if they either prefer to have or not to have (or don't care) a Little that is gay. Then they make a match. I reinforced this conversation with the parents via the social worker - because I REQUIRED that they know that I am gay. This is perhaps an extra step we have to take, but so what.

I can say with certitude to anyone who might read this - the sexual orientation of the mentor does not matter. Get out there and prove 'em wrong buddy, it's worth it. Make a difference.


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August 13, 2010

What Men Get

Do you know there are personal costs for men who choose NOT to become makers of men for young guys? Through my research, interactions with men at conferences, and on rite of passage weekends, I've learned men who don’t answer the call to serve adolescent males, whether they realize it or not, accrue what I might term a shadow over their sense of masculinity.

Try some of these on to see if they are a fit for you:
  • The subtle sense of shame that comes from ignoring the responsibility to helping emerging males. Having to live with the vague notion and quiet voice saying “maybe I could have done something,” when they learn about lost, violent, or imprisoned boys.
  • The sense of isolation that comes with being disconnected across the generations. The feeling of being lost without male mentors, elders, connections to young males, or intimate connections to other men. As a result, men expressed problems with finding their right place in the male order of things.
  • Confusion about your “job description” as an adult male in boys’ lives, and your community.
  • Being out of touch with young male energy, angst, confusion, playfulness, sexual development, physicality, technology, curiosity, music, fashion… and opportunity to revisit those parts of your incomplete journey to manhood.
  • The feelings of detachment from life in your extended family, neighborhood, and community.
  • Being unsure or feeling incomplete as a man. Many men stated they never experienced a clear and undeniable arrival into manhood that allowed a proud confidence in their masculinity.
  • Feeling stuck and alone on your journey to manhood.

These are just a few examples of the costs that mount up when men don’t honor the man-making call from deep in their genes. This is the price men pay for not discovering and implementing their instinctual, man-making talents. MOST IMPORTANTLY, this is also a description of the weight that is lifted when men step forward, in some large or small way, in service to boys.

In addition to being relieved of the costs of inaction, men engaged in man-making begin to immediately experience a number of positive returns. In my article What Men Get, I describe both the costs of inaction, and ten "gifts of involvement" that always change men's lives for the better. Click here to read that article.

 You make me want to be a better man!
(10 points if you can name the actor and movie)

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August 6, 2010

Woodshop, Tackle Boxes, Towers, and Good Men

I want to tell you a story about a man.

When I was a boy, from 8 till about twelve, my home life was powerfully shaped by alcoholism. There was always fear of irrational behavior and possibly screaming fights between my parents. There were mountains of disappointments from promises not kept, living in fear, never any money, and pretending it was all somehow normal and OK. My dad worked nights, slept days, and there was no place for me during his drinking time on the weekends. The other men of my family had long since run away from each other and I was left, alone, with my mom and sister to try make sense of it all. That's really the very short story.

Our next door neighbor was Mark Moore. Our houses were barely twenty feet apart and he was no stranger to the drama going on in our house. Mark was the father of two girls a little older than me and a very gentle man. I would later learn Mark had a different brand of insanity going on in his house, and his refuge was the woodworking shop in his garage. It became a refuge for me too.

The sound of his table saw was always a call for me to go hang out at Mark's. I loved the smell of fresh cut wood and the amazing ease with which Mark could turn raw lumber into useful objects. I don't remember anything of what was said between us, but I do remember working with him to build a footstool. For a kid from a house with maybe a screwdriver and pliers, actually helping to build something captured my attention for weeks. Going over the stool pattern, the sensual pleasure of sanding wood, the smell of the bit in wood when drilling holes, and using a hammer to put the thing together was all a thrilling experience for me. I still have that stool.

Mark was also the guy who introduced me to "getting the meat." One day he said, "Hey, you wanna go fishin?" Mark knew how to draw out the fishing foreplay. That single question meant days spent looking at maps and talking about where to fish. We discussed what to fish for, bait to use, what to do if you get a fish, and spent time getting the rods ready and hours of practice casting in the back yard. Then there was the big moment when he introduced me to the magic of a tackle box. When he opened the lid of that green box, I saw a collection of all the mysterious implements men use in this kind of hunt. There were lures, old bobbers, spinners, leaders, old line, line weights, knives, all enveloped in the most masculine fragrance a 9 year-old had ever encountered. I later learned it was the smell of thirty years accumulation of beer, gasoline, fish guts, and pipe smoke. To me it seemed each item in the box cast a unique spell and would be as irresistible to the fish as it was to me. While it's odd to me, I can only remember going fishing with Mark once and, except for a little catch-and-release sunfish, getting skunked.

We lived near Highland Park in St. Paul, Minnesota. The once highest point in the city was the thirteen-story Highland Park Water Tower. It was built in 1928, and when I was a kid it was a monolith that dominated my world. When Mark learned the tower was going to hold its annual two-day opening, he invited me and my best friend Larry to go along for the adventure. It was a long, 151 step climb though a very dark vertical tunnel, until we burst out into the light at the top. Until that moment, I had never seen a vista of that scale. Mark gave us each a boost up to see over the guard fence and pointed out all the important places in my universe. I saw my house, my school, the movie theater, the Mississippi River, the State Fair grounds, and even the distant downtown centers of Minneapolis and St. Paul. On that day, my sense of the world I inhabited came together in a much larger picture. I knew more about where I was and how my local haunts fit into that picture. That's what good men who risk involvement with boys do, even with out trying. Lift them up, teaching them about the world of men, giving boys a bigger picture of the possibilities, and helping them to see where they belong in the male order of things.

Mark died years ago and I missed his funeral. No one told me. But just the mention of a man with the same name, Mark Moore, I overheard yesterday, has flooded me with images, and feelings of love and gratitude for his influence. He taught me so much about being a man without even trying. He found countless ways to bless me with appreciation, compliments, and caring. He was a soothing balm for my imploded, anxious, and very ragged boy soul. I know he enjoyed the company of a young guy looking up to him, but his attentions made my world safe and much less frightening just because he was there.

Thank you Mark. I love you.


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