November 30, 2010

Smoke Signals and Forgiving Fathers

The film, Smoke Signals, is one of many suggested by you, the subscribers, men working with young guys, and by people in my conference and workshop audiences. You can see the whole list of what I call guy films in the "Resources" section of the Man-Making website.

Smoke Signals tells the story of the relationship between a father, Arnold Joseph, and his son Victor. The story unfolds as Victor Joseph and another young man from the reservation, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, set off to collect Arnold Joseph's pick-up truck and ashes from Arizona after Arnold has died. Arnold had left the reservation years earlier, and Victor remembers him mostly as an alcoholic, occasionally abusive father, who drove off one day and never came back. The two men remember Victor’s father along the way, but their recollections are very different from each other. Victor learns many things about his father during his journey and, in the end, begins to understand, forgive, and grieve his loss. Smoke Signals is a funny yet poignant tale of friendship, discovery, and reconciliation.

A guy film like Smoke Signals can also be used as a tool when working with boys or men. One of my heroes, Bill Stankiewicz, is part of an organization called Boys to Men of Greater Washington. Bill uses Smoke Signals to help in his training of men who are going to be working with boys. The film's content has a lot of power to sensitize men to father-loss issues, questions, and buried emotional material related to fathers carried by so many men and boys. Below is an exchange from the final scene of the film. Bill uses this dialogue as a conversation starter in his training. I'm sure, after reading it, you'll understand why.

Grandmother: Tell me what has happened, Thomas.

Thomas: 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?

After hearing these lines from the film, Bill says men begin to realize they have a choice to forgive their fathers, and if they do, they can begin to release any burdens they may be carrying. This is a very powerful way to use a guy film.

If you would like to connect with Bill around his use of Smoke Signals in training men to work with boys, he can be reached at

Check out the growing list of guy films on the Man-Making site, and if you have suggestions for additions or other ways to use these films, please contact me.

If you know of other helpful activities for working with men and boys and you're willing to share, please let me know.

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November 26, 2010

Circumcision and Manhood

Thanks to Don Skelton for directing my attention to an article in the Dispatch-Online, the blog of The Daily Dispatch paper out of East London, South Africa. I tells the story of the First white ‘initiate’ to become a Xhosa man. In the article, Mark Poulton, describes how he had always felt a powerful connection to the Xhosa people. He said that "I was detached from white people and I couldn’t relate to them. My friends were all Xhosas and, as I grew up, I started dating their women."

After years of being taunted for being an inkwenkwe – a Xhosa term for an uncircumcised boy – at the age of 30, Mark went through the Xhosa rite of circumcision. In the photo, a group of men are taking Mark, covered in a blanket, to the traditional surgeon (ingcibi) for the circumcision. The article reports, "A group of men watched with interest, awaiting the cry "ndiyindoda!" (I am a man) – marking the start of his journey to manhood."

In so many cultures, men are missing a clear line in the sand marking their successful transition from boyhood to manhood. One of my favorite questions to men from my research is, "What was THE moment in your life when you knew, for sure, you had become a "man?" So many men responded with confusion and ambiguity: I still don't know today if I'm a man; I'm not sure I am; and, No one ever said I was a man. For that reason, I can understand Mark Poulton's hunger for a community blessing honoring him as a "man."

I am not pretending to know anything more about the Xhosa people or their customs than I've read in this article. I also know that circumcision, as part of the rites marking a boy's crossing to manhood, are widely practiced in many cultures. While I'm not taking up the topic of painful rite of passage practices here, we all know it takes more than a grueling physical ordeal to become a man. That is why there is some serious concern in South Africa, and elsewhere, about how the practice of circumcision is currently being performed by non-trained practitioners.

In an article from the South African Medical Journal in August 2003, it was stated, "In fact, the barbarism perpetrated on today’s hapless youth has little in common with what the ancient rite was all about. The ritual was about preparing youngsters for the challenges of manhood in the rural and pastoral world in which they lived. Furthermore, it was performed by experienced operators and overseen by traditional sages who served as teachers and sources of wisdom to the youths. The traditional practice was much like modern military training: hard, but intended to nurture. Importantly, the community, through its traditional leaders and healers – not individual entrepreneurs – set up and supervised the circumcision schools." The article goes on to say, ". . . of late, the practice has degenerated into a money-making operation," and ". . . many of the so-called “circumcision schools” of today are fake, and deadly. They have very little to do with the traditional ethos and practice of this ancient ritual, and something must be done to stop the carnage."

It is a sad tale, too often reported, how boys or men, hungry to step into a full expression of manhood, are taking damage because they are without solid and community-based resources to help them transition into manhood in a positive and affirming way. For that reason, today I want to honor those men who are stepping up as man-makers, both as individuals and in man-making organizations around the planet. I have profiled many of them in this blog and they are deserving of recognition and praise. Those men using indigenous experience and history as a guide, and those groups of men who are developing their own locally relevant practices for safely moving boys through this important crossing, thank you for your courage, caring and action. We just need a lot more of you.

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November 19, 2010

The Raven Weekend for Boys

Imagine a multi-generational male tribe . . . Elders, men, adolescent males, and young boys, all focused on a positive journey toward a solid manhood. That tribe is evolving in Tucson, AZ (and in lots of other places).

I just completed staffing another Raven Weekend. These are what I call a “welcome to the world of men” weekend experiences for 9-12 year-old boys. This was the first ever Raven Weekend in Tucson, AZ. While small in numbers, it was wildly successful for the men and boys involved. If you add the Raven Weekend to the efforts of Mankind Project active in this area initiating adult men, and our Rite of Passage Adventure Weekend for adolescent males, a true, multi-generational men’s hut is being created in this community.

On this weekend, the staff of a dozen plus solid staff introduced an amazing pack of 9 young boys to "the world of men." Men and boys played capture the flag, drummed, juggled with a chicken, got muddy, learned the art of camouflage, stalking prey, wilderness shelter building, talked about bullying, and sat around the fires for storytelling. They met men with large hearts, learned about men’s lives at different ages in the span of a life, and feasted on Pizza. Simply stated, boy heaven.

In addition to the above, there were activities designed to introduce discussions about the cycle of life (living and dying), to encourage age appropriate emotional expression, and lots of time to celebrate the gifts and unique wisdom of each boy. Watching boys go through all these experiences has a powerful impact on the men also. For me, words that describe a Raven Weekend experience include play, fun, learning, adventure, sweetness, remembering, blessings, and caring.

The weekend was skillfully led by Pete Young from Ashland, OR. Pete has been doing these weekends around the country and evolved a powerful template that is perfectly suited to the young male experience and energy output.

At the end of the weekend when the new Ravens were awarded a talisman honoring their experience, one young guy summed it up pretty well. He said, “it was the funnest weekend ever!”

At this link:, you can see some of the photos of the Tucson Raven Weekend. If you weren't there, you won't see everything that happened and some of the pictures may not make sense. You’d have to talk to a staff man or Raven to get the whole story. If you’re really curious, or possibly want to host a Raven Weekend in your community, you can contact Pete Young.

If you can handle the energy output, you too may have the "funnest weekend" in a very long time.

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November 12, 2010

Who Was That Man, For You?

When I speak to groups of men about becoming man-makers for younger guys, I often hear excuses which if you probe deeper, are really thinly veiled fears about their feelings of inadequacy. In various ways men suggest they don't have what it takes, they won't measure up to the task in some way, or the sad notion they might even cause some harm to a young male.

In those sessions, when I encounter that fear, I like to invite them to remember their man-makers, the men that were present for them early on their journey to manhood. As those discussions unfold, beautiful stories of important connections are told. Sometimes as short as a few hours or brief conversations. Often we'll hear histories of long term involvements with a relative, neighbor, coach, or just "this guy" who was there for me. Sometimes men get teary remembering the impact an older man had in his life.

I like to remind men that their man-makers were not specially gifted, trained for mentoring, or unique in any way. They were just seeing something attractive or maybe a need in a young male, and responding . . . naturally. I love hearing these stories and have started collecting them. You can read a few in the "Men's Stories" section of the Man-Making website.

The story below is one of those tales of a good man showing up for a younger male in need sent in by Dave K., a blog subscriber. If you have a story like this, send it to me for the story archive or put it in the comment section of this post so we can all read it. These memories warm the heart and maybe, just maybe, they might encourage you to show up as a man-maker for a young guy in your life . . . naturally.

A few weeks ago I began a car trip to northern part of the state. I had spent most of the summer driving, I was tired of being on the road, and I was happy this would finally be my last big drive of the summer. It was worth the effort though. My old friend, mentor, and work colleague Frank, had called and invited me up to his summer home for a visit. Frank is 80 and suffers from Parkinson's. I knew he had always been an active man so I asked if he would be up for a round of golf. "You bet" was his spirited reply.

Forty years prior, when I first joined the orchestra, I pretty much thought of myself as the hottest french horn player on the planet. Frank was there before me and had established himself in our workplace and in the community. He was a father of three, but for me Frank was the big brother I had never had. When I screwed up at work and my shame was overwhelming, he somehow knew and would always show up with sound advice and a comforting arm on my shoulder. To say that he was a mentor to me understates his value in my life. I always knew he cared about me and he was a constant example of the man I wanted to become.

As I teed up the ball for my first drive of the round with Frank, I just wanted to hit the ball into the fairway and not screw up too bad in front of him. Of course I swung too hard and the ball dribbled out 15 yards in front of me. Frank had been a great golfer and won many tournaments in the past. On this day however, he had to have his wife tee up the ball because his Parkinson's had robbed him of a steady hand. He stood for a long time in front of the ball with his body a little shaky, and then smoked it out about 100 yards. "I used to hit it a little longer than that" was his only comment. When we hit the 18th hole he remarked that he was tired. I said that I was glad that we were finally evenly matched. He laughed.

On that visit, I had been thinking about all the years that Frank had been such a positive force my life. So before I left I thanked him for his friendship and all the guidance he'd given me over the years. I said that whenever I don't know what to do I ask myself, "what would Frank do?," and I have the answer." He smiled and then looked at the ground, a little embarrassed. I'm glad I found the courage, in that too brief and awkward moment, to tell him how important he was to me.

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November 4, 2010

International Men's Day this MOvember

Let the celebrations begin!

International Men's Day (IMD) is an annual, international event celebrated on 19th of November. The day was apparently inaugurated in 1999 in Trinidad and Tobago. Another part of the story is that it may be associated with the date in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, honoring and remembrance of the men who sacrificed their lives during America’s Civil War. What ever it's origins, today the day and it's events are supported by groups in Australia, the Caribbean, North America, Asia, Europe, Africa, and even the United Nations.

The many websites that turn up in a search on IMD have a common message about it's purpose, namely:
  • To promote positive male role models; not just movie stars and men in sports, but everyday, working men who are living decent, honest lives.
  • To celebrate men’s positive contributions to society, community, family, marriage, child care, and to the environment.
  • To focus on men’s health and well-being; social, emotional, physical and spiritual.
  • To highlight discrimination against men; in areas of social services, social attitudes and expectations, and law.
  • To improve gender relations and promote gender equality.
  • To create a safer, better world; where all people can be safe and grow to reach their full potential

Sounds like reasons enough to gather, connect, talk, and celebrate. Check out the many references to IMD on the web. You may find a celebration in your community on the 19th. If not, gather some men friends, honor what's wonderful about being a man, and then collect and donate some cash for prostate cancer research!

Speaking of fundraising . . .

MOVEMBER: No not a typo, Movember is a companion celebration that has become associated with IMD. Movember is a combination of the words Mustache and November, and is the title of an annual month-long event involving the growing of mustaches. The event has been claimed to have been invented in 1999 by group of Australian men from Adelaide.

According to the US Movember website, Movember challenges men to change their appearance and the face of men’s health by growing a mustache. The rules are simple, start Movember 1st clean-shaven and then grow a mustache for the entire month. The mustache becomes the ribbon for men’s health, the means by which awareness and funds are raised for cancers that affect men. Much like the commitment to run or walk for charity, the men of Movember commit to growing a mustache for 30 days.

Gotta love the moxie these guys have. They actually hold a gala event and award "Moscars" for really good looking facial hair! All to raise money for cancer research in male diseases. Check that out on their site too.

Here is a video showing how one man raised money by getting someone else to shave his "mo!"

If the video isn't visible, you can see it at this link.

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