September 29, 2011

A Critical Piece of the Manhood Puzzle

Mark Moore was my hero. He was a regular old-school fireman, back before the spectacular heroism of 9-11. So it wasn't the fact of his profession that elevated him in my eyes. No, it was simply that he was the only man in my nine-year-old world who understood me. He was my next door neighbor. He lived close enough to hear my father's drunken rages and my mother's crying. He saw the car parked on grass in the front yard where my dad had left it the night before. He observed the sad lack of maintenance on our house, and he witnessed the many times I went running from the house in tears. Mark knew the horror of my world and still, for his own reasons, he picked me and gave me the only positive adult male attention I knew in those days.

Mark taught me to fish. I remember the awe I felt the first time he showed me his tackle box. It was the most mysterious collection of tools for getting the meat I had ever seen. The lures were colorful, each with a name and a special use. And dam that box was fragrant. I didn't learn until much later the otherworldly smell was a collection of thirty years' worth of mixed beer and dried fish guts.

Mark found the time to do things with me and sometimes a couple of my boy-pack buddies. We would visit him and the other men at the firehouse and got to slide down the brass pole from the second floor dorm. We'd build things together too. I can still smell the sawdust from the footstool we constructed in his garage workshop one hot summer. Then there was the time he took us all up to the top of the Highland Water Tower on the one day of the year it was open. The tower was the highest point in our town at the time and it offered an expansive vista. One at a time, he lifted each of us up to peer over the safety rail and then he pointed out the important places in our neighborhood. He said, “There’s your house, and there’s the movie theater. Over there is where you go to school, and way out there is the fairgrounds.” In a way, Mark was doing for me what men have done with boys for centuries, seeing their gifts, choosing to be engaged, and lifting them up and showing them the important parts of the masculine landscape. My dad wasn't really present for me, I had Superman on television back in those days, but Mark was my real superhero. I was a horribly lost little boy who became a lost teen, and it was Mark who saved my life.

The first of two sad truths about manhood today is too many young males are going lost, being imprisoned, and dying on their journey to manhood because good men like Mark are not showing up for them. All parents, but especially single moms and dads, struggle mightily to raise boys. The flood of testosterone in a teenaged male's body generates feelings of enormous physical power and potential. The young dudes then proceed to push and shove, be defiant, constantly test limits, and generally do foolish things because of the incomplete wiring of their young brains. It's not a matter of choice, adolescent males are simply compelled and propelled by their biology. Without the containment and direction a tribe of older males naturally provide, we have lost young males and Golding’s Lord of the Flies everywhere. It's why I believe we don't have a young male violence problem in the world today, but an epidemic of under-male-nourished young males.
I believe we don't have a young male violence problem in the world today,
but an epidemic of under-male-nourished young males.

The other sad truth about manhood is about lost men. Men and manhood have taken it in the chops from bad wars, feminism, and brutal economic times. Manhood is constantly under assault in today's media. A recent article in my hometown newspaper titled, Men Behaving Sadly, points out this coming season of TV shows feature, “. . . more than a half a dozen male characters questioning their masculinity and their place in a ‘woman’s world.’” Men's institutions have been invaded, and even men's natural tendencies have come under incitement. Collectively, these and other forces have had a devastating impact on male esteem. The result is lost and confused men, collectively and globally, looking for a vision of manhood that will help men feel good about themselves and reshape the important parts of the masculine landscape.


Thankfully, the discussion about lost men and an upside vision of manhood is well under way. This Man-Making Blog post is part of a special series this month on The End of Gender by bloggers from Role/RebootGood Men ProjectThe Huffington PostSalonHyperVocalMs. MagazineYourTangoPsychology TodayPrincess Free Zone, and The Next Great Generation.

While the pieces of the manhood puzzle will take some time to come together, I can clearly name one necessary and critical piece right now. It's the one ancient masculine competency hardwired into all men and what Mark Moore had in spades. Mark somehow found the willingness to step out from behind his fears and reach out to the next generation of boys. He offered his gloriously imperfect self as a guide to young boys on their journey toward manhood.

Making men out of adolescent males is men's work. It's necessary and life-saving for the boys, it supports families, and it reduces the chaos and violence in our communities. The big secret is until men put this piece in place, men are not whole. Conversely, when men claim that core piece of the manhood puzzle, the male hierarchy is restored, boys see an achievable path to manhood, there is peace in the village, and men inhabit their right place in the order of things.
"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."
Fredrick Douglass


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1 comment:

  1. Nick Hall8:55 AM

    I have read many excellent blog posts of yours Earl and this one is an absolute ripper. These problems do not belong to our young men, or their mothers, they belong to us, the men.

    Nick Hall
    Becoming Men Program
    Community Rites of Passage
    Tasmania

    ReplyDelete

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