December 29, 2012

2012 Man-Making Blog Annual Survey

The Man-Making blog has close to 600 email subscribers and a whole lot of others just dropping by. While this is a great vote of confidence, your responses to five questions in the survey below will help me sharpen my focus and, hopefully, increase the blog's interest and relevance for you.

Idea Sharing: With hundreds of subscribers and countless other visitors to the blog, going forward I'm considering other ways we might learn from each other. I feel the challenge of getting good men to show up for young males is too big and too important for me to be the only voice being heard. One of the survey questions asks about your interest in a number of ways we might share ideas.

Thanks for your responses and for your support. But mostly, thanks for your interest in Man-Making and supporting young males on their journey toward manhood.

DON'T FORGET TO HIT THE "SUBMIT" BUTTON AT THE END!

Earl

PS: If you’re an email subscriber and the survey does not show up below, use this link to go directly to the online survey form.




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December 21, 2012

Newtown CT, the President, Good News, and the Men's Community Resource Cooperative

I haven’t posted in a while. I've been struggling with the idea I actually live in a world where twenty children and six adults can be murdered in an elementary school. For a guy that likes to write, I have found myself mostly wordless. I'm still not back, but here are some random thoughts:

I find it terribly odd to watch the relentless quest by the authorities to figure out WHY the shooter (I’m not naming them any more), did what he did. To me, it’s always a perfect storm of the same elements: a very angry or over-the-edge-crazy young white guy, a struggling-to-do-her-best single mom, an unresponsive or impenetrable "mental health" system, some form of fatherlessness, and easy access to way too much killing power. There are variations on the mix, but for me, the “why” is always buried somewhere in that story.

So I've decided not to jump into the fray of being angry and demanding some piece of the puzzle be fixed. In the President's touching speech to the Newtown community, he said, " . . . keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and a nation." I'm a communitarian at heart, and the best action I can take is to continue to call men into man-making service to young males.

I'm a communitarian at heart

So in this blog you will continue to learn about man-making related programs for young guys in churches, schools, and communities, where heroic men (and women) are changing and saving young male lives. I will continue to hope that someday those stories will be seen in the mainstream media. If not because the people working in those trenches are total community heroes, then at least as a counter-point to our 24 hour news cycle preoccupation with the dark side of all these tragic events.

In the meantime, I will dream big dreams of a better world. Like the dream I had where every adult man reached out to one (lost) young male in his family, spiritual group, neighborhood, or community. That action alone would sweep countless lost young men into the caring safety net of masculine support and guidance. Of course, in my dreams, I don’t have to worry about the creepy guys. I simply see thousands of lost, isolated, angry, and fatherless boys experiencing positive connections to very good men.

Men’s Community 
Resource Cooperative
I had another dream I'm daring to share here. I dreamed if a man wanted to own a gun or get a license to hunt, in addition to all the needed background checks, safety training, and fees, he’d have to have thirty accumulated days community service through a local Men’s Community Resource Cooperative. Over time, the Cooperative would become a growing repository of male time and energy available for community building.

Men from the Cooperative could be called upon to do things like repair the homes of the elderly, help clean up after disasters, protect problem neighborhoods from violence, help young or even older guys getting out of jail to get established, visit young guys in group homes or juvenile detention facilities, provide support for single mothers, volunteer in schools, and, of course, mentor young males in a thousand different ways. In this way, a prospective gun owner would be able to demonstrate he was a responsible member of his community and worthy of the right to make life and death decisions.

Hey, I can dream!



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December 6, 2012

Boy's Rites of Passage and Growing Male Hearts


In early November, myself and 29 other older males from the Desert Men's Council again conducted a Rite of Passage Adventure Weekend. It was held in the desert wilderness, two hours from Tucson, Arizona. There, twelve young males went through a passage experience built on an ancient initiatory template.

The initiates arrive full of teen bravado, and are always surprised to encounter high drama, trials, some physical discomfort, big questions about becoming a man, and a group of men who take their approaching manhood seriously. The graduates of the program are called Journeymen, or J-Men, young males intentionally launched on their journey toward manhood. From the weekend graduation on, they enjoy the continued support of a multi-generational tribe of brothers. It's always a very powerful experience for all the males involved.

What makes these passage weekends different from your standard adventure outing is, in addition to the mix of deprivations and physical challenges, there are many opportunities for the young initiates to hear adult men speaking honestly and openly about the difficult parts of their lives. It's strange enough for most of our initiates to be surrounded by older guys who are clearly there to support them. Add to that, seeing these men be vulnerable, open, and telling the truth about life is clearly something unusual. As trust grows over the weekend, this degree of presence, personal honesty, and emotional vulnerability by the men forms a strong bond, unique in the lives of many of the boys . . . and many of the staff men.
In those moments, when the initiates "speak their truth,"
there are often tears. Boy's tears and Men's tears.
By creating what we call a "safe container," with commitments to honesty, directness, and confidentiality (aside from mandatory reporting requirements), the initiates have a place where the hard parts of their lives can also be spoken. The parts in the way, of them becoming the man they want to be, can be revealed and witnessed. In those moments when the initiates "speak their truth," there are often tears. Men's tears and boy tears. Hearts are touched, compassion expressed, and suffering reduced because it's shared. The young men find they are no longer alone with difficult challenges in their lives, and while there are no easy answers, there is hope and comfort in having allies.

Intimacy and Emotional Vocabulary: A big part of what we are doing in this work is helping all the males on the weekend to grow their capacity for compassion and empathy, while helping them to develop an expanded emotional vocabulary. This is really life-saving/life-giving work in so many ways.

In a November, 2012 New York Times article by David Brooks, titled, The Heart Grows Smarter, he describes a research project begun in 1938. Known as the Grant Study, its goal was to track a group of 268 students from Harvard University, and determine what aspects of their lives contributed to success in life and their physical and emotional health.

In 1966, George Vaillant took over the research, and published his conclusions in his book Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study. Very simply stated, Vaillant discovered that it was NOT body type, birth order, or even social class that predicted success, happiness, or vitality in men’s lives. To quote him, “It was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men’s lives.” "Flourishing," also includes living a long time. Of the 31 men in Vaillant’s study, those incapable of establishing intimate bonds, only four were still alive when his book was published. Of those who were better at forming relationships, more than a third were living.

In his Times article, David Brooks describes some of the Grant Study men. He points out how, for different reasons, these men became more emotionally attuned as they aged, more adept at recognizing and expressing emotion. Imagine, increased longevity, relationship satisfactions, health, and success in life, all coming out of a male's increased emotional capacity. Now imagine having the opportunity to begin to grow your emotional vocabulary and increase your capacity for intimacy as a teenager! That’s one of the reasons the work we do on these Rite of Passage Weekends is so important for these young guys. It also doesn't hurt that we squeeze a bit on our own older male hearts.

If you want to know more about Rite of Passage weekends, or group activities for men and boys, give me a shout. You’ll learn how men helping boys on their Journey to Manhood, is life-giving for all the males involved.

For a great review of Vaillant's Triumphs of Experience book, read this article in The Daily Beast.



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November 28, 2012

Mentoring Young Men Toward Healthy Sexuality

One of the more challenging aspects of becoming a man is navigating the mine field of male sexuality. Every adult man can remember the powerful sexual feelings, as well as the anxiety and confusion around sex they experienced as a teen. While this is a huge topic, a step toward addressing this challenge comes from a regular Man-Making Blog contributor, Tim Wernette. Tim is a Gender Equity Educational Specialist with the University of Arizona, and in this post he describes a helpful book on this important topic. Apparently, we can now add myths about men and sex to the list of barriers between a young man and a healthy male sexuality.



Our society is very schizophrenic about sexuality. On the surface it seems like we’re open about sex because it seems to be everywhere. You see allusions to sexuality in films, product advertising, in popular music, and even in the video games young guys are playing. Certainly internet access has made sexual images and information almost universally available for better and worse. And then there are the sordid tales of male sexual perpetrators so often in the news these days. With all that going on, there is often not enough good and credible information about sex and sexuality available from trusted sources. The result is a confusing prescription for healthy teen sexuality, and some powerful myths our young guys (and some men) will have to deal with on their way to manhood.

In his book, The New Male Sexuality, Bernie Zilbergeld explores some of the subtle myths about male sexuality which boys and men often encounter. These messages are clearly seen in pornography, but occur in other parts of the culture, too. If you’re not aware of them, these myths almost guarantee problems and pain in relationships if they are internalized by our young men. Here are just a few:

(For a full list go to the end of the post.)

Men Are Always Ready and Willing to Have Sex: The truth is males are not always ready to go, and can certainly have pre-conditions for having sex just as women do. In fact, the author, in his research, discovered 30% of men felt, at least sometimes, that sex was a burden. This “always willing” message discourages males from understanding, acknowledging and respecting their own terms for physical (or any kind of) intimacy. Feeling like you should always be ready to have sex can easily lead to embarrassment, sexual dysfunction, and other problems in relationships.

Sexuality = Performance = Competence: For many boys/men, sex becomes a proving ground for our sense of masculinity. A young man who has lots of partners is considered a “stud” or “player,” and often looked up to by other males. The irony is that the more pressure a male feels to perform, the more likely he is to have sexual problems. This message encourages males to consider sex as another platform on which to achieve success (and risk failure), and interferes with intimacy with one’s partner.

Size matters: This one is ancient in guy lore. As young men, we see all the (normally) different sized penises in locker rooms or even in pornography. Lacking a broad enough sample, questions about the size of your member and how that relates to performance, not to mention virility, easily come to mind. The truth is a short course on female anatomy and intimacy will quickly help a young man realize sexual pleasure, yours or hers, has very little to do with penis size or even shape, and is more about the chemistry between two people that count.

As adult male mentors and role models, we should consider these (and other) poor messages about sex and sexuality we have grown up with. If we take the time to explore the problems they have created for us, both our struggles and successes in overcoming them, we’ll have important wisdom to offer the young men in our lives. In sex and sexuality, as in all aspects of becoming a man, our young men need our support on their journey toward manhood.



Tim is so right, good men can be an enormous help to young guys in taking on this critical component of becoming a good man. Men can support young males by offering credible information when asked, sharing personal experiences as appropriate, and inviting young guys to talk about their thoughts, feelings, and confusion.

In this era of sexual abuse scandals, there is an increased need for solid and informed men who are willing to talk to young males about sex and sexuality. HOWEVER and almost sadly, to protect those men and boys today, we have to be sure those conversations take place in safe and appropriate settings.

To see a full listing of the myths about male sexuality, and a whole lot of other myth-busting and high quality data on the topic of sexuality in general, go to the Sexuality Education Resource Centre of Manitoba website.



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November 20, 2012

Standing Strong or Saggin?

Sagging is a fashion trend where a young male will wear his pants so far below his waist that his often brightly colored and patterned 'boxer' underwear is on full display. One theory is it's origins came from the U.S. prison system where belts are prohibited as a safety measure. In the 90's, hip-hop and rappers popularized the fashion in their dress and music.

For generations, young people have always found ways to offend the adult taste and sensibilities when it comes to dress. My generation did it in the late 60's and early 70's with strange hair and weird clothing. It was our way to say to our parents, "we're not you, and we're choosing our own path whether you like it or not!" During that time, we felt we were making a statement about the horrors of the Vietnam war and taking a stand for peace by wearing our own uniform. We felt we were standing for something right and noble. I'm sure many saggers feel they are taking a stand, too; it's just not clear to me what it's all about.

Since the 90's, in the U.S., schools, churches, communities, transit authorities, airlines and some states have passed rules, regulations, and even laws to limit sagging. The boys who wear their pants down too low at the Westside Middle School in Memphis, Tennessee get “Urkelized,” a campaign named after the nerdy and  lovable nerd Steve Urkel from the 90's sitcom, Family Matters. At the school, the principle first talks to the young man to try to convince him to hike up his pants. Then the school calls the child’s parents. If that fails, zip ties are used to tighten the pant’s waistline. Principal White says this is all to guide his students to look their best and to think more about pride, passion and professionalism- not to mention have a little fun in the process.

In his 2008 campaign, President Obama weighed in on the issue on MTV. While stating that laws banning the practice were pretty much "a waste of time," he went on to imply it was really a matter of decency. Here's the rest of his quote.
"Having said that, brothers should pull up their pants. You are walking by your mother, your grandmother, your underwear is showing. What's wrong with that? Come on. Some people might not want to see your underwear. I’m one of them."
To take the sagging issue one step deeper, I love how one of my brothers in mission, Mustafa Mahdi, put it in a recent Facebook post:
Ever wonder what would happen if our daughters were wearing their pants or skirts below their behind and crotch in public? They won't do it because they know their mothers or society won't allow it and they'd be arrested immediately for indecent exposure!

It's obvious this ridiculous, disgusting sagging fad is promoted in the media and by their puppet rappers for one reason...to make young black males a target. Sagging is typically accompanied by bad behavior, cussing, delinquency, drug use, gang affiliation, and criminal activity. It's just a matter of time before they are arrested or killed...unless someone or something intervenes to help a young man to see that he is not a thug, but a human being with a higher calling.

In 2013, we men must make a commitment to become more engaged in the lives of our children...treat our wives, women, sisters, mothers and daughters and sons with dignity and respect. Then we have to select at least one male child who does not have a father in his life and become his "father figure" or big brother...and teach him what authentic manhood is all about.

In the words of my dear brother Henry Carter, "when the man stands up, the boys sit down"...calling all men! Stand up and man up or sit down and shut up...if you ain't for the solution, you're part of the problem!
Having good and caring men involved in the lives of fatherless, under-male-parented, or really any boys, may not be a cure for bad taste in attire. But it will go a long way toward helping young men stand strong for themselves in the face of all the challenges they have on the path to becoming solid men.

Here is a video that was created in response to a Florida law restricting sagging. It's a rap tune called “Pull Ya Pantz Up.” I really like it!


If the clip doesn't show, use this link



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November 11, 2012

A Brief Word about Movember and Your Face


In 2010, I offered a blog post about International Men's Day and the launch of the United States Movember initiative. Simply stated, Movember is the combination of Mustache + November. It's the name of a global campaign to raise awareness and funds for men's health issues, specifically prostate and testicular cancer initiatives. The idea is that men's mustaches become the "ribbon" men wear to show their support of the campaign's goals. Men then become walking, talking billboards about men's health for the 30 days of November. As they say, the idea is to grow, show and connect with your fellow Mo's.


To support Movember, you can simply grow a "Mo," or go to the Movember website in your respective country and register. You can register as an individual and start collecting donations on your Mo Space, or you can create a team of brothers from work, neighborhood, or campus and fund-raise together. In many places there are big celebrations and even prizes awarded at the end of the month. Here is the link to the U.S. Movember website.

I love the addition this year of a smart phone app for Mos on the go! With this digital tool, you can connect with others in the campaign or on your team, and watch the progress of your personal or team's fundraising. I'm assuming there is also a way to post the progress your face is making!

Personally, I like the idea of men, as a group, taking a stand for purely male health issues. I think it's not only a great cause, but it's good for young men to witness men as a group taking action in service to a good cause. Of course, I support all those pink initiatives and the awareness and good women's work that is resulting. But I do feel a little masculine pride seeing my male friends and relatives growing Mo's. My wish is that men will like the feeling of being united around a masculine cause, and maybe the next one will be men showing up for boys.

Just below is a fun clip tracking the growth in this movement from the 30 Mo Bros who started this initiative in Melbourne, Australia in 2003, to the 854,288 registered Mo's in 2011. The initial Mo Bros didn't raise much more than awareness, but the 2011 campaign raised over 126.3 million dollars to support prostate and testicular cancer.


If the clip isn't visible use this link.

As they say, Movember, through the power of the mustache, has become a truly global movement that is changing the face of men's health. It's not too late to get started for even a shadow of a mustache in November makes you an advocate for men's health. In the challenge to do something about prostrate and testicular cancers, every mustache makes a difference.


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November 2, 2012

ABSENT - The Fight to Get Fatherhood Back


Last February, I did a blog post about a great film on fatherlessness, titled Absent, by Justin Hunt. The film speaks to the powerful emotional wound that always results from the absence of a father in a young person’s life. In that blog post, you can learn more about the film, read some of the sad data about the costs of absent fathers, and see a clip from the film.

Absent has been shown in cities all over the U.S. and in countries around the world, including Spain, Egypt, South Africa, Germany, France, England, and Australia. That’s because the issue of absent fathers is just that big and universal.

The film is continuing to get spectacular reviews because of its brutally honest approach to the topic and intimate way it addresses this painful issue. In the film, the director, Justin Hunt, interviews prominent men, and has emotionally charged exchanges with prostitutes, homeless people, and even a world champion boxer.

This is a film I like so much, I’d like it to get all the exposure possible. I recommend having the film shown in your men’s group, faith community, neighborhood center, or anywhere people can be gathered. You could even partner with a Boy’s and Girl’s Club, Big Brothers, Big Sisters organization, or any mentoring group in your community for support. I'm certain if you raise this flag, people will come. You can request a screening of Absent for your community by going to the absentmovie.com website.

At some level, we all know this problem exists. We see the evidence every night on the news. If at all possible, please help increase awareness of what I call an epidemic of under-male-nourished boys and the costs we all incur when fathers are not part of their children's lives. Please join Justin Hunt and the rest of us in the fight to “get fatherhood back.”

In the video clip below you will hear from people who have seen the Absent film. When I watched it, I heard two loud messages: “The prognosis (for kids, our communities, and our world) isn't good,” and, it’s a moving film that, “gives you hope.”



If the clip isn't visible use this link.



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October 28, 2012

Fire Circles - Opening the Hearts of Men and Boys

This article is offered by Allan Rudner, a brother in mission, working in Sydney, Australia. It's his personal story about his powerful connection to fire and how he is using it to create new connections between diverse communities of men and boys.



Since boyhood, I have been called to fire. I grew up in South Africa, living half a block from bushland, where I spent many happy hours on my own or with boyhood friends. From time to time, a wildfire would break out and the flames could be seen leaping high into the sky. I remember getting as close to the fire as I could and feeling my heart pounding inside me. I could actually feel the raw wildness and energy of the fire coursing through my veins. In those moments, I was in complete awe and knew I had found my passion!

Now, after working with boys and men in the wilderness for the last twenty years, that passion for fire is back in full force, and its call is powerful. Over the years, my Rites-of-Passage work has always included some relationship to fire. It has always accompanied rituals and ceremonies, signifying the transitions from boyhood to manhood and manhood to Elder. But currently, I’m called to fire circles!


Today, I’m using the timeless and primal notion of The Fire Circle to connect diverse groups of older men with younger men/boys. In these circles, older men take their place as leaders and mentors within the community, and younger men/boys have access to a network of positive male role models. My approach has been carefully crafted to ensure a sense of safety and caring for everyone. Using ritual and ceremony around the sacred fire, men and boys are introduced to respectful and confidential processes for sharing personal stories. The goal is for everyone to have an opportunity to be listened to and to be heard.

After a couple of hours together in a typical fire circle, the group formally closes the space and then retires to an area where food is shared. The impact of the time around the fire is always obvious as the group mingles, talks, laughs and, informally, connects with one another.

From the feedback I've gotten, it is clear The Fire Circle experience is very much appreciated and valued. Here are a just a couple of the (common) comments I get from participants:
"I thought your fire circle was beautifully established and run. It was just the right blend of gentle firm guidance and freedom/space for personal responsibility. I feel that evening living in my body right now. I encountered myself in a new way and with magical universal input. The timing was spot on. It augmented my ability to try to be differently with my son, my brother and father." - RK
"I believe you got the recipe right last evening, around the warmth of the fire and in the spirituality of the Tepee. Twenty-two men, of such varying age and divergent backgrounds, would normally have passed each other by along the path of life with barely a spoken word, perhaps, at best, a nod. By creating a space of safety and oneness of purpose, the differences between all these men were relegated to a position of minor significance. The common desire for personal growth, the sharing and purpose, shone forth in openness and truth. I am enriched for the experience. Thanks." - Ralph
I believe The Fire Circle process is creating a valuable community resource by building more connections between diverse men and strong inter-generational relationships. The Fire Circle creates new roles for older men in our communities, and the youth benefit by being witnessed and accepted as they are by Elder men. In short, it's exciting for me to watch this process building stronger and more cohesive communities.

At the personal level, The Fire Circle is how I find my way to my spiritual home. No sooner do I seat myself around the fire than I feel a flood of peace and alignment, which so often eludes me in the “outside world.” When I see the opened heart of a lad or a man, I feel the energy flowing inside me. When guys "get it," and the tears flow, and their woundedness is shared, my heart melts, and I know I am doing something important. Helping to open men's hearts and seeing them come awake gives me the juice I need to keep going. I believe when a man has an open heart, the world is a better place.



Currently The Fire Circles take place at different venues in and around Sydney, Australia, with a growing interest in hosting them in other areas. If you want to connect with Allan to learn more about his fire circle process, check out his LifeCrating website, or visit The Fire Circle Facebook page. You can also email Allan Rudner directly.



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October 5, 2012

Guys - Check Your Balls!

Among other places, this poster appeared in the women's toilet in a Hobart (Tasmania) pub. Is this going too far?

Click to Enlarge Poster
We seem to live in a very pink world these days, where so much (important) attention is given to women's breast cancer awareness. Yet it seems odd to me that a poster using the word "balls" and suggesting men (and their partners) should be checking them, might be seen as more than a little provocative. Given the data on testicular and other cancers for men, maybe not!

One in 268 men will be diagnosed with cancer of the testes during their lifetime. While we often think of this as an older man's disease, while rare, it's the most common cancer in males between 15 and 45. It peaks in males in their mid-twenties. Other cancers causing death in guys include lung, prostate, bowel, and melanoma. As the poster states, men are 33% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than women, and 30% more men will die of the disease than women! Given these numbers, it seems to me we should have more loud and bold approaches to men's balls and this aspect of men's health directed at both teem males and men.

Blue September (http://www.blueseptember.org/) is a global awareness and fundraising initiative for all men’s cancers. Blue was chosen as a men's color as pink is the preferred color for women's breast cancer awareness. Since starting in New Zealand, the Blue September movement has migrated to Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. The Blue September blokes in Australia, who created the poster, are supporting Australian Prostate Cancer Research and The Australian Cancer Research Foundation. They say each year, more than 22,000* Australian men die of cancer. For the record, the number for annual male deaths in the US is 33,000.

GO NUTS! Just one of many campaigns across the globe included a Blue September event in the US, prior to the Oakland Raiders/Pittsburgh Steelers game, September 23, 2012 (see link below). It turns out research says walnuts can improve prostate heath. In order to raise awareness about testicular and other cancers for men, prior to the game, fans were given a package of California walnuts, blue wrist bands, and health information. The jumbo screens also showed a pre-game video on the topic. What a great way to bring this topic to a male audience.

Are you willing to help get the word out to young men and adult males? It would be a sad thing to lose a guy at any age to testicular cancer just because we can't comfortably talk about gonads, nads, nuts, testicles, rocks, bollocks, sack nuggets, groin, the acorns, cracker jacks, stones, kerbangers, marbles, the yam bag, your junk, tenders, cullions, the dangly bits, pelotas, nutsack, doo-dahs, bollocks, huevos, kiwis, clappers, family jewels, cojones, the package, knackers, cods, love spuds, and yes, balls.

Here are some links to great videos and information on Blue September, testicular cancer, and Testicular Self-Exam (TSE) for men and young males:

  • A clip of Ireland's Munster Rugby Team getting painted blue for the cause.

  • A really great website, checkemlads.com run by regular guy cancer survivors. They tell moving personal stories, a very informative video clip, and some TSE instruction from straight talking men.

  • A great teen health website, kidshealth.org, with some very straight forward instructions on how to do Testicular Self-Exam (TSE).



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October 1, 2012

Upside Stories about Men and Boys

I was feeling a little down. There has been endless news reporting about the recent killings in our community by yet another angry, lost man with a gun. Then, almost simultaneously, two very inspirational articles came across my desk. The positive messages in these stories about good men helping young males really got through, touched my heart, and gave me my optimism back. I'm sharing these articles with the hope they have the same positive impact on you.




The first story describes some of the important and exciting work with high school boys being done by the good men of Boys to Men Mentoring Network  (BTM). In an article on the San Diego News online, BTM co-founder Craig McClain describes what is at the heart of what they do in their school programs for young guys . . . speaking the truth:
We start off our meetings by telling (the boys) the truth about ourselves. Some of us went to prison. Some of us did drugs. There isn’t one thing these boys are thinking about that one of us hasn’t done.

Then we ask them, who wants to go next, and they’ll talk about gangs or drugs or hating their stepfathers. And we’ll say, ‘Is this what you want to do?’ And they’ll say no. We’ll ask about the consequences, and we’ll say, ‘Is this what you want?’ And they’ll say no. Then we’ll say, ‘Well, what do you want to do about it?’ We give them control over their lives.
The article goes on to show us what happens inside these school-based guys' groups as the men create a safe space for the boys to learn to trust, open up, and then decompress about the really hard parts of their lives.

You can read the whole article at the San Diego News online.

Boys to Men Mentoring Network centers have sprung up in more than 35 cities in seven countries around the world. Their San Diego area school programs, which started four years ago with one group (and 3 boys who were required to attend), now has between 80 and 90 volunteer male mentors working with almost 400 kids in 10 sites in the San Diego area. Check out the Boys to Men Mentoring Network website for more information.




The second story is from the Camden, New Jersey, CurrierPostOnline.com. It describes a luncheon put on by the Camden County Mentoring Institute, a coalition of mentoring providers, faith-based groups, and government institutions, all coming together to recruit and support volunteer mentors. The article describes some of what three successful men, raised without fathers, said at the luncheon to an audience of almost 200 Camden clergy, community leaders, law enforcement officials, and local residents, all of whom were there to support Camden’s youth.

I love the statement from the Camden Police Chief, Scott Thomson. His father died when he was 9, and in describing his own life he said, "But for the grace of God — and three fat cops who couldn’t catch me — I wouldn’t be here today!” As a career Camden cop, he recently became a mentor to a 9-year-old boy who was blinded by stray gunfire in the city. In his remarks, he described an all too common attitude among young guys in Camden. He remembered a conversation with a young man he had arrested for selling drugs.
“What are you going to do when you’re 21?” Thomson asked.

“I ain’t gonna live that long,” the youth replied.
You can read the whole article at the CurrierPostOnline.com.

Instead of the bad news about lost men and boys, I like hearing the counter-point, upside stories about the power of a man in a boy's life, or how a few men can do so much good in the lives of a bunch of young dudes in a school setting. It gives me hope for the future.

If you know of a similar Man-Making story, please send it along.



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September 24, 2012

Wild Boys, Wilderness, and Woodcraft Rangers


After the recent blog post with a discussion of boys and Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD), Tim Wernette, a regular Man-Making Blog contributor, emailed me about Woodcraft Indians. In my research into that organization, I learned a lot more about the history of NDD. I also learned how, in the early 1900’s, one man's attempt to do something about boys and NDD resulted in the formation of the Boy Scouts, the Brownies, and the creation of a multitude of other organizations that are still helping kids a hundred years later.

The man was Ernest Thompson Seton. The full name for the organization he started was The League of Woodcraft Indians because they borrowed heavily from Native American culture, and their goal was to get young males into the woods.  The organization was clearly for non-Indians, but it was very successful in getting American boys into the wilderness.

The first U.S. Woodcraft Tribe was set up in 1902. It was a direct result of Mr. Seton’s property being vandalized by neighborhood boys. As the story goes, after numerous repairs to his property, Mr. Seton went to the local school. Instead of looking to punish the young vandals, he invited them to a weekend campout on his property. During this time he told them about Native Americans and their connection to nature. He spoke about Native American language, lore, and culture. He taught them some basic wilderness skills, and I’ll bet some time was spent sitting around a fire and telling exciting stories of the then not-so-old west.

Out of this one weekend experience, The League of Woodcraft Indians evolved, and soon there were Woodcraft groups all across the United States. If you want to read a complete and detailed operating manual for a Woodcraft Indian group, take a look at Seton’s Birch Bark Roll (PDF document from the New York Public Library or this online version.)

If you don’t worry about political correctness and can allow for the era in which it was written, the Birch Bark Roll, in amazing detail, lays out the perfect template for a boy-literate organization. It describes the organizational structure with Native American names for the various positions. I especially love the chapters on, The Child Spirit of Woodcraft, Twelve Secrets of the Woods, Tribe and Council Activities (games), and even songs to sing around the campfire. Songs have titles like, Zuni Sunset Song, Ghost Dance Song, and a blessing song called, Prayer of the Warriors Before Smoking the Pipe, all with sheet music included!

While the details are complicated, in 1910, Mr. Seton, along with Daniel Beard, the man who had started The Sons of Daniel Boone, were instrumental in the founding of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Seton became the Chief Scout of the organization for its first five years. Because of disagreements about the more militaristic direction Seton felt Scouting was moving, he left the BSA in 1915 and re-established the Woodcraft Indians separately. Later he renamed his organization The Woodcraft League of America, and claimed he never really merged the group into the BSA.

Today, there are still Woodcrafters who are active in the movement. One of the better known groups in the U.S. might be the Woodcraft Rangers in Los Angeles, California. Established in 1922, this group modified Seton’s original emphasis on outdoor life and is working to support urban Los Angeles kids. Currently, the Woodcraft Rangers serves over 18,000 underprivileged youth annually in after-school and summer camping programs.

If you want to know more about the large and rather amazing web of international organizations launched by one man’s interest in what we now call Nature Deficit Disorder, and his willingness to show up for the boys in his hood, just do a Google search for Woodcraft Indians. The result of that search takes my breath away, but then I just love the, What One Man Can Do, stories.



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September 16, 2012

LAAMB-ing and not FRAP-ing Boys

Vacation: Because I'm on a vacation trip to Switzerland and France until the end of September, I'm taking the easy route and publishing a few favorite posts (mine and yours) from the history of this Blog. Enjoy!



Out of the Boys to Men network has come a beautifully simple job description for a man mentoring a boy or boys. It's called LAMMB-ing. It stands for Listen, Accept, Admire, Model, and Bless. It's something most men can do without much effort. The hope is, in addition to the quality of connection that results, this prescription will eliminate some of the fears so many men carry preventing them from showing up for young males. Like the too common fear, "Who I am and what I know is not sufficient to be a man-maker for a boy."

As I write this I'm having the feeling I too would like to be LAMMB-ed more often. Even in my elderhood, I still hunger for men in my life who will listen to me without judgment, regularly admire my gifts, model behaviors I can learn from and absorb, and who will drop the occasional blessing on me. Who of you reading this wouldn't feel safe, cared for, and blossom in that kind of relationship?

In addition to the "to do" list inherent in LAMMB, two of my man-making heroes, Edoardo Lippolis and Collin Irish at Threshold Passages, Inc., have added another acronym that takes the art of man-making up a notch. It's the very intentional avoidance of FRAP-ing young males.

FRAP stands for Fixing, Rescuing, Advising (unsolicited), and Projecting. In general, these are behaviors man-makers try to avoid. The goal is to create an environment in which LAAMB-ing can regularly and frequently occur, and where FRAP-ing is avoided.

In my experience, there is real danger when a man feels compelled to direct a young male's path through life with some form of FRAP-ing. The latter problem shows up most often when the young man is making poor choices. Those behaviors call up the latent parent, therapist, cop, or all those other potentially inappropriate and possibly damaging roles men can play. The temptation, of course, is to be seen as all knowing by having all the young man's answers, even if you have to make up something to sound smart. Men never do that . . . right?

To avoid FRAP-ing someone, the men at TPI suggest waiting until the young male is "soliciting advice of his own volition." When that happens, and IF the man really does have solid information, he can share it with the young man. If he does not have solid information, he points the lad to someone who does. Not only does this keep the relationship comfortable for everyone, it gives a man the opportunity to model humility and the importance of asking others for help.

While each element of LAAMB and FRAP could be a short course all to itself, taken literally and applied, they provide a simple formula for safety and trust in any relationship.

If you want to know more about LAAMB-ing, FRAP-ing, and training for the men in your organization to work with young guys, contact me. You can also download a PDF of this post describing LAAMB-ing and FRAP-ing in a little more detail.

If you want to know more about the Rites of Passage Adventure Weekend being offered by the men at Threshold Passages (and see a sweet video clip of their weekend), check out their website at: thresholdpassages.org/.

And then why not start LAMMB-ing the boys
that cross your path . . . starting today?



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September 7, 2012

A Year-Long, Rite of Passage for Boys

Vacation: Because I'm on a vacation trip to Switzerland and France until the end of September, I'm taking the easy route and publishing a few favorite posts (mine and yours) from the history of this Blog. Enjoy!


When I speak to groups of men working with boys, whether it's in mentoring organizations, at churches or conferences, or just groups of men who want to do something for adolescent males, there is always the question of what to do with them. Often, the path that question takes is, how do we keep these young guys entertained? While I think that's a fair question to ask, and indeed some fun is important, I think if a young male is on the brink of manhood, it misses the mark a little.

I feel that mixed in with some boy fun, there should be serious lessons about manhood and an opportunity to talk with men about the big issues in a kid's life. A few youth-serving organizations approach that challenge head on, but from my experience, it seems to me that too many of them leave the most important training to chance.

I'd like to propose the creation of a year-long form of introduction to manhood. A series of activities that guarantee boys are exposed to some of the important questions, issues, skills, and lessons about the manhood.

I'm suggesting a monthly outing, circle, lesson, or event for boys and men, followed by a group discussion about what happened and to help the boys process their experience. I'm trying to stir your thinking here. Consider the impact of these kinds of experiences on the psyche of an adolescent male:

  • A visit to a jail or prison.

  • Work for a day on a Habitat for Humanity home build.

  • Go to a stockyard where animals are butchered.

  • Go rock climbing, hiking, try a high ropes course, or go camping.

  • Visit the local firehouse, learning about the gear, skills, and hearing stories.

  • Have a conversation with residents at a battered women's shelter, or hear from a GLBT person.

  • Visit a Veteran's hospital and talk with injured vets.

  • Learn how to wire a lamp, fix a toilet, change a tire, or grill a steak.

  • Help out for a few hours at a nursing home, possibly serving a meal.

  • Job shadowing - go to work with a man for a day or part of a day to learn what men do.

  • Hear from women recovering from being prostitutes.

  • Feed people at a homeless shelter.

  • Spending a weekend night at the police station.

  • Play paintball . . . after a discussion from a veteran about the realities of war.

  • Hear a personal story from someone who attends Alcoholics Anonymous or Debtors Anonymous.

You get the idea, and I'm sure you have ideas you could add. I'm certain when these experiences are processed in a multi-generational group of males, powerful discussions about life, manhood, profession, relationship to women, and personal responsibility would result. I'm just as certain all the males would benefit enormously.

After a year or so of these experiences, some opportunities for fun, and directly and indirectly learning from men across the discussion circle, I think an adolescent male would really be ready for some form of rite of passage or crossing into manhood celebration or ceremony.

What do you think?

What activities would you add to the list?

How would your life be different today if, as an adolescent, you had been surrounded by good men with the focused intention to teach you about life and the journey toward a positive manhood?


Share your thoughts on this post in the "comments" section below or send me an email message.

Perhaps most importantly, consider sending this along to a man or men you know and whom you feel might be interested in this idea. A few men and boys from your neighborhood or community is all it would take to get started.




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September 1, 2012

Ancient Male Rites of Passage

Stop reading for a moment, close your eyes, and try to remember . . . when did you, without question, become a "man?" 
When was that moment in time when you knew, for sure and without doubt, you were now a certified "man?" When did you irrevocably cross the line from boyhood to manhood, accept adult male responsibilities, and thereafter were seen and treated as a man in the eyes of your family, peers, and community?

When I asked this question of men as part of the research for the Man-Making book, some men said it was when they got a license to drive, cast their first vote, or had sex for the first time. Other men said, "when I went into the service," "when I had a child," or "when I got a gun (gang member)." There were a few men who experienced rites of passage in their religious community, in scouting or in a gang. But by far the most common response to that question was, "I'm not sure I am a "man" today!" Most men said they had never definitively crossed a clear or obvious line into manhood and remained uncertain men today.

When I say "uncertain men," I mean these guys were fully functional males in the world today, but they were confused about what attributes define a mature and fully realized man in their society. They were uncertain about the criteria for becoming a man, the achievement path to that goal, if there is one, and not at all clear about how or who will ultimately bestow the blessing of one day having become "a real man."
. . . what attributes define a mature and fully realized man . . .
If uncertainty is a theme for men, consider how hard/impossible it is for adolescent males, without good men around them, to ever feel they been set on a positive path toward a solid manhood. They are being propelled toward manhood by testosterone, a hormone drives them to action, intensity, sexual expression, and the need to constantly test and prove themselves in some way. Without guidance, these natural expressions of young male energy, combined with an underdeveloped capacity for thinking through the consequences of their choices, all too often have terribly tragic consequences. It's why I say we don't so much have a violence problem in our communities, but an epidemic of under-male-nourished boys.

Ancient rites of passage, perfected over thousands of years, were exquisitely designed to get the attention of young males and help them shape their mature masculine identity. Sadly, positive passage experiences for males are hard to come by today, and too many males are left to wander in that never-never land between boyhood and manhood.

Because I believe in intentional man-making, I feel it's critical to acknowledge a young male's passage from the world of boyish things into young adulthood. One of the ways I do that is to work with groups of men who are initiating adolescent males in rite of passage experiences. This work clearly sets boys on a positive journey toward manhood, and lets them know they are supported by men. The second reason for these events is to offer an experience in which men can discover they are indeed hardwired for this work. By initiating young males, men can find answers to some of their lingering questions about what constitutes "a real man." I'll continue to write about this in future posts.

From my research and experiences, I've learned that male rite of passage events, wherever they occur, have some common and important elements. Remember, this template has emerged from thousands of years of man-making experience from cultures across the globe. VERY simply and generally stated, here is a short list:
  • A dramatic departure from the women, children, and elders.

  • Travel to an unknown (to the initiates) place in a natural setting.

  • Arrival in a special men-only location.

  • Learning to be accountable to and take direction from the men.

  • Deprivation, trials, and testing.

  • Acquiring knowledge and masculine skills.

  • Serious talk from adult men and respected elders about the responsibilities that define a man.

  • Rituals in many aspects of the experience.

  • Fires, drumming, and often some expression of wildman energy.

  • Being given a new name, bodily markings, clothing, talismans, or tools for the men's world.

  • Experiencing a moment in time when you have become, are acknowledged and honored by the men and elders as, a new man.

  • With ceremony, ritual, and often feasting, returning to your community and being again celebrated for your new identity.
Just below is a video giving us a look at a day out of a month-long male rite of passage experience from the Palambi Tribe in Papau New Guinea. This not-so-ancient event was filmed in 2007. Read through the list above once more, and then see if you can find those elements in this Palambi passage experience.



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

Clearly this example doesn't fit the world most of us inhabit. But it was most likely built on a few hundred years experience with man-making. In 2007, after their month of training and preparation, on returning to their village, these initiates will have no question they have crossed a line into manhood, and that's quite the gift.

If you want to learn how to create a culturally relevant and contemporary rite of passage experience for the boys in your world, give me a shout. I'm happy to be a guide to help create the experience. Along the way, I'll help you and your men friends discover you really are hardwired for this work.

(Check out more questions for men about manhood on the Man-Making website.)



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August 21, 2012

A Guy’s Wilderness Canoeing Adventure

This is the “silly picture” of some men and young guys taken near the Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, or BWCA as the locals call it. It's a guy's group from the Boys to Men Mentoring Network of Minnesota (BTM-MN). Maybe you can't see it, but this is a true victory photo for a whole bunch of reasons.

For those that aren't familiar with the area, the BWCA is on the U.S.-Canadian border in northern Minnesota. It's part of the historic homeland of the Ojibwe people, who traveled the same waterways in birch bark canoes. Think of the BWCA as a million-acre wilderness playground, with over a thousand lakes, and over 2,200 back-country campsites. The lakes are connected by portage trails or paths between the lakes that require carrying all your gear, and the canoes, across the land separating the lakes. It's the perfect guy place, and just what's needed to heal Nature Deficit Disorder.

In past blog posts I've written about the idea of Nature Deficit Disorder, or NDD. When young males are without older men as guides to the natural world, it's easy for them to be completely disconnected from nature. For young dudes who only know pavement, buildings, malls, and their own neighborhood, the idea of paddling a canoe across open water, cooking over a fire, and spending a few nights in the woods can be a terrifying notion. So the first victory is that these guys got a taste of this awesome wilderness area at all.

The men of BTM-MN really know how to construct this kind of an adventure. For starters, they use only background-checked men, they have conversations with parents, and they get parental release forms. The weekend prior to the actual outing, there was a training event so the young guys could get some experience with canoes, paddling technique, and, for some, just getting comfortable in and on the water. As the trip grew close, they sent out instructions on how to pack for camping and even offered scholarships for those who couldn't afford the small cost of the trip.

On launch day, nine young males and three men set out into the great wilderness, much like males have done for centuries. In the BWCA, portage distances are still measured in rods. A rod is the same as 16.5 feet. The crew managed 3 portages of 10, 70, 120 rods. That's a lot of carrying, tripping on roots, and finding your way with a canoe on your shoulders.

They finally arrived at their predetermined campsite, a physical victory to be sure. It was a beautiful location, with lots of wide rock shelves, breezes to keep bugs away, and a nearby stream to explore. They set up their tents, established the campsite, and from there the grand adventure unfolded.

An important collection of victories came from how much these (sometimes academically challenged) young guys learned. They got hands-on experience with canoeing skills, catching and cleaning fish, fire starting, bear-proofing a campsite, the use of a compass and maps, managing un-potable water, cooking, cleaning, taking a wilderness crap, and the needed teamwork to get it all done. All of that while having fun, exploring on day-long side trips, swimming, having water fights, and spending a lot of time around a campfire.
Perhaps one of the biggest victories for these young guys
was simply the time they got to spend around men
.
Perhaps one of the biggest victories for these young guys was simply the time they got to spend around men. I know these particular men. Because of their big hearts and powerful intention to support young males, I'm certain they were constantly modeling important lessons in how to be a good man. I believe in addition to all the fun, the inevitable and difficult conflicts in the group were dealt with head on with patience, care, and teaching. I am also just as certain the young guys were generously and regularly praised for their many accomplishments.

Because of the trust that develops in the pack, in the quieter times around the fire it's common to have a man or young guy share some personal truth about their fears, sadness, successes, or hopes for the future. They get deep listening from the others, and in some way, are honored for their vulnerability. Because of all this, you can be sure they all came back more a band of brothers than they were before the trip.


If you and a few of your men friends want to make a big difference in young male lives, gather up some boys, pack up, and set out. The "wilderness" doesn't have to be the BWCA, and can be as close as the city park on the edge of your community. I believe males are hardwired for this kind of "heading out," and the destination is less important then your small male tribe gearing up, going "away," and having some fun together in a beautiful place.

If you'd like some support to take on this kind of outing, give me a shout. Or you can contact Charlie Borden, the BTM-MN coordinator for the BWCA trip. We'll give you some ideas, tell you it's easier than you think, and remind you that, with caring men showing up for boys, you just can't do it wrong.



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