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Ken Byers holds a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in Men's Studies, one of the few ever awarded in the U.S. Ken is a full time Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in working with men in any form of transition and an instructor of design at San Francisco State University.

His books, "Man In Transition" and "Who Was That Masked Man Anyway" are widely acknowledged as primers for men seeking deeper knowledge of creating awareness and understanding of the masculine way. More information on Ken, his work and/or subscription information to the weekly "Spirit Coach" newsletter which deals with elements of the human spirit in short commentary, check the box at www.etropolis.com/coachken/ or www.etropolis.com/coachken/what.htm or www.etropolis.com/coachken/speak.htm or E-Mail You are welcome to share any of Ken's columns with anyone without fee from or to him but please credit to the author. Ken can be reached at: 415.239.6929.

"Did I just see that tombstone move?"
Excellence vs. Perfection
50 Reasons We're Glad to Be Men
50 More Reasons We're Glad to be Men
The Genealogy of Ancestors
The Grandfather
Herstory/History
The Holidays
The Hot Dog Man
Men & Friendship
Men & Friendship: Mush, where are you?
Men & Friendship 3
Men and Money
The Men's Group
The Men's Movement: A Short History of
The Music Man
My Fathers Tree
Our Gift to The World
Passion
The Peeing Tree
Pilots
The Prisoner
Randy's Suicide
Rites of passage
A Short History of The Men's Movement
Story Telling
Suicide
Tribute to Dad
Wear Sunscreen

Other Transition Issues, Books

A Short History of The Men's Movement


What ever happened to the men's movement? What the hell are men's issues anyway?

This may surprise many readers, but during the mid to late 1980's and for most of the 1990's there was a movement across America, Canada and much of Europe known as the Men's Movement. I remember it because I was very active in it. It was largely a response (rather than a reaction) to the Women's movement of the same time period and was largely supportive of it but far less vocal. Unlike the women's movement which had a fierce political agenda of equality and recognition, the men's movement was unled and issue fractured. It had many branches that spoke to many different issues such as custodial rights, parenting, addiction, abuse, friendship, veterans affairs, issues of male disability, spirituality, parenting, age discrimination, violence, prison reform, rites of passage, gay issues, step-parenting, health issues, career issues, and many more. Far and away the most popular format for addressing these issues came from the academic arena and became known as the "Mythopoetic" movement. It was led to some large degree by poet Robert Bly and based in the poetic and mythological interpretation of gender reality and guided by Jungian psychological theory and practice. It found its greatest support in the academic world, that was already having its own problems relating to society on an everyday basis. It's lack of longevity is probably laid to the fact that it is hard to explain to a man who has just lost his job, his wife, his passion for life, that the solution to his problems lie in examining the literary search for the holy grail.

All this activity followed a decade of great social upheaval and an opening of issues for discussion that had heretofore been labeled taboo. It was an opportunity for men to grow and expand under the same banner of open debate that reflected the interests of feminist rights, desegregation and religious tolerance. But somewhere along the way, much like the feminist movement, it got bogged down in social apathy and special interests and lost its direction. It was also a victim of the negative media which found it more profitable to base sitcom jokes and story lines on self- denigration rather than men's desires to understand themselves and their world. It is very difficult to address serious inner issues while the world is laughing at you regardless of the fact that most of the laughter was previously recorded and applied to the film track. The image of bafoon has had its lasting effect on the national male psyche.

The next major effort was, and still is, in the area of child custody rights. This is a very sensitive problem with thousands of men who have, like may women, been subjected to a court system that suffers an intellectually incestuous and critical level of cranial-rectosis which proclaims that under no circumstances does a man have the capacity to be an adequate single parent. A more argumentative position is equally visible around the idea that being forced to give up 60 to 75 percent of what might be only a meager income to spousal & child support serves some kind of social purpose and is supportive in some obtuse way of family values and fostering responsible action. These are not easy questions and their refusal to support easy answers attests to the attention that needs to be applied to them for solution.

There was, however, one major positive trend that developed out of this era. That was the creation of a small but effective network of men's support groups. The nature of women makes it relatively easy for them to gather in like kinds and discuss/process the issues that concern them. They have, after all, been doing it since the dawn of time as they tended the fires and children. It is quite another story for men. Our early forefathers spent their lives hunting. Knowing that animals have sensitive hearing, they spoke only when necessary. It came quite naturally to them and became our legacy. We find it far easier to stuff, fret and just ignore the emotional concerns that we don't understand until we are faced with divorce papers, unemployment or multitudes of crises of another nature. Men's groups offer the opportunity to look at problems in a perspective that allows emotional responses and support but most importantly it gives us access to other men who can listen to us empathetically. These groups, although not as popular as they were ten years ago, are now the only generally available avenue for men to vent and gain growth in community. Therapy is generally not an available venue because of its cost and the fact that these problems are for the most part cultural not behavioral. Personal life coaching has rapidly become another option, particularly because it is openly embraced by the corporate world, but even there the field is deficient in coaches who can truly appreciate the needs that exist.

In a true reflection of the American way, the lack of a unifying political agenda has doomed the men's movement as we understand it. The only way to cure the ills and change the relationships that rob us all of our happiness potential is to create our own individual movement; to begin to value personal growth and awareness of our physical and emotional world as a worthwhile priority; to join in community with other like minded men to support each other as valued, honorable, strong, willful and successful, humans being, rather than just men doing.

My Fathers Tree


I have no idea how I happened to find him. I'd never been there before, I just knew I would. I didn't even know what I looking for. Wherever he was though, I was sure he hadn't moved for forty-eight years. I didn't even know the name of the cemetery. Well, actually, I thought I knew at least that much.

He had been buried in the Detroit, Michigan Masonic cemetery in 1949. Problem was, as I found out, the Masonic cemetery was sold to a private concern many years ago. Somehow, it seems a ludicrous and heretic act to sell a cemetery to anyone, but then it is after all, America.

I had been called from my home in San Francisco to attend an all day meeting on Saturday in Detroit and was ticketed to return home late Sunday afternoon. I decided this was something I had to do. It never occurred to me that there would be no personnel working there on Sunday to help someone find a burial site which, of course, turned out to be the case. Fortunately, after a half dozen phone calls I was able to find a man at a funeral home that remembered the Masonic facility and knew to whom it had been sold and where I could find it.  

I drove around the perfectly manicured drive reading headstones as I went. I had arrived around 10:00 am and was the only one there which, for some unknown reason, I was very grateful for. The Detroit Red Wings had just won the Stanley Cup the night before and the town went mad, and I assumed that one should not expect visitations to the dearly departed in times of such momentous cultural importance.

I was just ten years old when he died and my family moved away from Detroit less than a year later. This was the first occasion I had found to be in Detroit in all those years. I drove my rental Plymouth around for almost twenty minutes. I got out once to get a feel for the place and noted that the earliest stones in that particular area were dated from 1965 to present. I figured I needed to find an older area and returned to the Plymouth.

I hadn't asked for a Plymouth at the rental agency but as I got in I recalled that my father had loved Plymouths. During my young life, until he died, we had owned two of these things. A black 1941 and a gray 1946. I recalled that the 1946 was purchased new for $695. I really have no idea why I remembered that. 

Well, I drove around for another ten minutes or so and suddenly just stopped along the edge of the gravel road. The monument stones were all shiny and well maintained and no part of the park looked older than any other. I just had a feeling. I walked to the passenger side of the Plymouth, up a slight incline about ten yards and stopped. There he was. A simple, flat brass plaque in the ground. It was covered with ingrown grass except for his first and middle names. I sat down and began to pull the tightly woven grass from the surface and exposed the full twelve inch by eighteen inch plate. Forty-eight years of patina had given a beautiful warmth to the simple finality of the metal marker. I noticed I was glad that it was not a large marble stone that might still look new and fresh. 

I spoke to him for a while, as most people speak to the memory of a lost loved one. I suddenly realized that this man, this enigma to a ten year-old boy, had been gone a year less than he had lived. I cried as much for his loss as I did for the waste. I do remember a few things about him. He was a good man. He loved his wife, his two children, his job, his country, his friends, his fishing. His passion was for life itself not the things in it. The summer he died I was spending the time at his sisters farm in Indiana. I did not get to go to his funeral to say goodby. By the time I returned home, mother, doing what she thought best, had removed all memory of him. I never saw her cry although she loved him more than life itself, and although a beautiful woman and only thirty-eight herself at the time, she never even considered dating another man for the rest of her life. It took me half a lifetime to learn to celebrate the grief of his loss but eventually I did. Over those years I had gotten to know him pretty well. Some of that knowing was experience, some stories from others, a lot was fantasy but it didn't really matter. I had my story and that was that. 

I miss my father most, of course, around Fathers Day. At some level I always miss my father, yet because of this visit, it will now be different than it has ever been. There is a tree next to his grave that could not have been more than a seedling when they first met. The tree has given him shade which I am sure he would have enjoyed as no one else could. Somehow, I am also sure, he has nourished that tree in return. I wished him Happy Fathers Day and talked to him about his grandchildren and all kinds of things that I thought he might like to know.

And I showed him the new Plymouth, but I didn't tell him it cost $20,000 now. 

So, maybe in another time/space/life I'll see him again, right there, where somehow I knew he would be. A little brass plaque in the ground, between the marble monoliths of Bowers, Chappin/Welsh and Cook, McIntosh, Anderson and Guy...guarding his tree.

Tribute to Dad


A I received the following note from Ms. Lynn Harden, Development Officer at The Union Institute in Cincinnati , Ohio. It so moved me that I asked her permission to share it with you.

She responded: "Dear Ken, I/we are grateful that you "received" Dad into your heart. Of course you may share his tribute with others. I believe that there are many fathers out there who need to know how deeply they imprint the lives of their children and continue to do so long after they are gone. They are so vital to our selves. Yes, this is a rather intimate story, yet it is a truth that I am so grateful to hold. If it helps any one person connect, then what an affirmation, and what an honor to my dad. He'd smile to know that he is still teaching."

It is my honor to present it to you. 

MARCH 27, 1999 - South Bend, IN

It is a great comfort to be back in this church today. This is where Dad wanted to be too. And we cannot thank you enough for all you have done to keep him connected to his community and to this church. He received every letter from you, each telephone call with genuine joy and gratitude.

Over the last few days, Gayle and I have struggled to write a tribute that could come close to sharing the incredible legacy of Clinton Harden. We know he has touched the lives of people in this church and this community in important ways--ways that might be impressive to some. Dad had so many talents that he shared freely. You can read about those things in his obituary. But our father was just Dad to us and that is who we want you to know today. 

He had a gift for being many things; a skilled molder of steel, a polished politician, a joyful singer in the church choir, an orator, a ballroom dancer, a gardener, a golfer, and a fisherman. But he was always himself, and he was always our Dad. And his magnificent gift to us was to teach Gayle and me that being our true selves is enough for anyone, anything or any place.

Dad had a way of teaching us with little fanfare. He was so smooth at making his point that we never really recognized the lessons until long after they were given. But we continue to remember them when we need them the most. 

One of our most vivid lesson and memory of him is about something that occurred when we were little girls. A tornado blew up one spring afternoon. The day suddenly turned into night. The contrast of the dark sky against the green trees and grass created an eerie atmosphere. As the wind started to howl, we became afraid. We ran about looking for a place to hide in the small, wood-frame house with no basement, which offered little protection from the storm. 

But Dad walked over to the door, opened it, and called us over saying, "Come. Look at this! This is Mother Nature. This is God at work."  

We stood there with him, hand in hand that day, calmly watching the fury rage outside as the tornado moved across the sky a mere two blocks away.  

You see, when we were very young, Dad taught us that sometimes we have to face a storm, not run from it. By doing so, we can better understand its nature and ride it out. And that sometimes, we have to humbly accept that which we cannot change, but that we can do so with dignity, not hiding in the dark.

Today, we marvel at how this man had the wisdom at such a young age to open the door to that storm. How did he feel as a parent, as a man knowing that he could not better protect his girls? In a broader sense, how did he so gracefully overcome the bigotry that denied him an adequate job, housing and opportunity? What tornadoes did he face everyday that we never saw, never held his hand through, never fully understood? Yet, he prepared us for so much with such gentle understanding, unconditional love, boundless pride in our efforts and accomplishments, lots of hugs and laughter, and often saying, " I love you no matter what 'cause you're mine, Baby." 

Dad had no fear of that tornado long ago, only total respect and awe of the All Mighty at work. And so it was last Sunday as he watched God preparing a room for him out of the storm.

He called us to his bedside and announced it was time for him "go home". He held our hands and the three of us, in the midst of his storm, laughed, prayed, sang his favorite songs, and told one another how much we loved each other.

He told his twin brother Clifton and us that "it would be awhile before he would see us again." He thanked Gayle and me for taking such good care of him, and for making him proud to be our father.

Then Dad settled back and waited with the same respect and awe he showed during that long-ago tornado. He left us early the next morning to meet his Maker, his face filled with sunlight. Again, he showed us how to ride it out and how to accept the power of Life. 

You see, Dad was the first man we ever loved. He taught us to tie our shoes, ride a bike, hook a fishing line, start a lawn mower, paint, change a tire and drive a nail. We learned to ballroom dance by standing on his feet. It was Dad who showed us how wonderful being a wife could be as we witnessed the delight on Mom's face every time he came home from work, and the laughter the two of them so often shared. We used to peek at them dancing in the living room when they thought we were asleep.

It was Dad who poured our first drink and Dad who showed us that liquor was nothing to be impressed by…but used responsibly, was a wonderful way to celebrate a special occasion.

He taught us that dreams were worth going after. And he loved us enough to let us make our own decisions-even if they were wrong ones for us. He only insisted that we learn from them.

Getting an education, however, was not an option. It was a mandate. For Dad, a college degree represented far more than a good job. It was a symbol that "his girls" would always be independent and could walk away from a husband, boyfriend, or employer who treated us with disrespect.  

He used to say, "I don't ever want you to worry about how to make it on your own." He knew that an education would increase our options for meeting life's storms. But he was wise enough to make sure that we could mow lawns, dig gardens, or fix plumbing for a living when times were lean.

Dad didn't have much patience for tears. He believed tears only got in the way of coming up with a good plan. He was a doer, yet a tender consoler after the work was done. He would say, "Cry later, you have a job to do now." …and so we will… 

…Though we come before you with heavy hearts today, our hearts are filled with joy and pride for the life of your brother, your friend? and our father, Clinton Harden. A few months ago we asked him to write his final wishes so we would know exactly what he wanted done upon his death. His first wish was to come home and to be buried next to his wife.

He also wanted you to know how grateful he was to Mom for teaching him to smell the flowers. And he wanted us to gather and make a toast to his memory with his favorite drink for special times? Jack Daniel's, and that is exactly what we will do. And we will continue to toast him every time a good storm blows up, at the sight of a new garden, or a freshly cut golf course.

We will toast him for the rest of our lives for showing us how to live with grace and how to die truly at peace. He leaves us with a fearless capacity to embrace the sun and say, "This is a good day to die." We will be forever grateful that Clinton Harden was our Dad.  

Thanks, Dad.

Your Girls.

The Holidays


San Francisco has only one "real" shopping mall. There is a second mall down town, but it's a vertical mall built into the first 3 or 4 floors of Nordstrom's department store around a central core. Not actually a "mall" mall as we think of them spread all over America every few feet. It doesn't even have a 40 screen theater. The real mall doesn't have a theater either, but there is one in the rear just across the parking lot. It only has two screens and is in danger of being swallowed up by one of several groups of developers foaming at the mouth to build a new mall there. San Francisco's anti-mall majority has been giving them a very hard time, even though everyone knows that more is better in America and more stores naturally means America, and in particular San Francisco, will be a better place to live.

Well anyway, we went to the movies last night in the not over crowed but nonetheless comfortable soon to be torn down two screener. We got there early for the 7:45 show and had some extra time so we decided to walk across the parking lot and window shop in Macy's. It was Friday night, two months after 911 and two weeks before Thanksgiving. As we entered the door we were hit by a most amazing display of Christmas dolls and decorations ...everywhere. The store was like an oasis of light and reflective materials that jumped all over one's senses. Santa was everywhere, colorful bow's and striped candy canes and all the "stuff" we associate with Christmas, except of course, religion. We wandered through the home appliance department. Did you know that there are 407 different kinds of coffee makers? And the selection of toaster, pasta machines, pepper grinders, decorative fountains and popcorn makers is limitless. There are 617 different kinds of luggage and there just wasn't enough time to count the different kinds of pot's and pans and kitchen helpers.

Then, when I noticed a clerk nearly asleep at his cash register, we suddenly realized that we were the only people within sight. 27 billion dollars worth of glorious inventory, just for us! What a ego trip! It was at that moment that it hit me. In the light of the events of the past two months I have to wonder if America hasn't changed in ways not yet really visible. One has to wonder why do we need all this stuff? San Francisco only has two malls but every other town with a population of over 50,000 has several plus a Walmart or two, several Targets, Kmart's Home Depot's and Costco's... we have one of each but no Walmart. (This is not to say that we don't have multiple choices just beyond the city limits, however.) The point is, perhaps we have been given the opportunity to see our American life from another perspective, that of the enemy. They have shown us the power of another point of view.

In coaching, viewing a problem from a different perspective is a very powerful tool. I left Macy's last night with what I think is the formation of a new perspective. I have to wonder why we "need" the unlimited options that are forced upon us at every turn. Does the fact that our constitution enables us have the choice of 53 different tea pots in 100 feet of floor space make it necessary to have them? How many Macy's stores do you think there are? 500? 1,000? I travel a lot and everywhere I go I see all the same stores. America has one retail face and it never changes. If you multiply all these stores by the numbers of things and the value they represent in dollars I doubt there are enough zero's to do it justice.

Then, we see the Afghan refugee's and all the other poor people in the world who would give their lives for a loaf of bread. The distance between the have's and the have not's is ever increasing. Perhaps one of the benefits of the times we live in is that we are being given an opportunity to change our perspective on who and what America is and should be.

It is true, of course, that we are in a time of fanaticism and fanatics of any kind are deeply worrisome. But is there such a thing as consumer fanaticism? And is it possible that it is just as cancerous and destructive as religious or political fanaticism? And is America guilty of that? And is it any worse or better than what we see going on in the world around us?

This Christmas season President Bush and the retail world which so governs our daily life wants us to shop early and buy everything we can. Go forth and spend...but consider what another perspective might offer you.

The Men's Group


In my occasions to speak before groups about men's issues, as well as in my coaching practice, I am often asked "What are men's issues anyway?" I would like to address that question with a story.

It was a small Arizona town which, because of its particular scenic beauty, drew mainly women and fewer men from all parts of America. Many came to pursue their inner quest for spiritual peace, understanding and perhaps gain some glimpse of wisdom. I had lived there about half a year and experienced some of each, except the wisdom which seemed somehow devilishly elusive. The decision to form a men's group came one summer day at the local watering hole where a few of us had stopped for a couple of beers one hot, sultry late afternoon.

The four men I was with, all of us in our mid-forties, were climbing buddies, finding masculine pleasures in foraging paths to the tops of the mountains and mesas that erupted arrogantly and seductively from the valley floor and laughed at us tauntingly from 800 or 1,000 feet above. We had been climbing all day and were exhilarated but exhausted in that wonderful musky way that confirmed our manhood to all who would care to notice, and many who didn't. 

Someone had asked why we risked our lives just to get to the top of something bigger than ourselves. It was a thoughtful question which led to many others, equally as troublesome. Troublesome because we had no answers and, as any woman knows, a man without an answer is indeed a wretched encounter. It all started innocently enough when I suggested we all go back to my place and talk about the climbing experience.

The five of us settled down in my living room, and as we talked the conversation began to shift from good times and bold experiences to the fears we each experienced as we moved up the mountain that day. Within a short time, we had gotten into the deeper subject of fear itself and how difficult it was to allow ourselves to accept the reality of feeling afraid. As the talk extended through dinner and into the night we began to discover that each had experienced fears that he thought only he had felt. It came as a distinct surprise to find that the other guys felt the same things. Soon we started looking at other things we feared. We talked long into the early morning hours and finally broke about 2:00 a.m., exhausted but filled with delight at our new found experience. It was the first time that most of us had ever taken the time to talk to another man about anything other than work or sports, and we all loved it.

We ended by agreeing to continue the talking the following week at my place. It was the first meeting of a men's group that was to continue for just over a year until two of us moved away at about the same time. We met without failure every Wednesday night for two and a half hours. We added a few other men and discussed every conceivable subject that had anything to do with men. It had no real structure and we tried many different kinds of things. We even tried a couple of guest speakers, who we couldn't wait to get rid of so that we could talk. Two of us were in the psychology field, two were artists, one business owner, one gay waiter, and a doctor. We laughed, we cried, we told the truth to each other. For each of us it was the very first time we had ever been able to confide and trust in another man.

We talked about our fathers a lot. About how we didn't have any real idea who they were. About how they seemed to have no connection to anyone outside themselves and about how we longed to be hugged and accepted and loved by them. We worked through many issues around women. We worked at trying to figure out what women wanted from us, and what we wanted from them. Why we needed them as wives, mothers, friends and teachers and gave so little in return. About how we were frightened of, but somehow connected to, those men who loved other men. We got to explore our addictions and our myths about our own masculinity in ways that gave us pride and compassion toward ourselves and our gender.

We explored our visions or lack of them, the need to cry but the immense resistance to it. We helped each other walk through the pain and loss of a relationship, the death of a parent, the loss of a job, the birth of a child, the failure of a business, the unfolding of a new relationship and the agony of a divorce. We asked questions and dealt out discourse on our spiritual connection to God/universe and to each other, the meaning of life and why we needed nuclear war, recycling and Buicks. And yes, we even talked about sports...but not for long and not very often. We talked a lot about violence against men, women and children, about the fact that 95% of all prisoners are men, and that most of the women we knew were angry as hell at men and we hadn't a clue as to why. We spent a lot of time together, this group of men, both talking and climbing mountains of many kinds. And we loved each other a lot.

That group has drifted into many corners of the land now, and each of us has started other groups and seen many groups grow and develop as ours did . In my own case, my next group lasted for six years until, once again, I moved away. When I'm asked now by someone about what men's issues are, few have any idea why I laugh and why a tear comes to my eye. But you're learning.

A short set of guidelines for setting up a Men's group is available free of charge at: www.etropolis.com/coachken/guidelines.htm

More on Friendship: Mush, where are you?


Each gender of course, has its idiosyncrasies at various ages. Many people believe that teenagers of any age or gender cease, for the most part, to be human for the greater part of that stage of life. They seem to take on some unrecognizable form that only the likes of Steven Spielberg are able to deal with. Male children between the ages of ten and thirteen are, however, distinctly unique in the way in which they view the world. Such was the case with me and Mush. 

Martin, or Mush as he was painfully but universally known, was my friend. The moniker came as an aberration of his Hebrew name "Moisha" and the fact that he carried substantially more weight than was appropriate for his frame...actually, he was fat. We contrasted dramatically. I was probably ten inches taller and weighed half as much; he was quite religious and I couldn't spell the word; he was very athletic and I always grabbed the fat end of the bat. But we were friends anyway. It was at eleven that I got my first pair of glasses, and when I first met Mush. Today, we'd be a classic, nerd twosome in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy and Abbot and Costello, and people would want to invest huge sums of money in us, but then we were just a couple of lonely kids. But we did great things for our country. 

The Korean War was in the news regularly, so being slightly underage, we decided to do our part and join the Civil Air Patrol. Joining was a bit of a drag because we wanted guns and ammo and walkie-talkies, but all we got was a little card for our wallets. But never mind. We went down to the local Army-Navy surplus store and bedecked ourselves in white M.P. belts and canteens, and those little white, round WWII Navy sailor caps upon whose vertical sides we laboriously hand lettered "CIVIL AIR PATROL". A significant part of me wants to go hide even now as I realize we actually went to school with those get-ups on. We thought everyone would be insanely jealous, and girls would just love us. No wonder we were always getting beat up.

The amazing thing was, we couldn't figure it out then. Mush and I were inseparable for two years. We did our homework together. We sipped cherry cokes at the fountain in the local drug store, arguing about what next year's new cars would look like. We looked at dirty magazines whenever we could find them. We discovered our sexuality together. We sought the wondrous secrets hidden beneath girls' sweaters together and spent endless hours pondering them. 

One of the reasons I became friends with Mush in the first place was that they had one of the few TV sets in the neighborhood. In the early days of TV, wrestling was a big attraction...guess it still is We watched wrestling on TV with his mother, who was a world authority on the subject and never missed a match. She even took us downtown to watch it live at the Knights of Columbus Hall from time to time. She was also very overweight and the first woman I had ever known with a mustache. Mush's Mom was also one of those delightfully entertaining people who could vicariously experience the pain of the wrestlers. Every move, every slam, every twist was her own. She vocalized it in perfect synchronization so as to cause windows to shake and shutters to slam shut and, no doubt, neighbors to move. 

I don't remember much about Mush's Dad. I think he prayed a lot and the only time I ever saw him was watching the wrestling. 

Anyway, after the eighth grade, Mush went to Hebrew High to become a Rabbi, and I went on to Central High to become confused. I don't know how successful Mush was, but I sure did create my goal. I never saw Mush again. Some time after high school started, he moved and I moved and we lost track. In those days people didn't move like we do today. Even if someone moved a few blocks away or across town, it was like moving to another country, and we separated ways. 

By the time my own boys hit seven or eight, they delighted in hearing stories about my youth. I guess that's pretty normal. In many ways, dads are very much anomalies to their kids, and it helps a boy develop his sense of relationship to Dad and to himself to hear that Dad was once the same as he is. I always tried to tell them stories that happened to me at whatever age they were at the time. That process, in fact, had a lot to do with my developing an appreciation for the art of story telling. The day came eventually when Mush came into my mind during one of these story sessions. The name "Mush" so impressed my boys that they never let me forget him again. Every so often as they grew older, if I had a problem, one or other of them would say something like, "Well, what would Mush do?", or " Why don't you call Mush?" and then roll on the floor in belly-busting laughter. They seemed to like the idea of Mush, and I guess each created his own image of him.

All of this, eventually, brings me to a point. I recently read a book about the life of one of America's great millionaires. A man who built incredible monuments in great cities, and was on a first-name basis with all the political officials, mayors, governors, presidents. He built a great hotel in New York City and lived on five floors of it, they say. But he is also described as a friendless man. One who would come home in the wee hours of the morning and sit alone, his wife in a separate bedroom, with only his money to count. I am not against wealth. As others have said, I have been poor and I have been rich and rich is definitely better. But I can't help think, as strange a friendship as Mush and I had, it was something to be treasured. I feel deep concern for a man who has dedicated his life to money, but has not a single fat little kid for a friend. As men, I think we hunger at deep levels for intimacy with other men, for a male friend to cry with, to exorcize our fears and troubles to another man who will not judge us, but will simply listen and tell us it's O.K.

It's been nearly half a century years since I last saw Mush, but our friendship lives on in the depths of my memory. That memory is behind my appreciation of all those men I can today, call my friends and those who have been in my life over the years.  

If there is a meaning of any kind to life, perhaps it is in the friendships we make along the way. Mush, if you're out there anywhere, I hope you remember too.

Men and Friendship


"Thy friend, which is as thyown soul." Deuteronomy

Ten years ago, in my book ‘Who Was That Masked man Anyway?", I wrote a fun little story about a friend I had as a boy going through puberty. His name was Mush. Well, actually his name was Martin but given his physical stature at the time, Mush was far more descriptive. Mush was a good friend and we had many wonderful experiences together. But, as with most men who had easy friendships with boys, as boys, that friendship paled as we grew up and eventually just disappeared. That story asked a very basic question about men; why do we so rarely enjoy deep, long lasting and spiritually bonded friendships with other men?  

Now, a decade later, I find myself once again asking questions about friendship between men. In my daily coaching practice I regularly see the lack of close friendships between men coming up as a concern, often masqueraded as many other things but ending up in a loneliness, sense of isolation or discontent in other areas of life. I am concerned that it is so universally an emptiness and wonderfully excited that men are noticing it and talking about it. What I usually find is that it is not a social loneliness that concerns us but a soul loneliness which effects our entire lives. With great cultural support, we have become masters of denial around the question, and often miss it entirely until our middle years when questions of life values become important than questions of survival. 

It is often assumed that lack of male-male friendship is a uniquely American phenomenon based heavily in homophobic fears and that other cultures, particularly Latin and Mediterranean cultures are different and far more open about the value of friendship. Qualitative research, however, points to a very different conclusion. Men have trouble with friendships in almost all cultures but the need for soul connection to other men is intrinsic to our being and leaves, therefore, a hole in our experience that begs to be filled. Although most women report close friendships with other women, male-male friendships are almost as rare as real male-female friendships in our culture. This points up a basic weakness in the socialization of men to protect individualism beyond reason and a disregard for that which is healthy for the society as well as the individual. In his, unfortunately out of print, book (very few men's books last more than a year on the market), "Men & Friendship", Stewart Miller says, "...by and large modern philosophy is about aloneness. We are forlorn, abandoned. Social and political theory, too, especially here in the United States, emphasizes isolation rather than relationship...there has never been a country so committed to individual wants as opposed to collective needs. The concept of individualism as a social idea...was virtually invented in the United States." It is no longer our exclusively.

Men have "social networks" and "buddies" but when it comes to defining what a real friendship is, most men go blank with fear. There will be resistance to that statement. There is a test, however. The qualifying question when determining whether you have "real" friends or just think you do because it's more comforting to think so than to create the friendship is; "Would you put your life in the hands of this man?" Would this man hide you and your family in the face of great potential harm to himself? Would you be willing to ask him to do it? Would you do the same for him? These are hard questions but I think the answers to them lead to a pretty good definition of friendship and one that very few of us care to deal with. It is a question of love and self-love is defined by our ability to love others which is gender blind.

I think the time has come to open that door and look at what other questions are created.

Suicide


Suicide among men is a recognized epidemic throughout the world. Most of us, at one time or another, consider it, however intensely or fleetingly, for a multitude of reasons from just plain hopelessness to ending unbearable physical pain. Fortunately, relatively few act on it. Generally, women are more likely than men to make suicide attempts, as over 50% of suicide attempts are made by women. However, men are much more likely to be successful at killing themselves as they choose more lethal methods of suicide. What is of interest here is the fact that Men account for 80% of all suicide deaths in the United States. Although the suicide rate has remained relatively level over the past seventy years, it is still the 8th leading cause of death among Americans.

Why do men claim this distinction so exclusively? Obviously it is largely tied to an inability to deal with the stresses of life in a positive manner. This is a very complex area of inquiry and much writing is available for the seeking. My purpose is to bring the question into focus for whatever good it might do.

The story you are about to read gives one man's viewpoint on it and I offer it in the hopes that it may create some thought provoking discussion. WARNING: There are a couple of parts in this story that may effect your lunch in one way or another. 

HIGHWAY 94

The bumper sticker ahead said "PRAY FOR ME, I DRIVE HWY 94". 94 floats along now under my beat up '80 Suzuki 650 as I pray for myself, for the bald rear tire, the chain stretched to the max and ready to disintegrate, taking me with it...and then there's the California drivers--all of them talking on their cell phones oblivious to the road.. A smile comes to the corner of my lips. Suddenly I find myself laughing like hell, forcing the endorphins out of my brain and into my body, releasing, releasing, releasing--laughing so loud under my helmet that tears tickle down my face causing me to laugh harder yet, fogging my visor in the cold morning air so I can't see a thing. Then suddenly I think, "what the hell does this puppy have to laugh about?"...47 years old, unemployed, over-qualified, 20 grand in debt, divorced with two kids to take care of. One down with the flu, the other following the Grateful Dead around the world selling tie-dyed tee shirts.  

It is April, my youngest, the one with the flu, is a non-smoking musician. He's living with a friend who smokes 80 packs of cigarettes a day, taken in by the boy's neurotic mother. He's in the eleventh grade. I'm on the streets of San Diego today having just been evicted from the apartment with no where to go. I would have declared bankruptcy but I can't afford it. I don't know where I'm going, but there is just enough gas in the tank to get a little lonelier. Dad, the role model, to Grandmother's house a-going.

It's raining now on Hwy 94...in southern California, where it never rains, but has been for two solid weeks. I pissed away a small fortune, learning to know myself. I feel healed but I'm not sure of what. I've found spiritual rebirth in the discovery of my own "power"...but I'm scared as hell. I feel the rain finding those openings into my body that only rain and wind can find. My boots are soaked. It's as cold as a New Hampshire winter night. Now, even the tears are cold. Life holds no warmth, no gentle touch, nothing soft.

The newspaper picture will show the twisted mass of flesh and metal pancaked against the bridge abutment. The pretty young paramedic, the one with the tight jeans and great tits, on her way to her first call out of training school, will throw up when she sees my pecker hanging from the spokes of what once was the front wheel. What kind of experience must it be to hit a bazillion tons of concrete on a bike at 140 miles per hour? The bike swings south onto the interstate toward Mexico, no one I know driving. The traffic gets lighter. I twist the throttle and open it up to 75...80...85. It only takes a second or two. Ah, there's the bridge up ahead. 90...95...the adrenaline is pumping its last hurrah. Man, this is going to be somethin'. Splat! Scrunch! Yukk! 

I guess it was the thrill, the pure soul level choice of coming so close that made me realize I was having too much fun in the process to actually kill myself. Or perhaps it was running out of gas at 97 miles an hour that did it. It really didn't matter. I stood alone along the edge of the highway, staring down at the easy rain as it hit the pipes and steamed upward with a gentle hiss. My body felt lighter than it had ever been...safe...thrilled to be alive, to feel the cold air in my lungs. Knowing that my life had changed in an instant and that I had nothing to do with it changing, I suddenly understood what surrender was. I felt my masculinity in a way that I had never known it before; in a way, I felt sure, that only another man would understand. It hurt deeply that I had no other man to share it with, to explore it with. I wondered at that moment if there been a woman to hear my story, could she have understood the loneliness, the emptiness, the desperation I felt. I think not.

Nothing had changed and everything had changed. I was very happy to be alive.

The Grandfather


As a personal coach, I often get to participate in areas of a persons life that effect them at levels that are deeper than just immediate problem solving. Sometimes these areas spread to social and cultural issues which effect us all and cause me to think about things from differing perspectives. One should not be surprised to learn that family relationships are a critical contributor to the filters through which we view our lives. The following is an example of that process. 

A friend had his first grandson the other day. His son has fathered a bouncing baby boy and all are doing well. Although the birth of a son experience happened to me 30 and 32 years ago, I still carry the fresh new pride and excitement that only fatherhood can bring to a man and, in a particularly different way from that of a daughter, the birth of a son.

This young father, whom I know quite well, participated in the birth of his son far more than I was allowed to. He spent the entire labor period with his wife and not only viewed the birth itself but video taped it. Such a remarkable and beautiful experience for them all to share. I wasn't allowed to do that with my sons. In fact the hospital staff sent me home during the labor and called me when it was all over. That's just the way they did it then and there. That is one of those unfillable black holes that I carry around in my little bag of emotional trash.

My first thoughts were around the memory of how magical it is to be a father particularly, if only slightly so, for the first time. I suspect this young man will be more involved with his children in the early years than I, and most of my generation of men, was partly because it has become far more acceptable socially to do so and because there is so much more information available today on the importance of fathers in a baby's life. The culture, for many reasons, is simply more supportive and expectant of deep father involvement in the raising of children and it is obvious that he takes that involvement quite seriously. I am just so delighted that this new soul has a father who is totally immersed and committed to his well being. My later thoughts then turned to the availability of multiple generations of male role models in a young mans life and that is what I chose to write about today.

So now my friend is part of three generations of sons alive and well. Having spent the better part of my life dealing with the father-son dynamic and father absence syndrome in one way or another, I would think that my perspective might be less excitable about the potentials inherent in three generations of men side by side. But truthfully, it still seems as wonderful and exciting an idea as I can imagine. The potential for passing down the genetic inheritance through the extended evolutionary chain is deliciously available and mystically demanding.

I don't mean the physical genetics, that is what it is without (at least not yet) being subject to our choices and it is constantly being changed and advanced as each new strain is introduced and intermixed. I'm speaking of the masculine memories that make the father - son interaction so deeply active and alive even when it is non-existent physically. I'm addressing the history, pain, excitement, humor and life values of men who have fought their battles and won some/lost some but always found a way to survive and create some form of legacy.

As I sit and contemplate what grandfathering is all about, I realize that part of my excitement is in recognizing that we don't pass that legacy to our children but to our grandchildren. I have long examined and quoted the Jungian idea that spirit passes from father to grandchild, skipping a generation but until now I don't think I fully understood it. 

Mythology tells us that it is the father who must, symbolically, stand in the doorway to the future and block the son from going forth to his own discovery of self, for it cannot be found without a battle. The father is the symbolic embodiment of everything that is holding the son from finding his own true self. The son must fight the father and win if he is to come into his own and if he does not win that battle both father and son die spiritually. It is an inherent element in the great mystery of life. The advice and reason that we so dearly want to give our sons to protect them from themselves and the world is deeply suspect. It is seen by the son as being possessed with treason and treachery and self interest and directly opposed to the immediate interests of the son. Whether it is or it isn't, the battle rages until it is over.

But there is no such battle to be fought with the grandson. The grandson is the proof that the genetic and spiritual seed lives, that the greatest battle, that of selective evolution, has been won. He comes with innocence and openness and a willingness to fight his battles as he must. Now my friend, as grandfather, can finally watch the legacy go to its rightful owner.

His comment to me was as magical in itself as the story of the birth; "If I can watch him learn to laugh at himself and be glad that God has granted him his small patch of time to be able to grow and be happy and spread his seed to future generations, it will have been worth it."

Rites of Passage


Risk! Risk! Care no more for the opinions of others or for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth. - Katherine Mansfield, Journals

Having studied, lived with, observed, therapist-ized, raised from birth been one and now coaching, many hundreds of men during my awake years (mine started at age 45), it might not surprise anyone that I have come to several conclusions about men. First is that we are truly magnificent. In fact, we are equally as great a miracle as women, although we may not always smell as nice and perhaps we really don't multi-task quite as well.

We are, however, often an enigma to the opposite gender and almost always to ourselves. We are highly complex extensions of our genitalia and like it or not, that is one of those truths we must face. Frankly, living that enigma really is a great way to go through life but it is also so often misunderstood that it creates great social and emotional barriers to happiness. Yes, for us men testosterone is not only a way of life, it is the essence of life. It is what makes us go, create, perform, compete, achieve, defend, and sometimes make complete asses of ourselves. (That last in deference to the opinion of others.) It is at once the most creative and most destructive agent on the planet. We get to live with this paradox full time and few ever get the chance to examine it and hence potentially gain control of it. There are many areas that we can explore in an attempt to gain this control and we will look at many of them during the course of this newsletter, but the most critical is what I call the great missing link: Rights of Passage. 

Most sociologists refer to this phenomenon as RITES of Passage and that has been historically appropriate but I call it RIGHTS of Passage which I believe is more appropriate to our times. First coined and translated into English by Arnold van Gennep in 1906, Rites of passage has been the defining point of departure for the transition from boy to man since the beginning of the homo sapien era. Western culture and rapidly most other cultures around the world have given up the traditional spiritually based "rite" for the concept of instant gratification. This, of course, is a direct result of the unprecedented increase in the speed of human evolution which is communication based.

The need, however, for a passage or ritual to identify the transition is not culturally based, but soul based and is therefore still required, as a condition of our being, to enable men to identify themselves as adults, have society recognize that fact and assume the responsible nature of that title. Without it we carry adolescence further and further into adulthood which is reflected in behaviors that are seen by others as non-responsiblity for our own actions. It is called "extended adolescence."

What has become known for the first time in history in any culture as male mid-life crisis is actually only the soul's need to express its RIGHT to discover its own maturity...and it will rarely be denied this RIGHT even if the psyche must create a crisis to force it to happen. So, the "Right of Passage" is really a critical element in the evolution of the life of the modern male. The "crisis' is manifest in every action that a man takes and is evident as at least a partial motivation in all his choices. How each man handles this inevitable transition is a measure of the development of his character and the values by which he lives.

Contemporary literature, and in particular modern media, has chosen this inner conflict that all men experience to some degree as suitable for comedic commentary. The American male in particular, regardless of ethnic origin, is so often seen as incompetent and denigrated within the family structure that it has become a self-fulfilling role model. Watch almost any TV sitcom and one sees the male as either continually representing infantile intelligence and gross behavioral ineptitude, or capable of little other than vengeance and uncontrolled violence. That is simply not the case. The great majority of us are capable, effective and loving but empty at some level. That emptiness is the result of incomplete passage into manhood. That passage is the "truth" that is searched for throughout the mythologies of all cultures. 

In Transitions #1 we got to look at one corner of a very small part of one major factor in this puzzle; father absence. In successive issues we will look similarly at the many other factors that play a role in understanding gender realities. Rights of Transition will be the thread that ties them all together.

You are still reading this because some part of you has seen some part of a truth you would like to know more about. The poem at the opening reflects for me what I would like to request of you; it is no more than that which I ask of my coaching clients: "Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth."

A Short History of The Men's Movement


What ever happened to the men's movement? What the hell are men's issues anyway?

This may surprise many readers, but during the mid to late 1980's and for most of the 1990's there was a movement across America, Canada and much of Europe known as the Men's Movement. I remember it because I was very active in it. It was largely a response (rather than a reaction) to the Women's movement of the same time period and was largely supportive of it but far less vocal. Unlike the women's movement which had a fierce political agenda of equality and recognition, the men's movement was unled and issue fractured. It had many branches that spoke to many different issues such as custodial rights, parenting, addiction, abuse, friendship, veterans affairs, issues of male disability, spirituality, parenting, age discrimination, violence, prison reform, rites of passage, gay issues, step-parenting, health issues, career issues, and many more. Far and away the most popular format for addressing these issues came from the academic arena and became known as the "Mythopoetic" movement. It was led to some large degree by poet Robert Bly and based in the poetic and mythological interpretation of gender reality and guided by Jungian psychological theory and practice. It found its greatest support in the academic world, that was already having its own problems relating to society on an everyday basis. It's lack of longevity is probably laid to the fact that it is hard to explain to a man who has just lost his job, his wife, his passion for life, that the solution to his problems lie in examining the literary search for the holy grail.

All this activity followed a decade of great social upheaval and an opening of issues for discussion that had heretofore been labeled taboo. It was an opportunity for men to grow and expand under the same banner of open debate that reflected the interests of feminist rights, desegregation and religious tolerance. But somewhere along the way, much like the feminist movement, it got bogged down in social apathy and special interests and lost its direction. It was also a victim of the negative media which found it more profitable to base sitcom jokes and story lines on self- denigration rather than men's desires to understand themselves and their world. It is very difficult to address serious inner issues while the world is laughing at you regardless of the fact that most of the laughter was previously recorded and applied to the film track. The image of bafoon has had its lasting effect on the national male psyche.

The next major effort was, and still is, in the area of child custody rights. This is a very sensitive problem with thousands of men who have, like may women, been subjected to a court system that suffers an intellectually incestuous and critical level of cranial-rectosis which proclaims that under no circumstances does a man have the capacity to be an adequate single parent. A more argumentative position is equally visible around the idea that being forced to give up 60 to 75 percent of what might be only a meager income to spousal & child support serves some kind of social purpose and is supportive in some obtuse way of family values and fostering responsible action. These are not easy questions and their refusal to support easy answers attests to the attention that needs to be applied to them for solution.

There was, however, one major positive trend that developed out of this era. That was the creation of a small but effective network of men's support groups. The nature of women makes it relatively easy for them to gather in like kinds and discuss/process the issues that concern them. They have, after all, been doing it since the dawn of time as they tended the fires and children. It is quite another story for men. Our early forefathers spent their lives hunting. Knowing that animals have sensitive hearing, they spoke only when necessary. It came quite naturally to them and became our legacy. We find it far easier to stuff, fret and just ignore the emotional concerns that we don't understand until we are faced with divorce papers, unemployment or multitudes of crises of another nature. Men's groups offer the opportunity to look at problems in a perspective that allows emotional responses and support but most importantly it gives us access to other men who can listen to us empathetically. These groups, although not as popular as they were ten years ago, are now the only generally available avenue for men to vent and gain growth in community. Therapy is generally not an available venue because of its cost and the fact that these problems are for the most part cultural not behavioral. Personal life coaching has rapidly become another option, particularly because it is openly embraced by the corporate world, but even there the field is deficient in coaches who can truly appreciate the needs that exist.

In a true reflection of the American way, the lack of a unifying political agenda has doomed the men's movement as we understand it. The only way to cure the ills and change the relationships that rob us all of our happiness potential is to create our own individual movement; to begin to value personal growth and awareness of our physical and emotional world as a worthwhile priority; to join in community with other like minded men to support each other as valued, honorable, strong, willful and successful, humans being, rather than just men doing.

Wear Sunscreen


Something wonderful from one of my wonderful readers. Definitely worth sharing.

  • Wear Sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.
  • Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of your self and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.
  • Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4:00 pm on some idle Tuesday.
  • Do one thing every day that scares you.
  • Sing.
  • Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.
  • Floss.
  • Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with ourself.
  • Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
  • Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.  
  • Stretch.
  • Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40- year olds I know still don't.
  • Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.
  • Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's. Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.
  • Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room. Read the directions, even if you don't follow them. Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.
  • Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good.
  • Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.
  • Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.
  • Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.
  • Travel.
  • Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.
  • Respect your elders.
  • Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.
  • Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.
  • Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen!  

Original author unknown

The Peeing Tree - The First Masculine Ritual


When my first boy was an infant, I had a friend with a son about four. We lived in the same apartment complex which backed up to a golf course. Late one summer afternoon as I drove in from work, I happened to see my friend and his son walking across the open green expanse toward a huge old oak tree. I parked and watched them, thinking about the day when I could walk with my own son, and teach him of the world. When they reached the tree, each unzipped his pants and proceeded to urinate on the great old tree. When they finished they zipped up, chatted for a minute, then turned around and headed back across the fairway to their apartment. A day or two later when I happened to see my friend, I asked him about that incident. It was a beautiful story which I will share with you.

As a boy, my friend Bill did not have much physical or emotional contact with his father. The man worked a great deal and it was not the kind of job to which he could take Bill. So Bill watched his Dad disappear six mornings a week to some secret place, with great curiosity and not a little jealousy. His Dad worked very hard and when he got home it was his habit to have a quiet dinner and listen to the news on the radio, occasionally tuck Bill into bed and disappear again, to where Bill had no idea.

On Sundays dad would spend most of the day wrapped around the newspaper or sleeping or doing a little work around the house. The father didn't talk much to Bill, or anyone else for that matter, and by the time Bill was four or five, he had learned that dads were not very available for conversation. There was never much doubt in Bill's mind that his father loved him very much, but he could never seem to get the same kind of attention that mom gave him, and it bothered him. Wasn't he, after all, a man, just like his dad?

So, at around the age of seven, Bill decided that he needed to talk to his Dad. One bright summer Sunday, he approached the older man and asked why he never talked to anyone but mom. Bill asked if that meant his father was not happy, and if his unhappiness was Bill's fault. At this, his father stared at Bill for a few long moments and asked why Bill thought he might be unhappy. "Well," he remembered saying, "how can you be happy if you don't talk?" Slowly, the father took Bill's hand and walked with him in silence to a far corner of their yard. Here they stopped beneath a great old oak tree.

"Son," the big man said, "there is no greater happiness in the world than in this old tree. It does not have to talk to be happy. It's happy just being a tree." "But you are not a tree, you're my dad," said the boy." "Yes, but knowing that you are my son makes me just as happy as this tree." The boy thought about this for a moment, looking up into the full and inviting arms of the tree. "But Dad," he said eventually, "how do you know the tree is happy?" "Well", he said gently and with a rarely seen smile, "it just looks happy. We can tell by the great size and fullness and richness of its branches and by its strength." "Can I help the tree be happy?" asked the young one.

With this, the father thought for a moment. "I'll tell you what, Bill. I'll bet that if you give the tree a gift, it would be even happier than it is now." "What kind of a gift could we give a tree, dad?" "Well, the most important thing for a tree is water. Without water the tree would quickly die. Suppose you and I pee on this tree and give it the gift of water." "Oh yes," cried Bill, "let's do that. Let's do that."

After that day it was never very hard for Bill to find a way to talk to his father when something important was on his mind. He would just ask him to come pee on the tree with him. Bill does not recall his father ever refusing.

With the passing years and the life of his father, Bill forgot about the ritual. Life got complicated, he fell in love and was married and eventually had a son of his own. That afternoon, when I had seen the two of them at the old oak, the boy had asked his father a very serious question. He wanted to know the difference between boys and girls. Bill felt uncomfortable but hesitated to brush the query aside.

Suddenly, the memory of his father came to him and he took the boy into his first initiation. As they stood before the great oak, Bill told his son, "Well, son, I guess that we're all pretty much the same in most ways but the main difference between boys and girls is that girls can have babies, which is very nice..but boys can pee on trees." Sometimes the greatest wisdom is in the simplest answers.

Our Gift to The World


"Those who learn from their mistakes own the tools of wisdom. Those who do the same thing over and over and expect different results are just stupid."

Okay, I did not vote for George Bush. Quite frankly he scared the hell out of me. I am, however, warming up to his moment of leadership but concerned about the potentials that exist in the direction of that leadership. The vision and sincerity he has shown during this time of national disaster is not only attractive but causal in the support he has created almost universally. I give him full credit for pulling the country together. His responses are a result of his communication.

I am warming also to the idea of compassionate conservatism but find I am differing in my definition of that phrase. For me it is not about abortion, health care or Star Wars but about people. It's about recognizing and accepting a simple truth: that we are responsible for the world we have created, good or bad. Years ago I was taught that the responses we get to our actions are a direct consequence of the messages we send, both personally and governmentally. That is, in the final analysis, no one can be responsible for our results other than ourselves.

Terrorism of the sort we are now experiencing is a result of how we have been in the world. We have made our mistakes and denial might make us feel better for the moment but it won't fix it. Now we merely have to pay the price of those mistakes. America has the opportunity now to change the content of that message as perhaps never before. The feedback we receive from the world will tell us how successful we will be.

I would suggest that there are two possible wars to be fought here. One it appears, unfortunately, must be military in nature. But there is another opportunity here also. Let's send two kinds of bombs to Afghanistan and Iraq. First let's "bomb" the daylights out of the population centers and long lines of those poor people who really bear the cost of war with tons of blankets, boots, cloth, food, medical supplies, clean water, hay and feed for the donkey's which are the main form of transportation in that part of the world. Then, if we must, do the highly targeted destruction of the bases and training camps known to be terrorist centers and destroy the infrastructure, munitions and equipment necessary to make war.

Let us do the work of Allah, God, Jehovah, Yahweh, Mohammed, Christ, Buddha, whoever serves up the message of humanity to you...in case you haven't noticed it's all the same message...and send the bountiful riches we have created to those who can truly use it. Let the world see a side of America that we readily share with our fallen brothers and sisters but all to often replace in the world outside with bullying arrogance and self-righteous self-interest. Let us respond to militant terrorism with compassionate terrorism. Let us truly turn darkness into light.

Or we can fall back on the "proven" methods of the ages of retaliation and revenge and reap the same results...more of the same. For once, let us test the outrageous and radical idea that we can learn from history. As I have heard a number of times in the past few days, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth leaves us all blind and toothless."

50 Reasons We're Glad to Be Men


I recently received the following from a friend of many years. It is a bit tongue -in-cheek, but you, as I did, may find some deep truths in it. At the very least it's good for a few laughs. Enjoy.

1. Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat.
2. Movie nudity is virtually always female.
3. You know stuff about tanks.
4. A five day vacation requires only one suitcase.
5. Monday Nite Football.
6. You don't have to monitor your friend's sex lives.
7. Your bathroom lines are 80% shorter.
8. You can open all your own jars.
9. Old friends don't give you crap if you've gained weight.
10. Day-old coffee is still coffee, right?
11. When clicking through the channels, you don't have to stop for every shot of someone crying.
12. Your ass is never a factor in a job interview.
13. *Baywatch*
14. A beer gut does not make you invisible to the opposite sex.
15. *Sports Center* at 2:30 A.M.
16. You don't have to lug a bag of useless stuff around everywhere you go.
17. You understand why farts are so funny.
18. You can go to the bathroom without a support group.
19. You are never home when Oprah's on.
20. You can leave a hotel bed unmade.
21. When your work is criticized, you don't have to panic that everyone secretly hates you.
22. Your pals can be trusted never to trap you with: "So... notice anything different?"
23. The garage is all yours.
24. You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness.
25. You see the humor in "Terms of Endearment."
26. Not liking a person does not preclude having great sex with them.
27. You never have to clean the toilet.
28. You can be showered and ready in 10 minutes.
29. Sex means never worrying about your reputation.
30. Wedding plans take care of themselves.
31. If someone forgets to invite you to something, he or she can still be your friend.
32. Your underwear costs $10 for a three-pack.
33. The National Collegiate Cheerleading Championship.
34. None of your co-workers have the power to make you cry.
35. You don't have to shave below your neck.
36. You don't have to remember everyone's birthdays and anniversaries.
37. If you're 34 and single nobody notices.
38. You can write your name in the snow.
39. Day-old doughnuts are still doughnuts, right?
40. Everything on your face stays its original color.
41. Chocolate is just another snack.
42. You can be president.
43. You can quietly enjoy a car ride from the passenger seat.
44. Flowers fix everything.
45. You never have to worry about other people's feelings.
46. You get to think about sex 90% of your waking hours.
47. You can wear a white shirt to a water park.
48. Three pairs of shoes are more than enough.
49. You can eat a banana in a hardware store.
50. You can say anything and not worry about what people think.

50 More Reasons We're Glad to be Men


51. New shoes don't cut, blister, or mangle your feet.
52. Michael Bolton doesn't live in your universe. EVER.
53. Nobody stops telling a good dirty joke when you walk into the room.
54. You can whip your shirt off on a hot day.
55. You don't clean your apartment if the meter reader is coming by.
56. You think the 'Ferengi Rules Of Acquisition' are hilarious.
57. Car mechanics tell you the truth.
58. You don't give a hoot if someone notices your new haircut.
59. You can watch a game in silence with your buddy for hours without even thinking "He must be mad at me."
60. If something mechanical doesn't work, you can bash it with a hammer and throw it across the room.
61. You never misconstrue innocuous statements to mean your lover is about to leave you.
62. You get to jump up and slap stuff.
63. Did I mention "Sports Center"?
64. One mood, all the time.
65. You can admire Clint Eastwood without starving yourself to look like him.
66. You never have to drive to another gas station because this one's just "too yukky looking."
67. You know at least 20 ways to open a beer bottle.
68. You can sit with your knees apart no matter what you are wearing.
69. Same work.... More pay.
70. Gray hair and wrinkles add character.
71. You know what Jackson Browne's "Redneck Friend" is.
72. Wedding Dress $2000; Tux rental $100.
73. You don't care if someone is talking about you behind your back.
74. With 400 million sperm per shot, you could double the Earth's population in 15 tries, at least in theory.
75. You don't mooch off others' desserts.
76. If you retain water, it's in a canteen.
77. The remote is yours and yours alone.
78. People never glance at your chest when you're talking to them.
79. Did I mention "Baywatch?"
80. You can drop by to see a friend without bringing a little gift.
81. Bachelor parties kick butt over bridal showers.
82. You have a normal and healthy relationship with your mother.
83. You can buy condoms without the shopkeeper imagining you naked.
84. You needn't pretend you're "freshening up" to go to the bathroom.
85. If you don't call your buddy when you say you will, he won't tell your friends that you've "changed."
86. Someday you'll be a dirty old man.
87. You can rationalize any behavior with the handy phrase " ---- it!"
88. If another guy shows up at a party in the same outfit, you might become lifelong buddies.
89. The occasional well-rendered belch is practically expected.
90. You don't miss a sexual opportunity because you're not in the mood.
91. Your last name stays put.
92. You understand the lyrics in all the Loudon Wainwright III songs.
93. You don't have to leave the room to make an emergency crotch adjustment.
94. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Enough said.
95. Even an old beat-up lawn mower reminds you of your 66 Pontiac GTO.
96. You know what Prince's "Little Red Corvette" is.
97. Dry cleaners and hair cutters don't rob you blind.
98. You can get into a non-trivial pissing contest.
99. You can appreciate a 600-watt car stereo; you don't have to turn it all the way up, right?
100. There is always a game on somewhere!!

The Music Man


The bond between mother and child can never be broken, it can only be incomplete by degree. The bond between father and child must be nurtured to exist at all. The chances for failure are infinite.

It's been a very long day. Up at 6:00 a.m., write for a couple of hours, work all day, do some errands and run a men's group until 9:30 p.m. Now it's 11:30 and I'm standing in a smoky bar, but I neither smoke nor drink. At 51 I'm easily the oldest person here. My saving grace is that I don't have the shortest hair.

The wonderful young girls pose with delicate security to see who that good looking kid at the other end of the bar is staring at. Two hundred or so pair of eyes darting about, afraid to land anywhere for more than a few seconds. When they see it's not them being looked at, they light up a cigarette. They don't even notice that I'm taking it all in, in my best Hemingway- like tradition.

The band is so loud I can feel my pulse keeping time. It is a small college area bar, that brings in new local bands to try out one night a week. My kid is up there on stage in day glow trousers that in other times might have been a hot air balloon. His Guitar singing out in rhapsodic harmony to the monotony of a reggae beat. Incessantly. I've always hated reggae for some reason. Perhaps because I never stopped to really listen to it. I get no connection to anything that resonates for me. And yet, this group is good. I find myself mesmerized in the rhythms, delighted in the joy and happiness of the kids on stage and off. The beat of the music is everywhere. Every nimble young body, and a few not so nimble, moves to the beat...even mine. Everyone, somehow, in some mystical way, is connected.

I feel a great sense of gratitude that these kids can find a moment of pleasure in their music. As I look around, I fall swiftly into a time warp and for just an instant, remember myself, 30 years ago, in a bar just like this, when I did smoke and drink, and the length of my hair told everyone everything they needed to know about me. It was not meant for me to make the music then, although I would have battled lions to be able to. It is my son's turn now, and I get to share two dreams. Mine and his.

Suspended momentarily in my time travel I heard the music of Presley and The Beatles and Jefferson Airplane and The Yard Birds. Just as loud, the same insecure wonderful girls, the same lost young boys. I'm struck by how little has really changed. The years flash across my eye lids by in generational syncopation. I think about what it would be like to do it over again, starting here, tonight and it seems for a moment like a nice idea. I am sure that the girls in my bar never looked as good as these girls here tonight. I really want to be twenty one again and for a few precious moments I am.

Finally, the smoke gets to me and I have to leave. As I walk out the door, I become aware that I smell like an old Pennsylvania Dutch tobacco barn in the fall. The cool night air brings me quickly back into the Tuesday evening. I am thrilled that my son gets to live through all this from under the lights. I am delighted that he can and am proudly jealous of his talent. I look forward to sharing his experiences. But all in all, I think even if I could, I wouldn't want to do it again.

Once is enough--but there is great merit in the dream.

Passion


 "To hold the same views at forty as we held at twenty is to have been stupefied for a score of years, and take rank, not as a prophet, but as an unteachable brat, well birched and none the wiser." --Robert Louis Stevenson

As you know, one of my coaching specialties is working with men who are in transition of one form or another. One of the more common concerns my clients bring to the table early on is that of the idea of passion. Often it comes in a question like "why don't I feel the passion for my work that I used to?" We have talked in earlier editions about passion, what it is and how to refire it, and a lot of my work with both men and women is built around that effort. Generally I attack the problem by looking at the possibility that passion is not some kind of energy we have toward a specific thing or a way of presenting ourselves, it is a way of being. If we are passionate about who we are rather than what we do, everything in our lives will have a bit of that energy about it.

Recently, I've noticed the subject coming up more and more often with men approaching or in their fifties, particularly with friends and clients who are business owners or who have been in jobs with substantial longevity. They have lost what Sam Keene refers to as "the fire in the belly" and they miss it. As a result of this opportunity to work with older men I've come to some new ideas on the subject.

I think what often happens is that there is a natural transition of energy in which the fire does not go out, it just changes form. Let's use the analogy of the bar-b-que fire as an example. When the fire is first lit it engulfs itself in flame in order to fully realize its potential. Then it quickly flames out and with time the heat is generated more evenly and intensely from within the whole of the charcoal bed, each individual brick adding to the mass of heat. If we drop our chosen delicacy on the fire just after lighting it cooks slowly and inefficiently. But if we wait until the fire gains depth and richness we usually get the results we want. In our aggressive youth we are willing to be rare and unfinished and often even invite it. Our passion for accomplishment is so great that we see it as merely a price we are willing to pay and often that attitude results in great rewards. But having little to start with, we have little to loose.

As we get older, however, we are often unwilling to pay the price that the young spirit thinks nothing of. It is not illogical that this should happen. We have invested many years and much effort to attain whatever lifestyle we have. To endanger or even challenge it is not only an unattractive idea it is probably foolish at best. But there is a still a lot of energy in the dream no matter the age. Often, I think, we confuse that natural older conservatism with a loss of passion. Really, however, it isn't that at all. It's just that we see the world in a different light.

The chances are great that if you ever had passion in your life about anything, you still have it, it's just lying dormant. The trick is to understand that passion is not something we do but rather a way that we live. It is the life force that lets us see the grand values around us in people, animals, nature, our relationships and our work. It might not look or feel as it did twenty years ago but then neither do you. Don't waste your time planting grapes when the aged wine is sitting there waiting for you.

Thirty years of front-line experience have helped Dr. Ken Byers develop a profound system of professional coaching for business, entrepreneurship and individual life passion identification. Known worldwide for his approach to the issues of men's lives, his program of "Essential Self-Management Technology" crosses all gender barriers and helps businesses, groups and individuals identify, define and actually achieve their personal Visions with clarity and sustainable success energy.

My Vision: "To Live and Share A Life of Material and Spiritual Freedom."  What's yours?

EVERYMAN - A Men's Journal (bi-monthly) A really terrific magazine published in Canada but representative of men everywhere. www.everyman.org/trans

More on Friendship


I received the following from a friend in San Diego sometime back and thought it was a powerful message that you might enjoy. In my practice I often work with men who have been so successful at hiding out in their "job/life" that they don't feel the need for friends. This is an alphabetical list of what they are missing.  This is a test...of the emergency friendship system.......

A Friend......

(A)ccepts you as you are

(B)elieves in "you"

(C)alls you just to say "HI"

(D)oesn't give up on you

(E)nvisions the whole of you (even the unfinished parts)

(F)orgives your mistakes

(G)ives unconditionally

(H)elps you

(I)nvites you over

(J)ust "be'z" with you

(K)eeps you close at heart

(L)oves you for who you are

(M)akes a difference in your life

(N)ever Judges

(O)ffer support

(P)icks you up

(Q)uiets your fears

(R)aises your spirits

(S)ays nice things about you

(T)ells you the truth when you need to hear it

(U)nderstands you

(V)alues you

(W)alks beside you

(X)-plains thing you don't understand

(Y)ells when you won't listen and

(Z)aps you back to reality

Excellence vs. Perfection


From time to time I have taken the opportunity to discuss in these e-letters, issues that come up often with my coaching clients. Most of my clients are successful people who are interested in moving or growing into their greatness in new areas of living. For many, success is the result of personality traits or acquired operative belief systems that have guided them for a large part of their lives.  

These traits and systems are part of the story that we create to identify ourselves to ourselves and form the basis of the values we hold by which the outside world can identify us. But growth, by definition, requires that we constantly review and remold these values to allow our forward movement. Old standards and ways of doing things can support our safety and comfort but they do little to fertilize our desire to create change.

One of the conflicts that I often encounter in this process is between the traits of Excellence and Perfection. Striving for perfection can be a dynamic motivational tool. It is not unrelated to Obsessive-Compulsive behavior patterns. I often hear people say that most great human achievements can be traced to a striving for perfection...but is that actually true? My sense is that what really creates results is the striving for excellence, not perfection.

Perfection is what we used to call in the therapy business a "crazy maker." Some action that gets us what we want but makes everyone around us crazy in the process.  

Below are some comparisons I have collected over the years that help to identify the differences between these two ways of being that may help you sort out what is true for you. Further discussion on each of these items is available in my book, "Man In Transition." Click on the link http://www.etropolis.com/coachken/forsale.htm for more information.

  • Excellence is journey; Perfection is destination.0
  • Excellence is the willingness to be wrong; Perfection is being right.
  • Excellence is risk; Perfection is fear.
  • Excellence is powerful; Perfection is anger and frustration.
  • Excellence is spontaneous; Perfection is control.
  • Excellence is accepting; Perfection is judgment.
  • Excellence is giving; Perfection is taking.
  • Excellence is confidence; Perfection is doubt.
  • Excellence is flowing; Perfection is pressure.
  • Excellence is surrender; Perfection is consuming.
  • Excellence is trust; Perfection is selfishness.

The Genealogy of Ancestors


I just returned from a short visit to the three adjacent counties in Southern Indiana where my father's family was raised for three generations past. The visit was just the latest in a nearly twenty year tour of the genealogy of my ancestors. Given that my father died when I was a very young boy and that there was literally no family to help the trace, this quest has required a lot of patient research. Through this process I have discovered many things that have added to the memories of my youth and defined this mysterious man called father well within the story that I have created about him and hence the story of my own existence.

There is a place within of deep calm and fond acceptance of this man who I never really knew in life but have come to call my best friend in the ethers that serve to keep us sane and balanced in the ever increasing madness that surrounds us. But walking around and through the overgrown misty cemeteries of the rolling Indiana hills, I let go of dad and found myself involved in the discovery of the dozens of faceless distant aunts, uncles, cousins and others whose names I share but whose lives I couldn't possibly know. Worn and weathered headstones from 1790, 1845 1898, 1907, years that only exist on tombstones but that mark a spot in history that should never be forgotten and in some way honored, if only for a moment.

Something changed in me during that trip and I'm not sure quite what it was. Perhaps, now that I can get into any movie in town for half price as an elder, I am more respectful of the inevitability of death; or perhaps it is just that age brings with it a slowing down and morenatural order to the chaos that keeps the unimportant mixed with the important and the lines of separation so fuzzy as to be unidentifiable. I don't know if there were spirits available to me there, and I don't know if I experienced some kind of communication that opened my eyes to a mystery or two that still needs to be assimilated. Some of that may have happened, but I have another thought that is a bit more comfortable at the moment. That is the sense that I now know where my DNA has been.

During the trip I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in a small local museum and read the obituaries of many of my ancestors and talked to people who actually knew many of the family. Most of them were farm folks and didn't stray too far. I read accounts of their high school activities, their church affiliations and how respected they were as people, community members and neighbors.

I think I am processing a recognition of what it is to be real...to be of the land and its people. Sure there are a lot of twelve foot high pick up trucks and rednecks who look at a stranger with a quizzical eye; sure life is simple there but the people smile a lot and everyone waves at you as you pass by. It doesn't seem to matter that they don't know you. I live in the city...a big city...and no one ever waves at me here. 

Today I went out for a ride and as I passed a few cars in traffic, I waved. No one waved back. A few looked at me with a very blank stare. Most just pretended they didn't see me. But I think that I learned something at those cemeteries; that it doesn't really matter if they wave back or not. My recognition of them is what is important. It's important to me and whether they know it or not, it's important to them. No one waved back at the cemetery either. If there were spirits attached to those tombstones, I think they were happy that I was there and if they could have waved, I'm sure they would have... or did.  

And perhaps they are not much more dead than many of us who are still breathing and don't wave back.

Herstory/History


"If life is just a collection of short stories and I don't like the story I've created, can I create a new story?" 

One of the many realities that we face now, and increasingly so in the next 25 years, are the forces that changing age demographics offer the word in the 21st century. One of the more interesting aspects of that change is the tremendous number of men and women who will reach their fifties and sixties and find themselves out of the traditionally competitive work market, many by choice rather than chance. With a higher level of health and wealth than ever before in history, these "seniors" will not be satisfied with spending their retirement in recreational vehicles and playing pinochle in the Arizona sun. They will be just as vibrant and creative in their fifties, sixties and seventies as they were in their twenties & thirties and they will be increasingly unwilling to do nothing. 

In my coaching practice I work with many such clients. People who are interested in reeducating themselves, building second careers, starting their own businesses, doing community service, being involved in making a difference in the world but with a specific plan. Many such clients have a dream that originated when they were very young but which was put aside to compete in some more lucrative field. Others burn out from the intensity that their field's demand and still others simply grow tired of the inevitable changes, pace and unsettled nature of our youth oriented work culture. Several things seem to be common however...a deep concern about the state of the society, a desire to give something back and an unwillingness to just grow idly old. But how does one just change their story and jump into new arenas of experience? What does it take?

What are the first steps?

Let's take a short ride into storyland and find out.

First of all, I would have to concur with the opening sentence. In fact, I base much of my practice on it. In an earlier Transitions I talked about the nature of stories and how the stories we choose to accept as our reality become our reality. That does not necessarily mean that those stories are true, it just means that we have chosen to accept them as true. In fact, it is a well known axiom in psychology that very little of what we remember of our formative youth actually happened even close to how we remember it. So, the trick is to re-remember, or reframe, our her/history. It really does not serve us to attempt to erase the old stories without the help of a therapist. Actually, it might be argued that it doesn't serve to erase those stories under any circumstances as the process of eraser itself can often lead to greater reinforcement of the behaviors those stories produced. They are, after all, the stories we've lived our whole lives with and they belong to us. Denying them, making believe they don't belong to us is one contributor to the phenomenon men often experience called "mid-life crisis" or worse. The trick is to accept the old stories and add new ones that serve us better.

I gave up a career as a furniture designer/manufacturer at the age of 49 to return to school and become a therapist and writer. It did not require renegotiating my history...a part of me will always be those things and they formed me. What it did take, however, was a commitment to become more than I was. I had no guarantee that I could be a therapist, I just knew that I wanted to do that and I could do it if I wanted to create a life that would support me becoming one. So, I created a story that would support that outcome. It wasn't easy and it certainly was not without a lot of pain and insecurity, but it became a compelling desire which is the ultimate element of success in any action.

I often go back to a line that I used in an earlier Transitions, "if you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got." The reason that it is so true is that unless we do change our story, we will always go back to our old patterns. Changing behaviors alone is not enough. That is one reason why diets don't work. Diets are generally based on behavioral change (no fats, no carbo's, no pizza) not changing the story about why we let ourselves get overweight in the first place. With very few exceptions, once the weight is lost we resume our story and the pizza gets delivered regularly. One does not permanently change a behavior without changing the story that goes with the behavior.  

So be aware of what your stories are and what they are creating for you. If you want to have more/different/better, create a story that will support that creation. It's not a s difficult as it may seem.

Pilots


The boy's dreams become the man who dreamt them. Summertime, 1949 - somewhere in Indiana 

At eight and seven respectively, my cousin Ron and I had been co-pilots for as long as I could remember. Together we had refought the entire Second World War from the cockpit of the most elegant, fastest and maneuverable airplane the world had ever seen.

Our deft craft was approachable only from the hayloft, easily the weakest and least safe part of the old barn, which, had there been anyone with the energy to do it, should have been torn down a generation earlier. Howard Hughes had his plywood Spruce Goose--we had the rotting wood, flying barn. But when you're seven and eight years old you see things in your own special way and fear is a function of selective consciousness.

There was a space where the shed roof had sagged and separated from the eaves at the hayloft's edge, leaving an opening that looked remarkably like the front of a B-17 bomber. (Well, we thought so.) Underneath, right next to the landing gear, the pigs snorted and grunted in the mud and straw. With crayons and paint and old boards, we labored at our artistic and scientific best to create controls and gauges and signs and all kinds of stuff with which to fly the thing. Fly we did for untold hours over those two summers. The war had been over for a few years, but we still had plenty of maps and pictures to plan our attacks with...we were the best. It was during one of these flights of fancy that Ron and I made a bond about flying. A promise to each other that no matter what, we would both grow up to be pilots. We pricked our fingers and traded blood in solemn oath.

Life, however, has a way of directing us away from our most enthusiastically planned dreams. The last time I saw Ron was that summer of 1949. Well, the last time for about thirty-three years anyway. After my father's death, the family moved east and we lost track of the cousins. We moved, they moved, there was no way to find them.

One night in 1982, as I sat at the dinner table with my own family, my oldest boy, then twelve, asked about my father's family. There had never been anyone from my side at any family functions, because there weren't any. I was the last namesake until my boys were born. My son was quite taken by that fact. But he was not satisfied with the missing relatives story and kept bugging me in his best twelve year-old fashion about finding them. So in one of those rare moments of divinely guided desperation, knowing of no other way to shut him up, I picked up the phone and called information in Indianapolis and asked for my aunt Zelma by name. Now there happened to be a listing there for the initial "Z". That was close enough and I placed the call. She answered the phone in her strongest 86 year-old voice. Ten days later my son and I arrived in Indianapolis for the reunion.

Of course Ron had gotten his pilot's license. Of course I flew United, mostly. I remember feeling strangely uneasy at the time about the fact that I had not kept that commitment to my cousin. Ron also owned his own plane, a small Piper four-seater. On the second day of our visit we went flying. Neither Ron nor I had forgotten our pledge, but it was never mentioned. There was no need to. A bond had been broken between us that was more than just two kids playing in a barn. It seemed at the time like not really a big thing but it was greater than and different from the thirty years of non-communication. It came to represent the essence of what brings trust into any relationship. We had given our word to each other in solemn oath, and I had broken the oath. It was only two kids playing, but it was really more than that. It was something that we all do many times in life. We make it okay to break our word. We find all the rationale we need to not complete. We do it as individuals, in relationships, families, governments but mostly to ourselves. We make it okay not to keep our promises. There was a part of each of us that I disappointed by not learning to fly. 

We were only a couple of kids playing in the barn, but it must have been pretty important at the time. I think it still is.

Randy's Suicide


I received the following article in a very fine Canadian Men's Journal titled, Everyman which I subscribe to. Subscription information can be found at the end of this letter and I recommend it highly.

I cannot attest to the authenticity of this letter as I was unable to contact the lawyer who wrote it. I am unable to balance the story with personal knowledge of what else might have happened to effect the outcome or justify the actions taken by the parties involved. However, given the number of times I have listened to stories of other men who have experienced similar treatment, I do not doubt it's validity or its appropriateness. For the truth is, as I have unfortunately seen too many times, if it did not in fact happen to Randy, it did happen to many other men whose story we have not heard. This is a story that goes to many different issues, each deserving of a few moments of our time to reflect on. We need to reflect and consider our part in changing the ways in which men's lives are considered disposable by the laws, the courts and in particular by the lawyers who represent custody cases as though humans were not involved. You may want to sit with this one a while.

Randy s Suicide

"I was the second attorney for Randall Couch, a Phoenix architectural consultant. In his long-ago divorce, he had been poorly advised by his first attorney to stipulate to sole custody to the wife, and to a peculiar stepped-increase child support arrangement. A few years later, his first lawyer helped him work out an order in which he and his wife agreed to stop the child support because of the large percentage of time he had each week with his son. Unbeknownst to Randy, that first lawyer didn't file the agreement with the court.

Years later (last year), the ex-wife decided to go after him by claiming that he owed huge child support arrears ($28,000), and alleging that the never-filed agreement was void. He hired me as his second lawyer, and after a heavily contested trial, a judge ruled against us and found that he owed the $28,000, plus his wile s attorney fees. With the $28,000 judgment in hand, the wife s lawyer seized all of Randy s money from bank accounts, garnished receivable's from his architectural clients, had his car taken from him, and most recently, dragged him into court for contempt proceedings. Randy was ordered to pay $1,500 by noon today, or go to jail.

Last night, Randy blew his brains out.

There's a little kid somewhere in Phoenix who will never again spend the majority of the week with his Dad. There is an ex-wife who is never going to get the rest of her $28,000 pound of flesh, There is a wife's attorney and a judge in Phoenix who will have to live for the rest of their lives with the weight of this tragedy on their heads.

I was in a hearing this afternoon when I learned of the suicide. I'm not ashamed to say I cried. I've been through, and survived some pretty gut-wrenching events in my life as a lawyer. But nothing like this. A good man has been sacrificed on the altar of the "deadbeat dad" mentality. A little bit of all of us died with Randy."

You can subscribe to "Everyman - A Men's Journal" by contacting David Shackleton at publisher@everyman.org or www.everyman.org

The Prisoner


It was just another perfect day in San Diego. The sun was shining, the weather warm and dry. The radio talk show was chattering on about this and that as I drove along the freeway. My mind, miles away in some other dimension, was suddenly awakened when I heard, "... at least thirty percent of all prisoners in the state penitentiary system never get a visitor during the term of their incarceration." I turned up the radio and listened intently as the representative of a national organization of outreach volunteers talked about their program.

I had been active in men's issues for several years, but prisons and the people who populate them had never been one of my things. But this day something inside me clicked on, and what hit me was I somehow couldn't care less what a man did--I could not see anyone spending years behind bars without a single visitor. We are, after all, human beings - not animals.

The uniformed man in the front of the room said, "... the only difference between you and the prisoner is that you made a few different choices." There I was, in the Donovan State Penitent iary, in San Diego, getting a briefing on the rules before I met "my prisoner." If you've never been in a penitentiary before, it is a most unnerving experience. Double walls of chain link fencing twelve feet high, topped with three foot circumference razor wire coils, everywhere you go. Guards with guns at every corner. Real guns--loaded guns. Those guys are serious about keeping the prisoners in. One gets the idea they're not nuts about visitors either.

I sat at a small round table and watched the others as I waited for Joe to come down to the visitors' area. Lonely, angry men spending a few precious moments with girlfriends, wives and babies. I couldn't believe how many babies there were. At the next table a young man in blue denim brushed his wife's long, satin black hair in malignant silence, as their infant slept on the table in its car seat. Around the room the others played cards or dominoes. Young boys ran unattended around the room, not knowing how to relate to the strange men in blue they called "father." These men who could not look their sons and daughters in the eye through the guilt and shame.

As he approached the table I stood up and introduced myself. He had waited over a year for an assigned match (friend.) He was black, big and not very pretty. This was, in fact, the ugliest man I had ever seen. Enough scars on his head to write a horror movie around. He was nervous, about as nervous as I was. At twenty-six he had no front teeth and he walked with a knife- induced swagger that was almost a limp. He had lived many more than twenty-six years.

It took me about fifteen minutes to open him up. When I finally did he cried. Never had I seen a man in so much emotional pain. To have a visitor, even an older white man, was like the coming of Christ to this man, at that moment. We talked. 

I was leaving, standing in line with the other visitors waiting for the chain link door to slowly whine open, letting us out to a small yard. We entered the yard, the gate grinding closed behind us. We found ourselves locked in a twelve foot high chain link room. We stood there for perhaps ten minutes until the bus drew up. I noticed that I was the one man in a crowd of about fifty women and children. One man visiting one man. I had never felt so lonely. I knew at that point how Joe felt. Why were there no men visiting other men? Where were the fathers, the friends, the brothers, the uncles?

As time went on and the visits came regularly, we both became more comfortable. It was not an easy trip for me. It was about an hour's drive each way. Another forty-five minutes to process in and a half hour to process out, and I only got an hour with him for all of that. The system is designed to dehumanize and humiliate. Humiliation is the name of the game in prison. The guards are well trained in the process and it doesn't stop with the prisoners. There is an attitude. 

Joe was up for the third time. The conviction was for attempted murder. I never asked him for the details. It didn't matter. I saw a Joe I doubt anyone else in the world knows. Why he consented to drop his guard with me I do not know. I found him to be one of the most sensitive and caring human beings I have ever known. I know a lot of men who profess vulnerability and sensitivity, but I never met one who felt it more than Joe. I also know, given the numbers of convicted men and the institutional space available, one needs to work hard at getting into a penitentiary today. He is there for good reason, but it doesn't mean he should be forgotten.

Joe will be up for parole soon. He is scared to death to get out, but can't stand the thought of another day in jail. He was born in the Los Angeles ghetto, and joined the gang at eleven. He never bothered to go to high school. His entire support system is in the streets of L.A. His blood family gave up on him. He never had a girlfriend. His friends are all dead or in jail or hiding out lest they be either. Every person or condition that ever gave him any level of self-esteem is there in the streets. The fact that there are more young black males in prison today than in college was not lost on him.

When he gets out, according to state law, his choices are clear. He can only go back to his "home." There is no other place. He must return to his home of record to qualify for parole. When he hits the street he has two more clear choices: He can refuse to join the gang and they will kill him...it's pretty much automatic...or he can rejoin the gang. If he goes back to the gang he has only two options: Be back in jail within six months and die there, or die in the streets at the hands of the police, another gang, or his own. Barely more than a child, death is all there is for him. I have to keep reminding myself that this is a human being!

But hold on. Perhaps there is more here than it would seem. Joe has taught himself to read in prison, and enjoys it immensely. The fact that the prison library has few books means nothing to him. He just reads the same books over and over. He has practically memorized dozens of Louis L'Amour's western novels. Joe asks questions of himself and of me, which tell me he does not want to die. He wants desperately to find some way out. I would like to help him. I hope that perhaps, by being his friend, I can. But I don't believe it. He refers to himself as a "criminal", which he is of course, but his negative self-image is what he defines himself by in the whole. He sees only that part of himself, rather than that as only a part of his totality. It seems to me there is a part of Joe in each of us but, as the man said, most of us make other choices. If God truly lives in each of us, how can we deny that part of us that is Joe? 

The American prison system is an outrageous failure from every perspective possible. The term rehabilitation is no longer even thrown about loosely. There is no rehabilitation there. There is no correction in the departments of correction. There is only time warp. There is only a quagmire which reinforces laws written by politicians struggling to get re-elected by a frightened public; failures of the police, the judicial and social services, and the penal systems. And, because the system is dominated by men and incarcerates primarily men (95% nationally), it is a failure of, for, and by, all men.

We build new prisons at an alarming rate every year. Every city and state budget in the country tries to fund more police at every opportunity. I think it would be a lot cheaper and more effective ifmore of us made a friend in prison and experienced the joy of being a positive role model to a man who never knew one. Helping a man stay out of prison is far cheaper than supporting him in one, both in terms of dollars and human values.

Ironically, I also get to work with those cops who suffer from severe burnout, post traumatic stress, chronic nervous and mental exhaustion, nightmares, neurotic paranoia, and who can't trust anyone who isn't a cop.

It's very sad...it isn't right...but its very real

Men and Money


I was reading an article in the NY Times a few weeks ago about the vast disparage of wealth in America. It compared the lives and social/financial construct of a number of homeless men along with the many thousands of people who make so much money that to waste time thinking about spending it costs them money. The author borrowed a "joking" phrase from a venture capitalist to describe it. He called it the F.E.U., or Fundamental Economic Unit. It is "the amount of money a person will spend without thinking about it, because shopping around would not be worthwhile." For a commuter it might be $3.50 for a fancy espresso whose raw ingredients cost 25 cents; for a techno millionaire it might be half a million dollars, for a home bought on a whim; for a homeless man it might be 99 cents for a hot cup of coffee on a cold night at the Seven-Eleven.

Where I live, in the San Francisco area, the average F.E.U. has risen so high that people bid twice the asking price for houses they haven't even seen while the homeless population continues to increase at an alarming rate. The latest government figures are for 1996 and one would have to guess, if only by their observable numbers, that it has increased dramatically in the succeeding four years. It is not surprising to find, according to those statistics, men dominate among the homeless. Among the single homeless population, the gender ratio is 23 percent women vs. 77 percent men.

It is not my intention to make light of homeless women but it is a huge subject and not really separable because may women are homeless due to the irresponsibility of some, or many, men, often men making social rules and laws. That stated, it is the masculine aspect I would like to touch on and try to look at the role money plays in the process. 

Until the industrial revolution the vast majority of the world had only enough money to purchase those items they could not grow or make themselves. Life, tough as it was, was about basic survival rather than quality of life by comparison. Today's world is a far different place and comparison of the kinds of consumable items, literally none of which are produced by the end user, is the test of a successful life. So the more money one has, the more successful he/she is seen to be. There are, of course, alternate views of reality here, but this seems the dominant one in our culture at this time.

Like it or not, correct or not, it is still the man who is perceived by our society to be responsible for this accumulation of wealth and the woman who is the primary benefactor. If the man fails to provide, the woman generally makes other choices depending on her talents, abilities, looks and position in life. This is a continuation of the kinds of stereotypes that women revolted against during the past few decades...or did they? Most research shows that, although less than forty years ago, women still consider the level of income that a man is capable of producing as a primary factor in their choice of a mate. There is a biological basis for this reality. One can find an explanation of it in Robert Wright's book, The Moral Animal (Vintage Books, 1994) and it is the essence of the field of Evolutionary Psychology. It all boils down to the idea that women are unconsciously driven by the need to procreate (whether they choose to do so or not) and that successful procreation is dependent on the choices a woman makes in selecting the man to father her children and improve the species. When unsuccessful choices are made the species deteriorates and goes extinct. Wright (and Evolutionary Psychology) argue that the choice is biologically driven and not available for social argument.

So, that's why the rich guys get the beautiful girls, and the homeless guys have no hope at all. But does it have to end with that? Perhaps if we learn to measure ourselves by the quality of our life values and the rigor of our integrity, rather than our income potential, we can also learn that these virtues can accomplish the same things in the forward development of the species...and give us an edge in earning a nice income besides. I'd like to suggest we begin to measure ourselves with the F.E.U. mentioned above but change the definition to Fundamental Evolutionary Unit which would reference how we are making ourselves better people, more aware and responsible men, more capable friends, fathers and sons and so that we can truly deserve the rich girls that are coming up fast behind us.

The Hot Dog Man


Sometime during the late sixties the amusement park in New Haven became condos. I had graduated college and moved to Pennsylvania by then but I never forgot the summer nights walking the boardwalk "cruzin' for babes." There was simply no greater time to become a teenager than the early fifties. No civilization before or since in the entire history of the universe will ever have that opportunity to live American Graffiti. None ever had a better time. 

Actually the amusement park was a bummer. It was just a place to run '49 Mercs and '36 coupes against the latest technical brilliance from Detroit. We had genuine leather seats, wrap around windshields, lowering blocks and purple dots in the center of the tail lights. What more could a guy ask for? If we couldn't exercise our testosterone in a meaningful way (that being a rare enough happening) we could just love our cars.

But there was one other thing about the amusement park that I will never forget. I received an important initiation into manhood there. It was here that I discovered what commitment and dedication to purpose meant. It was the Hot Dog Man.

I think his name might have been Frank but it's not important. He worked at Jimmies Drive- In. Jimmies was world famous for its hot dogs and fried clams.

Now I must say a bit about the fried clams here too. We are not talking the wimpy little ulcerated, undernourished, rejected strips of inedible and less digestible leathery insignificance that the world now knows as fried clams. These were New England's own precious secret, back before the sweet little things were over fished and poisoned by pollution.. The whole mass of juicy and bountiful protein, complete with full intestines and often sand, rolled in a secret batter and fried to various levels of perfection in semi-rancid lard. The large order was 75 cents. It came in a box like the one from the Chinese take-out. It comfortably fed two hungry teenagers stressed from hours of cruzin' for babes, with only a couple of good stories to show for it. Unimaginable gastronomic delight!

Actually I almost never ate hot dogs, except of course, for Miccalizzi's in Bridgeport...his whole stand couldn't have been as big as a Fotomat drive-in store. He wrapped each dog in a strip of bacon and grilled those suckers till they screamed. There was always a line there and his daughter was a knockout, but that's another story...back to Jimmy's.

In order to get the clams & dogs, we had to stand in a line that formed at noon and stayed at least fifty people deep till 2:00 am, seven days a week, spring, summer and fall and weekends all winter long. That line wrapped around the building and followed the counter to the order station for the last ten minutes or so. This is where Frank (or whatever) did his thing.

Basically, Frank flipped the hot dogs...but with a speed and accuracy that would make Intel shudder; with a slight of hand that would cower David Copperfield's magic.One could stand and watch this hyperactive, obsessive-compulsive wiener flipper until hypnotized into a lobotomy-like state. On a steaming hot grill, sweat sizzling and popping as it dropped from his forehead to the hot grill, this modern folk hero performed his act with relentless bravado. Armed with a razor sharp knife in his right hand, the blade now a well ground sliver of its original state, he would hold the dog with the fingers of his bare left hand, and slice the dog down the center leaving just exactly enough skin to hinge the two halves. He would race down several rows of maybe twenty dogs, whip back to the beginning and back down the rows flipping them over. Slice and flip, slice and flip, move, adjust, slide, twist, slice and flip, all in hyper-seconds. Never did I see him touch the grill with his fingers or reach to his side for the rolls. Rocking back and forth, shifting his weight from foot to foot in orchestrated rhythm, he would perfectly process maybe a thousand hot dogs an hour and you couldn't fathom how they ever got into the rolls but there they were. He was that good!

It was here that I learned that no matter what a man did, if he did it to the very best of his ability, he would make his mark. Frank was a silent mentor in my life and he never even knew me. Mentoring in our culture is all too often an accident. Although I respect the opinions of some feminist writers on the subject, there are simply many things a woman cannot teach a young man. He must learn them from an older man. I never needed to learn to flip hot dogs, but I did need to learn that every hot dog is important. One never knows who's watching and what some young man might learn from us. I think that as men we must realize that we are constant role models to the boys who watch us. We must always be aware that we are teachers, and just that awareness will help to make us worthy of the label.

Frank, I'm sure you're long dead of a heart attack, but just in case...I want you to know you made a difference.

"Did I just see that tombstone move?"


I just returned from a short visit to the three adjacent counties in Southern Indiana where my father's family was raised for three generations past. The visit was just the latest in a nearly twenty year tour of the genealogy of my ancestors. Given that my father died when I was a very young boy and that there was literally no family to help the trace, this quest has required a lot of patient research. Through this process I have discovered many things that have added to the memories of my youth and defined this mysterious man called father well within the story that I have created about him and hence the story of my own existence.

There is a place within of deep calm and fond acceptance of this man who I never really knew in life but have come to call my best friend in the ethers that serve to keep us sane and balanced in the ever increasing madness that surrounds us. But walking around and through the overgrown misty cemeteries of the rolling Indiana hills, I let go of dad and found myself involved in the discovery of the dozens of faceless distant aunts, uncles, cousins and others whose names I share but whose lives I couldn't possibly know. Worn and weathered headstones from 1790, 1845 1898, 1907, years that only exist on tombstones but that mark a spot in history that should never be forgotten and in some way honored, if only for a moment.

Something changed in me during that trip and I'm not sure quite what it was. Perhaps, now that I can get into any movie in town for half price as an elder, I am more respectful of the inevitability of death; or perhaps it is just that age brings with it a slowing down and morenatural order to the chaos that keeps the unimportant mixed with the important and the lines of separation so fuzzy as to be unidentifiable. I don't know if there were spirits available to me there, and I don't know if I experienced some kind of communication that opened my eyes to a mystery or two that still needs to be assimilated. Some of that may have happened, but I have another thought that is a bit more comfortable at the moment. That is the sense that I now know where my DNA has been.

During the trip I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in a small local museum and read the obituaries of many of my ancestors and talked to people who actually knew many of the family. Most of them were farm folks and didn't stray too far. I read accounts of their high school activities, their church affiliations and how respected they were as people, community members and neighbors.

I think I am processing a recognition of what it is to be real...to be of the land and its people. Sure there are a lot of twelve foot high pick up trucks and rednecks who look at a stranger with a quizzical eye; sure life is simple there but the people smile a lot and everyone waves at you as you pass by. It doesn't seem to matter that they don't know you. I live in the city...a big city...and no one ever waves at me here. 

Today I went out for a ride and as I passed a few cars in traffic, I waved. No one waved back. A few looked at me with a very blank stare. Most just pretended they didn't see me. But I think that I learned something at those cemeteries; that it doesn't really matter if they wave back or not. My recognition of them is what is important. It's important to me and whether they know it or not, it's important to them. No one waved back at the cemetery either. If there were spirits attached to those tombstones, I think they were happy that I was there and if they could have waved, I'm sure they would have... or did.  

And perhaps they are not much more dead than many of us who are still breathing and don't wave back.

© 2009, Kenneth F. Byers

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A permanent state of transition is man's most noble condition. - Juan Ramon Jimenez



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