A Man



An interview with Jeff Foster

Why in the world would a man's man who spent most of his life working around men in the military join a guy's support group? You'll have to ask Jeff Foster. Or better yet, read his book, Cauldron of the Weekend released by Trafford Publishing. You might think with all that excitement and activity, his life would be perfectly fulfilling.

According to Foster, however, his career success was simply not satisfying - personally. "... a man can be highly functional on the outside, and at the same time highly dysfunctional on the inside," Foster relates in his compelling book. "... during the navy years all I knew was that I felt alone, never slept well, couldn't escape the steely grip of addiction [cigarettes], that I had to keep moving to keep from feeling, or otherwise felt shame, or felt nothing at all. I walked a line between sanity and insanity, but I walked it well. I never kicked a door in, never tried to hang myself. I wasn't that crazy. But I wasn't that sane, either, the line was somewhere in between."

Cauldron of the Weekend is an honest account of a man struggling with the personal demons in his life. It's told with great courage, the same kind of courage it probably took for him to become a successful career officer. (Foster also showed his stuff on the football field at William and Mary College playing for coach Marv Levy (one time coach of the Buffalo Bills NFL football team).

The author describes how he worked with men for years, but didn't have the capacity to develop any meaningful friendships with them. Foster said the military was full of great experiences, but it also left him feeling lonely and frustrated.

Afterwhile, Foster came to a crisis point in his life when a superior officer made his job particularly unpleasant.

"In the beginning I didn't realize the XO meant to destroy me professionally. Maybe he didn't either, but it was clear that he was making my life more difficult than it already was," Foster begins.

"And somehow the combination of these things began to affect my body, it suffered the last year and a half at the job. It began with a nervous tic on the side of my face. It continued for months. The tic would leave me at night, then in the morning it would come back I didn't know how to respond to the symptom in a positive way, I didn't have the capacity to quit my job . I developed recurrent pains in my chest. They would be in the middle or to the left side of my heart. They were sharp. I went to see the navy doctors at the medical clinic in Indian Head."

The doctors couldn't find anything "physically" wrong with the officer. Foster realized, however, there was a problem.

Then in 1995 Foster encountered The Mankind Project, an organization that assists men in their personal growth.

Foster said that all his life he had learned to live and work for other people. The Mankind Project encouraged him to look deep inside and take care of himself in more meaningful ways.

"It is OK to take care of yourself," Foster writes. You don't have to try to do everything by yourself, there are other strong men here who can do it just as well."

Participation in the organization of nearly 30,000 men world wide begins with "an adventure weekend" where men are initiated into the group.

Scenes of school-boy pranking or fraternity hazing might come to mind, but it's a seriously challenging beginning for many men who want to rethink how they live their lives.

"My marriage had never been healthy," Foster reveals. "It wasn't healthy because as individuals we weren't healthy, neither had any skill at emotional intimacy."

The Mankind Project teaches men to take a hard look at the parts of their lives that aren't working especially around family relationships, the navy officer reported. It was a life-changing experience "even if parts of it were terrifying."

"Every man has a shadow, a part of his being that is hidden and repressed," Foster said after his experience on the weekend. " deeply wounded men have to turn inward at some point and then downward the closeness will violate the instincts of self-preservation."

Foster added that he had a lot of "grown man parts," but inside he remained "a child."

In his new spiritual journey, the author comes to grips with his "Little Boy" plus other suppressed personality traits. Some men may consider disparate aspects of their lives. Foster gives them complete names. He tells how he visualized the various elements of his life in becoming "a whole person." As we follow Foster along this interesting path with his "spirit guides," we meet unique characters like "Shade Jones" and "Saroya" who he describes as a combination of the Goddess Athena and the actress Catherine Deneuve. Who says "men's work" is all work? Who wouldn't mind spending time with Catherine Deneuve?

Foster said meeting these images in his mind and heart helped him integrate the multi-dimensional aspects of who he really is.

Cauldron of the Weekend is told by a practical man with great vision, weaving the real world and spiritual together in a very readable tome.

Along with the Mankind Project, Foster's pursuits also took him into sacred experiences with Cherokee spirituality and drum making workshops. All this "inner work" helped Foster deal with his longtime addiction to smoking.

"I only knew how to feel bad, I didn't know how to feel good," he writes. "To feel good meant change, and change was frightening. So in a way the feeling bad was like a refuge, a twisted one, but still a refuge. At an unconscious level it was safe to feel bad , that's how it served me. The failure to quit smoking fed on that dynamic and helped me stay in that bad place. So at one level I was addicted to the chemical nicotine, but at a deeper level, I was addicted to the shame that resided at the core of my being."

Every man must confront a certain amount of insecurity and shame, even men who had good relationships with their father, he adds. Foster's father died at age 79. The naval officer gave the eulogy. "He was a country boy at heart. One of the ways you knew that was through music. We're a very musical family. He played the banjo and always led the singing.

Countless times the family got together to sing and play the old mountain songs and the old gospel songs. His spirit is with us now and wants us to shorten our pain, to bear up, to be strong, to move on. His spirit is telling us that now, and his spirit will move with us and will never be far away.""

The officer (now retired) said his participation in the Mankind Project helped him develop into a better father for his own son.

"My adult life began in October, 1967 when I reported to navy Officer Candidate School," Foster relates. "The navy took that life, and as it did with every man and woman, surrounded it with immense structure, hierarchy, and rules. Over the following decades, that life moved toward the absence of structure. As it did, it moved from the noise of external voices to the relative quiet of internal ones. And at the deepest level it moved toward wholeness. Some things evolve and some remain the same, but they all move toward wholeness."

Some might consider a military man to be the paragon of worldly responsibility. But Foster shows us a need to be responsible to a deeper soulful part of ourselves.

"Religion is for people who don't want to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have been there," he writes, recalling an old proverb.

Cauldron of the Weekend is recommended reading for military men or non-military men - anyone who would like to make an inventory of their life.

"There is no Cinderella ending," Foster concludes. "With my emotional history, there is only consciousness and boundaries. And of course, when I remember, there's joy mixed in there, too." 

Contact Foster directly to purchase his book at 301.753.1890 or jeff@olg.com or www.Trafford.com . Foster says buying it from him is the quickest and also the least expensive way -- $17.95, complete. Most of the profit ($10.00!) is donated to the DC MKP community.

© 2005 Reid Baer

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The fame you earn has a different taste from the fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria Vanderbilt

Reid Baer, an award-winning playwright for “A Lyon’s Tale” is also a newspaper journalist, a poet with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide, and a novelist with his first book released this month entitled Kill The Story. Baer has been a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and currently edits The New Warrior Journal for The ManKind Project www.mkp.org . He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.

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