An interview with Aaron
Aaron Kipnis was one of those angry young men who
tuned in, turned on and dropped out of mainstream
society during the 60s.
Evoking an image from writer Malidoma Some, he
described himself as one of the "freaks running
wild and setting fire to the village."
He was doing it, however, in a very creative way
with "Guerrilla Theatre" on urban streets.
"I was a young man who dropped out in the hippy
era and joined up with a group of dancers," Kipnis
began. "We used to go to Mother's Of Invention
concerts with Frank Zappa and perform outside on
"Nobody gives you a letter sweater with 'A' for
Creativity is essential in the development of
boys growing into men, said Kipnis, the author of
Without Armor. As a youth, his creative
participation in the dance troupe helped him get a
sense of who he was in a community.
"Hooking up with that creative group gave me the
thing a young man wants," Kipnis said, "to be
The initiation of a boy into a community cannot
really be accomplished with his parents, the writer
said. The successful transition is usually with
priests, shamans, or in a men's group.
"A boy can't learn from his mother no matter how
dedicated or compassionate she is," Kipnis
declared. "A boy cannot see a reflection in her
face of what he is becoming; he needs that from
Kipnis said he believes if boys don't get that
opportunity in a "good way" with a sense of honor
and commitment to the tribe, they'll often seek
initiation with other boys in a "dangerous
"There's a tremendous absence of adult males in
our society," he continued, appearing sincerely
troubled with the problem. "One out of three homes
in this country has men in prison or families on
welfare. We are penalized for having men in the
Kipnis expressed even more concern about the
growing presence of youth gangs in the inner
"There's too many young men coming up with no
adult supervision and if we can't channel that wild
youthful energy, they'll seek initiation
elsewhere," he continued. "It's disturbing to know
they will even seek a violent initiation, rather
than none at all, just for a sense of their own
In his "Guerrilla Theatre" days, Kipnis said he
experienced his own scuffles. He was undaunted,
however, as his "creative crew" was determined to
be seen and "show our beauty to each other."
"A lot of guys I knew got through with
athletics," he noted, "but nobody gives you a
letter sweater with A for artist."
Again lamenting society's lack of community
(artistic or otherwise) Kipnis described our
cinematic/theatrical experiences as one of the last
ritual spaces we share.
The writer challenged men to become "activists"
in building "authentic" connections with boys. He
spoke of "justice, honor and leading a good
"Male initiation boils down to one man of
integrity who will help a boy," Kipnis said. "The
man is like a soul father who will not exploit the
boy but help him develop his true gifts."
The community's job is then to hold the man
"The boy needs that conduit of one man he can
trust and then that one man can engage him in all
kinds of initiation," the writer explained. "There
is something that can flow into the soul of that
boy from that uncle, brother, that foster dad, that
big brother, that juvenile justice advocate, social
worker, or probation officer."
Again alluding to Malidoma Some's African
initiation, Kipnis said a man needs to escort the
boy to the banquet after the initiation walk.
"The man walks beside the boy taking him into
the unknown and uncertain underworld - and you
don't go there alone," he said emphatically. "The
man finds himself in the care of that young man's
soul and must not abandon him when the boy is
Having started a "Boys To Men" program in
Wisconsin, Kipnis is well aware of the struggle to
initiate men in a modern society.
"You don't need to replicate any traditions of
other cultures," he declared. "It needs to be
culturally congruent here and now by teaching a
young man how to prepare for the job market, like
reading or developing computer skills. He doesn't
need to learn how to kill a deer with a knife."
"The U.S. today has more boys locked up in
juvenile institutions, jails, prison, and mental
hospitals than any other nation on earth."
In his most recent book Angry
Young Men, Kipnis shares disturbing statistics
regarding troubled teenage boys.
- Boys comprise 71 percent of all school
suspensions and are expelled at even higher
- Boys drop out of school 4-1 times over
girls, receiving more failing grades.
- Boys represent more than 70 percent of all
students labeled as learning disabled.
- Boys annually receive approximately 3
million applications of corporal punishment at
- More than 3 million boys are being
prescribed drugs like Ritalin and Prozac to
control their behavior.
- Males are the majority of the homeless, HIV
positives, physically abused, neglected and
murdered children, alcoholics and drug addicts,
and foster kids awaiting adoption.
- The U.S. today has more boys locked up in
juvenile institutions, jails, prison, and mental
hospitals than any other nation on earth.
According to Kipnis, the definitive answer to
solving the runaway drug epidemic amongst youth, is
to legalize drugs. The drug abuse problem would be
better handled out of the public health department
instead of the justice department, he said. Kipnis
is particularly concerned with young men of color
in the juvenile justice system.
"That's where a lot of attention is now, with
their extreme rate of incarceration," he decried.
"Even Amnesty International talks about the
treatment of our adolescence in the United
Is it possible that some creative connection
could be part of the answer?
"You can't bring community together without soul
work," the writer/activist said. "And those who do
soul work without action are missing an initiatory
beat. Don't forget about the return. The giveaway.
You have to give something back to the
Kipnis, who has done initiatory work with the
likes of Martin Prectel, still believes we can do
simple things to help boys in our own culture.
Could it be as simple as "Guerrilla Theatre?"
"Older men aren't coming out in droves for
poetry, for connecting, for creative cultivating of
relationships in a circle with boys," he said. "For
the welfare of the community, we need to transform
a typical narcissistic, self involved, alienated
adolescent - into a man."
Referencing Catcher in the Rye, by J.D.
Salinger, Kipnis said parents need to be careful
"how they try to mold their children into people
they want them to be."
"Individuals are mysterious and it's hard for
any of us to know how another should be; but adults
should stand and protect young people," he
continued. "It's our job to provide health and
safety so they can open their own doors and develop
who they really are."
That requires something other than controlling
them with a skill most of us aren't that good at.
And that's simple listening.
"We're Guardians trying to stay open and pay
attention," Kipnis said. "I like that word,
Kipnis practices being a "Guardian" by
meditating and writing which "helps expel my demons
into the world where the rest of you have to deal
Contact Kipnis at his website www.malepsyche.com
© 2005 Reid Baer
* * *
The fame you earn has a different taste from the
fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria
Reid Baer, an
award-winning playwright for A Lyons
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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