As I thought about what to write in this column for the Wednesday after Fathers’ Day, I decided to check out what Borders had on its shelves regarding men’s issues. What I found right near the psychology section was almost 100 titles on feminism and women’s studies. The total number of books regarding men’s issues was eight.
Many people believe that men – especially white men – don’t have problems. After all, they have all the power. It’s women and minorities who have been victimized by men. They are the ones who deserve attention.
Dr. Bernie Zilbergeld argues that it is not so (The New Male Sexuality, 1999). He contends that it’s society that is the cause of women’s suffering, and that men have had it as hard as women. He goes on to say “that it’s not easy being a woman or a man and that our training and treatment of men has been as misdirected and harmful as our training and treatment of women.”
Philip Culbertson (New Adam, 1992) agrees with Zilbergeld. What Culbertson adds is that many women are complicit in the destructive training boys receive as they try to make their way into mature manhood. “Men learn that what men do instead of being intimate is to mutilate each other, in war, in the business world, or even on the football line, while women stand on the side and cheer them on.”
Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette (King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, 1990) add that men have been hearing that they need to get in touch with their feminine side. That advice, they say, is a bridge to nowhere, and many men intuitively know it. They say that the characteristics of mature masculinity include calm compassion, clarity of vision and generativity.
OK, so men aren’t the sole cause of all the world’s problems. They still have issues they need to deal with as a gender. How do you do that?
Culbertson writes that although men have in the past often turned to women to solve their problems, the hard internal work has to be done with men alone. He says that just as feminists withdrew from men to get their act together, “the time has now come for men to go away from women to do our own homework within the intentional community of sensitive men.”
I’ve been part of a men’s group that has met every Thursday evening for 19 years, and I can testify that there is some internal work that men can accomplish only with other men. We don’t imagine that we’re doing psychotherapy in the group. We’re not trained for that. What we do is tell stories. One of the men will tell about a fear or a longing he has, and another man will respond, “I know what you mean. I had the same feeling a year ago,” and he will continue with his story. We don’t tell stories about athletic accomplishments or business successes. We don’t argue about politics between the holy hours of 7 and 9 on Thursday evenings. We talk about ourselves and our feelings and our attempts to mature into the men whom we long to be.
In my Thursday night group, we withdraw from women for a few hours each week in order to learn how to be better partners when we return to them.
I hope you men had a happy Fathers Day. I hope you felt loved by your family. Now it’s time to find ways to separate from them regularly, get together with other men who are on the same journey and together do the hard work of maturing into the man you always wanted to become.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.