Friday, March 25, 2016

What does make a man?

 Those informed and inspired by the late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck’s ground-breaking, 1980s-bestseller The Road Less Traveled will welcome the themes in So Dad, What Makes a Man, a book by Tom Peery that covers wide-ranging ground about personal growth into manhood, in refreshing ways, given the profound need for diverse voices of reason to promote positive messages.

Peery, a former engineer now retired and living in Houston with his wife, no longer neatly fits a category of what some may define as typical white, Boomer-generation corporate man. Nowhere is this more apparent than when he acknowledges how the first half of his life was spent participating — through tacit support or silence — in much of what he now laments about America and the direction we’re heading. He is deeply concerned about the widening gap between rich and poor, ineffective political systems and quasi-leadership by men in public office whose personal gain matters more than problem-solving to promote progress for this country.

In a January 2012 article in the online publication Truthout, the long-time progressive media commentator Bill Moyers wrote: “The lack of civility and common sense that has paralyzed our democracy. . .the corrosive influence of money in politics – we’re in a tailspin with little hope for a course correction from our elected leadership or corporate-dominated media. The need for voices of reason, simple and eloquent, has rarely been stronger.”

Peery is among the voices of reason. Although So Dad, What Makes a Man seems limited in scope due in part to its title and autobiographical nature, the book actually covers broad subject matters relevant to navigating adulthood in general. Peery’s well-paced stories show that asking questions helps us take personal responsibility in seeking solutions that allow us to grow and mature. This is applicable as we navigate and overcome various challenges in life, whether self-imposed or due to upbringing and cultural influences.
by Fannie LeFlore, MS, LPC, CADC, Psychotherapist and Social Entrepreneur ,
Editor of M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Friday, September 25, 2015

Relating to others

The New York Times Sunday Review article September 20, 2015, A Toxic Work World reports  many Americans are facing stress-inducing competition, and twelve to sixteen hour workdays at all levels of the socioeconomic scale. At the same time there is a swing from highly competitive workplaces, where performance is measured by total hours worked, toward a collaborative,  results orientation that was unheard of in the days of my father.

 Some believe the new trend has evolved from the arrival of the Internet, some say women breaking out of their stereotyped roles, or disdain for  the gridlock in the United States Congress. One of the change leaders is Patricia McLagan, founder of McLagan International, (, who in the late 80's began a movement to focus on customer satisfaction  rather than company profits.  But no matter how these changes started, they have arrived.

My father had  taught me how to wear his tough, show-no-emotions, masculine breastplate. However, men today who don't want to collaborate, or don't know how, are facing an uphill battle. Many younger adults, talking and texting with anyone anytime, now embrace it. Collaboration thrives on building relationships, and Brené Brown, who researches human behavior, found successful people best build relationships by being vulnerable.[1]  But during my strongly competitive corporate days, hierarchical leaders  used an employee's known vulnerabilities to pass over their next promotion.

Today, as both gender's roles continue to expand, some companies are touting teamwork above individual competition. And women are not the only gender to relate well with others, or, become nurses, cook, do housework and support their spouses' pursuit of their dreams. A man I know meets with a small group of men with different political affiliations who gather outside work to discuss their differences in a civil manner.   

In Houston, A Walking Tour of Male Spirituality has begun with its first commitment to practice building relationships in a safe and trustworthy environment, in which every man freely directs his own life and is worthy of being heard.  It poses questions about life from So Dad, What Makes a Man; A Narrative on the Male Identity. To be clear, my stories are not all models to be imitated. My twenty-five year career as a "workaholic," highly competitive with every colleague , left me little family time and no time to learn about myself. After I retired I had no close relationships from work but I began to learn more about myself and relating to others --often quite by accident--that transformed me.

 In both the ten-session A Walking Tour and the book So Dad What Makes a Man? the terms "spirituality" and "spiritual presence" refer to one's personal relationship with God.  A Walking Tour of Male Spirituality is an invitation to practice relating better with your spouse, a friend or in a group.  If you already belong to a men's group, it makes for good discussions. 


[1] * Brené Brown, Ph.D, L.M.S.W. The Gifts of Imperfection, Hazelden, 2010, with permission

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Transition While Growing Up

A Walking Tour of Male Spirituality is coming later this summer. Based on So Dad, What Makes a Man?, it is not for men to model my behavior, but a workshop guideline to compare the topics I mention in my memoir with one's own experiences--to reflect on or discuss with a spouse or in an existing men's group.

The following are a few comments from men who took the workshop at the Cenacle Retreat House earlier this year:

* This workshop was not like others I take in which I come away with lists of what I should do or how I should behave or pressure about attaining the learning objectives. Instead, talking about life was relieving. I felt a sense of God and spirit where everyone could be themselves. I felt accepted and felt God's love.

* This experience was almost cathartic for me. Up to now I'd had no chance to stop and think about things. I had seen men taking a back seat at church. I used to want to control everything. This book made me think. It cleared a path through the forest of life, and the diversity in our group helped me clarify my own life.

* This workshop came during a life change for me: retirement.  Reviewing my thoughts about the questions, then writing them down, then talking about them helped me move through the transition.

The following is an excerpt from So Dad, What Makes a Man? during my forty-ninth year:

"I unintentionally rekindled my interest in drawing on another visit to the Rice University library. I bypassed the history section to look at their art collection. Again, the grandeur of the Italian Renaissance attracted me, and I began leafing through a book of Leonardo da Vinci's works. I came upon some of his drawings. They reminded me drawing was something I loved doing in grade school. Back home, I researched drawing classes for adults then enrolled in the fall semester of Houston's Glassell School of Art. I had no idea how much I was about to learn about myself.

            My first professor, Suzanne Manns, made being a beginner easy. She said something nice about anything I drew, no matter how awful it looked to me, and offered suggestions for improvement without any criticism.

            Suzanne was also quite perceptive. During my second week of classes, I drew a still life—a bowl of fruit—with charcoal sticks as she circulated around the room. She stopped beside me, observing my work for a few moments.

            “You’re a very mid-range drawer,” she said. I didn't know what that meant. “Look, you've drawn those fruit accurately (whew!) and put in some shadows, but there’s not much contrast between your shadows and the most lighted area. You know what you're missing? Black. Your drawing has no really dark areas.”

            At the end of that class, she assigned our homework: sit in front of our clothes closet and draw whatever we saw. I brought a chair and an easel into our bedroom and, anxious to respond to her suggestion to use more black, opened my closet and sat looking at my clothes. There was not one single piece of black clothing hanging in front of me. After ending my corporate life, I had packed up my white shirts and given away my navy blue suits. Now there were no shirts or pants that were dark-colored, let alone anything black.

            Thinking about her term mid-range, meaning with neither highs nor lows, very light or very dark, I saw that not only did I draw mid-range, I dressed mid-range. Thinking about it some more, I realized I also behaved pretty mid-range, avoiding highly emotional displays of either anger or joy. The next time I cooked, I found even my choices of food seasonings were mid-range. Nothing hot or spicy, or too flavorful.

            After I talked with Mance about these middle-of-the-road tendencies, she came home from shopping with a black shirt for me. It was the first I'd ever owned, and I began wearing it to art class.

            A few weeks later, Suzanne had us draw a cut-glass crystal goblet, which was sitting empty on a table in a bright floodlight. My perspective was okay, thanks to mechanical drawing courses at Mines, and it looked pretty good to me. Then the professor arrived.

            “Okay, look closely at that glass, Tom. Don’t you see the black in it?”

            The black in crystal glass? I couldn’t imagine any. Glass is clear, not black. I looked again, with doubt.

            “No, I don’t see any black.”

            Picking up my black charcoal pencil, Suzanne stepped in front of my drawing and quickly made a few very short strokes in the lower curve of the brandy snifter. My drawing suddenly looked more realistic.

            “Draw what you see, Tom, not what you think is there. Look, there’s some white in there too,” and she picked up a white pencil and marked a few reflective highlights on the sides. Now my drawn glass really "popped out" and looked very realistic. But I had to compare her marks on my drawing with the crystal glass itself before I saw that there were tiny black shadows and white reflections in the glass, right where she had put them on my drawing.

            I had drawn what I thought about the glass, rather than what was actually there. At home later, I sat petting Genny in the backyard, thinking about that. "Not what you think is there," Suzanne had said. Well, I knew I had done plenty of worrying and imagining and planning in my life, but I had only recently begun trying to quiet my active mind with meditating. And hadn't that helped me better see the world around me? Yet I had looked at that crystal glass and told myself what it looked like, without really seeing what was there.

 Do I do the same in other parts of my life?

Have I spent the first forty-nine years of my life looking at the people around me with such prejudice?

Does my mind not see what is actually there?"

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

An excerpt from learning about sex during single life in So Dad, What Makes a Man? A Narrative on the Male Identity

Chapter 5   MINDSET: WORK-N-SEX  (age 25-29)

"In Chicago, I found an apartment in the northwest suburbs. A secretary in my new office had told me about it, a singles-only complex called International Village, in Schaumburg. It sounded good, especially when I found an available third floor, one-bedroom apartment on the southern edge of the complex, with windows facing a wide view over a wooded neighborhood, a freeway, and a Motorola plant.

                The environment there and Chicago's single girls did not support my Christian morals that had faded since I started college, any more than had Three Fountains. Nor did I seek a church or any organization with older adults to talk about life. I continued to compete with men who flirted with the same girls I liked and battled with me for the best job offers. If another man accompanied a beautiful woman, I wondered what the hell she saw in him. I envied men my age with more wealth or with greater expertise.

                I spent most of my time working with those men, and when not working, I played tennis with a few and filled the remaining time seeking women. That failing on any given night, I drank with other men who didn't have a date and talked about women. It was one subject, after discussing sports and weather that we spoke about in collaborative terms, including the women with whom they went to bed. We compared the latest magazine articles, reports, and books on sexual behavior, trying to understand what women wanted.

                Some men confirmed my belief that women gave sex to get love and the corollary that they at least had to like the guy first, but that didn't help me understand at all why they might like us…that is, why they might like me. However, the more we single men talked, the less my belief held up.

                My theory did not explain, for instance, the man in my apartment complex who painted a big white area on the red wall behind his king-sized bed, and, invited every woman who joined him in that bed to sign the wall. He gave all visitors to his apartment, men and women alike, a tour of his bedroom. Given his good looks, I didn't think I could be successful with his approach, but I stopped in from time to time to envy his growing array of signatures.

                Another man explained his practical approach. He said at first he had sat in bars getting so drunk that he would go home at the end of the night with any woman who was still there and willing. Or, that failing, he went home alone and suffered the next day's hangover.

                However, the pain of those mornings-after and the money he spent being unsuccessful led him to engineer what he called his "go ugly early" approach. After arriving alone at the bar and buying one beer, he would take it with him as he went around the room introducing himself to every woman, then propositioning her—and he meant every one of them, not just those he found attractive.

                He said this approach saved him time, money, and a hangover, especially when every woman turned him down and he headed home early and sober. But every woman did not always turn him down. I never tried his approach either, because I was not confident enough to handle the level of rejection he encountered.

                A couple of men succeeded with “they like it when you treat them like shit” theory. The few women who accepted that approach bewildered most of us men, who were reluctant to treat any women so counter to our upbringing.

                One night, after a lengthy discussion about their approaches  and enough beers to bring us great clarity about the world of boys and girls, I adopted a method that was the opposite of treat-them-like-shit. I called it the Three-Date-Theory, TDT for short. I put it into practice with any woman on the conditions that I considered her attractive when I was sober and that she would accept more than one date with me. At no time during any of the first three dates would I make any sexually motivated move or talk in sexual innuendoes. On the fourth date, I would ask for sex. Like the other theories, practicing the TDT met with mostly negative responses; only once did I hear “I thought you would never ask.”

                After other men tried it, we analyzed it over more beers, exploring, for example, why we didn't get a third or fourth date, sometimes concluding such women preferred to be treated like shit. I suspected that some of us, like me, had quietly stopped reporting successful results at our gatherings. But the biggest benefit of the TDT came to me as a surprise. 

                 I found that over three dates, with sex removed from the table, many women could talk about more than just the weather. They emerged as unique life-support systems for an array of intellect, skills, interests, and behavior that reengineered my objective to have sex with all of them. One was a more consistent tennis player than me and we partnered weekly, playing mixed doubles and watching Billie Jean King defeat Bobby Riggs. Others had political opinions about getting off the gold standard, Roe versus Wade, the founding of Greenpeace, and the shooting of Democratic presidential candidate George Wallace. Even though most women still said “no” on the fourth date, by that time it didn't feel like rejection to me. Many of these new women became friends. We talked long enough that I was able to feel accepted, and I grew comfortable speaking more with them about personal matters, including the hardships in my life. They soothed my loneliness."

Friday, December 26, 2014

Looking At A New Year

Why do so many men struggle with relationships?

It was 1854 when Henry David Thoreau wrote “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” The behavior that led men there, then, I think was much the same when I was growing up some fifty years ago. My father knew it well. In a nutshell, male equaled masculine, and, female equaled feminine. Masculine stereotypes in Dad's time included no emotional displays, aggressiveness, patience and persistence in adversity, and competitiveness both at work and play. He said under no circumstances should I show weakness. Dad taught me that not being his way was, well, unmanly. No wonder I grew up wearing that tough masculine breastplate. . . and was silent about my desperation.

  During the early nineteen-sixties, after Dad chose an all-male engineering college for me, I could only read about the social shift that began among some women. These females were very outspoken about breaking away from their gender's stereotyped roles. By the late seventies, the first women engineers showed up in my company's technical sales force.  Today, many women have transcended the limitations of female equals feminine, playing roles once dominated by men. And similarly, some men. My doctor now has a few male nurses.

As men explore outside the limits of stereotyped masculinity, we each have a personal history that makes us unique among men, including our accomplishments and choices. Yet in common we struggle to meet some expectations, fear failures, and sometimes face difficult relationships, especially with our fathers. Why don't we talk more about these common themes?

I didn't when younger because I embraced a competitive nature with every man  in my hierarchical company, because at year's end, managers force-ranked us all. Those opinions produced next year's salaries and defined our potential to rise on the corporate ladder. I was near retirement before I discovered I seldom relaxed my competitive stance with men even when not at work.

It took me so long because I hadn`t tried to learn very much about myself. But even If I had known more, thanks to my penchant for showing no weaknesses, I still would not have talked openly about myself. After retiring from my profession, dabbling in other aspects of life began to teach me who I was.  

Today`s workplace now emphasizes teamwork as well as individual performance, and some organizations are trending away from  hierarchies making all decisions. Relating with one another is replacing competing. A researcher of human behavior, Brené Brown, found successful people today best build relationships by being vulnerable.*  What a change from my attitudes just twenty years ago! Our evolving world is moving toward the importance of relating with one another, even when we don`t agree on issues.  

On the back cover of my book So Dad, What Makes a Man?, I wrote "may these anecdotes of one man's life stimulate conversations about life and its transitions with your family members, friends, lovers and those you support." In order to foster building these important relationships, Luis Canales, Lloyd Guerin, and I have created A Walking Tour of Male Spirituality, a workshop that provides a safe place to practice talking more openly about life, with no pressure to be like me or anyone else.
By mid-2015, our published facilitator's guide will enable you to lead this workshop yourself for your own men's group or as a couple. If you would like to experience the ten-session workshop before leading one yourself, A Walking Tour of Male Spirituality begins at the Cenacle Retreat House in Houston, January 22.  You can register at 281- 497-3131 or  $125, including the book.

Whether you join in this discussion or not, I invite you to talk with people important to you about your life stories, including the tough times.  


        * The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown, Hazelton, 2010

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Transform is Not an Ugly Word

                 Since human civilization began, states, nations and religions have settled their differences  with war.  They were essentially battles between men seeking change and men defending the status quo. The confrontations continue to this day with leaders  demanding support from their members on every rule they make.

                The power of the men who lead the confrontations seems, however, to be slipping.  In "The Post-Man: Charting the final, exhausted collapse of the adult white male, from Huck Finn to 'Mad Men'" (New York Times Magazine, Sept. 14, 2014) film critic A.O. Scott describes the succession of literature, movies and  TV shows  depicting the collapse of men's  superiority--an old power structure both built by and serving high ranking white men. 

                Scott traces how many American heroes have been young men on the run, refusing adulthood, and refusing to accept marriage and responsibility by rejecting stereo-typed "good" women.  After Scott  laments no one knows how to be an adult anymore, he explores how men's identity crisis is affected by a force out of men's control: the rise of women breaking out of their stereotyped roles.
                 Dov Seidman, who wrote How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything,  (Wiley; Expanded edition September 21, 2011) speaks of the changes in the business world today that are collapsing the old corporate structure of the hierarchy, which was designed for top down management to make decisions on information passed up the corporate ladder. With the high growth in communications technology providing both that information to everyone on the World Wide Web, plus the ability to talk to anyone anywhere, Seidman says there is a shift going on from the power of command-and-control hierarchies to the power of collaborative, horizontal effort.

                "More profoundly than just getting things done. . . relationships lie at the heart of who we are.  The free flow of information  encourages trust and collaboration and creates a dangerous playing field for those whose game is to shade the truth."  Seidman says behavior is shifting from rules-based to appropriate actions that build trust.

                Family structures are transforming, too.  Today, less than half of American households are married couples. My father's role in our family when I grew up was sole breadwinner. He was strong, silent, and made all family decisions. But to participate in today's evolving world, we men are called to communicate and sell ourselves better at work and at home.  For some of us, like me, forming better, more trusting relationships  is a learning curve.  I spent my  whole corporate career being like Dad, very competitive with co-workers, trusting only a handful of people, and not disagreeing with superiors.

                 Men's groups across the country are teaching men to see how they are following, or not, in their father's footsteps, to recognize and handle their emotions, and to become more transparent talking about their life and relationships.  One workshop at The Cenacle Retreat House in Houston, "A Walking Tour of Male Spirituality," offers a safe place for men to practice talking about themselves without  being challenged or "fixed," and, listening to other men. Their next workshop begins January 22, 2015, and meets weekly at 7:00 pm for ten weeks. The Tour is based on the life issues raised in my book, So Dad, What Makes a Man? A Narrative on the Male Identity.  I am co-facilitating with Lloyd Guerin and Luis Canales.   (

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Comfortable or not, we live in times technology races before us, connecting people all over the world with touch pads while deep political divisions and confrontations push the populace further apart. Uncertainty, income disparities and life spans are increasing. 

We seem invited to not remain silent. To slow down and think more about what our experience has taught us and what matters to us. And in better understanding ourselves, to go after the right balance for our lives.

The book So Dad, What Makes a Man? : A Narrative on the Male Identity is my memoir in response to my son asking me what makes a man, at a time in my midlife I did not have a personal relationship with God. But I had learned the most important part of my life was not my job, it was my relationship with my wife. It took sixteen years before I responded to Tristan with my memoir, having recognized I could not tell him or any other man what to do, but only tell him my own story. To the extent my experiences trying to find meaning beyond work have touched on some universal themes, my stories also provide subjects for you to compare to your experience.

I came to view my spirituality as my personal relationship with God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, and religion as the church choice I make to foster that relationship in the company of others.  

Two good men, Lloyd Guerin and Luis Canales, and I have created a workshop called "A Walking Tour of Male Spirituality" at the Cenacle Retreat House in Houston to explore those themes through questions in groups that give men a chance to hear other men's stories and discover none of us is alone. A key to our workshop is creating a safe place for men to talk about themselves without worrying about making a good impression or having to defend themselves, as well as hearing other men's experiences.

 One man who participated in this workshop said it had more impact on him when he verbalized his own thoughts about life and heard others do the same, than he received just reading the book.  Another man said after participating in the group discussion he felt relieved to be able to talk about his life's ups and downs and felt affirmed that what he thinks is okay. Others mentioned the value of learning how to handle anger and be a Christian in a confrontational world. Benefits included a better understanding of how big the landscape of life for men really is and getting support  through life transitions.

 May this new Walking Tour of Male Spirituality contribute to you exploring meaning in your life. Later this year I hope to publish a Facilitator's Guide for the workshop so your men's group could conduct it among yourselves.