Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Male Mind

I couldn't take my eyes off the children, as Mance and I sat dining Saturday night in a family restaurant. The giggles, the cute faces, the curly heads of hair. My mind churned with the massacre at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut the day before.  Now one ran past me to get an ice cream cone . . . was she about six, I wondered? And for the umpteenth time I was unable to grasp what Adam Lanza had done. And why?  The heavy, sinking feeling in my stomach had lingered since the first news broke. Oh my God, what are their parents going through? The other children?

It was effortless to connect with the stunned faces appearing on TV. We have two adult children. Then as time passed, I saw not only the nation but people all around the world drawn into the emotion of the moment. We are different peoples, of all ages, nationalities and colors, who pray differently and speak different languages, yet we all experience grief and sadness. And many of us carry the grief of loss in our own experiences.   

As much as we seem divided by our ideologies, political preferences, income, status, accomplishments and beliefs, at our core we are one, emotionally.  How healthy it would be for our unity, if we expressed our emotions more openly, as we are now with the people in Newtown.    

Friday, December 7, 2012


"So Dad, What Makes a Man?" is a great Christmas gift!


So is the following information for veterans of military service

I have recently been in contact with Emily Walsh, the Community Outreach Director for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. http://www.mesothelioma.com/  While she is passionate about helping military veterans who have this rare lung disease, Emily's suggestions below about eating healthy and cardiovascular health apply to all of us. If you know veterans, or anyone caring for veterans at home, please pass her comments--and the information on her highlighted website references--along to them. Emily wrote:

Health Concerns Following Military Service

This past Veteran's Day reminded us that our veterans have our respect. But after their service has ended, are they taking care of themselves like they should? After the discipline of military life is gone, are they maintaining their health? In many cases, the answer is YES. But let's look at some health concerns that many veterans miss due to lack of knowledge.

Healthy Eating

Getting adequate meals of high quality fresh food is very important as we get older. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. This type of plant-based diet will lower your risk of developing diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Do not neglect protein and healthy forms of fat. Lean protein will help ensure that you retain muscle mass as you age. Some sources of lean meat are fish, skinless poultry, and turkey.

Be sure that you are getting enough fiber in your meals. Why is fiber so important? This insoluble substance will help you with your digestion. It provides bulk to help move along the contents of your digestive system. It also helps you feel full longer. This keeps you from overeating between meals and helps you lose weight.

Fiber also helps prevent diseases like diabetes by preventing spikes in blood sugar. Since your meal takes longer to digest when it contains fiber, the sugars in your food are absorbed more slowly. Good fiber choices include apples, nuts, and whole grain breads. Whole grain breads are less processed that white flour breads. They retain the fibrous outer shell and are better for you. They also contain much more nutrition than white flour, which has been stripped of nutrients.

Cardiovascular Health

As we get older, our blood vessels tend to become clogged with cholesterol -- a fatty substance that can line blood vessels. A good way to prevent this is by eating foods that are low in unhealthy fat. Fried foods? Eat them very sparingly, if at all. The kind of food you want is meat that is low in fat, such as lean fish and poultry. One consideration with poultry is the skin that is very fatty. Trim the fat from the poultry.

Asbestos and Mesothelioma

Asbestos is the only known cause of a disease called mesothelioma cancer -- inflammation of the lung lining. What is asbestos? Asbestos is a material that is mined and produces a mass of tiny fibers that are used in materials for insulation and fireproofing. When the material is disturbed it can be inhaled and cause mesothelioma.

The military is known to have often used asbestos in military bases and naval vessels. Many veterans were exposed during their time in the service without knowing it. Sometimes, only years later they learn that they were exposed due to asbestos contact during their service. The disease can take years to develop.

Any veterans who are experiencing lung problems should see a doctor and be sure to tell that doctor he or she served in the military.
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Tuesday, November 13, 2012


 This Book is a great Christmas gift!


The male mind in relationships

The elections are over. All the acrimony and name-calling  and attack ads--some projected six billion dollars worth--are silent. It's done, right? No. It will continue--apparently by those who know no other way--beginning with the December deadline for scheduled tax increases/ automatic spending cuts. I once participated that way, but there has been a shift within me, while writing So Dad, What Makes a Man.

It ended this year, with an episode of fainting in February that doctors said was not life-threatening. But they couldn't explain it. Dizzy spells visited me almost monthly for four months and showed me, explicitly, that I am not in control of my life. This fall, after six weeks traveling in places where I tried to speak French instead of English, my inner voice that speaks English and has always urged me to "be productive, get something done" unexpectedly went silent, leaving me willing to sit with nature in my back yard disregarding my to-do list. What rose instead within me were desires to become more connected with people and more outspoken.

In the early years of my developing male identity, my dominating, always-right father--who in anger physically punished me--had me believing I'd caused his anger. After leaving home, I imitated my father, using anger to get my way. I taught myself I could avoid angering other men by keeping my thoughts to myself.  

 But during my midlife transition after retiring from my corporate career, I discovered my anger is mine, not caused by others. When someone said or did something and I felt fear or humiliation, I had avoided my feelings by pointing my attention and anger at that person. Having now accepted my new way of looking at my anger, and enduring all the angry voices during the long election cycle just completed, I changed my view of other angry men. I no longer view my silence as an appropriate response to angry men. And I no longer consider publically angry men to be positive role models.  

The acrimony of the past two years in Congress, the refusal of men to relate to others and seek any common ground on behalf of the people who elected them, has not worked. Now what? How to break this downward spiral?

 A spiritual director at the Cenacle Retreat House in Houston where I volunteer, has concluded that all mankind has breathing in common--after that, she said, "our differences are all about our individual stories."

It's the stories that are missing for me in politics. Instead of seemingly angry men attacking and pointing at "them," I want to hear their story. How did they come to believe what they say is how things should be? If I listen to another man tell his experience that led to his opinion, I don't have to guess whether his opinion is his or that of his party or someone who is paying him. Neither do I feel attacked, but instead invited to tell my story. We have all learned some truth from life, in some context, that can be understood when we exchange stories. Listening to another's story may alter my view, or not. Either way, respectful discussions of situations can get to the heart of what's best from both political sides, and produce good role models for others.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


On Being a Positive Male Role Model     

Reflecting on my life in So Dad, What Makes a Man, I found circumstances have often helped me become a more mature Christian. Some lessons I embraced.  But when I didn't get the hint, I often ran into more similar situations with the same lesson, until I did get it. For example, at one time near midlife, I had a long run of having men around me whom I criticized as being selfish, until I finally realized that I, too, am selfish.

 I spent my first half of life trying to please my father, then college professors, military officers, and corporate managers, fueled by a lack of self-esteem. I tried to keep the peace and developed an aversion for rancor that might presage an unfavorable--displeased--opinion from others.  Some said my demeanor could be described by why can't we all just get along?

 These days, circumstances around me are squashing  the remnants  of people pleaser left in me.  I'm not sure how long ago it started, but I am conscious of people in the political arena who not only believe their opinion is right, but also dismiss or criticize any person who does not agree with them. Politicians who refuse to talk about compromising their ideals, insisting all members of their group believe everything they believe. Such stances in both parties have created divisions in television networks, radio talk shows, and religious groups. Some voters buy into one party's economic stances but disagree with their social stances, or vice-versa.  Division, division, division, even seeping into choice of products and services, driven by the political stance of a company's CEO.

 To me as a spiritual director, who after my midlife transition has come to accept other people as they are, the pendulum has swung so far toward differences that commonalities no longer hold any sway.  Political party affiliation seems the highest power, above national interests. That attack rhetoric now mutes Abraham Lincoln's government of the people, by the people and for the people. Ditto for Patrick Henry's united we stand, divided we fall and our nation's Pledge of Allegiance: One nation under God, indivisible.  People label others as socialist or worse for placing importance on caring for the poor--a hallmark of Christian beliefs mentioned at least one- hundred-fourteen times in the Bible* (http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/poor.htm).

 I haven't found comfort in taking one side to condemn those on the other side. I don't want to propagate the divisions. I believe we are all children of God, all of us. And God is a God of love. Then I remembered I used to say: hate the sin, not the sinner. But these days, a part of me wants to condemn people for personal attacks. Is it my old people-pleaser who is not loving the sinners? Why don't I stand up for what I believe and let them do the same?

Just in time for the elections. 

 

*  Article by Howard Culbertson : http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/

 

 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What does freedom mean to you?


 My father had controlled my teen years, and after high school graduation, I thought, “Freedom at last!”  For me, freedom meant doing whatever I wanted--in agreement with Ayn Rand’s principle of rational self interest, though I’d not seen her novels.  

 Dad paid my tuition at the Colorado School of Mines, the all-men's engineering school he had attended, and away from home, I spent the next four years on a rational treadmill: eight semesters of problem-solving science and engineering courses, each with twenty-plus semester hours. I had no freedom during the week and stopped going to church on weekends because religious do's and don'ts also felt constraining.

 After graduation in the mid-sixties, I was unexpectedly drafted into the U.S. Army’s rigid discipline. I spent six weeks in Basic Combat Training, the antithesis of freedom. My remaining twenty-two-and-a-half months, the army assigned me to Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, where my freedom was again inhibited, this time by the low pay.  

A discharged, frustrated twenty-five-year-old, I joined a conservative, top-down managed oil company, where I was again on the bottom rank. Although constrained by corporate convention at work, my income supported wild away from work. When transferred from Houston to Chicago in the early seventies, with women's liberation in full swing, I rented an apartment designed for sexual freedom: “singles-only.”  Doing whatever I wanted on weekends lasted almost three years, while my mind remained focused on succeeding at work.

Dad had taught me work was a man’s identity, best done with suppressed emotions. Engineering and  military trainers agreed with him, but a four-day encounter in my twenty-ninth year trumped them all. Chicago social directors organized a week in Hawaii, where I wandered onto Waikiki Beach and met a Montreal beauty in a blue and white bikini. Before I returned to Chicago, I was hopelessly in love.

Mance LeGuerrier and I found ways to stay together, married when I was thirty and had two children, Tristan and Katherine. My roles as husband and father began transforming how I defined freedom. But at work my competitive corporate drive versus other men to provide for my family remained for over fifteen years. Into midlife, still primarily work-oriented, I encountered an identity crisis, however, events conspired to correct my imbalance: an early retirement offer secured our financial future.  In the following years, I turned to nourishing my relationship with my family, then began exploring my spiritual and emotional life—efforts that taught me I was more than my work and dissolved my ultra-competitive stance against men.

During these transformative, sometimes messy years, freedom as doing whatever I wanted shifted  to doing what would move me closer to God and Mance, my children and others. That brought my freedom into a new role of choosing, or not, to act from love rather than my rational self-interests.  

 I still struggle trying not to express my anger in the moment I feel it. But redefining freedom has changed my life. Rather than feeling frustrated not getting what I want, my new freedom now fills my everyday life with joy and love, going amiss if I act from a feeling of superiority to other people, or, imagine myself totally self-sufficient. 

Before I began finding meaning in my second half of life, an anthem to my once stand-alone rational mind could have been "So Much To Say," by the Dave Matthews Band, wherein Matthews sings the closet that he is stuck inside is his hell, that there is no light there, and he begs someone to open his head and release him. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Qualities of a positive role model


Which of the following principles makes a man a man, are characteristics of great leaders, in the United States today?
  
a) All people are sacred.


b) People do not lose dignity because of disability, poverty, age, lack of success, or race. The emphasis is on people over things, being over having.

 c) The human person is both sacred and social. We realize our dignity and rights in relationship with others, in community.  

d) We are called to respect all of God's gifts of creation, to be good stewards of the earth and each other.

 e) All people have a right to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities to respect the rights of others and to work for the common good.

f) The moral test of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. The poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of any community. We are called to look at public policy decisions in terms of how they affect the poor.

g) People have a right to decent and productive work, fair wages, private property, and economic initiative. The economy exists to serve people, not the other way around.

h) We are one human family. Our responsibilities to each other cross national, racial, economic, and ideological differences.

i) We are called to work globally for justice.

 I chose these partial statements verbatim from "Principles of Catholic Social Teaching,"  at :


 In these days of me-first political division and personal attack, would you support a political leader of any persuasion who not only held the above statements as self-evident to the American dream but also acted on them, with public policy plans and decisions that reflected this Declaration-of- Independence- style social justice? How about leaders of any organization?

Friday, August 3, 2012


Where are we going?

 Have you ever watched a national trend going the wrong way?  In particular for me it's the descent of political campaigns into attack ads with falsehoods and half-truths going unchallenged. In general, it's the emphasis on dividing peoples. One aspect of "us and them" political divisions I especially dislike is if I want to belong in one group, I must fully agree with everything its leaders and financial supporters decide and say. There is no acceptable middle ground. In these difficult times I don't think separating our citizens is characteristic of great leaders of a democracy. Recent Tea Party election winners are reported to support  not less government, but no government: anarchy and the antithesis of governing by the people for the people. I don't hear these political challengers talking about what kind of future their stubborn divisiveness will produce.

 A religious example of this kind of leadership brought about  this week's meeting of Catholic nuns in America to discuss what it means to be a faithful Catholic.  Following Rome's interpretation as defiance that these nuns questioned  the church leaders' emphasis on opposing gay marriage and abortion, American nuns are faced with an overhaul of their organizations by three American bishops under orders from the Vatican.  The nuns are meeting to decide whether or not to cooperate, given that they believe their questions about social justice priorities are a form of faithfulness, responding to the signs of the times.  A cardinal, head of the church's doctrinal office retired, says from church leadership's view, "if they aren't people who believe and express the faith of the church, the doctrines of the church, then I think they're misrepresenting who they are and who they ought to be."

These and other religious leaders side with a political party on the gay marriage divide. And now entering the fray are the CEOs of Chick-fil-A and  General Mills. To "belong," political party members are buying the products of "their" man.  Already polls indicate a person's political persuasion can be highly predicted by which TV channel they select during evening news. Some people may want to shun me as not-one-of-them when I mention I read the above situation between the nuns and Vatican leaders in the New York Times. 

What's next? Sporting my political identity with the car I drive? The clothes I wear? My opinion of the opposite sex? Again no middle ground. A month ago, the Republican Party of Texas released its official 2012 Platform with a provision including what they now say was an unfortunate choice of words: opposition to the teaching of “higher order thinking skills” in Texas schools. They explained they meant a teaching technique that might lead a child to disagree with what their parents taught them. How does a man mature without learning to think for himself?     

Given the political and religious leaders I mention are all male, it looks like the centuries-old upper-class empire-building that  men have employed to control financial, political (military) and religious power. Those now seeking that control speak little of the nation's future and few specific actions they'll take to solve the problems of those not in power.  It is all about "freedom" for them, and I'm only given a little hope that things will somehow be better for the United States when they gain power.  Just a little hope, like that suggested by Donald Sutherland in his role as Coriolanus Snow, the president of Panem, in "Hunger Games. "

To what extent do gender equality issues underlie  the above Catholic and political divisions?  Do these men seek to maintain the old standards of gender discrimination?  

 An alternative to chauvinism is described by M. Scott Peck. http://mscottpeck.com/  His ideas helped me understand relating to others. He defines mature love, and his vision of community among people of different persuasions. He describes the pursuit of personal dignity of all humans by elevating from a chaotic disorder of people focused on differences to an ordered  conversation of listening and understanding one another.  His communities arrive at resolving differences by accepting them with respect.  Both men and women have the capability of building mature relationships.    

 Although too late for this November, among others, former Senator Bill Bradley, an Olympic gold medal holder in a team sport, is talking without anger and threat of violence about a third political party in four years that supports the best of both sides of the stalemate. http://www.billbradley.com/    He's a fresh, positive role model on what makes a man great, and what would again make our country a great democracy: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.  The president of Panem knew fear and intimidation could control the masses, but only as long as the people cooperated. It is time, not to get mad as hell, but to get involved.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Is There A Male Identity Crisis?

  I agree with what Heraclitus of Ephesus (in Asia Minor at the time, now Turkey) said twenty-five hundred years ago: "Everything changes and nothing remains still."  On the other hand, it was also said by Juvenal, the Roman poet nineteen hundred years ago: "The first of prayers, best known at all the temples, is mostly for riches."  There's some truth in that today, too. Technology strains ever forward with how we do things, but human inclinations, like greed, may ebb and flow, but remain with us.  

Scott Peck's idea of building community that so took my fancy in the early 90's, is now lost on political groups who reject others for a single disagreement on any aspect of, say, fixing the economy.  Another far cry from the gender inequality my father forced on mom back in the 50's, is the transition of women since the 60s into all levels of the workplace, colleges and graduate schools. They now outnumber men in the workforce, with more single women than single men buying homes. (Ray Williams, "Our male identity crisis: What will happen to men?", (PsychologyToday.com), Wired for Success, July 19, 2010).

 Women's progress seems to be under attack, and some men see it as a gender war. Guy Garcia, author in 2008 of "The Decline of Men: How The American Male is Tuning Out, Giving Up and Flipping Off His Future," argues that many men bemoan a "fragmentation of male identity," in which husbands are asked to take on unaccustomed familial roles such as child care and housework, while wives bring in the bigger paychecks. "Women really have become the dominant gender," says Garcia, "what concerns me is that guys are rapidly falling behind. Women are becoming better educated than men, earning more than men, and, generally speaking, not needing men at all. Meanwhile, as a group, men are losing their way."

But the way America does business is in transition, too. During my twenty-plus years of corporate life in the 70s and 80s that I called "ladder climbing," competition for the next level of management, among only males, was as fierce as what we aimed at business competitors. The dream was to get to the top of the heap, so I could tell everyone what to do.  Compare that to today, with companies driven by expanding technology, competing with India and China, using buzz words like interpersonal relationships and teamwork. It seems to me less a gender war than growing circumstances that favor what my teenage friends and I used to call "girly" stuff.

Raised in a male dominant world, I viewed women's temperaments as equivalent to being a woman. In the past decades of women's rise, various media articles in taking on the situation discuss separating men and women or feminine traits and masculine traits in general, or use indefinite terms like normal masculinity, genuine masculinity, our natural calling, healthy masculinity, womanly, natural God-given proclivity, innate traits, feminization, and natural instincts. Gender wars. 

 In Ray Williams' article, he says "80% of the jobs lost during this current recession have been held by men." I watched a similar thing happen in England in the early 80s, when their mining industry collapsed.  It was the men who suffered and the men who survived by changing, or not.

In America today, some young men look at the behavior of men at the top of political organizations and some religious organizations, plus salary disparities between CEOs or sports heroes and the rank and file. They're asking themselves what makes a real man today, and, where are the positive male role models? Men approaching midlife are wondering how to find better balance than just work in the second half of their lives.  Some women are unaware of the rituals, initiations and competitive environments among males that made their man the man he is today.

My interest in writing my book is not only to answer my son's question by telling him what made me who I am today, but also to stimulate conversations about other men's life transitions , their experiences compared to mine, in a positive environment. All men are not losing their way. I include women in the conversation, too. I think gender equality supports a more positive conversation than competition.  Different, yes, and equal. Teammates.    

Thursday, June 14, 2012


I suppose what makes a man is in part what each of us did when we were children.  What were you up to when you were a little boy?  I ask about the boys because I had a younger sister who participated in none of what kept my friends and me busy running around outdoors.  Below are the opening few pages of "So Dad, What Makes a Man" that describe what I did, mostly out of sight of my mother.

                “Jeez, you can stand on a beer can and see Denver from here,” a college classmate once said to me while visiting the Panhandle of Texas. It is flat out there. Those vast expanses of unbroken sky became so ingrained in me that to this day I seek living spaces and vacations with extensive views.

                I was born on these high plains in the early forties. The petroleum company my father worked for built our tiny community, which was surrounded by wide-open prairies except for an occasional farmhouse. The wind blew continuously through the elm trees that had been planted to break it up. I divided my first twelve years between Bunavista and a similar company community north of Amarillo, called Cactus, Texas. Both towns held around five hundred employees and their families who lived in multifamily, white-shingled buildings whose size indicated the employee's level in the company hierarchy.

                Relatively isolated, crime was unknown, and we felt safe. Our moms shooed us outside during the day, where as young boys we did young boy things. We ran around in only shorts, playing ball in the fields, trying to force black tarantulas out of their spider holes with buckets of water, catching the lizards we called horned toads and rubbing their bellies to make them go limp, capturing a bunch of big red ants in a quart glass jar Mom used to can fruit, and dumping them on the bed of the little black ants to see what happened.

                All neighborhood garbage was dumped in an open-topped cast iron incinerator that had natural gas outlets in the bottom, so when it was full, the trash was burned on the spot. Before it burned, it was a great place to climb into and root around, collecting, for example, the mercury from discarded thermometers to play with. We walked down to little gullies to search for crawdads in their holes at the waterline or hiked out to a farmer's windmill to capture the frogs or bull snakes around the water trough. Or we crossed the highway—a no-no, of course—and played on the railroad tracks that paralleled it, where freight trains of over a hundred cars passed daily.

                We'd catch someone's cat and pitch it high up against the wall of the two-story, six-family dormitory we lived in to see if it also landed on its feet when the surface was vertical. Most of them did. We found a ladder to climb so we could stick our arms in the open-ended crosspieces of hollow clothesline poles behind the dorms to retrieve sparrows' eggs or their chicks to feed the snakes we caught. If it rained or was too cold, we'd go into a basement below the dormitory and roller skate on the concrete floor.



I look forward to hearing what kept you entertained as a young boy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Welcome!

An Introduction to Advancing the Conversation

Welcome to Advancing the Conversation, the introductory page to the blog about my book "So Dad, What Makes a Man?" and, a place for men and women to talk about the male identity. In the book, I write about my dominant, no-nonsense father, the results of sex education by my peers, and an engineering education in an all-men's college at the time, then, a two-year hitch in the military, and twenty-five years in a corporation managed by men followed by retirement. My life stories include my choices, mistakes and ignorance--and my own search of what makes a man after I retired.

Today, men's roles are shifting from what my father experienced. I joined a corporation with full confidence that, like him, I could spend the rest of my working life in one company getting every promotion I deserved. Few made it to the top, and when I didn't, and left the company at a relatively early age, that failure changed my life. I found my well-honed competitive attitude had taught me little about relating to others. That was twenty-two years ago. Nowdays, some men running political organizations have produced stalemates in national and local governing bodies, and some other organizations traditionally run by men are not functioning well. What's going on?

Rather than the hard-line cultural definition of masculinity my father grew up in, gender differences in general today are becoming more variable and fluid. Since the 1960's women's liberation movement, some women have begun exploring masculine attributes. As they move into formerly male roles, bringing their own set of attributes, those roles shift. Who are we men, what do we want, and how do we go about getting it in these challenging times? 
The day before his twenty-first birthday, my son asked me the question on the front cover of the book, and this book is my response to him--but it is not about telling him or you what to do. To the extent many men don't openly discuss personal aspects of their lives, the intent of my book and this blog is to advance the conversation about male identity today. To encourage discussions about some subjects we men don't often talk about with other men, women or our families.

I will have periodic posts for discussion and invite guest bloggers from time to time. I welcome your responses. If you wish to receive an Email of posts as they go up, please sign up at the designated place on the side bar.

There is a Buy the Book tab above and a Links tab of people and organizations who have helped me. 

May you go well,
Tom