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