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, BrenĂ© 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, BrenĂ© 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. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Deep Roots of Not Getting Along

On a visit to Turkey last year, Mance and I were with a tour group who listened in Ankara to a professor's lecture on the Middle East. At one point, an American in our group asked, "What is it with this region? It never seems to settle down?"  The professor paused a moment, then responded, "In history, four people who have talked directly to God are Moses, Abraham, Jesus and Mohammad.  They are all from this region.  Next question?"

 Talking this past week with a trainer at our gym, a Lebanese Christian who immigrated here, he regaled me with current Middle East tensions, describing how the Shiites and Sunnis are battling one another in Syria, the Iranian Shiites are sided with the Lebanese Alawites, and Christians are caught in between. He then quoted an Egyptian proverb he thought in a nutshell describes the Middle East:  My brother and I against my cousin; my cousin and I against the stranger.

He gave an example from a visit he once made to Israel, where a Jewish man confided in him that he thanked God every night for the Palestinians. When he asked why, the man said, "because if the Palestinians were not here, we Israelis would turn on each other."

I see how difficult  The Golden Rule--based on words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and mirrored in nearly every religion--also seems in the United States right now, where we Americans are turning on each other. It is a seriously difficult challenge for me to live each day treating all Americans the way I would like to be treated, using more unconditional acceptance.

Yet Pope Francis has some encouragement: He said, "Goodness always tends to spread. Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others. If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good. (from his recent Evangelii Gaudium).   

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Getting Past "You Know What Your Problem Is?"

                It's getting really old, like change-the-channel old.  Finger-pointing dominates speeches and interviews as the national political rhetoric grows more divisive. Network interviewers report these verbal attacks and replay them over and over. Often the speaker's judgmental remarks for what's "best for America," are based on his--yes, there are some women participating, too--personal impressions and feelings and opinions rather than external facts. That is, subjectivity rather than reality. Never mind the truth of the matter, just replay the attacks. Older people rather than younger seem often most involved.

                Why, when a person attacks another person or political idea, does the interviewer not ask, "What solution do you suggest? And why do you think your solution is best? What experience or information is the basis? Who benefits most from your suggestion?" 

                How did it get this way? What are these attackers hiding?

                I understand some people have a tendency to associate and bond with people like themselves.  And others have a tendency to collect in diverse groups.  Companies whose products require an innovative environment know to staff them with people with the latter tendency. Social change, too, benefits from group diversity. I conclude organizations who oppose change have a tendency to seek people like themselves, whether their groups are political or social.

                Personal attack ads and discourse are also ignoring the wisdom of loving one another that originated in most religious organizations.

                Clearly many national and state political speakers, their financial support organizations and their network interviewers are not trying to create a conversation about the issues for American voters. The best way I know to have a meaningful  conversation is for speakers on both sides of an issue to talk for themselves, in "I" statements:  "I think ...",  "I believe...", "I propose..." with no "you's" involved.  I learned this participating in the early 90s in Community Building Workshops conceived by M. Scott Peck, that started with total strangers. They worked by letting groups teach themselves they could come together if it was safer for everyone to participate and defend their views without drawing personal attacks for having done so. Group members changed their minds if and when they were ready, after listening to others say how they themselves had become who they are and what they believe.

                 I think, given history, social change is as foregone a conclusion as changes in the natural landscape and technical innovation. I would like to hear about more places for Americans to come together to voice their opinions safely, such as The Cenacle Retreat House's current workshop for men: "So Dad, What Makes a Man? A Walking Tour of Male Spirituality," in Houston, where I am one of the facilitators.