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 BrenĂ© 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."