I played a textbook masculine role to the hilt the first half of life. I graduated a chemical engineer from what was then an all male college, followed by serving in the military during, but not in, the Viet Nam war. Afterward, I developed a fiercely competitive attitude over a twenty-five year career, climbing a corporate ladder toward more power and more money, in an organization then managed only by men. During my company years in sales and marketing, I transferred from one city to another ten times. I related to Paul Simon singing in the '60s he was a rock, an island.
I met my Quebecoise wife Mance in Hawaii, and she loves travel, so we've kept going since I retired. During my workaholic career, I inherently knew she was more important than my job but I didn't act that way immediately after we married. I was anxious to make that right after I left my job but my competitive stance at work had not produced much in the way of take-home knowledge about relating to others.
I barely got my own research going when our son Tristan and daughter Katherine left home for college. Not feeling competent to answer my son's question just before his twenty-first birthday-- "So Dad, what makes a man?" -- fueled my desire to learn more about life, and coincided with my midlife transition.
The second half of my life has focused on relating to others and finding a better balance for myself, but it didn't come easily or quickly. The toughest lesson may have been learning to talk about myself. Before, I said nothing, because anything might have given a competitor an opening in a corporate employee force-ranking meeting. After fifteen years into my second half of life, and thirty-seven years of marriage with Mance, I'm still learning.
I decided to answer my son with a book; this book about myself. Authors are supposed to be experts on the subject about which they write, and I can say I know more about me than anyone else. But the more I explore myself, the more I find life is so multi-dimensional and so much more than just work, I don't expect I will ever reach expert status. One clear conclusion: the more I understand about how and why I have made my choices in my life, the more I know I cannot tell you how to live your life.
If you are like me in one respect, it may be that we are not men of many words. I don't often hear that said about women. But during my midlife, beginning when I wrote letters to my father's mail list while companioning him through Alzheimer's disease, I found that telling stories of my life to people close to me--my ups and downs, mistakes, wrong choices, and disappointments--was not met with ridicule or teasing or "why didn't you just..." that I had expected having been doing guy things earlier. My most astonishing discovery, being a trained male engineer and problem solver, was that women who talk about their lives are not expecting me to solve their problem. If I just listen, they tell me they feel heard, all the while I bite my tongue to hold down what keeps popping into my head: "Well, the solution to that situation is..."
My intent, my desire in putting my response to Tristan in print and Ebook, is to prompt conversations among other people about subjects in men's lives that don't normally come up. I want my book to contribute to the conversation about the male identity that includes our work, relationships, sexuality, gender, emotions and spirituality. Conversations among men, women, families, as well as with professionals who support men: trainers, spiritual directors, therapists and men's small groups.
What does make a man?
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