Men and masculinity series: Volume one

"Pontiac" by David Jewell. Copyright © 2014 by David Jewell.

Given that I’ve been blogging for a number of years now, and given that my circumstances haven’t permitted me to write anything new for the last several months, I thought this would be a good time to collect some of my previous posts on themes related to men, masculinity, masculine psychology, and the male experience into one place for easy access.

What follows is a set of titles and links for three dozen posts written at various points during the last six years, with a brief excerpt from each to provide a quick preview of content. Posts are arranged in a sort of rough thematic order, beginning with my most recently completed essay (“What is healthy masculinity?” from last March) and ending with a post (“My life with Iron Man”) from October 2010 that tells the story of how the unexpected return of a beloved fictional character from my childhood led to the creation of my first book, Iron Man Family Outing. In between, you’ll see posts on a variety of topics rooted in, and born of, my experiences as a boy and a man.

Most of the selections are essays I’ve written, but you’ll also see a few guest posts paired with my commentary. There are some posts with video as well, including video readings of five of my poems along with my written commentary for each one. I’ve also included one post each on writing “men’s poetry”, working with dreams, and body-centered awareness practices. All three of these activities have been particularly significant in my process over more than 25 years of engagement with men’s work (hence the name of my blog: poetry, dreams, and the body) and all remain substantially undervalued and underutilized as means to move into the heart of our experience, especially for men.

I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll have the opportunity to do some new writing later this year. Perhaps, if I’m fortunate, I’ll be posting a second volume in this series a few years from now. In the meantime, I hope folks find the material that follows useful.

Men and masculinity series: Volume one

What is healthy masculinity?
The primal aspect of male power can be very intimidating, especially for men who spent their boyhoods with men who abused or avoided their own power.

Poetry on video: “falling through”
Like every other boy, I knew that crying was the worst sin I could commit in public. On those few occasions when I was unable to avoid doing it, the shame, the isolation, and the horror I felt were beyond words.

The male wish list
It was great to see so many men sharing their most heartfelt desires in such a free and spontaneous way, and as the list grew, I felt I was beginning to see the formation of a running archive of communiqués from the deepest inner lives of men.

Angry like Dad
I, too, have been an angry man, although I haven’t expressed that anger in my life the way my father did. Where he tended to direct his anger outward toward others (mostly in the home: wife, children, pets), I’ve tended to direct my anger toward myself.

Broken bones and the Father Wound
As the years have passed and I’ve gained in life experience, I’ve found it easier to see him, not just as the father I knew and not just as the father I needed and didn’t have, but as a more complete human being.

Mother’s Day and the Mother Wound
For many men, there is nothing more terrifying (or unthinkable) than looking into their own Mother Wounds. I know my Father Wound well. It hurts but does not scare me. My Mother Wound terrifies me. It feels like a pit from which there is no return.

Good men in the real world
I’ve encountered an enormous number of women who are frustrated by their lack of success in finding a “good man”. I’ve also found that many of these women (and I’m talking about women who are independent, intelligent, and capable) have ridiculous expectations that many men simply cannot satisfy.

Poetry on video: “fused at the wound”
I just didn’t want to be the bad guy. I’d grown up with a man who was, that I perceived as, a bad guy. My mom basically did everything she could to reinforce the belief that he was the bad guy, and I didn’t want to be that guy.

Painful projections
A healing conversation between men and women is still possible, especially if we are willing to identify and take full ownership of our personal histories, projections, and fears.

A male survivor’s perspective on “rape culture”
The “rape culture” terminology, as I’ve typically seen it applied, brands all men and boys as potential or latent assailants and perpetrators who need to be “taught not to rape.” Any man who somehow resists the inborn imperative to rape is nevertheless still considered responsible for all the men who don’t.

Film review: “Boys and Men Healing (from child sexual abuse)”
So many men feel so terribly alone with these wounds. Men and boys who’ve been injured in this way need to know that they are not alone and that healing is possible.

What if he cries?
Touching, talking, and hugging may all be too overwhelming and, although well-intended, may actually shut down the man you are trying to reassure.

Men and grief
Male grief is all too often invisible, misunderstood, and unwanted, which leaves many men in the difficult position of having to deal with their grief on their own, if they deal with it at all.

Being (and not being) with pain
Healing is not for wimps. The real tough guys are the ones who can do the work, and if you don’t do your work when you’re called to do it, something bigger will come along and crack you wide open.

The body is the gateway
The physical experience of the body provides many rich opportunities for self-exploration and healing. Our stories are with us throughout our lives, wherever we go, waiting there in our bodies to be discovered, heard, acknowledged, understood, and finally, released.

Poetry on video: “body memory”
I’d been treating my body like a mechanism for most of my life, a strange and mysterious ‘other’ that felt external and separate from what I thought of as myself. I know now that this sort of separation and dissociation from the body is very common among men and boys.

What do you need right now?
Many men, when presented with the question “What do you need right now?”, honestly cannot answer because they learned long ago that their needs were not important.

A view through a cracked lens
What I’d learned caused me to reevaluate everything. Not just my relationship with this man I’d trusted so much, my memories of my time with him, and my feelings about him, but everything.

Coming to terms with an absence of elders
I’ve recently begun to realize that, in spite of the fact that I still feel incomplete, confused, and inadequate at age 52, I actually have something of value to offer younger men, and furthermore, that they see me as having something of value to offer them.

Why aren’t more older men showing up for younger men?
In the program ‘A Gathering of Men’ in 1989, Robert Bly said, “I never realized that young men needed anything I had to give them.”

Unhiding myself
Often the strategies we choose when young to survive and keep ourselves safe no longer suit us and begin to fail us later in life, and can even put us at risk if we adhere to them too long.

Crying in public
“One of the exercises I use in trainings for therapists is to ask the audience to imagine they are going to dinner at their favorite restaurant. There is a man who is crying. What is their response to him and why do they think he might be crying?”

A man ought to know how to handle something like this
The fear and powerlessness I feel right now is the very same fear and powerlessness I felt as a child, while the rage I’m trying not to feel right now is the very same rage I could not allow myself to feel as a child because it was not safe to do so.

Disowned male rage and its impact on society
“There is a tremendous amount of creative, sexual, alive energy freed up when we acknowledge and accept rage.”

Goodbye, masculinity?
Wounded men often seek out women to heal them, but much of what they need can only be found in safe male space with other men.

The boy is father to the man
“A boy learns he is lovable from his mother, but he learns how to love in the relationship with his father.”

“Poetry for men” and other problematic labels
How do I accurately communicate the depth and the breadth, the variety and the richness, the individuality and the universality of the transformational processes I’m attempting to illuminate and share in my writing?

Poetry on video: “tired of being a bullet”
Inspired by a little butterfly that fluttered across the interstate in front of me one morning as I zoomed along in my metal shell on my way to yet another day of “aim and speed and straight lines” at work.

I am a Highly Sensitive Man
It takes a great deal of inner strength and resiliency to maintain your sensitivity in a world that seems to go out of its way to beat it out of you, often literally. If that’s not a demonstration of strength, courage, and resolve consistent with any reasonable definition of masculinity, I don’t know what is.

Sensitivity in the lion’s den
Among other things, a men’s group can provide a great opportunity for a man to explore and express the more sensitive side of his nature and his experience, which may be embodied in a number of ways: vulnerability, tenderness, trust, compassion, grief, deep sharing, deep listening, awareness of self and others, perceptiveness, insight, etc.

Welcoming the new generation of Highly Sensitive Men
These young Highly Sensitive Men are all around us, and they are eager to be seen, understood, accepted, and appreciated so that they can more actively offer their unique gifts to a world that needs them.

Rediscovering the original wound
I formed my identity living in the shadow of two giants too blinded by their own damage and their own unmet needs to see who I was. I wanted to fix both of them, even if it meant sacrificing and forgetting myself.

Stepping out from the shadow of the father
I understand now that standing up as a man in this world doesn’t guarantee me anything – not love, not success, not companionship, not fidelity, not health, not safety – and this understanding has liberated me.

Poetry on video: “easter”
In the years since this dream came to me, I’ve gradually worked my way to a deeper, fuller appreciation and understanding of the circumstances of my father’s life, which has helped me heal myself in relation to my inner father, the father I internalized as a child and carry with me at all times.

A mini dreamwork primer
I’ve learned that the things that seem the scariest, the most threatening, and the most negative in my dreams often actually carry, contain, or embody useful information that I very much need.

My life with Iron Man
As a man moving into his thirties, I felt more than a little silly dreaming about a comic book character from my youth. But the dreams continued anyway, regardless of how I felt about them, and as time went on, I was more and more urgently compelled to understand why Iron Man had reentered my life.

Photo credit: David Jewell. Used by permission.

into atoms

everyone will leave
everyone will forget
everyone will betray
everyone will turn out to be
	someone else.

eyesight will fail
gravity will become weak
bones will fill with water
stars will turn to tombstones
sky will fill with dirt
raindrops will feel like knives.

hair will turn to smoke
lungs will be eaten by rust
soul will return to the wind
love will fall back once again
	into atoms.

(PDF version)


fading butterfly wings in the wind
girl running away down the street
dead man working on
blue collar salvation to
no tangible end.

he sits watching the
children on the swings thinking
	that was me
and all his timestreams weave
in and out among one another
until everything is happily
all at once and he thinks
	maybe this is a zen moment
or maybe he's
just running short
on tomorrows.

(PDF version)

virtual modern

jagged disjointed experience of reality
out of step with the out of touch
trapped with wings clipped
in the non-stop hyper-efficient
speed freak pyromaniac starvation dream
of a lost civilization on suicide watch
where yesterday means nothing
today doesn't exist
and tomorrow won't matter tomorrow.

(PDF version)

temporary stars

words fail to impress
when the sun falls
into its place along
the divided ocean.

the infinite sadness
of the highway is
a guide to the great
beyond before us all.

independent of any notion
of love or freedom
there is a place within us
that knows great emptiness.

the best friend we will
ever have is the knowledge
that we are small and
completely expendable.

every wind that stirs
the leaves reminds us
that someday we will be
gone and long forgotten.

(PDF version)

samurai flower

I'm an old samurai
	married to my sword
I own nothing else.

I have no home
I have no mate
I have no status
I have no pension.

I have only the blue butterfly
	perched on my finger
the osprey diving into the lake
	to capture a fish
the secret snapping turtle gliding
	under the footbridge
the egret wading at water's edge
	feathers white as fallen snow.

I can draw a perfect circle
	be still for hours
	remember my dreams
	listen deeply
	slice away falsehood.

I can sit with pain until it speaks
	my pain
	and yours.

I offer myself in service
but I am of little use
in this brave new futureworld of
	noise junkies
	chatterbox puppets
	heart avoiders
	silence destroyers
	tiny dictators
and machine soldiers.

I am the strongest flower you can imagine
	but the bulldozer people 
	want every inch of this earth
and I'm running out of safe places
to stand.

(PDF version)

What is healthy masculinity?

"Empty Suits" by David Jewell. Copyright © 2014 by David Jewell.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen more attempts than I can remember to define what constitutes appropriate and proper (often characterized as “healthy”) manhood and masculinity. Some of these efforts are clear, grounded, and helpful. Some are well-intentioned but misguided and/or misinformed. Others appear to be driven primarily by sociopolitical motivations, and in far too many cases, by an ongoing effort to demonize men, masculinity, and male power as inherently flawed, bad, evil, wrong, “toxic”, etc. Masculinity is seen as a source of problems and therefore must be restricted, restrained, and if possible, eliminated, with corresponding retraining of men to rid them of their innately troublesome nature (e.g., the widespread “Teach men not to rape” meme).

One of the most prevalent and pervasive themes I’ve seen on this subject typically goes something like this:

Healthy masculinity is defined by how a man treats women.

This could not be more wrong.

Healthy masculinity is defined, first and foremost, by the nature of a man’s relationship with himself. He must know, understand, and be in conscious, ongoing relationship and dialog with:

  • his wounds
  • his history
  • his needs
  • his anger
  • his sadness
  • his grief
  • his joy
  • his strengths
  • his weaknesses
  • his purpose in life
  • his shadow
  • his power

A man’s relationship to his own power is a critical element of a mature, healthy masculinity, and that relationship can be a tricky and difficult one for some men. The primal aspect of male power can be very intimidating, especially for men who spent their boyhoods with men who abused or avoided their own power. But true manhood is not possible without acceptance, application, and mastery of one’s own power, in whatever forms are unique and appropriate for the individual.

Owning and applying one’s power in a mature, healthy way carries with it the responsibility of owning the outcomes of doing so, both positive and negative. It also requires setting boundaries for what is and what is not within the scope of one’s responsibility. A man must be willing to take responsibility for his own actions and inactions, his own successes and failures, without assuming responsibility for the actions, inactions, successes, and failures of others, however much he might feel pressured to do so.

Any man who defines himself primarily in terms of something external to himself (other people, objects, job, etc.) is in for a world of trouble. A man who regularly gives women’s needs higher priority than his own is going to wind up very lost and very angry at some point in his life. He will then direct the effects of his suffering at himself, at those around him, or both.

A man will generally treat others, over the long term, only as well as he treats himself. A man who is in healthy relationship with himself will treat others (women, children, and animals as well as other men) with the same respect, consideration, and understanding he allows himself, and all of it will be coming from a place of authentic inner abundance rather than from a need to impress or meet external expectations.

It’s hard for me to imagine the same folks who espouse the “Healthy manhood is defined by how a man treats women” approach flipping the genders and advocating a “Healthy womanhood is defined by how a woman treats men” philosophy. Healthy relationship between men and women will not come by requiring one gender (male) to elevate the other (female) above itself. What we should be aiming for is parity and partnership. Telling boys and men that the number one priority in their lives should be the needs of girls and women takes all of us in the opposite direction.

The “Healthy masculinity is defined by how a man treats women” approach essentially says that healthy, appropriate, mature masculine identity is to be determined on a performance basis by women, according to standards that would no doubt vary from time to time and woman to woman. This is a blueprint for confusion and frustration on the part of both men and women. Women cannot define masculinity for men, nor should they be expected to, any more than men can, or should be expected to, define the feminine for women.

The true source of healthy masculinity is within each man. It is waiting for him in his mind, his heart, and his body. It speaks to him in his dreams, his daydreams, and his fantasies. The pathways that can lead him to it are ancient and well-traveled by his ancestors. It is a journey that has been taken countless times over countless centuries, but it begins anew with the life of every newborn boy who enters this world. Let’s give each boy and each man the tools, the knowledge, the encouragement, and the freedom to take that journey in his own way, at his own pace. That is the one and only way that healthy masculinity will truly manifest and express itself in our world.

Photo credit: David Jewell. Used by permission.

Related posts:
Goodbye, masculinity?
Men and grief
D.A. Sears – What If He Cries?
Coming to terms with an absence of elders
Why aren’t more older men showing up for younger men?
What do you need right now?