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?

suit of lights

sometimes I just wanna put on
	my suit of lights
and march straight into the darkness
	arms held high
	hands in the air
two middle fingers aimed at the cosmos
	one last defiant
	victory salute.

to hell with
	karma fate love time and gravity
I'll set myself free from all of it
lighting the fuse
	on an eternity of smashed hearts
and dashed hopes
blowing myself sky high
	into a new constellation.

(PDF version)

romance 101

love is madness
hope is weakness
trust is blindness
passion is mindless.

kindness is an invitation
	to a disaster party
a promise made is a handful of snow
an open heart
	is a carnivore buffet
she will chew her way through
	then walk away.

(PDF version)

Goodbye, masculinity?

Goodbye, masculinity

I was browsing tweets with the #masculinity hashtag on Twitter this morning and came across the item shown above. I responded as follows:

“There is a masculine mode of feeling equally as deep as feminine. Men needn’t be feminine to feel.”

What might motivate a man to want to say “goodbye” to masculinity? I can’t speak to the motivations of the author of the poem above, but I’ve observed that there is a group of men out there, many of them very well meaning, who seem to believe that men and masculinity are inherently inferior to women and femininity, and that men must look to the feminine as their model for “healthy masculinity”.

I believe this notion must be challenged. Both masculine and feminine are valid in their own ways. One is not superior to the other. Both have aspects of light and shadow, as all archetypal energies do. We must take care not to ignore or inflate the shadow aspects of either, or to project the shadow aspects of one on to the other. That is a dangerous path that can only lead to disaster.

As a man who entered adulthood with a deeply wounded masculinity, I understand the attraction to the feminine as a source of healing and direction. 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. I make this statement with confidence based on many years of personal experience as well as observation of other men, in men’s groups and in life. A man who is living out a wounded expression of masculinity in whatever form that takes (and there are many) can receive a lot of helpful support and wisdom from women and from the feminine, but there are shadow places and black lakes deep in the masculine heart that are only known to other men, and only other men can help him explore, endure, and navigate them successfully.

Ancient cultures knew this, but we have forgotten. We as men cannot step back into those ancient ways, but neither can we abandon the masculine as being so flawed, so defective, so inferior to the feminine that it has no worth whatsoever. There is no saying “goodbye” to masculinity. It is primal, with roots that reach deep in the very origins of humankind, and it will always be with us. Let us instead find ways to celebrate what is, and always has been, worthy about it. Let the men among us who’ve spent time in those shadow places and black lakes in the masculine heart, those of us who’ve also stood in the fiery breath of the feminine shadow and survived, come forward to extend an open hand to our younger brothers who need us, in whatever way we can.

Related posts:
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?

John M. Robertson – “Tough Guys and True Believers”

"Tough Guys and True Believers" by John M. Robertson

“Men learn early to ignore their bodies.”

“When a man resists empathy, he is trying to maintain his independence.”

“Sometimes a man does not welcome empathy. It can feel too intense, too exposing, or uncomfortably erotic.”

“Sometimes the most empathic response is silence. Respectful, patient silence. When a man is thinking, let him think.”

The above quotes constitute just a small sample of the many astute observations on men and the male psyche included in John M. Robertson’s excellent 2012 book Tough Guys and True Believers: Managing Authoritarian Men in the Psychotherapy Room. John is a psychologist who works with authoritarian men, often described as workplace bullies, sexual harassers, partner abusers, and true believers of various types. For years, he has served these men at a facility that assesses and treats them on an intensive out-patient basis. His publications, workshops, and professional presentations focus on various aspects of the psychology of men.

I was pleased and honored that John chose to include two selections from my book Iron Man Family Outing in Tough Guys and True Believers: my poem “learning to breathe” and an excerpt from my poem “release”.

I had the pleasure of spending a day with John at a masculine psychology conference in San Antonio about two years ago. We’d previously corresponded briefly by email regarding his use of the above-mentioned poems in his book, but had never met in person. I found him to be not only quite knowledgeable, but also wonderfully accessible, open, and engaging. Before each of us returned home (me by car to Austin and John by plane to Kansas), we took a little walking tour of the Alamo and the River Walk, had some lunch, and chatted about our work. It was a friendly visit filled with meaningful conversation. John spoke to me as a peer, which was a great and unexpected validation of both me and my work. I felt inspired and encouraged by my time with him, and I hope we’ll have the opportunity to meet and visit again sometime.

Folks who’d like to learn more about John’s approach to psychological treatment of authoritarian men might also be interested in his six-hour video seminar “Effectively Treating the Authoritarian Client: Narcissistic, Obsessive & Histrionic Behavior”, which is available for purchase (downloadable video and audio) and rental (streaming video) here on the PESI website.

For more information about John and his work, you can visit his website at


she pops the lid
off her skintight cookie jar
leaping inside
so hungry for a taste
I tumble like alice
down the bunny hole
into a temporary womb
of no tomorrow
trying to resurrect myself
from the lazarus tomb
of the daily grind
hoping to release myself
from the relentless death grip
of the shared cubicle mind.

(PDF version)

skin trilogy

devil skin

devil skin stroke
devil skin peel
devil skin deliver me
from what I can't feel.

devil skin burn
devil skin heal
devil skin fall in love
with someone unreal.

hold me raw

sometimes I feel like I'm
gonna go stark raving
batshit crazy mad if I can't
roll over in bed into the
arms of someone who'll love
me and hold me when I feel
raw scared insecure uncertain lonely
even if it's only for a few
minutes every few years so I
don't feel so goddam
alone in this world.

angel skin

we can all be angels briefly
in fleeting moments of love
our skin turns to angel skin
our breath is angel breath
every moan gasp sigh is angel language
our native tongue
before we fell to earth
and forgot who we are.

(PDF version)

am I bad

am I bad
am I too much
am I too blinding to be around.

do I come on too hard
do I give away too much
do I make too many mistakes.

have I held on too tight
have I reached too far
have I fallen over the side.

will I finish my work
will I find my way home
will I sleep in peace tonight.

(PDF version)