Act Like a Man

Struggling to be the best man you can be? Sounds like you need group therapy, man style.

When I was a boy and lay bleeding from a bicycle accident, I was told, “Don’t cry—act like a man.” Decades later I still wasn’t crying and was still trying to act like a man. But I didn’t have a clue what that meant. All I knew was that I was afraid of men and had been isolated from them all my life.

Like most men these days, I hadn’t received the critical rites of passage fathers traditionally give their sons. The transmission of the values and skills required to be a man essentially ended with the Industrial Revolution 150 years ago. With fathers working in the factories for twelve or more hours a day, mothers took over the task of raising their boys to be men—and the male perspective was lost.

My search for guidance has led me to become an author, activist, and speaker about men’s issues. In this column and in daily blogs on my website, www.kensolin.com, I share the knowledge and strategies I’ve gleaned from nearly two decades in a men’s group—and from my firm conviction that guys need to learn from each other what it means to act like a man and become the best men we can be.

A recent poll found that women have an average of six close friends. Men have, at most, one—and frequently, none. Why the discrepancy? It’s partly because boys are taught to compete with each other from the time we’re children. We compete for girls, and later on for women. We compete in sports and for jobs. Nothing in our male experience encourages us to be trusting, open, or honest with other men. The guys most men consider to be their friends—the ones on their softball team, in their carpool, or in the office across the hall—are actually just acquaintances.

A true friend is a man you can confide in without hesitation and with absolute trust, a man you can talk to about anything. A true friend will stand by you steadfastly when you’re in need and offer you unconditional support. But where can guys go to make such friends and deal with the issues that have been preventing them from being the best men they can be?

For a long time I had no idea. But then, two decades ago, I invited eight other guys to form a men’s group. We met twice a month to discuss our lives—and we’re still meeting. Breaking down the barriers to intimacy isn’t easy and, beyond our trust issues, we all had to face the common fear of looking foolish or unmanly. We had to be willing to examine our dysfunctional behavior honestly, dig into the history behind it, and make the changes that were necessary in order to become better men.

As the group evolved, I realized that we had more than three-hundred years of what I call collective male wisdom to share with each other. Rarely did someone report an experience that at least one other guy hadn’t also gone through. And we learned to share our issues in terms of what we felt, not just what we thought. Thoughts and opinions are open to debate. Feelings are a man’s absolute truth, and we respected them as such.

There’s no such thing as a man who doesn’t have issues—just men who ignore them. But ignoring your issues doesn’t make them disappear. Every member of our group dug deep, uncovered his demons, faced them head-on, learned to express what he felt rather than just what he thought, and did the work. Because of that, we all became better husbands, better boyfriends, better fathers, and better friends. And we made friends for life.

Don’t live in a big city? No problem—men are everywhere. No money? No problem—a men’s group won’t cost you a dime. No time? No problem. If you have time to watch a reality show on television, you have time to dig into your own reality and make it work for you. Yes, it takes commitment and courage, but the payoff is priceless. Living in the world is hard, but long-term suffering is entirely optional.

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Ken Solin

For twenty years, author and lecturer Ken Solin has worked with men to help them process their gender-specific issues. Before devoting himself to this work, Ken enjoyed a successful twenty-five year career as an entrepreneur, financing high-tech companies and wineries. He raised two sons as a single father and lives in California, with his wife, Sheri. You can read more from Ken at his blog www.kensolin.com.

Comments

  1. Ken, I’m with you. My dad was gone by the time I was 5. My step-dad left when I was 13. Being a loner, hungry to have a woman, who didn’t need males in my life, seemed to be the safest way to be. It didn’t work out so well. When I got divorced, I fell into a men’s group. We’ve been together now for 31 years. It saved my life and my present wife says its why we’ve been happily married for 30 years.

  2. David Wise says:

    Part of the reason for the lone wolf behavior in men is probably due to our instincts. Having more males around may be a threat to our mates and offspring.

  3. I have at least a dozen men, probably more, that I could call today and move in with if I needed a place to stay. I have at least a dozen men that know me deeply, that love and trust me, that will listen to me without trying to fix me, change me or give me advice. 7 years ago, I had NO close male friends. Transformation happens. Man am I grateful. And so is my wife – because she doesn’t have to bear the weight of my emotional reality. I’ve got men to work with.

  4. Michael Allen says:

    I find I am much more comfortable around women than I am around men. There’s no pissing contest going on around my female friends. I was never much into sports or the outdoors so there’s no common ground with the men I work with. My father worked 2 jobs most of his life and I rarely saw him or did anything with him. I promised myself I would be a better father than he was, but with nothing to go by I’ve made the same mistakes with my son that he did with me. I have no close male friends I can open up to outside of my brother and we live 2000 miles apart. Got to admit though, if I did have a close male friend to confide in, actually doing it would be like pulling teeth. I don’t think I’m programmed to pull it off.

  5. suzanne rosenwasser says:

    Your provocative piece sure produced some provocative comments. I know so many men who claim they have no close male friends, and they are often people who I thought were close friends with each other. Such an interesting discussion. Thanks for opening it up.

  6. Being fatherless all my life I’ve found that I’ve tried many times to “get close” to male friends. That rarely works. Some have be straight forward with me with comments like, “guys do that.,” or “what are you, gay or something.” Most just want to “go play ball.”

    Then for a few years ago a man and I became “buds” and as single men we did lots of things together like camping, sports, going to nudie bars, talking and sharing. Daydreams, wishes, hopes, fears, and other things were expressed freely. It all went well for a decade or so until a few months after his wedding where he sat me down and told me, “I’m married now, things are no longer the same.” He made it clear that he was no longer interested in what I was feeling and he told me that as a married man he didn’t have a need for a confident anymore, he had a wife. The implication was that he had someone now with whom he could share those thoughts and feelings.

    My thought was, “Oh, OK, sure.” I felt lost.

    Other such “buds” have existed and all, without exception, disappear within months of their marriages. After several such instances I’ve come to accept that that’s the way things are. It’s OK to be friends and share among single men, but once married, that’s the end. It’s OK, it’s the norm for me now. There’s not much else to do.

    Am I blaming the wives? No, not really. I understand that when a man marries there exists a special bond that “male friends” are not included. It’s nice to know that at one time we were “friends” or “confidants.” Now and then we do things together like backyard BBQs and such, but it’s all without discussions about all those things we once discussed or shared. That’s just the way it is.

    Could it be that is the reason why most men do not have male friends?

  7. Men use words like ‘bud’, ‘pal’ and even ‘brother’ when they want to think they are connecting with other men but too often they only feel its acceptable to do this within the confines of a fraternity, work crew, sports team or gang. I’ve seen how women can instantly connect and become friends after one conversation about a shared experience. Yet they are more competitive than they let on. Hetero men most often are fearful of appearing needy, whiney, feminine or gay. That’s plain stupid.
    Men who use their partners or wives to be their sole confidante ask too much of these relationships are somehow are surprised when they break. To help them go inside men need other men. The male friendship can be so much more than a couple of beers watching the game or poker night. A mens group in your neighbourhood may be the best investment you can make into making the world a better place.

  8. This is one of the most misogynist and historically inaccurate pieces I’ve ever read; in fact, it’s so extreme and over the top that it basically puts forth the same view of masculinity that the movie _Fight Club_ parodies. A complete response would take an essay, but here are a few points.

    First, men were not raised by their fathers before the industrial revolution; raising children in Europe and the Americas has, since Ancient Greece, had been considered women’s work.

    Second, after the industrial revolution women, too, were working in the factories alongside the men — so who raised the children? Well, they were either working also or raising their younger siblings. Still no male rituals passed down from father to son.

    I’m very curious to know what poll you’re citing that claims men have less friends than women. Your reasoning for why this might be is hilarious. Do you really think women are not competitive? Do you really think women, from young children to adulthood, are not trained to compete for partners, popularity, and basically everything you claim men fight for? Your men’s group obviously has not given you any insight into women.

    Finally, as a man who’s been through actual group therapy led by a psychiatrist, I can attest that most men — and women — need emotional education. Most of us need to learn to trust, to have real friends, to learn how to stand by our friends, and all the things you state. But it’s not limited to men. That’s my point. Your entire article is riddled with historical errors and sexism that suggests because men have not been “raised by men,” we do not know how to interact with anyone but women. That is historically inaccurate because you think it’s new that women are children’s primary caregivers, and sexist because you seem to think men being raised in the company of women is detrimental to our development. Stand up and accept that your flaws are your own, not caused by your gender. But I suppose if you did that, you wouldn’t be able to keep your money-making “non-profit” self-help business going.

  9. As a therapist who uses group therapy for a number of issues, particularly drug addiction, I can attest to the power of a group of focused individuals. A lot of men AND women benefit from the emotional work that goes on in group. I’m glad that Ken has found group to be a profound experience. I’m looking forward to reading more thoughtful piecesand comments on this subject.

  10. Telling men to deal with their emotions is just as closed-minded and controlling as telling men to bury their emotions.

    Stop telling us what to do with our emotions.

  11. Out of curiosity, why do people, in their responses that I read add “and women” to what they’re saying? Can’t men discuss men without the need to be PC in what’s said? We’re talking about “men.”

    That being said, I tend to agree with the concept that men were the bread winners and the women raised the kids but, and it’s a big BUT, the fathers role was that where he worked his ass off to provide for the family. More then likely the disciplinarian as well.

    What I find amusing though is that this article depicted men of generations past as being hard workers who had little to no time for the family yet the feminist movement depicts these generations of men as being a cake walk that men pretty much took advantage of women and men lived the lush life.

    Now, to the point that men lack relationships with men, I would tend to agree in general to the extent that men may not be as open to be “open.” I do see things changing though. Men are justifiably guarded because many don’t appear to know who their advisories are. Just look at some of the articles here at GMP and you’ll see that there is no clarity as to who men are, who men are supposed to be and more importantly, who is motivating men to change.

    The lack of fathers in the lives of men have had a devastating impact on men/boys yet it’s still viewed as “cool” to have kids without any dad in sight.

    Personally, I have a few close male friends that I’m comfortable with, comfortable enough to lay all my cards on the table and know that I won’t be judged or betrayed. I have no close female friends other then my wife of 38 years. But even with my wife, I need my male friends.

    To my dad … Dad, I miss ya, I miss you more today then the day you passed away 38 years ago.

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