He’s the stylin’, profilin’, limousine ridin’, jet flyin’, kiss stealin’, wheelin’ n’ dealin’, son of a gun. And he has a hard time keepin’ those alligators down.
Of course, we’re talking about the legend of the squared circle – the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.
As a wrestling fan growing up, I was a Georgia Championship Wrestling/WCW fan. I preferred the real feel of southern Wrasslin’ over Vince McMahon’s “sports entertainment” approach. Like clockwork during my childhood, it was WCW Saturday Night at 5:05 before I watched my Braves lose at 6:05. My TV stayed locked on TBS during many childhood summer Saturdays.
Flair has been my dude for many years.
Ric Flair is a guy known for living his gimmick. He spent tons of money. He drank heavily (he claimed to have 10 alcoholic drinks every day). And he also claimed to have slept with ten thousand women.
ESPN premiered their brilliant 30-for-30 documentary film on the Nature Boy a couple weeks ago. During this amazing 90-minute film, I was crying in laughter in places (Sting’s story with the robe on the plane was particularly hilarious.)
But I was also sobbing uncontrollably in other places. Watching Ric’s absolute heartbreak over losing his son Reid to a drug overdose in 2013 just shattered my soul.
It wasn’t exactly a deep secret that Flair was in a dark place following Reid’s passing. But I didn’t know how deep the pain was.
Here was an exchange he had with the interviewer. This broke my heart on many levels.
“How were you able to find joy again?” The filmmaker asks.
“I didn’t. I drank myself to death for two years.”
In a similar vein as the Nature Boy, I see a lot of the same pain, heartache, and career triumph in the late musician Gregg Allman.
Aside from being a big fan of his music, I’ve been studying Allman’s life for inspiration for my new novel. I’m writing a character who is a famous and influential musician who has fallen on hard times but who heals his soul through falling back in love with playing music.
Much has been said and written about Allman’s life following the death of his brother – the iconic guitar slinger Duane Allman – in a motorcycle accident. On the heels of Duane’s passing was the untimely passing of Allman Brothers Band bass player Berry Oakley also in a motorcycle accident, three blocks from where Duane met his demise.
Gregg was married seven different times in his life with Cher being the most famous of his exes. Allman fathered five children with five different women.
Gregg was also famously known for his drug and alcohol abuse in his life. And the health problems brought on by that substance abuse. He contracted Hepatitis C through a tainted tattoo needle and underwent a liver transplant in 2010.
In Allman’s memoir My Cross to Bear, he shares in great detail a multiple day drinking binge leading up to his band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. The video of which became Gregg’s “rock bottom” wakeup call.
He shared that his bandmate and dear friend Jaimoe Johanson was in tears the entire week thinking that Gregg was about to die, he was in such bad shape.
So much of Ric Flair’s legendary career and character was built after surviving a plane crash.
So much of Gregg Allman’s public persona and iconic music was built following the tragedy of losing his hero and big brother.
Flair and Allman are but two examples of how men hide their pain, their fear, and their anxiety behind masks. The masks of substance abuse, sexual conquests, and invincibility. You know, among others.
These are masks that keep the world from seeing who we as men really are.
I got present to the impact of this in my own life after reading the absolutely brilliant new book The Mask of Masculinity: How Men Can Embrace Vulnerability, Create Strong Relationships, and Live Their Fullest LivesThe Mask of Masculinity by Lewis Howes.
Howes was inspired to write Mask when he was on tour for his New York Times bestseller The School of Greatness in 2015.
“I came back to a lonely hotel room every night and felt miserable. I knew I had to dig into the issues that were holding me back as a man, so I decided to write a book so that others could learn along with me.”
In Mask, Howes spells out ways that men hide our authentic being and authentic selves from the world. And I have to say, I see myself all over that book.
One of the masks Howes writes about is the Joker Mask. How so many men use their sense of humor to mask their tortured, pained souls.
Think about it: many comedians have taken their own lives? Richard Jeni, Greg Giraldo, Chris Farley, and Robin Williams are but only four.
Reading about that one mask was a real wakeup call for me.
I love making people laugh. And I as I wrote about a few weeks ago, my sense of humor was how I got loved and how I got validation. I developed my sense of humor to combat the bullying I got at school and the pain and tragedy in my family life.
Man, the impact of that joker mask in my life has been tremendous. It’s cost me relationships. It’s cost me credibility. And it’s cost me love – ironically enough, the very thing I was trying to cultivate with my sense of humor.
Both Ric Flair and Gregg Allman have had amazing, successful, and brilliant careers.
Flair’s 40+ year career in the squared circle earned him countless cheers, and money beyond his wildest dreams. But his masks have cost him relationships; he’s been married and divorced four times. And he’s had spotty relationships with his children – at best. He’s had run-ins with the IRS. He’s had legal run-ins. And his masks have cost him his health. That invincible mask can only last so long.
Allman’s gold records, hall of fame inductions, and iconic music earned him countless cheers, and money beyond his wildest dreams. But it’s cost him relationships, as evidence of his numerous marriages. He had spotty relationships with his children. And his masks cost him his health – and eventually his life. Again, that invincible mask isn’t forever.
There’s always room for change and transformation. None of us are stuck in the same place for the rest of our lives. We can choose to move forward powerfully.
“I hope men will be able to see themselves in these masks and realize that it’s a choice to wear them. They weren’t born that way. There are ways to heal from the pain that caused them to put the masks on in the first place. I hope women understand the men in their lives better and learn ways to support them in taking off these masks without making them wrong or putting them down” Howes said.
And that was the biggest takeaway I had from Mask. Awareness is more than half the battle. If we know where our masks are showing up, we can get supported in removing them, and show the world our truths.
Being a king means taking responsibility and looking at where our masks show up in our own lives.
Because when we start to strip away these masks, we can show the world our truth.
And gentlemen – kings – our truth is beautiful. Our friends, partners, lovers, children – they’re all dying to see our truths.
Let’s take off these masks and show the world who we really are.
I asked Howes what was the biggest lesson he had when he was writing Mask. He said that it taught him to acknowledge that we’re all works in progress.
“When I acknowledge myself for the progress I’m making instead of beating myself up for the mistakes I still make, I am encouraged to keep going. I think a lot of men struggle to be kind to themselves, but it makes a huge difference when we are.”
There’s something in that for all of us – Kings and Queens.
Read The Mask of Masculinity with an open mind and open heart. It’ll change your life.
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Photo by David Goehring