The “men’s movement” began for me on November 21, 1969, when I turned the wrong way when I left my wife. Let me explain. My wife and I were expecting our first child and I had been coaching her through 14 hours of Lamaze breathing exercises to help prepare for the birth. When it was time for her to be wheeled into the delivery room, I was told it was time for me to go to the waiting room.
I kissed my wife, gave her hand a squeeze, and headed to the right towards the waiting room as she went to the left into the delivery room. We both knew the rules at Kaiser hospital. It was the doctor’s decision on whether dads would be allowed to be with their wives through the entire birth process. This doctor wanted me to wait with the other expectant fathers. But as I pushed through the doors to the waiting room, I couldn’t go through them. Some force, which I later came to realize was the call of my unborn son, was telling me, “I don’t want a waiting room father, I want my dad here with me.” I turned around, walked down the hall, and pushed through the doors of the delivery room.
There was no question of my leaving. My boy called and I was there. Shortly thereafter, our son, Jemal, was born. At the moment of his birth, I made a vow to him that I would be a different kind of dad than my father was able to be for me, and I would do everything I could to bring about a world where fathers were fully involved with their families.
My wife and I adopted a little girl in 1972 and our family was complete. We read books about raising children and we read books about the emerging women’s movement, which we both embraced. I still have my copy of Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” with its cover price of $.75. I firmly believed that liberating women from the role restrictions that kept them from being everything they could be would inevitably lead to men being freed from the “act-like-a-man box” that kept us from being all we could be.
I met Michael Kimmel at some of the early gatherings of National Organization of Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) in the 1970s. At these men’s gatherings, guys who were supportive of the ideals of the women’s movement met to explore their own values and ways to bring men and women together. He soon became a leader in the field and wrote important books including “Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era”.
Even with good information, the stresses of life pulled my wife and I apart. Like many first marriages, ours ran into problems, and my wife and I eventually divorced. The problems we were having in our marriage got worse when we tried to work out visitation and child support. First, we fought over child custody. I wanted to keep our two children together. She wanted to split them up. I thought they’d both be better off with me, but the system favored the mother and both children eventually went with her. I became the part-time parent.
When I found out that my wife was mistreating our daughter, I pushed to have our daughter live with me. Again, I ran into a system that was not father-friendly. That’s when I learned more about the men’s and father’s rights movements. Like me, Warren Farrell began his involvement with feminism. In the 1970s he served on the New York City Board of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
Although in recent years he’s been associated with the men’s rights movements, he doesn’t believe in the radical views pitting one movement against another. “There should be neither a women’s movement blaming men, nor a men’s movement blaming women, but a gender liberation movement freeing both sexes from the rigid roles of the past toward more flexible roles for their future.”
After I joined a men’s group in 1979, we attended a number of poetry readings with Robert Bly and I was his roommate at a men’s gatherings that featured him. This became known as the mythopoetic men’s movement. Robert was the first one to introduce me to the power of poetry for men. He autographed my copy of the book, “The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: Poems for Men”, edited by Bly, James Hillman, and Michael Meade. I still smile when I read the poems and his inscription, “To Jed, with love and in the mood of brothers! Robert.”
When my first book, “Inside Out: Becoming My Own Man” was published in 1983, a colleague and fellow author, Sam Julty, said, “You’re the men’s health maven.” I had to look up the word and learned “a maven is a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass timely and relevant knowledge on to others.” That describes me pretty well.
I knew I was dealing with my own health issues. From the time I was a kid, I had asthma and difficulty breathing. As an adult, I suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. I would become irritable and angry, which caused stress on my marriage. I eventually was divorced twice. It took me years to realize that my adult problems were related to the issues I experienced growing up with a father who was distant, then absent, and later rejecting.
Over the years, I learned to understand the hidden connection between our early experiences in our families, particularly our father wounds, and later physical, emotional, and relationship problems we experience as adults. I started my website, MenAlive.com to help men and the women who love them to become successful in work and in life.
I’ve written 15 books including my most recent, “My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound” and the accompanying playbook, “Healing the Family Father Wound: Your Playbook for Personal and Relationship Success”. It will be available in June. If you’d like to receive a pre-publication copy of the first chapter, Mad Father, Dutiful Son, drop me a note at [email protected]. Put “father wound” in the subject line and I’ll be glad to send you a copy.
I believe the father wound has profound effects on our adult lives and millions of men and women suffer from irritability, anger, depression, and problems in their love lives and work lives. Yet, they rarely realize the underlying cause goes back to childhood wounding.
I find it interesting that all four of us, Robert, Michael, Warren, and myself are focused on fathering and the need to heal the wounds that can lead to aggression and violence. Robert talked openly about what it was like growing up with an alcoholic father and how the wounds cry out for our healing. He offered guidance in his book, “Iron John: A Book About Men”.
Michael Kimmel helps us all understand the restrictions that so many males grow up with. At the 4th annual Dad 2.0 Summit, he reviewed the four classic rules for what it means to be a “real man”: No sissy stuff. Be a big wheel. Be a sturdy oak. And give ‘em hell. He concluded, “Traditional ideas of masculinity can get in our way of being the kind of father we want to be.”
He’s written numerous books. In his most recent, “Healing From Hate: How Young Men Get Into, and Out of, Violent Extremism”, he offers real insight into the relationship between extremism and our views of masculinity. I highly recommend it.
Another book I highly recommend is “The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It”, which was written by Warren Farrell and John Gray. In fact, I thought so highly of the book I said, “The Boy Crisis is the most important book of the 21st century.”
Believe me when I say the four of us don’t agree on everything. In fact, when we’ve met over the years I often have heated discussions about what it means to be a man, the place of feminism and the women’s movement, whether we need a White House Council on Boys and Men, and who has the biggest bouzouki. (I couldn’t resist a little male humor. That prize goes to Robert Bly who is the only one who can recite poetry and accompany himself on a four-string musical instrument.)
But we all agree that addressing issues of fathers and children, men and masculinity, gender reconciliation and healing, are critically important to the future of men, women, and children at this time in human history.
I look forward to your comments. You can reach me at MenAlive.com.
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