Forty years ago, in an act of self-preservation, I rejected the tribal narratives of what it meant to be male that I learned growing up in the remote corners of rural Ohio and Central Texas. I knew that I had to choose either to adhere to the macho male code or leave it all behind. It was 1980.
I could not, would not dedicate my life to the battle of proving how much a man I was. A big job. A big bank account. A big house. a big car, a buxom wife, two or three bouncy children. I had even less desire to defeat my peers, trash women, run over the disenfranchised to prove how successful, and powerful, how hard-charging I really am.
The whole dynamic of putting other people down, of disconnecting emotionally in a zero-sum, winner-take-all game of power, aggression, dominance was antithetical to me. I had been lifted up by others and was especially sensitive to the women in my life who had done so.
So I left Texas, moved to NYC, then LA, finally CT, and abandoned the game of proving my masculinity by beating and belittling “others,” in search of a more authentic way of being me. The journey wasn’t what I expected. Instead of being rejected by Alpha Males, I was embraced, first by the last generation of Mad Men in advertising, then by a bunch of Hollywood bosses, then by Chuck Schwab and the pioneers of impact investing. High net worth types, household names, masters of the universe. What were we looking for? And why did they gravitate to me?
I would submit our journey together offers many lessons for today’s men. We were looking for a new MO, a life of meaning and purpose more than material gains, a life filled with connection and (when our defenses are down) love, a life full of creativity solving thorny problems that impact others, a life blessed with personal agency, and I would dare to add, a life where can share our adventures and participate in the journeys of the women who stand toe-to-toe with us. (Yep, every one of those guys at the top is married to a strong woman).
At each step, instead of choosing a big paycheck and bowing to the conventions of The Man Box, I repeatedly chose to pursue my quest to redefine and express what it meant to be a wholly formed male. I was strong and tough, but open and vulnerable at the same time.
Now forty years later, I find that I have been blessed to have flown wing with some of the most amazing men of our day, on a mission that had nothing to do with the objectives that we set out to achieve. We were equally beset by success and failure as the world repeatedly dissolved creatively in order to advance. Our experience gave us the wisdom and humility to know that we do not know. (This is so very different from the arrogance of influencers who hawk their various formulas of success).
There was an unexpected bonus round in my vision quest. At the same time as I searched for how best to express myself as an adult male — a son, brother, lover, father, husband, son-in-law, colleague, mentor — I was being stalked. Over and over again, as my life fell apart and came back together again, I was cracked open to new dimensions that manifest only through the Spirit.
These spiritual adventures took me to strange foreign lands (both internal and external) in search of the essence of my male psyche. They became an epic journey that thankfully I wrote down as they happened so that no one could accuse me of inventing them. They are postcards from the edge of male consciousness that translated old forms into new.
And so, in 2020, I am a bit bewildered that somehow I have written 20 essays in one year and a memoir about this my search for the new masculinity. I hope that they provide a roadmap for today’s men who are trying to figure out how to make a shift.