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.