Article by Rebel Magazine.
By Eric Curtis
For years, men have been told that what makes them better people is the size of their house, the expensive car in the driveway, and the hot wife who cooks and cleans all while being a perfect mother. Thanks to Madison Ave’s slickly packaged profile of the American male, we act more like sheep and less like men — wandering around bragging about our serial sexual conquests, career accomplishments, and foretold financial success, while the best and brightest marketing minds shepherd our next identity theft from BMW to Bentley, from Cavali to Calvin Klein.
This is all part of “The Big Lie” that has plagued generations of men and established a culturally accepted definition of what Joe Ehrmann calls “false masculinity”. Simply stated, it means men define their worth by the following three components: athletic achievement, sexual conquest and economic success. False masculinity has its roots in the father and son dysfunction – in which sons seek the love and approval of their fathers through some measure of performance – be it athletic or otherwise.
MEET JOE EHRMANN…
A white-haired, rugged, ex, all-Pro NFL defensive tackle who is literally on the cusp of becoming one of America’s most respected leaders, Ehrmann believes “false masculinity” is devastating marriages, undermining relationships and is a primary driver for many of the social problems facing America.
“Masculinity, first and foremost ought to be defined in terms of relationships,” Ehrmann said. ” It ought to be taught in terms of the capacity to love and to be loved. Success in life cant be measured by what you’ve acquired or achieved or what you own.”
Joe’s second criterium for building better men and establishing “authentic masculinity” is service. Men ought to be engaged in some kind of cause, some selfless, driving purpose, bigger and more meaningful than themselves.
WALK LIKE A MAN
Joe Ehrmann recognized – a long time ago – that it’s time to start making a difference – a lot of differences. Both on the outside,within our communities, and on the inside, within our hearts, so that our culture, our masculine collective can begin to heal. Ehrmann believes that almost every problem we have within our society, within our culture, can be traced back to the failure of teaching boys how to become better men. His approach may seem unconventional, but it is incredibly effective, and we are guessing that if you haven’t heard of Joe Ehrmann yet, you’re about to.
Ehrmann started his football career playing for Syracuse University and was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1973. As a defensive tackle, Ehrmann played for the Colts for eight years – and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1978 – before being traded to the Detroit Lions. Ehrmann spent one year in the USFL prior to retiring from football in 1985. Since that time, he’s used sports as a soapbox to help him deliver his inspirational message and build better men.
“Sports creates an equal playing ground,” Ehrmann explains. “On the field, it doesn’t matter what religion you are, how much money you have, or what color your skin is. It takes that all away and makes it fair.”
One of Ehrmann’s community activities includes coaching at the Gilman School in Baltimore, Maryland. It’s here that he teaches boys how to become men; and not through the traditional sense of accomplishment found in winning, but through a sense of friendship, teamwork and love. Yes love. In fact, the motivational shout at at the beginning of each game starts with an emphatic “What is our job as coaches?” And the boys respond, “To love us!” The coaches yell again, “What is your job?” And the boys’ response? An emphatic, “To love each other!” Ehrmann’s broken down the iconic tough-guy ideal on the football field, and made it a place where kids can feel loved, accepted, and successful. He’s teaching them how to be loved, and how to love; the fundamental guideline to any successful relationship.
Under Ehrmann’s tutelage the Gilman School had a streak of undefeated seasons, and even climbed into the national rankings. But it wasn’t the success of the program that impressed Joe. Just the future effects he hopes for its participants. “When you go to a funeral, and I’ve spoken at a lot of funerals,” Joe stated, “It’s not how much money the guy earned, or what awards he gained. That’s not what’s important. It’s what kind of father he was. What kind of husband. What kind of friend.”
FINDING A CAUSE
In 1978, the same year he played in the Pro Bowl, Ehrmann spent sleepless nights on the floor of the the Pediatric Oncology unit at Johns Hopkins University Hospital watching his 18-year-old brother, Billy, fight for his life battling aplastic anemia. Joe rarely left his side, Billy was his best friend and brother. It was during this period Ehrmann re-examined his priorities. Sparked by Frankl’s classic, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Ehrmann started on a new path. A transformative path driven ultimately by the tragic death of his brother. Billy’s passing became a life changing catalyst for Joe – and he poured his pain into founding the Baltimore Ronald Mc Donald House, the third of its kind in the nation. It was dedicated to his brother.
Fast forward three years, and Ehrmann had graduated from the Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, where he became an ordained minister specializing in urban ministry and later in 1989, started a community center in East Baltimore called The Door. Joe wasnt interested in serving his newly adopted community from the affluent hills of North Baltimore – he moved his family, wife and two children, aged five and one, into the impoverished row homes just blocks from center. Joe saw this as an opportunity for his children to learn some of life’s most valuable lessons.
“They get to have friends who are affluent and friends who are poverty stricken,” he said. “They get to walk through both worlds and I hope they’ll pick out the best of both and do away with prejudice and stereotypes.”
It was here Ehrmann could interact and connect personally with the community he was trying to serve. The Door’s primary purpose was to introduce inner-city families to vital resources and programs offered in a safe environment. Which is exactly what The Door has continued to do since its opening in 1989.
Ehrmann was also an inner-city minister at the Grace Fellowship Church, serving a parish of 4000 members. His path and vision were clear: “To transform personal practices, community values and public policies to create a society where every man, woman and child can reach his or her greatest human potential.”
When asked if he ever felt discouraged, in the face of such overwhelming social problems – his response was quiet and sincere, “No. I always see the hope. There are so many good people out there trying to make a difference.”
IN EHRMANN’S OFF HOURS.
When Ehrmann’s not coaching, volunteering, or speaking at a funeral, he’s out spreading his message through his Coach for America program to corporations, educators, mentors, churches, and government entities. All with the understanding that change starts from within and with a little help, relationships improve and productivity increases.
Ehrmann admits that sometimes participants are forced to attend his workshops. He said he can quickly identify those people by their body language – arms crossed, disengaged. But by the end of the session, they’ve opened up and are tuned intently to his message. “Their entire countenance changes and you can tell they are definitely going to use the tools either back in the boardroom or at home.”
The number one complaint Ehrmann often hears from wives at home is that their husbands have no relationships with other men.
“The typical male over the age of 35 has less than one genuine friend. By that I mean someone he can reveal his true self to and share his deepest most intimate thoughts with.” Joe said. “The amount of pain men are in, and marriages are in…it’s absolutely incredible”
“Men fake relationships”, Joe said. “We build walls. We compare and we compete but we never really connect.”
Ehrmann goes on to describe a typical male relationship . “What I present to you is my facade. Here’s what my external masculinity looks like. And I’ll let you interface with this facade. But my biggest fear is that if you ever walk around this facade, if I ever let you past my athletic accomplishments, past my sexual feats , past my economic successes and I let you see this “shamed” Joey Ehrmann…my sense is that you’ll recognize me for who and what I really am and you’ll walk away. ”
So how do men begin to understand themselves and connect more deeply to others…? ” It’s a long term process but it starts with the idea that you cant keep hiding and protecting yourself. You’ve got to be able to let people in. Then you have a chance to be truly loved and to be love.”
Self examination is an ongoing and ever present part of the process. Personal accountability and a willingness to take responsibility for the choices and decisions we make is paramount. “Thats a responsibility of every citizen in the community. You’ve got to figure out what’s right and wrong and then you have to act on that.”
Ehrmann goes on to explain that right and wrong can be examined within the context of 3 basic categories; Relational, Economic and Communal. Relational justice applies to any relationship in which you take advantage of a situation to benefit you at the expense of another. Economic justice centers on exploitive financial gain and how it impacts others. Ehrmann considers this a moral absolute. “You’ve always got to maintain some sort of moral absolutes when it comes to economic right and wrong.” Communal justice means open participation for everyone – and where exclusion exists, we must take action and remove the barriers. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day – teach him to fish and he can feed himself for a lifetime. You’ve got to remove the barriers so the man can fish.”
“Whenever we can show up, standup and speak up, thats when we start changing the world…and all of us need to do that.”
To learn more about Joe Ehrmann visit coachforamerica.com – Selected quotes from: Jeffrey Marx Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood; Simon & Schuster, 2003
Article by Rebel Magazine.