Pathways to Peace

Teach Men to Talk

by Victor La Cerva, MD

Article #6 in our series
Creating Less Violence
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Victor La Cerva, MD, the Mediacl Director of the Family Health Bureau of the State of New Mexico, retired, is the author of two books, a figurehead in the Men's Wellness movement and father of two lovely teenagers. Victor lectures nationally on violence prevention and shares his expertise and experiences with visitors to this segment of Pathfinders.

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TEACH MEN TO TALK

Manhood is what we look forward to when we are powerless boys and what we look back on with pride when we are limping toward the grave. To be known as a good man is the highest compliment for a man. It is what men despair of achieving when depressed—in our careers, our family life, in our sexuality, in our values. Our idea of manhood is our motivation toward self-respect. And most of us could not be more aware that the old images of manhood need revision.     —Stephen Shapiro

Statistics concerning men's health are poignantly revealing. Men, compared with women, experience much higher rates of morbidity and mortality due to heart disease, substance abuse, and violence—all of which have their origins in emotional repression. The release of emotions, on the other hand, is believed to contribute to well-being. Studies in psychoneuroimmunology are beginning to show that positive emotional states increase the number of healing cells circulating in the body. Laughter and improved mental outlooks alone can help reverse the course of some progressive illnesses.

A convergence is presently occurring in our country. Mainstream medicine is slowly acknowledging that body, mind, emotions, and spiritual perspective are interconnected, and that dis-ease in one of these realms produces symptoms in another. The men's movement has arrived at the same conclusions.

The Men's Movement

The endeavor to achieve male health and well-being is nourished by four taproots: mythopoetic artistry, Jungian archetypes, twelve-step wisdom, and body-based emotional release techniques. The life force of the movement emanates from thousands of small support groups around the country. Here, men meet regularly to talk about important matters in their lives. Over time, they experience trust, acceptance, and respect from other males, instead of competition, put-down, and violence.

Many Men Are In Pain

They live in isolation with few, if any, close friends. To varying degrees, they have bought into destructive cultural beliefs about masculinity and are stuck in the male box that emphasizes "power over" and "control" as the operative behaviors for men. They have become trapped in mind-sets that stifle growth.

Sturdy as oaks that feel no pain and need no help, they endure until their hearts attack them. Or they act out their stress by abusing their children, express control through domestic assault, or power through acquaintance rape. They commit suicide because they can't admit they are hurting, or homicide in response to a remark that bruises their fragile sense of self. Or they get lost in a maze of addictions to subdue the inner turmoil. Most of these men are success objects running a competitive maze, searching for perfection, confused by a material world that does not leave them time for satisfaction.

Losing themselves, men lose the ability to care for the earth and be active, loving family members. Lacking inner peace, they wage war, endlessly draining away the precious resources needed to fight the poverty and disease they are running from.

Talking Is Transformative

Health statistics, together with the ordinary events in the lives of men, indicate that change is urgently needed. More than anything else, men require tools to use in forging ahead to new awareness.

One of the most handy and functional tools available is articulation. Talking helps us gain access to ourselves. Telling our stories and listening to those of other men shed new insights into ways to conduct our lives. Talking together, we find that we are sons, fathers, lovers, grandfathers; some of us have sex with women, some with men, some with men and women. And beneath our differences, we discover that we are all men. As such, the archetypal beings, warring, magician, and wildman hold secrets for us in their hands. Mentors and elders, too, have the power to resurrect for us ancient aspects of maleness.

We want to know how to become heroes, healers, brothers, and friends. We yearn to awaken and integrate the feminine aspects of ourselves. Bringing these desires to fruition requires a stable, ongoing source of support—a forum that encourages us to express how we are feeling about our life path and how we are grappling with the difficulties before us. Talking about our journeys keeps us on course. It also serves to reduce male violence.

Talking, essential at each juncture of a man's journey, is more critical than ever during the transition to fatherhood. The powerful forces at play on the threshold to fatherhood bring a man face to face with the gifts and the wounds received from his parents. Feelings about how he was parented are sure to arise, and in sharing them he will be able to increase his consciousness about the new role he is undertaking.

Expectant and new fathers alike desperately need a safe space in which to express their hopes and fears. Fortunately, fathering centers are springing up around the country to support men as they connect with this nurturing part of themselves. Older men who have raised children are also stepping forward as trail guides. Still, much more counsel is needed, especially for teen fathers who may be overwhelmed by the difficulties of parenting, or by the extraordinary range of emotions it stirs up. Every man has inner wisdom: he has encountered pain and survived. Now he must learn the language of feelings. Where he learns to express himself does not matter, provided that it takes place in a supportive atmosphere on a regular basis. The journey toward wholeness begins with a willingness to enter the darkness within; embrace our shadows; explore the contours of our anger, fear, and joy; and talk out, rather than act out, the emotions we have held hostage since childhood.

THE NEW MALE MANIFESTO

From the book Knights without Armor by Aaron R. Kipnis, PD (1991). Published by Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. Distributed by St. Martin's Press.
This may be reprinted without permission. To order, call 800-288-2131.

I. Men are beautiful. Masculinity is life affirming and life supporting. Male sexuality generates life. The male body needs and deserves to be nurtured and protected.

II. A man's value is not measured by what he produces. We are not merely our professions. We need to be loved for who we are. We make money to support life. Our real challenge, and the adventure that makes life full, is making soul.

III. Men are not flawed by nature. We become destructive when our masculinity is damaged. Violence springs from desperation and fear, rather than from authentic manhood.

IV. A man doesn't have to live up to any narrow, societal image of manhood. There are many ancient images of men as healers, protectors, lovers, and partners with women, men, and nature. This is how we are in our depths: celebrators of life, ethical, and strong.

V. Men do not need to become more like women in order to reconnect with soul. Women can help by giving men room to change, grow, and rediscover masculine depth. Women support men's healing by seeking out and affirming the good in them.

VI. Masculinity does not require the denial of deep feeling. Men have the right to express all their feelings. In our society this takes courage and the support of others. We start to die when we are afraid to say or act upon what we feel.

VII. Men are not only competitors. Men are also brothers. It is natural for us to cooperate with and support each other. We find strength and healing through telling the truth to one another—man to man.

VIII. Men deserve the same rights as women for custody of children, economic support, government aid, education, health care, and protection from abuse. Fathers are equal to mothers in their ability to raise children. Fatherhood is honorable.

IX. Men and women can be equal partners. As men learn to treat women more fairly, they also want women to work toward a vision of partnership that does not require men to become less than who they authentically are.

X. Sometimes we have the right to be wrong, irresponsible, unpredictable, silly, inconsistent, afraid, indecisive, experimental, insecure, visionary, lustful, lazy, fat, bald, old, playful, fierce, irreverent, magical, wild, impractical, unconventional, and other things we're not supposed to be in a culture that circumscribes our lives with rigid roles.

Additional Resources

Literature

Full-Time Dads, a periodical available by calling 207-829-5260. Heinowitz, Jack•  Pregnant Fathers: Entering Parenthood Together. San Diego, CA: Parents as Partners Press, 1995. Kauth, Bill   •  A Circle of Men: The Original Manual for Men's Support Groups. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992   •  Sam Keen, Fire in the Belly. New York: Bantam Books, 1991   •   Kivel, Paul. Men's Work: How to Stop the Violence That Tears Our Lives Apart. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing Group, 1992   •   Mead, Michael. Men and the Water of Life. New York: HarperCollins, 1993  •  Sonkin, Daniel, PhD. Learning to Live without Violence: a Handbook for Men. Volcano, CA: Volcano Press, 1989   •  Zilbergeld, Bernie. Male Sexuality. New York: Bantam Books, 1978.

Organizations

Abusive Men Exploring New Directions (AMEND), 303-932-6363   •  Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, 218-722-4134  •  EMERGE, 617-422-1550
The Fathering Center, Albuquerque, NM; 505-266-9233.

Victor La Cerva, MD

©Victor La Cerva 2000  

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Editors note:

Victor's Pathfinder series offers an opportunity for visitors to understand the roots of violence and to explore the ways of understanding and addressing it at home and work. This begins with your own personal tapestry of internal issues.

Contributions and questions that arise from your personal experience are valued and welcomed.We wish you well on the path and look forward to your participation.
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