[In this six-part feature, Jed Diamond examines his male experience through fatherhood, mental illness, and the Men’s Movement to explore what it means to be a more whole, mindful Man. | Part II: My Female and Male Mentors | Part III: Why We Must Disengage from the Woman in Order to Learn to Love | Part IV: Gender Specific Medicine]
When I began writing this I realized I couldn’t talk about the Men’s Movement because, for me, my involvement is personal and I don’t seem to fit within any one tributary within the Men’s Movement river. Wikipedia says, “The men’s movement is a social movement consisting of groups and organizations of men who focus on gender issues and whose activities range from self-help and support to lobbying and activism. Major movements within the men’s movement include the men’s liberation movement, profeminist men’s movement, mythopoetic men’s movement, men’s rights movement, and the Christian men’s movement, most notably represented by the Promise Keepers.”
I’ve been personally involved in all these movements and have benefitted from each, met many supportive men and women, and learned more about myself from participating. My involvement has helped deal with my father’s legacy, including bipolar disorder or manic depressive illness which has played a major part in both our lives. But I’d like to tell you about my men’s movement and what I’ve learned in the 45 years I’ve been walking this path.
It began for me on November 21, 1969 with the birth of my son. I’d been coaching my wife with the Lamaze child-birth breathing we had learned in class. When it was time for her to go into the delivery room, I was asked to wait in the waiting room. Back then, not all hospitals allowed fathers in the delivery room and Kaiser Hospital was one that didn’t.
As I dutifully walked out to wait with the other expectant fathers, I couldn’t go through the waiting room doors. Something held me back. I soon learned that it was the spirit of my soon to be born son calling out to me. “I don’t want a waiting-room father,” I felt him saying. “I need you here with us.” I pushed through the delivery room doors and took my place at my wife’s side. It wasn’t long before our son was born. He was handed to me. I took my first look and touched my son for the first time. His presence in my life set me on a path that I still walk proudly.
As I looked down on my son’s face, I made a vow to him that I would be a different kind of father than my father was able to be for me and I would do everything I could to bring about a world where men had the courage to stand for what was right and to be present for themselves, their wives, their sons and daughters.
My Father, Myself, My Future
My father was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on December 17, 1906. He was one of eight children whose parents had been born in Eastern Europe and had come to the United States in the late 1800s. From what I heard growing up, he was emotionally sensitive, artistic and talented. He wrote stories, poetry, and put on little plays for the family. Unlike his brothers who went into business, my father went to New York to pursue his dreams to become an actor and playwright. The rest of the story was confusing for me growing up, but finding a number of his journals, which he wrote at the time, help me understand the pressures he was feeling after I was born.
Here is a note from my father’s first journal, written when he was his old self, full of confidence and joy for life:
“A traveling troupe is putting on a show not far from us. I know them from earlier times when I first came to New York. They are gay and exciting and have an enchanting flavor of holiday. I look at Kath and marvel at her sweetness and beauty. You often forget how lovely feminine youth is. The cream-like texture of skin, a verve and a buoyancy. Henry is a perfect type of company manager. He has great big floppy ears, that inevitable cigar, and a certain softness. Charm is not the exclusive province of youth. Henry has it as well as Kath.”
“Kath reminds me of my little boy [I was four at the time]. He has a wonderful impishness, a beautiful, delightful growth about him. He has a suppleness of mind and body, a rapt attention as he looks for animals and calls to them.”
“I feel full of confidence in my writing ability. I know for certain that someone will buy one of my radio shows. I know for certain that I will get a good part in a play. Last night I dreamt about candy. There was more candy than I could eat. Does it mean I’ll be rewarded for all my efforts? Has it anything to do with sex?”
Journal number ten was written a year later. The economic depression of the time and the depression going on within his mind had come together. His entries are more terse, staccato, and disheartening. I still get tears when I feel how much was lost in such a short time.
June 4th: Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established writers, writers with credits a block long, unable to sell, unable to find work, Yes, it’s enough to make anyone, blanch, turn pale and sicken.
August 15th: Faster, faster, faster, I walk. I plug away looking for work, anything to support my family. I try, try, try, try, try. I always try and never stop.
November 8th: A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out. Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried. All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education.
I see them all, a whole army of them, battering at the same doors I’m battering, trying in the same field I’m trying. Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend.
Six days after his November 8th entry, my father tried to take his own life. Though he survived physically, our lives were turned upside down. He was committed to the State Mental Hospital at Camarillo and spent seven years locked inside. He finally escaped, walked to Los Angeles and started a new life. Without being consciously aware of it, I sought answers to questions that would shape the rest of my life: “What happened to my father? Would it happen to me? What could I do to heal men’s minds and change the conditions in the world that make men so much more susceptible to suicide than women?”
Jed Diamond, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., is Founder and Director of MenAlive, a health program that helps men, and the people who love them, to live well throughout their lives. He is a pioneer in the field of male-gender medicine, integrative mental health, and complementary medicine. Since its inception in 1992, Jed has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network. He is also a member of the International Society of Men’s Health and a founding member of the American Society of Men’s Health.
His work has been featured in major newspapers throughout the United States including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. He also did a nationally televised special on Male Menopause for PBS.
Diamond has been a licensed psychotherapist for over 40 years and is the author of ten books including the international best-selling Male Menopause that has thus far been translated into 17 foreign languages.