[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 I: Fatherhood | Part III: Why We Must Disengage from the Woman in Order to Learn to Love | Part IV: Gender Specific Medicine]
My mother was my first hero. After my father was hospitalized she had to learn to drive a car, get a job, and support our little family. Her dreams were put on hold and she taught me a lot about courage, commitment, and competence. She got a job as a secretary, soon rose to the position of office manager, and became the assistant to the president of the company. She became a real power in the world of business though as a woman, she never received the recognition that her aptitudes and skills brought to the business. The men got most of the credit.
Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I sought out father figures to help guide me as a confused and frightened little kid. I played football after school and I still remember tough old Mr. Squires who taught me that before he’d throw me a pass (the good stuff where you earn the glory) you have to block (the hard stuff where you work in the trenches).
After school I would go to a neighbor’s house to “see his cool stuff.” David Fireman had been in the army and had a garage full of army surplus goods. I loved hearing stories about the army, but mostly I went there because he took an interest in me. He always had time to hear how I was doing, what was troubling me, or to help me figure out my problems trying to meet girls.
I went off to college, met my first wife, and got married in 1966. Soon she became involved in a “consciousness raising women’s group” and I was fascinated to learn about “feminism” and “liberation.” I wanted my own group. When my wife was invited to a “women’s lib” conference where men were invited to attend, I jumped at the chance to go with her. The conference was held at Asilomar conference center near Monterrey, California.
Picture 700-800 women and maybe 12 men in attendance. It was exciting and intimidating. It was clear that many of the women weren’t happy that men were attending and the few men I met seemed more interested in talking about sports and sex (good manly topics) but I wanted more. I finally met a couple of guys who seemed to want to go deeper and we talked about forming a men’s group. Only problem was that they lived in New York and I was in California.
I felt discouraged and lamented, “What am I doing here? The women hate that I’m here and the few men I might relate with live on the other side of the country.” But when I felt the most discouraged and alone, a few women reached out to me and their mentoring set me on course again. “Thank you for being here,” they told me. “It means a lot to us that you came. We need more men who care about the liberation of males and females. You’ll find other men to join with you. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” Their words of encouragement sent me back home with a new resolve. I will be forever grateful to those wise and caring women.
First Men’s Groups, Mankind, and Men’s Movement Elders
When I returned from the “women’s gathering,” I started my first men’s group. I learned for the first time that men could support each other and not betray the trust when tested. Two guys in the group found out they were interested in the same young woman. All our experiences told us that when a pretty woman was involved, you went for the woman and “to hell with your friend.” It didn’t happen. Each guy declared that his friendship was more important, and acted on that declaration. They become life-long friends.
For the first time in my life, I had the experience of calling another man when I was sick, instead of calling a woman, or remaining miserable and alone. I also discovered that men could be fantastic at nurturing and caring if given half a chance. I got my first massage ever from a man in the group.
After I left the area and moved to Marin County I got into another men’s group which I have been meeting with regularly since 1979 (soon to be 35 years together). Many of us had read the book The Hazards of Being Male: Surviving the Myth of Masculine Privilege by Dr. Herb Goldberg published in 1976. I still have my copy. It has a picture of a strong man’s arm holding a broken red heart. It captured what I was feeling since my 10 year marriage had just ended and our two children were living with my ex-wife. I was angry and depressed, sinking deeper into misery, and Goldberg’s book spoke to me and many of the men I had met.
“The male has paid a heavy price for his masculine ‘privilege’ and power. He is out of touch with his emotions and his body. He is playing by the rules of the male game plan and with lemming-like purpose he is destroying himself—emotionally, psychologically, and physically.”
Most of the same guys are still together, though a few have dropped out. Recently we all went through the grief of dealing with the death of one of the men in group.
After we’d been together for 17 years or so, we began to feel like an old married couple. We were comfortable with each other, had heard all our stories multiple times, felt safe, secure, and accepted. These were qualities most of us had never experienced with anyone but a special someone. Now we had that feeling with seven other guys. But we wanted something more, some adventure, a new way to deepen our intimacy.
We signed up for, and attended, the Mankind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure. The ManKind Project flies in the face of rigid stereotypes about the “Sensitive New Age Man” AND the “Macho Man.” They asked us to go right up to the edge, and beyond, in a culture that seems to be comfortable with mediocrity and passivity from men. They encouraged us to stop living a vicarious adventure through T.V. and the movies and step into a real time adventure to win back our passion for life. They challenged us to confront our real issues, to get 100% honest about who we are.
I got clear that my true role in life was to awaken the masculine soul. In the process I had to deal with the impact of my father’s loss, the guilt I still carried as a result of my closest friend drowning when we were children, the deep anger, resentment, and ambivalence I carried toward my mother and other women, and my powerful, yet confusing sexuality.
After our men’s group returned, we had a deeper bond with ourselves and each other and felt clearer about our role in the world. We spent the next year exploring the “bottom three feet.” The idea was that if in the 17 years we had been together, we had gone own ten feet into the well of our shared relationships. Now we challenged ourselves to plumb the depths and experience “the last three feet.”
We also read, discussed, and reflected on concepts developed by two of the elders in the men’s movement, Robert Bly and Sam Keen. In his numerous roles as groundbreaking poet, editor, translator, storyteller, and father of what he has called “the expressive men’s movement,” Bly remains one of the most hotly debated American artists of the past half century. He is the author of numerous books, including the well known, Iron John: A Book About Men and lesser known, but I believe, more important book, The Sibling Society.
Bly also introduced many of us to poetry at live performances and though his book, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: Poems for Men edited with fellow visionaries, psychologist James Hillman and mythologist, Michael Meade.
I learned a lot from Robert over the years, but the single most important thing was something he said about why young males need to be in the presence of older males. In his poetic way he captured a good deal about the men’s movement and what we need for ourselves, our sons, and each other. “A young man must spend time in the presence of older men so that he can ‘hear the sound that male cells sing.’”
Bly reminds us of what modern science knows. David C. Page, M.D., professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) says, “There are 10 trillion cells in human body and every one of them is sex specific.” Think what it means to have all our cells playing a male symphony if we’re males (XY) and a different symphony if we’re females (XX).
Sam Keen was, in his words, “over-educated at Harvard and Princeton” and was a professor of philosophy and religion at “various legitimate institutions” and a contributing editor of Psychology Today for 20 years before becoming a freelance thinker, lecturer, seminar leader and consultant. He is the author of a baker’s dozen books, and a co-producer of an award winning PBS documentary, Faces of the Enemy.
From Sam I learned important lessons about why my relationships with women were so problematic. I’ve been married twice before meeting Carlin and both marriages were full of love, longing, and fighting. Both Carlin and I credit the wisdom and support I’ve gotten in the men’s group over the last 35 years to the success of our 34 year-old marriage.
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.