In Search of My Lost Body: Real Men Eat Meat and Other Masculinity Myths

It’s January and once again I begin thinking about losing weight. I keep track of my weight and keep losing and gaining the same 20 pounds. I eat pretty well, but I eat too much. Like most people, there are a million reasons why I weigh more than I want to weigh. I’ve always been a little “chunky,” but as I’ve gotten older and my metabolism is slowing down, chunky feels more like fat.

But it’s a new year and maybe this is my time. I was taken aback when my wife asked me this question. “Have you ever thought you might be afraid of losing weight?” At first, I dismissed the question out of hand. How could I possibly be afraid of losing weight? I thought of a woman friend I know who has had difficulty losing weight. On reflection, she said she had always associated losing weight with a person suffering from cancer. She realized that one of the fears she had, irrational though it seemed, was If I lose weight, it will mean I’ll be sick.

Just mulling over the question, some early memories popped into my mind. I pictured myself as an energetic five-year-old. I was short and slightly built like my father. I never thought of myself as short or small. I was just me. But our lives were turned upside down when my father became increasingly depressed because he couldn’t make a living to support me and my mom. He had a break down and was hospitalized at Camarillo State Mental Hospital.

Over the next few years, my mother decided that without a father in the home I was going to need some help. One of her solutions, a practice common in the 1950s was to buy a side of beef. A whole freezer of steaks, chops, burgers, etc. were delivered regularly. She was convinced that meat would make me more manly. I began eating meat three times a day.

I was still short, but I began to fill out. I wasn’t the skinny kid I had been. I remembered seeing the ads my Charles Atlas telling me I didn’t want to be a 97-pound weakling, that boys would pick on and girls would ignore. My mother also seemed to like “big men.” After my father was hospitalized, she got involved with a 6’2’’ welder and carpenter. It became clear to me that bigger was better.

I worried that I was too short, but my mother reassured me that I’d grow. “Your uncles are all tall,” she told me, even though both she and my father were short.

The final image that added to the experience I’ve had of “being afraid to lose weight,” was one with my ex-wife. She had wanted to go on a diet and wanted me to help her by going on it with her. It was a diet where you ate grapefruit and orange juice for breakfast and lunch, then a regular dinner. We both lost weight and I really felt good. I was down to 135 pounds, about what I weighed in junior high school and I felt great. My body was lean and muscled and I felt like a light-weight boxer.

I was unprepared for my wife’s reaction. “You’re so small,” she told me. “You’re more like a little boy than a man.” That was all I needed to hear. I went back to putting on weight.

The lowest I ever got as an adult was when I went to Weight Watchers and got down to 140 pounds. When I said I thought I might try for 135, they discouraged me. “You don’t want to lost too much weight.”

Now I’ve begun to wonder, what body size is right for me? Its interesting to examine some of the messages I’ve gotten through the years about men and masculinity: [Read more…]

Sexual Abuse and the Golden Globes: What’s Right and What’s Wrong

It’s good that sexual harassment and abuse are beginning to be taken seriously and I was looking forward to seeing what kinds of statements were being made at the Golden Globe Awards. I was glad to see women standing in solidarity with each other and those who have been abused. Their black dresses seemed a fitting symbol of the seriousness of the problem, how wide-spread it is, and that its time to change things.

Although the focus was on women, it was acknowledged that men were also supporting women’s protest stance and the #MeToo movement continues to gain notoriety.  #TimesUp, a new group, is a unified call for change from women in entertainment for women everywhere. “Powered by women, TIME’S UP addresses the systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace that have kept underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential.”

Women’s power that addresses the problems of sexual harassment and abuse in our society is powerful healing for women and men.

There are some things that resonated with me as being very right about the protests and some things that I thought were very wrong. Let me explain.

  1. I think its wonderful that women are coming together.

Change happens when people come together to say “no” to abusive practices. Women are powerful and when they come together in support of each other, the solidarity creates positive change for women as well as men.

  1. Men supporting women is healthy and helpful.

Sexual abuse and harassment is not just a women’s issue. Many men participate either directly or indirectly. Even though only a small percentage of men sexually abuse women, many more go along with it, laugh at it, or make jokes about “guys just being guys.” More men need to ask themselves, “how would I feel if that was my wife or my daughter being treated that way?

  1. Oprah models the way of a passionate warrior.

The reasons that Oprah is one of the most respected people in the world is that she models the true warrior spirit. She stands against oppression, but she does it with love and kindness. She shares her own experiences of abuse and reminds us all about the forgotten people that should not be forgotten.

She calls on us all to remember Recy Taylor who was a young wife and a mother in 1944 She was just walking home from a church service she’d attended in Abbeville, Alabama., when she was abducted by six armed white men, raped and left blindfolded by the side of the road, coming home from church. She builds on a horrible happening to inspire humans to do better. “And I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth — like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years, and even now tormented — goes marching on.”

Although a powerful advocate for women, she never puts men down. She concluded her speech with these words: [Read more…]

Why Are So Many Men Out of Work and What You Can Do to Keep Your Job

As you of you know, I’m writing my first memoir. It looks at how my father’s breakdown has had an impact on my life and how he and I learned to heal the father wound. It’s called Return of the Puppet Man: Healing the Wound from a Father’s Absence. If you’d like to read a free chapter, drop me an email and put “father wound” in the subject line.

Writing the book, I realized how prevalent it is to grow up without a father who is physically or emotionally present in our lives and how early father loss can cause problems later in life that we rarely recognize as tied in with our father wound.

The father wound impacts four critical areas of our lives:

  • Our physical health
  • Our emotional health
  • Our relationship health
  • Our social and political health

The effects of growing up without a loving, engaged, father ripple through the generations and contribute to many of the most serious problems we face in our society today including:

  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Depression and suicide
  • Sexual dysfunction, harassment, and addiction
  • Poverty
  • Divorce
  • Unhappy marriages and lost and unhappy children

One of the critical causes of the father wound is when a man loses his job or can’t find work doing what he loves to do. When my father couldn’t find work as a writer and playwright he became increasingly depressed. Like most men he associated his self-worth with having a job and supporting his family. Without a job he became increasingly anxious and depressed. He eventually took an overdose of sleeping pills and was committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital.

Why are so many men losing their jobs? It isn’t that good jobs are being shipped overseas. One of the main reasons is our system of profits. If a job can be done less expensively by a machine, our system is happy to put people out of work. In a recent issue of Mother Jones, Kevin Drum says, “I want to tell you straight off what this story is about: Sometime in the next 40 years, robots are going to take your job.” [Read more…]

The 6 Essentials of Being a Man: Reflections on a 74-Year Journey

My quest to understand what it meant to be a man began the day I dismantled my crib. I mean who wants to spend large portions of the day and night locked behind bars when there is so much to be explored in the world? I was four years old. Shortly thereafter I wanted to trade in my white baby shoes for “big boy” shoes.

My mother took me to the shoe store for the first time and I was entranced by all the shoes and color choices. After looking them over I knew exactly what I wanted.

“I want the Red Keds,” I told the clerk in the shoe store.

 I waited expectantly for him to return from the backroom, but when he opened the box, my heart sank.

“Red is for girls,” the salesman announced. “Blue is for boys.”

I scowled at him and said, “No, I want the red Keds.” He looked at my mother for support. He didn’t want me starting my young life on the wrong foot. My mother looked at me, then replied to the salesman. “Give the boy what he wants.” I walked out with my Red Keds.

I just celebrated my 74th birthday on December 21, 2017. Ever since my red Ked days, I’ve been trying to figure out what it means to be man. Here’s what I’ve learned thus far. I don’t claim this is the truth about what it means to be a man. It’s just how I see things at this time.

Full disclosure: I know my understanding is influenced by my age, having been raised by a single Mom in Los Angeles, my passion for biology, my time in medical school, my professional interest in evolutionary psychology, being heterosexual, married, the father of 5 grown children and 17 grandchildren, a psychotherapist specializing in men’s health, and a lot more I undoubtedly don’t recognize. [Read more…]

Is It Time for Truth & Reconciliation Around Sexual Violence?

Sexual abuse and violence is out of the closet and we are beginning to talk about an issue that has long been hidden. One of the advantages of having a president who bragged about his own misconduct, is that we are all forced to address these issues.  We all remember the Donald Trump’s words in the “Access Hollywood” tape.

It begins with audio of Mr. Trump speaking with Billy Bush, the former “Access Hollywood” host, on a bus. In the section that attracted the most attention, Mr. Trump referred to kissing women and grabbing them by their genitals without their consent.

Mr. Trump: Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

Mr. Bush: Whatever you want.

Mr. Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

Donald Trump was elected to the presidency, even after these comments were reported. Yet, the times are changing as more and more women come out and acknowledge, #metoo, and more men come out to believe and support them.

Despite strong support from President Trump, Roy Moore was defeated in Alabama. Doug Jones became the first Democrat in a generation to win a Senate seat in Alabama, beating Republican Roy Moore amid a firestorm of allegations that the GOP candidate had sexually abused teens.

If we want to end sexual abuse, we have to do more than defeat the men who abuse women. There needs to be a real dialogue between the men who are sexually abusive and the women who are abused by them. We’ve focused more on helping the women get the support and have the courage to step forward and acknowledge and talk about what happened to them. [Read more…]

Men’s Maven Reveals The 5 Hidden Secrets Your Marriage Counselor Prays You’ll Never Find Out About

I’ll admit it. I’m a feminist. I became one after reading Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique in 1963. I still have my paperback copy with its $.75 price in the upper right corner and a cover quote by the anthropologist, Ashley Montagu. “This is the book we have been waiting for…the wisest, sanest, soundest, most understanding and compassionate treatment of contemporary American woman’s greatest problem, a triumph.”

In the book Friedan talks about “the problem that has no name” and the dissatisfactions that millions of women felt being restricted to the role of homemaker. I realized there was a mirror image problem that men had as we were restricted to the role of breadwinner.  I recognized that just as women wanted to break free of their role and be all that they could be, men wanted to more than just the guy that brings home the dough.

The demand that my father be the sole breadwinner in our family nearly killed him. When I was five years old, he became increasingly anxious and depressed, and took an overdose of sleeping pills. He was committed to Camarillo State Mental hospital, just north of our home in Los Angeles. In one of his journals he wrote just before he was hospitalized he described the despair he was feeling when he was not able to find work in his chosen profession.

I need a full day’s work and accomplishment. But jobs are few and far between. I know that to live you must work. To stop working means to die. Not all at once, but from that minute that you stop using hand and brain to bring in bread for the family you begin to die. Hope, initiative, spirit, understanding, beauty—all begin to experience the first tremors of death rattles.

My own struggles fulfilling my role of breadwinner, but a strain on my first marriage. When we went to a marriage and family counselor to seek help, she was much more focused on helping my wife sort out her dissatisfactions than in helping me with mine. My wife and I soon divorced. I realized that many marriage counselors didn’t really understand the stresses that men were facing, and many still don’t.

I wrote my first book, Inside Out: Becoming My Own Man in 1980. After reading it, a friend and colleague, Sam Julty, said, “You’ve become the men’s maven.” I liked the sound of it, but really didn’t know what it meant until I looked it up. “A maven is a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass timely and relevant knowledge on to others in the respective field.” I don’t think I lived up to the term in 1980, but now in 2018, after writing 13 more books on men’s issues, I do feel like the men’s maven.

In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell says that any kind of successful social movement is dependent on “people with a rare set of social gifts.” He calls them connectors, mavens, and salesmen. Connectors know a lot of people and have a passion for connecting people to each other. Mavens are experts in their field who want to share what they know. And salesmen are the people who have the skills to persuade us if we are unconvinced about a new idea. [Read more…]

Has A Father’s Absence Impacted Your Life? Take The Quiz to Find Out

When I was five years old, my father had, what was called at the time, “a nervous breakdown,” and was hospitalized. He never came home again and he and my Mom got a divorce. I was raised by a single Mom and it never occurred to me that my father’s absence might have been harmful to my future health and wellbeing. Like all of us, we adapt to change, and get on with our lives.

I did know that my father’s absence meant my mother had to go to work outside the home and I spent a lot of time in childcare programs and started nursery school early. But I adapted to those changes as well.

Not all father absence is physical. Most people grow up with a father in the home. But many fathers are absent emotionally. A father may work long hours and not have a lot of energy left over for his wife and children. He may have a drinking or a drug problem or he may become irritable and angry because of added stress in his life and become critical of his sons or daughters.As with a physically absent father, we learn to adapt. We rarely recognize that later problems in our lives have anything to do with our absent fathers or the emotional wounds that occur when we don’t have a close, intimate, loving relationship with our Dads.

According to Roland Warren, former head of the National Fatherhood Initiative, “Kids have a hole in their soul in the shape of their dad. And if a father is unwilling or unable to fill that hole, it can leave a wound that is not easily healed.” For millions of men and women the father wound is present, influences our health and well-being, but we are not aware that it exists. [Read more…]

Sexual Abuse is Out of the Closet: The Underlying Cycle and the Hidden Cause No One Wants to Talk About

We continue to be shocked when we learn about another case of sexual abuse perpetrated by powerful men. The names of rich and powerful abusers are well known to us and include Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Mark Halperin, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Roy Moore.

A few, like Louis C.K., acknowledge their abusive behavior. “These stories are true,” C.K. said. “At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my d–k without asking first, which is also true. But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your d–k isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.”

Most, like movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, continue to deny the charges. A spokeswoman for Weinstein denied the rape allegations in a statement provided to CNN. “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein,” the statement read. “Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances.”

As a therapist for nearly fifty years, I have treated many men who have abused women and I have treated men who have been abusers. I’ve also treated men who have abused other males and women who have abused boys and girls. What I have learned over the years is that nearly every person I have treated who has abused another person, were themselves abused when they are young. That doesn’t mean that every one who was abused, neglected, abandoned, or harmed as a child will go on to abuse others. It does mean that those who abuse others, were themselves abused in the past.

Here’s a story told to me by a fellow therapist, Richard Strozzi Heckler, author of In Search of the Warrior Spirit.

“I’m waiting in line at the post office, preparing to send a package to the East Coast. A young mother steps up to the counter, looking harried, and holding on to the hand of her two-year-old boy. He’s a cute little kid, but he’s restless and probably hungry. He tugs on her arm. ‘Mommy, let’s go, let’s go,’ he whines. She tells him to quiet down as she looks through her purse looking for money to pay for the stamps she has just purchased. The little boy puts his hand in her purse and pulls out her keys. She grabs them back. ‘That’s enough, now. Stop it.’ Her voice is shrill and she’s clearly losing patience. He continues looking in her purse.” Richard’s voice is calm, but as I listened I could picture the explosion that was about to happen. We’ve all seen these kinds of encounters before.

“Turning quickly, she slaps him hard across the face. ‘I told you to stop!’ she shrieks. The two people in front of me turn their heads away. The clerk at the desk smiles consolingly and passes her stamps across to her. [Read more…]

#Me(n) Too: Why Sexual Abuse is a Men’s Issue Not Just a Women’s Issue

More and more men are being recognized as sexual abusers and more and more women are coming out telling the truth about having been abused. We have gotten used to seeing rich and famous men including Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, and Donald Trump being held to account for their abusive behavior. More recently we have learned about the abusive behavior of Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Mark Halperin, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Roy Moore. The #MeToo movement has encouraged more and more women to confront their fears and tell the truth about what happened to them.

Ten years before the allegations against Harvey Weinstein became public knowledge, Tarana Burke was already helping young women talk about sexual assault. Working with girls at an organization she co-founded called Just Be Inc., she heard a lot of reports of sexual violence, and she wanted to offer young survivors what she needed in the aftermath of her own assault: empathy. So, she started the Me Too campaign “to spread a message for survivors: You’re heard, you’re understood.”

Now, the You Too movement has gone viral as it has spread through the web. There is a Facebook group with more than 8,000 members and Twitter shares women’s experiences widely. One Twitter post which caught my eye says, “Multiple men call a woman a slut or a whore, you believe it. Multiple women call a man a rapist, you question it. Enough is enough. #metoo.”

But sexual harassment and abuse happen to men as well. I still remember my mother deciding I needed enemas when I was 6 years old because they thought I was constipated. I remember being held down by her and a neighbor woman while they forced the tube up my rectum and I had to hold in the water that was filling me up until they said I could get on the toilet. I thought I was going to burst. I can still hear the neighbors voice as she screamed at me. “And you better not shit on me or I’m going to kill you.” [Read more…]

Everyone’s Crazy, But No One’s Mentally Ill: 7 Things You Need to Know About the Mental Health Revolution

I still remember my first training sessions as a budding psychotherapist. It was 1965 and I had just dropped out of medical school at U.C. San Francisco and transferred to U.C. Berkeley. I had wanted to help people ever since my father was committed to a mental hospital when I was five years old. I wondered what happened to my father and whether it would happen to me. I thought if I were well-trained I could avoid “mental illness” and the fate that my father faced when he had his emotional breakdown.

My first student placement was at Napa State Hospital and social work and psychology students had an opportunity to observe a well-respected psychiatrist work with patients. We attended sessions every week for a year and watched this expert through a one-way mirror as he worked with various patients. After the session we could join the psychiatrist and ask questions.

Right from the beginning there were a number of things about this expert’s way of doing therapy that I questioned. First, he never touched the patient. When the patient reached out to shake his hand in thanks at the end of the session, he didn’t extend his hand. When questioned he asserted that it would interfere with the transference where-in the patient would project the issues he had in his life on the “blank screen” of the therapist and then the therapist would interpret his feelings. I told him, I thought that human contact was important. He explained that I would learn the value of therapeutic distance as I became better trained.

Second, he would never advocate for the patient if there was a problem on the ward. On numerous occasions he patient couldn’t come to a session because of a mistake getting him released. The doctor said, that the therapy session had to be insulated from the rest of the patient’s life if it were to be most effective. I disagreed.

Third, it seemed that there was no relationship between the diagnosis that a patient was given and what went on in the therapy sessions. One patient may be diagnosed as being manic-depressive, another with an anxiety disorder, and a third as having a character disorder. But he interacted in the same way. When I asked he said diagnosis was very important, but it seemed a far cry from diagnosing someone with pneumonia, diabetes, or some physical illness. [Read more…]