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…]

Can Men Survive the Demise of the Bread-Winner Role?

Like many men, my father grew up knowing that he had to be successful as the family breadwinner. Then, as now, it wasn’t always easy to fulfill that crucial role that is at the core of a man’s self-esteem. While his brothers all went into business, my father’s passion was to be an actor. When he was twenty-three years old he left his home in Jacksonville, Florida and hitchhiked to New York to become in search of his dream.

He was successful at first, but the Great Depression soon hit and he found it difficult to find a job. He and my mother got married and they both found part-time work. But when I was born, the gender-roles kicked into place and my mother stayed home to take care of me and my father redoubled his efforts to become an actor, but jobs were few and far between.

We moved to California and he switched careers to writing for the emerging movie and television industries, but he had the bad luck of being black-listed because of his left-wing leanings. His journals at that time showed his gradual slide into depression.

October 10th: “Oh, Christ, if I could only give my son a decent education—a college decree with a love for books, a love for people, good, solid knowledge. No guidance was given to me. I slogged and slobbered and blundered through two-thirds of my life. I can’t make a decent living and it’s killing me.”

December 8th: “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.”

January 24th: “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.”

June 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 Wednesday morning in June, 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 June 8th entry, my father took an over-dose of sleeping pills and was committed to Camarillo State Hospital. Back then, there was little real treatment. He was mis-diagnosed as being psychotic, though today he would have been diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, but his real problem was basing his male identity on his role as family breadwinner.

When I lost my job a number of years ago, I became depressed and suicidal. I didn’t even like the job and was planning to leave, but was blindsided when the loss of the job made me feel I was worthless as a man. This is a real dilemma for millions of men today. We consider the breadwinner role essential for our sense of manhood, yet the male breadwinner role is in decline and may be on its way out.

A study conducted by the World Bank, which sampled 19 countries throughout the world, concluded: [Read more…]

The Most Unappreciated Fact About Men: Understanding Why Men Are the Way They Are

There’s nothing more basic than sex. None of us would be here if that one lucky sperm didn’t survive against all odds to be allowed merge with an egg. The resulting union created you and me. Let’s think for a moment about that union. A healthy adult male can release between 40 million and 1.2 billion sperm cells in a single ejaculation. Since only one lucky sperm will be successful in making his way to that magical egg, there’s a good deal of competition.

There’s a joke about one sperm getting ready to compete. At the moment of ejaculation, he launches himself and the race is on, just him against millions of other competitors. Suddenly, he stops swimming and tries to turn around. He screams to the other sperm, “Go back, go back, it’s only a blow job.” From an evolutionary point of view, success is measured by sexual union that produces offspring that live long enough to produce offspring of their own.

Although the human egg is microscopic, it is large enough to house 250,000 sperm. Think of the few successful sperm who make it to the egg and face this massive, round, entity. Each one tries to get through the cell wall to make it into the interior, but only one sperm is chosen. This tells us something important about what it means to be male and why men are the way they are. There’s a lot of competition with other males and we must ultimately be chosen by a female who is willing to let us in.

Here’s another example from the animal kingdom. Imagine you’re a young stallion. Like all young males you have sex on your mind. But in the world of horses, it is the alpha male who rounds up the females and when they are in estrus has sex with all of them. Most males don’t reproduce at all, so there is a fierce competition to become the alpha male. They fight each other and take risks to be #1, because the consequences of not being #1 determine whether you are a reproductive success or failure. The females, on the other hand, can count on having babies. They don’t have to work to find a male willing to have sex with them. [Read more…]

Men’s Business: How Two Unlikely Entrepreneurs Help Men Look Good and Live Well

ebgr1szj3dg-idriss-fettoulI’ve been helping men live healthier, more joyful, lives for more than 40 years. I’ll be honest. It’s been an uphill struggle. Like most guys, I grew up with the belief that “real men” were tough, didn’t complain, and played hurt. I survived high school and college sports with my share of injuries, both physical and emotional. I’ve dealt with everything from back pain to bipolar disorder. Feeling that others might benefit from what I’ve learned in my own struggles, I started a business, MenAlive, to help men, and the families who love them, to live well.

I’ll tell you it isn’t easy making a living helping men. Women tend to be more focused on their health and well-being, but men need health and support just as much as women and women are happier and healthier when the men in their lives are healthy and happy. I’d like to introduce you to two men who have taken on the challenge of helping men live healthier and more joyful lives. Their names are Josh Meyer and Matt Bolduc.

Josh and Matt both grew up in Skowhegan, a small town in rural central Maine. They met in high school and have been best friends since they were sixteen. Good business role models are rare in economically-depressed central Maine. Matt’s parents owned a Christmas wreath shop. Growing up, he saw firsthand how much hard work a successful small business takes. Josh’s parents have always been hard workers. He worked along with his grandfather, dragging brush and doing odd jobs since he was a boy. From a young age, it was instilled in both Matt and Josh that you have to work for what you want. [Read more…]

I’m The Guy with the Female Brain: Expanding Our View of Manhood

11226868054_23014b4c45_zPrior to my birth my parents were sure I was going to be a girl. They had done some kind of tests (Don’t know whether they were medical or swinging a needle in front of my mother’s pregnant belly) that convinced them to begin picking out girl’s names and get lots of dolls ready for me. When I finally arrived they were surprised to see a baby boy. It took them weeks to figure out a name. My Dad finally named me Elliott after his recently deceased nephew. My mother hated the name and cried until he agreed to change it to John, after my mother’s deceased father. No one asked me what name I thought was appropriate.

My first memories were playing with the dolls that were meant for the girl who hadn’t been born and snuggling up at night, or whenever it was cold, with my mother’s big fur coat. I loved the feel of soft fur on my skin. I loved music and listened to my parent’s recording of Manhattan Tower, a story of love for the city where I was born. I think I was a born romantic and am still brought to tears by love songs.

I can still recall the words of Frankie Laine’s The Moon Light Gambler. “You can gamble for matchsticks. You can gamble for gold. The stakes may be heavy or small. But if you haven’t gambled for love and lost, then you haven’t gambled at all.” I was also hooked on romantic movies and would spend afternoons in a darkened theater watching Love is a Many Splendored Thing and Three Coins in a Fountain. I still cry at love stories.

It soon became apparent that I was different from the other boys and in some ways more similar to the girls. But I never felt “girly.” I just felt what I felt, liked what I liked, cried easily, and longed for love.

My first encounter with the gender stereotypes of what it means to be male or female came when I went to the shoe store for my first pair of “real boy shoes” when I was four years old. Up until then I had worn white baby shoes. I was entranced by all the shoes in the store in various colors. I spied the perfect pair for me. I can still picture them in my mind: Red Keds. I pointed them out to the salesman who smiled and told me and my mom. “You want the blue Keds. Red are for girls.” Off he went to the backroom to bring out a few to try on. I was shocked that there were certain colors reserved for boys and red wasn’t one of them. [Read more…]

7 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Being a Man

how to be a manMy journey to manhood began early. Shortly after I was born my parents gathered for the traditional circumcision. They weren’t religious, but since they were nominally Jewish, I was held down by my father while the mohel (rhymes with oil), a pious, observant Jew educated in the relevant Jewish law and in surgical techniques, did the deed. I was present, but don’t consciously remember what was done to me.

However, the story was told that when my foreskin was cut away, I let out a huge scream and sent a healthy stream of urine arching over my head and hitting my father in the eyes. Everyone seemed to laugh at the retelling of the story. Even as a child I thought, “You missed the whole point. My screams were telling the world that what you were doing to me was wrong and my well-aimed response was telling the world, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take your abuse without putting up a fight.’”

In my book, The Warrior’s Journey Home: Healing Men, Healing the Planet, I said, “I consider circumcision to be a form of child sexual abuse, since it is a direct attack on a boy’s genitals and his sexuality. It is the first form of abuse most boys experience.” It took me years to remember that what was done was abusive and to recognize how it impacted my later life. It is still not easy being a man today and there are things I know now at age seventy-one that I wish I had learned earlier.

  1. Child Abuse is Common. Our Mind May Forget But the Body Always Remembers.

It’s difficult to know how early abuse impacts our lives. It took me many years to understand that the circumcision was traumatic and had an impact on my adult sexuality. In her book Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Can Heal, Donna Jackson Nakazawa reports on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE). The ACE study offers irrefutable scientific link between many types of common childhood adversities and adult onset of physical and mental health disorders. [Read more…]

For 2015 The 15 Most Helpful Things Ever Said About Men and Masculinity

listI write about topics that I’m working on in my own life and ones I think will be helpful to men and women as we work out our lives separately and together. Lately I’ve been writing about such things as depression, whether the PSA test is helpful or harmful, and irritable male syndrome.

But I also love to collect quotes that inspire me. For 2015 I offer you a countdown of those I have found that move me and guide me. Let me know if you have some of your own:

15. “Testosterone is a sex hormone, and I think it is the most social of hormones. The major social effect of testosterone is to orient us toward issues of sex and power. By the end of puberty testosterone levels in males are 8 to 10 times higher than in females, but decrease with age.”  –James McBride

14. “The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems. The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy.” –Simon Baron-Cohen.

13. “There is a biological basis for the observation that ‘Men never remember and women never forget.’ It plays out through our hormones.”  –Marianne J. Legato

12. “If menopause is the silent passage, ‘male menopause’ is the unspeakable passage. It is fraught with secrecy, shame, and denial.  It is much more fundamental than the ending of the fertile period of a woman’s life, because it strikes at the core of what it is to be a man.”  –Gail Sheehy

11. “I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed, and that did not represent the attempt to prevent or undo this ‘loss of face’—no matter how severe the punishment, even if it includes death.” –James Gilligan [Read more…]

What It Means to be a Man Today: The Essentials of Manhood

As I wrapped up my last blog post about men being the canaries in the coal mine I reference Sam Keen and his book  Fire in the Belly:  On Being a Man. In it Keen lays out four simple steps that we must do in order to continue to live on a planet that is conducive to human life.  I’ve found that to heal the Earth, we need to heal ourselves.  We might, then, describe what men need to do as follows:

  • Our new male vocation is to heal ourselves.
  • To heal ourselves, we must learn to love ourselves.
  • To love ourselves, we must get to know ourselves.
  • To know ourselves, we must get more deeply in touch with ourselves.

When I think of what makes me a man, there is no simple formula and there’s no description that applies to all men.  There are, however, some things worth saying about what it means to be a man today.  I suggest we explore the following basics to get us started. [Read more…]

For Love or Money: The New Male Vocation Is….

The cover story in Time magazine headlines:  The Richer Sex:  Women, Money, and Power. It reports on studies showing that almost 40% of working wives make more money than their husbands and goes on to say, “Assuming present trends continue, by the next generation, more families will be supported by women than by men.”

This raises some interesting questions:  Will present trends continue, or will things shift back again towards men carrying more of the load to support the family?  If present trends do continue will it be good for men, women, and children?  Could the new male vocation be learning how to love more rather than learning to make more money?

I think there’s a wonderful opportunity here.  I’d offer it in the form of an equation (thanks to author Chip Conley for the idea of turning big ideas into short equations):

________    =  Happiness

Love divided by money equals happiness.  I know for most of my adult life, I thought I created happiness for myself and my family by working harder and harder to make more and more money.  I put a lot more effort into making money than learning the skills to love myself, love my wife, and love my children.  I knew I loved them, but I thought I expressed it best by making money.

My equation of effort might have looked like this  1/10 = 0.1.  I put in 1 unit of learning to love for every 10 units on making money.  Now, with so many men finding it difficult to make money, perhaps we can reverse this equation.  10/1 = 10, where we can put ten units into learning to love for every unit on making money.

What do you think?

Photo Credit: Time Magazine Cover March 26, 2012