Today I'm honored to have Brian Plachta as my guest blogger. Brian is the author the recently released book: Pillars of Steel---How Real Men Draw Strength from Each Other.
My wife was fishing around recently asking me what I wanted for Father’s Day. I pondered for a minute, ran through the typical list in my head---a necktie? No, too boring. New golf driver? No, got one last year. Gas grill? No, too expensive.
But then out of nowhere in the middle of my wondering, the thought popped into my head like a kid waiting to be picked in a duck-duck-goose game, and I blurted out: “Strength. That’s what I want for father’s day this year. Male strength.”
She looked at me with that puzzled look in her eyes wondering if my dementia was acting up again, but since we’ve been married almost twenty-nine years and she has a heart of compassion and wisdom, she simply asked, “What do you mean?”
“I want some good ol’ fashion strength.” I replied. “The kind like my father had, but different. I want to feel like I am able to protect and provide for you and the kids. I want to feel like I am capable of surviving anything that happens. And part of that is feeling like I’m plugged into some inner compass that guides and directs me when I’m trying to make the tough decisions I have to make in life. I want to feel like a strong man again with strength tempered by compassion for you and the kids, myself, and others.”
“Wow! That’s a tall order.” My wife replied. “I’m not sure Macy’s carries that.”
We chuckled out loud for a few minutes. But then I shared with her what I’ve been learning as I dig deep into my own heart and into researching what some call the current “crisis of masculinity.”
Whether we realize it or not, men are currently in the middle of a paradigm shift. Women have taken their proper role in society after the women’s movement dramatically changed the way society defines womanhood. As a result, the pendulum of male-female relationships has swung significantly and men are left asking the question, “Where does that leave us?” Confused; surprised; the soft male; having to redefine what genuine masculinity is or else culture will define it for us, and is, as men get caricaturized on television comedy shows like Two and a Half Men as the buffoon, the idiot.
And perhaps because we abused our strength and power as men collectively over the years, men are often now laughed at when we do exercise our strength in a balanced way. And we’re left having to redefine what authentic male strength is.
Robert Bly in his epic book, Iron John, defines true male strength as the “deep male”---the man who is able to connect with his soul, who is able to wrestle out loud with his vulnerability and gain wisdom as a result of his having asked the important questions of life so he can live into the answers. St. Paul calls the strong man, the “inner man”---the man who digs deep and understands who he is and who he is not.
I’m finding that’s what I am looking for these days along with a growing number of my buddies: male strength, the deep male, even if we can’t quite find the language yet to define it, much less talk about it. And since male strength is something I have to find for myself---on the inside---my wife can’t give it to me wrapped up in a neat package like a typical father’s day gift, but she can help understand where men find themselves today and help point me toward that inner journey.
When my wife and I got married, during our wedding vows we promised to help each other become the best person we could become. Part of that promise for her has been coming to a deeper understanding of how tough it is to be a man in today’s culture because of the pendulum shift. Richard Rohr, a Roman Catholic priest and pioneer in the men’s movement, captures the current state of men’s dilemma:
Take a typical woman, educated or uneducated, of most any race or ethnicity, and give her this agenda: “You are not to have any close friends or confidants; you are to avoid any show of need, weakness or tender human intimacy; you may not touch other women without very good reason; you may not cry; you are not encouraged to trust your inner guidance but only outer authorities and ‘big’ people; and you are to judge yourself by your roles, titles, car, house, money and successes. People are either in your tribe, or they are a competitive threat—or of no interest.” Then tell her, “This is what it feels like to be a male, most of the time.”
“Maleness,” reports Rohr, “can be a very lonely and self-defeating world.”
I think the best thing my wife can do for me and for my three sons is to understand the cultural shift men are experiencing, to read about it, learn about it, and then use her gift of being a strong nurturer to point me and my sons in a new direction.
This new direction will require women to:
· Be open to unfolding. There’s no defined path for the new genuine manhood that is evolving. That means it might be messy at times and it has to unfold like walking a virgin hiking trail with only a compass in hand. That means the journey can’t be controlled, it can only be trusted.
· Understand. We are only coming now to a deeper realization that men are changing drastically as a result of the pioneering women have done over the past forty years. Therefore, just as men have had to learn about how women changed and evolved, women will need to learn about the crisis in masculinity and how it is inviting men to deeper transformation.
· Nurture. Like a deer coming out of the woods into an open valley, men are often unsure and skeptical of things they can’t understand or control. Therefore, rather than pushing men into growth and transformation (which will only cause them to rush back into the woods) women will need to understand that these are tough times for men and support them as they take the leap of faith diving into this modern challenge of masculinity.
· Encourage. As women begin to understand the path men are on and what men need to do to grow and change just like women evolved over the last few decades, women can walk alongside men gently point them in a new direction---the direction of the deep male, the inner man. This will require women to create the freedom and space for men to pursue new opportunities shoulder-to-shoulder with other men.
This new direction will require men to:
Take life a little more seriously (although not too seriously or we’ll lose our sense of humor and become a bore)
Take the risk of developing male friendships much deeper than the superficial ones limited by the man code (those unwritten rules left over from patriarchy that restrict men from talking about anything other than women, work and sports, lest we get thrown out of the man club); and
Find a faith that is real and relevant for themselves and their sons.
I realize this is a tall order. But perhaps if women and men together can find the trail marker defining where men are at culturally as a result of the pendulum shift, we can blaze a new trail that will allow us to be better partners on the journey of becoming the best persons we can be. Who knows, this new trail of genuine masculinity, the deep male, might even change the course of history, just like the women’s movement. So, what do you think? What did you get your loved one for Father’s Day this year?
Brian Plachta is an attorney, husband and father. He holds a Masters in Pastoral Counseling degree, and is a certified Spiritual Director. He is a frequent workshop speaker on men’s spirituality topics for churches, spiritual life centers and men’s conferences throughout the state of Michigan. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member at the Dominican Center at Marywood, an ecumenical spiritual life center in West Michigan.His new book, Pillars of Steel---How Real Men Draw Strength from Each Other, is a field guide for men and women which provides a trail marker for and history of men’s masculinity. Contact Brian directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org.