As aging men, how can we make our wisdom known in the world? In Still Here, Ram Dass suggests we can embody it with a balanced life of service and of "our own journey toward death...and through deepening knowledge of ourselves." While looking for a space on my bookshelf for this book, I came across Herb Goldberg's The Hazards of Being Male: Surviving The Myth of Masculine Privilege,which I read the in 1980, the year I joined my first men's group.
Goldberg reasoned that if the gender stereotypes of women were detrimental to women, as feminism had demonstrated, then there must be a similar downside for men in spite of the privileges of masculinity. He pointed out that our masculine role expectations did not serve to make us fully human as husbands or fathers, friends or lovers. In fact they were detrimental to our bodies and spirit and ultimately to the culture itself.
Competition and homophobia kept us from having deep male friendships. Denial of our feelings barred us from healing our wounds and created chronic low grade depression. We self medicated on drugs and alcohol. Our stay strong, show no weakness mantra kept us from health care and asking for help. We perverted the intimacy and tenderness of sex into a conquest. We sold our souls to our work. Much of our success proved empty and unfulfilling. We missed the joy of our children because their care was left to women in our lives, or our jobs kept us away. Not of all of us experienced all of these, but most of us had some of these experiences.
Since joining my first men's group in 1980 I've pursued an ongoing internal exploration, examination and transformation of who I am as a man, and how I choose to live in the world. My men's work has been ongoing because it took awhile for me to become fully aware of my wounds for what they are, and for the pain to pierce my defenses. In addition the term "full healthy masculinity" has changed at various stages of my life. Competition and success were big issues in my productive years. In times around my marriage and divorce vulnerability and intimacy reigned supreme. My diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease overwhelmed and made laughable any delusions that I should, or could be able to fix everything, and always be strong and maintain control.
I'm still working on understanding masculinity. Slow learner? Weak teacher? Perhaps. And/or it demonstrates the power of the lingering stereotype to shape us, and the myriad, multifaceted ways it's reinforced within our culture and personal lives.
Men's Wisdom Works, echoing Ram Dass, emphasizes the importance of service to our community and to each other. All of the men in my group share their skills, time and wisdom with multiple service agencies or programs. I'm confident that if I needed help, men in my group would be there as they are supporting and encouraging me as I live with Parkinson's Disease. Also echoing Ram Dass, we've extensively explored the endpoint of life's journey. My understanding of my life with Parkinson's has deepened considerably. The diversity of personal and professional histories expands my world view and challenges my stereotypes. As a long term resident among newcomers my connection to Western North Carolina is unique, but no more important than that of other men. I feel free and safe to be who I am in the group setting with these men. Together we try to embody wisdom.
I put Goldberg back on the shelf and Ram Dass next to him.