Lots of men nowadays face it--broken homes, fatherlessness, or disconnected dads all take a toll. Some guys over-identified with their mothers because manly male role-models just weren't there. It really doesn't matter what happened, we're adults now, and we recognize the need to identify with our own gender in greater ways and develop a more masculine presence and a more manly self-image.

Let's talk about where to start. Let's talk about every facet of this. Let's lay the shame and self-doubt aside and make some changes we can feel good about.

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I think it's fantastic if a guy can go to one of these retreats. I wonder if the same process can be achieved by other routes. I'm not disagreeing with you, Will--I can see the value in feeling recognized as a man by other men. But it's a bit confusing, because it's like we ultimately have to give ourselves permission to view ourselves as men---yet we have a hard time doing that without someone else's permission.

It used to be recognized that boys became men when their dads saw them as men. Alternatively, lots of men joined the military, and decided that that experience "made a man" out of them. But what about the thousands of men who grow up without a close connection to a father, and never join the military---other than one of these weekend retreats, what "rite of passage" creates this paradigm shift in them?

More importantly, while a rite of passage can be valuable, what about the growth process that should preceed it? What accomplishments and developmental achievements over the months can foster a man's acceptance of his own masculine role? Food for thought.....



Will said:
My strong opinion, based on my experience, is that there is no substitute for initiation: an ordeal you agree to go thru, provided by men, and when you're through it, you get recognized as a man by other men.

Mine was through ManKind Project. I'm a little unhappy with the way politics (left-right politics) is creeping into this organization, but the initiation is still a great gift, not much changed from what I went through. Christian men might want to do New Adam, or I think John Eldredge has a weekend.

After that, I was a man, although early on a wounded one. Now much less so.
Hi Todd!

My response is a little delayed given that I've just joined the group. I found that joining the military (the Australian Army Reserve) has been a great experience, where I really felt that I became my own man after returning from 1 month of boot camp and being challenged beyond what I'd ever been challenged before.

I believe, that another good initiation is going into the wild, or on a road trip, or a hiking trip around a continent, by yourself where you're alone and out of your comfort zone and are forced to rely on your own wits, or trust in complete strangers to help you out. Then when you return you find that you are stronger and have increased confidence as a result of self reliance and seeing the world beyond your immediate horizons.

At the end of this year I'm going on my own 3 month journey, exploring Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Brazil. I'm looking forward to it -it should be a fantastic adventure, and a good way to end a year at uni.
My thought is that we often set an unrealistically high bar. In this case, if I set a bar that I must do my journey alone, or without the support of those that have walked it before me, then that's too much. Let's do it with coaching, and *then* do it alone.

(Or not. Consider warriors in an army. As seasoned veterans, they still don't fight alone; if they did, they'd be killed. We get by with a little help from our friends.)

We also set too high a bar, I think, in relating to women, at least to start with. As a friend of mine said, "We think that if we can't seduce a supermodel who's currently running to catch a cab, we suck." It's ok to start by asking the girl next door to have some coffee or whatever. She'll probably be a better catch long term that the supermodel anyway, although that's an aside.
I'm aware of the ManKind Project, and it can certainly be a proving ground on our way to manhood. But doesn't "the journey" include any number of rites along the way? In my own early development, I experienced much that led me to be the man I am today... Such as: The Cub Scouts, The Boy Scouts, "Summer Camp", MYF (I'm a Methodist) The YMCA, sports (in general), not to mention less formal initiations, such as family dynamics, birth order, social pecking order, academic achievements, and the like. Comments?
Quantum level of difference, I think.
I am not convinced of the initiation route for myself. Initiation sounds to me like something similar to what gang members, and cult members go through to bind them to a group and group or group leader's ideals more than help them grow as individuals. The initiations practiced by modern "men's movement" groups seem more pseudo-psychological and seem to share many traits and characteristics of cults producing an artificial sense of rite of passage. Indeed, a quick search on the net for the ManKind Project quickly uncovered several sources of criticism that raised a flag of caution in me. Maybe someone here could explain more of what goes on and the real benefits of such an initiation.

I suppose the aspect I find most troublesome with these 'men's movement" events is the motivation of those who run them made more questionable by the enormous profit they make, promising answers they have no way of answering better than anyone else to questions we all have.
Will said:
...and my son, if he's up for it, will have the benefit of Scouts. We didn't have Scouts where I was, but it sounds like a great way to learn.

That, it is! Would you believe I still use stuff I learned in the Scouts? ...and here it is almost FIFTY years later. Every single time, I help an elderly person, cross the street, etc. it's due to the things I learned as a Scout. Everytime I find myself being a good sport, it came from being a Boy Scout. Heck, everytime I tie a knot... well you get the picture... The Boy Scouts, and I'm sure other such organizations, is a very necessary part of the journey from boys to men. IMHO.
For boys ages 5 to 12 and their fathers, there is the YMCA Father/Son Indian Guides.

From the Manikiki Nation Constitution:
The purpose of YMCA Father/Son Indian Guides is to foster the companionship of father and son. ­
The aims of YMCA Father/Son Indian Guides are:
a) To be clean in body and pure in heart.
b) To be “Pals Forever” with my dad/son.
c) To love the sacred circle of my family.
d) To be attentive while others speak.
e) To love my neighbor as myself.
f) To seek and preserve the beauty of the Great Spirit’s work in forest, fields and stream.

The slogan of YMCA Father/Son Indian Guides is “Pals Forever”.
I have to agree 100% with the huhman. Not a day goes by that I do something that I learned in Boy Scouts. I am an Eagle Scout and I have to say that Boy Scouts more than any other influence in my young life shaped me to what I am today. Think about it the scout law is straight forward; a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obediant, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. All things that embody what many of us see as Manly or the core foundation anyway. My son is soon to be 4. when he is old enough i will introduce him to cub scouts just like I was. If he likes it and I think he may great. If he chooses not to I will not be disapointed far from it I can still teach him all I learned in scouting. In my opinion every boy should be introduced to it. Atleast to see what its about and see if its what they would like.
I'm going to try answering questions best I can about ManKind Project. It would be nice to have someone who's done New Adam or another intensive initiation experience to tell about that. I have heard, but can't confirm personally, that it's similar.

ManKind Project's main thing is the initiation weekend, the "New Warrior Training Adventure" (NWTA). It is intense. My experience of it was, well, joy. I wanted manhood, I wanted recognition as a man, I wanted to see myself as man enough, and I found in it a way to get all these. I was on cloud 9 for a week. Would I say that then the grueling work of grounding what I got in reality began? No; it began on that weekend.

The rough structure of it (I can't give detail; it would contain spoilers) is descent, ordeal, and integration. I think I have that right. "Descent" means getting your mind off what's going on at work and onto whatever issues you brought with you; ordeal means dealing with them; integration, for me at least, was celebration.

Reasons that it's not a cult:
* Nobody asked me to donate huge amounts of money, and although the leaders of a weekend (and the chair of the project) do get paid, they don't get paid huge amounts. I know some of them personally and have been to the chair's house. It's not as nice as mine and I'm sure he didn't pay for it after becoming chair.
* Nobody tells you The Answer. No gurus. Since people in MKP are just as human as anyone, you'll find some who think they know it all, annoying those of us who actually do; but the design is to prevent there from being gurus.
* The issue(s) you'll work on on that weekend are whatever *your* issues are, and nobody's going to tell you the fix for them. What MKP offers is *processes*, not beliefs. I can reveal some processes we use in our weekly meetings (more about them in a moment):
-----Clearing (as in "clearing the air"), to resolve conflict. There's a format for separating the data (whatever you're upset about, the "data" is the part that anybody watching would have seen) from the judgments (what you interpret that data to mean) and both from requests (what, if anything, you want the one you're upset with to do for you). This format exists outside MKP, of course, but the format makes tough conflicts easier to defuse.
-----Psychodrama. You can pay Shadow Work or a suitably trained psychotherapist a chunk of change every time you do it, or you can do it for free in your weekly meeting. I've done it regularly.
* Nobody on the NWTA is trying to recruit you to do recruitment.
* Some of the principles we have to keep us from being cultlike are:
-----Any man may pass. (No leader can tell you to do anything.)
-----A man's work is his own. (What you do should go where you want it to, not where someone else thinks it should.)
-----No gurus.

I'll contrast this with another workshop I attended, Landmark Forum, formerly known as est. I liked enough of the ideas in the first workshop to go to a second (and discarded the ideas I thought were stupid). The second one made me vow I'd never do another. Here's why:

* Landmark was pushing a world view. I might call it "happy nihilism": "Life is empty and meaningless," they say, "but it's empty and meaningless that it's empty and meaningless." It's not just that I don't agree -- I sure don't! -- it's that they were pushing a world view. I already got one I'm happy with.
* About half the second workshop, the "Landmark Forum Advanced Course," was spent trying to recruit us to recruit others and sign up for more workshops. Grr.
* I wanted processes; they had beliefs. Illogical, self-contradictory ones at that.

Others might add "there's a lot of pressure at Landmark to conform," but I'm pretty resistant to pressure; so it wasn't *my* reason not to go back.

Now I'll talk about what happens after the weekend. You get to go to a weekly group of MKP members, probably 6-8 men, and learn processes like the clearing, the psychodrama, and how to get the most of the weekly meetings. Each group is completely autonomous, making its own decisions, and owing nobody any money, like an AA meeting. The purpose of it is to keep processing whatever issues you need to and to become more able to do what you really want in life, which is of course up to you: your "mission." My mission is: I awaken the world to wildness and wholeness by awakening myself to wildness and wholeness, and communicating it to the world. (Which is why I like AoM: wildness, and wholeness.) I also use it to process resentments or fears that I'd rather have show up in a group of guys I don't live with, than in my relationship to my wife.

When I started all this, I couldn't look a man (or woman) in the eye; it was too intimidating. There was no way I could have dared enough up-close personal contact to get married. And now I am. I don't obsess for a day if someone disses me. Now, I have come further than most I know; one of the members of my local group says I'd get the prize for "most improvement" since he's known me. YMMV.

Now I'm going to talk about my reservation about MKP. There is now a subgroup of it called Multi-Kulti, which takes a politically progressive perspective regarding race, sex, class, etc., which is not that they don't matter and should be ignored (my view), but that they should be emphasized. I think this is a horrible idea. Look where people have done this in the past 20 years: Bosnia, Palestine, Rwanda... we need *more* emphasis on race and ethnicity? Their viewpoint is all over a subsection of academia, too.

The main web site now says MKP is a "progressive" organization. I complained about this, and the leadership discussed it and decided to keep it, although they couldn't agree on what it means. (Personal growth progress? Liberal politics? "Inclusive" views?) I think this is because they are all political progressives, living in a bubble of people with similar political views. (The progressive members of my local group think that being progressive means including non-progressives. I wish they were in charge of this.)

The good news is that you won't find much of this on the NWTA weekend. My fear, though, is that they'll increase it. I consider it counter to our most basic principles: believe what you want, your work is your own, your beliefs are your own, we have nothing to convince you of.

But for now, most of the NWTA weekend is still all about you, what you want. It's described as "radical departure": it will shake you up and help you get moving (if that's what you want). Where you decide to go is totally up to you.
You know, this is going to seem REALLY weird---but that's okay, I'm going to "confess" it to you guys and see what you think. I have often REALLY wished there were some adult version of the Boy Scout manual (do the Eagle scouts have their own?), but something geared for manly skills in the adult world. I'm not talking about a club or organization (though small groups certainly do have their place), but some kind of book that a man could use that would define a set of skills to develop, give instructions and teach how to do it, AND provide some criterion to meet that a guy could use to demonstrate to himself that he had developed that skill. Merit badges would even be a nice touch. :-) I know, that probably sounds juvenile, but at age 46, I look at a lot of "man-world" skills that I have just never developed---maybe it's about time to work on that.
I don't think it's weird at all. And I'll bet it's out there somewhere.

What kind of skills? (For you in particular, Todd; or for anyone. For me: I wish I could get seedlings to grow reliably; get spinach not to die; lay tile or hardwood flooring.)

I also wonder if there could be a sort of exchange: you teach me to grow seedlings or fix my grill, I'll teach you to make a fire or cut tile. This could be a lot of fun.

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