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A man without a magazine

By Michael Ceo


A middle-aged executive has a depressing realization while browsing though an airport newsstand waiting for a flight.  Despite the plethora of magazine titles, everything from sports to extreme sports to cooking, model trains, coin collecting antiquing, hunting and gun world magazine, not one interested him. For this man, the significance of his realization centered on how his life has been out of balance.  For him work and achievement had become the centerpiece of his world. Like many of us guys, he is living the script sold to us during our growing up years, which dictates what it means to be a man.  So much of his focus is on being the breadwinner that he has lost touch with the joy and passion in his life.  This is a frustration that characterizes men and how we were socialized, to find meaning in life from achievement alone. 

For this forty-something executive, the frustration is amplified by having peaked in his climb of the corporate ladder.  He used the image of the old twenty-mule team Borax advertisement with its picture of the covered wagon being pulled by a team of mules.  In the corporate world, he explained, you’re either in the wagon or you’re one of the mules.  Evidently, he thought that by this time in his career, he would be riding in the wagon. Instead, he is laboring  with the other mules.   Is this man’s experience common to others American males?  The evidence points to a resounding yes.

Over the last several years, I find more men seeking therapy to make much needed changes in their lives.  And these are not “girly men” but seasoned accomplished guys from all walks of life who have realized that they want to write their own script rather than play out the expectations of others.  Often in response to a painful marriage that has caused them to question their lives,  men enter therapy to take a good hard look at themselves.  Sometimes like the executive above, it takes a crisis in their work lives to push them onto their therapeutic path of self-discovery.

A common theme for men involves their having let others define them. We start off as either good boys wanting to please parents and others or we turn into bad boys rejecting the pull to fit this mold.  Men get stuck on this track of either living others’ expectations of them or fighting their hold on them.  Another stuck place for men involves giving women the power to define them as a man.  Too often, the messages men get about masculinity are through the eyes of women. Accordingly, a man’s sense of his own male identity can remain vague or submerged as he unwittingly allows women to define his masculinity.   The other polarity for a man is stubbornly refusing to let women influence him as a man. .   Or he molds his identity as a man based on how women respond to him. Women seem to have this influence that men can’t quite come to terms with.  Maybe it goes back to the total dependence a male child has on his mother. Whatever the case, male identity gets muddled or lost by others’ expectations with the net result being an underlying resentment or bitterness. 

Men are also socialized to competitively prove their maleness.  This pressure to prove can either become an incentive to achieve and meet challenges or become a monster to which a man becomes a slave.  Frequently, the need to prove one’s maleness becomes distorted.  Making more money, driving a fast sexy car, acting tough, shooting guns, having a trophy wife or lover or more muscles all become arenas in which men are attempting to prove themselves. Or they become work machines believing they can nurture themselves by achievement.    Yet, all of this frenzy of proving may never really prove anything. 

So what does is a  real man to do?  Maybe he just stops doing and starts being a man. Since I’m just another man who is stuck too, I don’t have the answer to this very important question but I may have some clues.  There is a balance that is crucial to being a man, a balance between many opposites.  For example, the balance between being task oriented and relationship oriented is one dynamic. Another involves the balance between work and play; being active and resting; strong and sensitive; being serious and being humorous; being worldly and being spiritual; having outer strength as well as inner strength. 

A real man needs to have resources, plenty of them. Resources that are appropriate to all the experiences and situations in which men find themselves.  Being a real man means prevailing over what life dishes out. Maybe prevailing means holding on or letting go of control and the wisdom to know when to do which. This is the male paradox of power. For situations in life over which we do not have power, for example,  when faced with life’s many losses, illness or dying, acting powerfully may mean to have courage or spiritual power or humor.  Maybe courage means really stepping into the experience and being fully present. This is the paradoxical power of mindfulness. 

A wise man once told me that “irony is the driving force of the universe.”  If this is so then we are faced with the irony of having to prevail over what we can’t control. Maybe a man without a magazine needs to learn how to dance.