By Joe Mansfield
ONE OF THE BOYS
I was invited to speak recently at the breakfast meeting of a local businessmen's organization. I titled my talk "Self Care for Men." I anticipated that by sharing with them the grim reality of mid life problems unique to, what California psychologist Herb Goldberg calls, "men in harness," that they'd be eager to learn the basic guidelines of the art of self care for men. I hoped that at the end of my talk we'd all be in the same boat, fellow sailors on the perilous seas of masculine life. I didn't want to be the captain.I just hoped to be "one of the boys," rowing together against the tides of ingrained male self destructiveness.
My talk was to follow the initial business part of the group's agenda. This was done very formally, with the required rituals. One member continually disrupted the meeting for foolish reasons. The club president kept penalizing him 25 cent and 50 cent fines. Although he owned a local family business, his gaudy slacks and open necked Hawaiian style shirt stood out among the surrounding sea of dark 3 piece suits and somber blazers. I immediately saw in his futile behavior the confusion and terror of non belonging. I felt a link with him, as I was feeling quite out of place among so many businessmen.
As I spoke of the importance of moderate exercise, realistic diet, and the necessity of healthy relationships, I felt the old familiar wall of separation begin to rise. A lifelong issue for many men is their mixed emotions about being "one of the boys." Those of us who share this issue, find ourselves locked into a lifelong dance of ambivalence about being in the "in" group. Accompanying the seductive aura of being part of the "group," there is the sense of belonging, having a protective reference group, and enjoying the group's status. The flip side of belonging is the menacing specter of being controlled, limited, a surrender of individuality and the vulnerability of rejection.
As a boy, it was painfully clear to me that to be "one of the boys" meant a required participation in downing the weaklings and odd ducks that were outsiders. For the first 15 or 16 years of my life, I bounced in and out of being one of the boys. But then I began to detect a yearning inside. I started to feel an unwillingness to be cut off from some rich or peak experience due to the closed limits of what the group would accept. As a street kid in a trade school environment, I became unable to deny my attraction to new things. How queer I felt harboring my secret passion for the progressive jazz of Boston DJ Symphony Sid. Vain attempts to share my feelings about the poignant love messages of a young Lady Day or the mysterious passions of Charlie Parker were ridiculed and firmly put down.
As the group emerged from its collective delinquent persona into it's James Dean stage, custom Mercs and street rods became the new unifying symbols of belonging. My initial enthusiasm for those low slung, flatulent street barges and high powered road rockets started to wane. A new, out of town, friend turned me on to the ecstasy of the fine tuned Jags, Alfas, Aston Martins and Bugattis of Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. My new pride and joy, a '53 MG TD two seater, could have been a one seater when I think back of the reaction of "the boys" when I drove up trying to recruit a companion to attend a foreign movie. So there I was tooling along the coastline, windshield folded flat, wind in my face, feeling empty and alone. Somehow, the ocean air, my MG, Symphony Sid and Bird could not neutralize the sting of being an outsider.
I found my way into college, and got a degree in Psychology. Next I entered graduate school, and eventually became a Psychotherapist in private practice. With a stable middle class existence, I have not been a maniac for any extreme causes. However, I began to realize that most of the women that I knew were healthier, both emotionally and physically than their male counterparts. As I attempted to work on myself through better diet and exercise, I started to lead Relationship programs for men. It was through a newspaper article that I started to gain notoriety, and subsequently was invited to the breakfast meeting.
As I outlined the alarming discrepancies between men and women to these businessmen, I got the old feeling from my teens. I felt as if I was again trying to share Miles Davis or Sarah Vaughan with the Bill Haley fan club. There was an uncomfortable restlessness in the group as I spoke. The unspoken undercurrent seemed to be shouting "Go away outsider, we don't need to.hear this." My attempts to elicit comments or to engage them to share personal experiences were futile.
Finally, I finished my prepared material and asked for questions. There was a long stony silence. I looked around the room, hoping that someone would break the ice. Finally, the group fool stood up and asked me, "What do you recommend for a fellow who keeps getting fined at his meetings?" After a few nervous snickers, the tension in the group increased. My tension level was surely the highest in the hall. But as I stared down at him from the podium, I felt something inside of me give way. It was as though I was a branch that had been sticking out, opposing a rushing stream - finally yielding with relief to the encompassing whirling force. No! I would be the outsider no longer! So I smiled, winked at "the boys," and said "The first thing that I'd tell that fellow to do would be to have an immediate, emergency consultation with a sighted haberdasher!" "The boys" were in stitches! They ate it up.
They came up at the end of the meeting, shook my hand, and a couple of them walked with me out to the parking lot. Riding off in my station wagon, perhaps I no loner had Symphony Sid to commune with, but I had a warm feeling inside. I realized that, for the moment at least, I could be "one of the boys." But as. I thought back on what had happened, I had to ask myself, "But at what price?"
Joe Mansfield's Help For Men
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