READ THE PREFACE
In August 2018, I attended a men's retreat entitled "Women Teach Men" in Ojai with a buddy who was turning 40. The #MeToo Movement had exploded on the scene during the previous fall, and 100 guys, mainly ages 30-45, came together to explore how we might respond to the complex challenges that engulfed us. The retreat was organized to reverse the standard power paradigm—all the speakers were high-powered, accomplished women. Between sessions we attendees gathered in squads of six to eight led by a male facilitator to talk about how men might take on the challenge of working with our brothers to effect a shift in our behavior.
In our breakout group was a brilliant twenty-five-year-old Google exec who had been excoriated for some statements he had posted online in college about the interactions of men and women prior to the #MeToo moment. He was reserved, gun-shy about speaking up, but clearly had a ton on his mind. Feeling his pain, my friend and I chatted with him about our own sense of frustration and alarm that the movement was tearing men and women apart even as it revealed deep wounds that needed to be healed. We all had a lot in common, even at ages 25, 40, and 60.
Later we attended a men-only session with psychotherapist Esther Perel. From the outset we agreed to create a safe space where we could share our dark secrets in confidence and speak of our swirling emotions and insecurities without shame or embarrassment. I heard things that I never thought a man would admit even to himself, much less to others. There was an overwhelming outpouring of pain and confusion. These revelations were not just related to the mixed set of feelings that men were experiencing about the #MeToo Movement, ranging from extreme outrage at bad actors, feelings of complicity on some level, and anger at being condemned for merely being male, but the challenges of being a man in general. There was talk of the dark underside of men’s sexual drive – the thrill of aggression, our need to consume, possess, or conquer. The prevalence and persistence of premature ejaculation, well into our 30’s for some, and the general embarrassment of not being able to maintain more control over our impulses. The agony of wanting to form deep connections with women without having the emotional capacities or communications skills to do so. The frustration of being punished for the sins of our brothers, along with the acknowledgement that on some level we were all of us guilty of exploiting women. It was 1:30 AM before Dr. Perel closed a session whose dialogue showed no sign of ever ending.
The next day the retreat was buzzing with men connecting in ways that we typically do not. There wasn't any posturing, just a fierce desire to continue the conversation of the night before.
At the end of the retreat, I found myself standing in a sacred circle with the legendary Rev. Jo from Agape Church in Los Angeles. One by one we stood before her and made a solemn vow to act on some insight of the retreat. Shaking like a leaf, I heard myself swear from out of nowhere that I would begin to publish my writing.
That was a big, scary departure for me as I had long ago decided that I could not openly discuss my several-decade exploration of modern masculinity in public. It would have been too high risk for me professionally as I was a producer of children's programming and a non-profit exec and could not expect to remain employed if I were to share my thoughts about unexpected hard-ons, the range of sexual impulses that men feel, relationship challenges, and feelings of inadequacy and failure.
However, as I stood before the group and reflected upon the collective pain that I had witnessed that weekend, I realized that men who have been trying to reframe and expand traditional notions of masculinity need to step up during these contentious times, and overcome our reluctance. In that pivotal moment, I decided that the positive societal outcomes that I could help generate by joining the men who were committing to making a shift far outweighed the personal consequences of doing so.
It took me several months to screw up the courage to publish my thoughts. The first story that I thought it was important to share, since it was the foundation of so much of my thinking, was my experience posing nude for a female photographer in order to better understand the impact of the male gaze. Not exactly G-rated material. I sent it off to the Los Angeles Review of Books. Surprisingly, it was accepted and well received, but wasn’t reaching the men who might benefit most. So I reworked the piece in the voice that I would use talking to guys at the bar, and sent it to Lisa Hickey, the publisher of The Good Men Project, on a Sunday afternoon. Two hours later, I received another positive response, and an inquiry as to whether there were other topics that I might want to write about. Twenty-five essays and two years later, I am still writing.
This book is an attempt to provide a road map for men who are seeking greater personal satisfaction and more fulfillment in their lives. It is for guys who are eager to reframe the behavioral patterns that are deeply engrained inside us about what it means to be a real man and are at odds with the new set of expectations that confront today’s men. These patterns and expectations have been categorized by social commentators as the “Man Box'' because they are so deeply encoded into our society and our individual behaviors that many men find it difficult to challenge its “rules.” Manheart attempts to answer the question of how we might evolve from being emotionally detached providers, warriors, and protectors into becoming compassionate nurturers, companions, and seekers as well. It reflects forty years of experience trying to expand the narrow, rigid definitions of manhood that our society forces upon men, along with the latest academic research and the stories of other men who have been fellow travelers on this journey.
I hope that these pages provide insights that will advance the national conversation about what it means to be a 21st-century male. My deepest wish is that this book inspires a generation of men to develop their innate capacities to engage with their wives, partners, children, colleagues, and friends in a open-hearted way that will enable them to experience' the grace, power, and joy of being alive, connected, and unabashedly male.