I learned something important about myself at an event last month, the annual convergence of a men’s organization called the Sacred Sons. Though I was there as a speaker, I decided to experience it from the vantage point of a participant as well. That is how I found myself in a circle of men that Friday afternoon, being asked if I wanted to put on boxing gloves and fight another man.
So many lovely comments here. I want to add one more detail to the story. Part of the instruction around the fighting was that it isn't all-or-nothing. There are degrees between passivity and all-out raging violence. It is a dial, not a switch. Boxing is a good expression of that, since it has restraint built into the rules. You can't kick the other guy in the balls or bite off his ear, for example. The other guy and I didn't actually want to hurt each other -- at least not too much.
I am a little surprised that this essay evoked such a positive response. I was expecting a lot of criticism (reinforcing gender stereotypes etc.) And what I'm saying here is really simple. Sometimes I overlook saying the simple things. Anyway, thank you all for your great comments and stories.
This does my heart good. I think we need a world that puts children at the center, surrounded by women, who are surrounded by men. Tonic masculinity.
I love how you always push us beyond the easy lines our culture and subcultures have drawn for us. After the last two to three years that have so radically scrambled ideological and party lines, some of us who have lost membership to our sometimes life-long groups now have a need to understand where we belong. The whole currently raging debates around gender only add an element of confusion, further splitting tentative newly formed communities apart.
My whole adult life I have seen myself as a coastal leftist, knowing clearly where I belonged, clearly knowing that I was in the right group, fighting the anti-progressive forces brewing all over the large land masses populated by the scary ignoramus. Then the “pandemic” happened. Enough has been said about how the official global response affected humanity in profound ways we are only now starting to understand. For me, as for many thousands of others, I completely lost faith in the integrity of “my side” and started navigating in utterly unknown waters. I have certainly grown from the experience, even though many times I am still not sure I know on which land I emerged.
Reading your post made me realize that one of the pillars that has been shaken is that of my sense of masculinity. As life on the Canadian West coast became unlivable for me, my family and I decided to move from the moneyed capital of the liberal establishment to the “Texas of Canada” in a smaller conservative city where nothing much happens. Not only have I quickly unlearned my acquired and mandated repulsion for big trucks and cowboy hats, but I have also quickly learned to love the realness of people actually doing things with their hands. How refreshing to have men relate with a frank handshake ready to take on the task at hand, without hiding behind the multiple veils of conditioning to ensure that the right thing is said, to ensure that they are good safe men who behave correctly, always being aware of their privilege, always trying to appear smartly but not overbearingly informed.
This new environment has freed me, making me feel more authentic. I am still me, still fighting against the abuses of the corporate state, but ready to fight in new ways, claiming a stronger masculinity that does not have to excuse itself for existing, letting go of false masks to engage in a fight without reserve. So, I am planning on buying a cowboy hat. Not because I am now copying a new form of masculinity and joining another in-group, but because, first of all, these hats offer great protection from the sun, and, most importantly, as a way to remind me to stay open, to expand my preconceptions, to embrace a stronger more assertive self, to fight by taking on the job at hand with a smile and a strong warm genuine handshake.
I am a veteran descended from native warriors. In the Spirit Warrior Trainngs I have taught, a repetative theme emerges. Many peaceful caring folks are horrified to discover the violence inside themselves. Why? Are we horrified by an eagle protecting it's nest or any animal mother protecting it's young? How did we get domesticated into such unnatural positions of powerlessness that we think it wrong to fiercely guard what we love and feel responsible for? There is a big difference between a sovereign human defending family and home and the military-industrial complex's horrific manipulations of the honorable warrior archetype.
Thank you Charles for all you share here so generously. As the mother of two boys I hope they can experience the depth and complexity of their masculinity surrounded by support like this.
My day has been brightened to know that there were 400+ men gathered together to heal and dig into their masculinity. Always grateful for your words and wisdom.
When I was a 24 I worked for a church for three years as a youth director. One of the programs the church had been doing for years was a playgroup for moms and their kids, who were in a domestic violence resettlement program. The church had a gymnasium, which was so fun for the kids, to run around and be crazy. We would pull out the tumbling mats, and ALL the little boys wanted to wrestle with me. I grew up with a Dad (just recently now passed) who loved to wrestle and so did I, and so, naturally, I would get down on the mat and wrestle 5-7 little boys who had so much joyful aggressive energy they needed to work out. It was a blast, it was like puppies piling on. I aways ended up sweaty and scratched from their exuberance. I knew these boys had experienced all kind of negative behavior from their own Dads, and I knew it was healing for them to work it out with a safe male. Aggressive sports of a variety of kinds were a pressure release for me and salvation from school, too. My Dad told me just a few years ago that his father liked to wrestle too, but he would hurt you if he wanted to get the upper hand. Dad told me he made a conscious decision not to pass that along to me. I think about that all the time, the little change my Dad made that broke a legacy of pain and turned it into something I can give as a gift. Thanks Charles.
I disagree with you a lot but i contribute every month because you write and think so well. I also think about what you write… and this time you outdid yourself. Beautifully written and completely uplifting.
I'm very soon to have my 57th birthday, to place this in a cultural historical context. Also, for such context, I have always lived in the American West -- California, Oregon, and now New Mexico.
When I was in my early twenties I had a profound insight into this gender stuff. What I realized was that the women's movement had had utterly culturally shifting consequences, but there had been no men's movement of similar magnitude, and therefore our cultural evolution was bogged down by the absence of such a men's movement. Men were lagging behind women in healing their enculturated gender wounds--severely.
I think this remains true today as much as it was true when I was a young man.
So I'm pleased to read what you have written here, Charles. Perhaps our time has come?
I’m really appreciative of this essay and the one you recently wrote on feminine depictions of power/use of the sword which my significant other sent me.
I definitely agree that rebuilding and rethinking masculinity, processing grief/trauma, and telling new stories/myths is a vital part of global healing we need and this is exactly what men’s work focuses on, however much of men’s work falls into the same trap as psychotherapy.
There has been over 100 years of psychotherapy and yet by nearly every metric of well being you can look at from depression, anxiety, addiction things are not better, are climbing, or are worse than they’ve ever been (and this was before the pandemic/polycrisis.)
I’m sure our unhealthy views of masculinity and femininity play into these horrific numbers but the economics of therapy and many offerings in the men’s movement also are to blame. I can’t even begin to say how many times I’ve seen gatherings, wilderness retreats, and men’s workshops that cost hundreds to thousands of dollars without any offer of scholarships or financial assistance.
Therapy and men’s work can be an extremely valuable investment, but to quote Childish Gambino in Atlanta, “Poor people don’t have time to make investments. They are too busy working to not be poor.”
We are not going to fix society from the top down or by any method that charges over $100 dollars an hour. It amazes me how many wise men and women with backgrounds in Jungian psychology, storytelling, and myth have so much to offer but do not seem to understand how out of reach much of it is for so many. There is plenty available that is free but anything that actually involves the chance to interact with other men in person is almost always prohibitively expensive.
Now that zoom exists and people can watch a conference online is there any real justification for charging hundreds of dollars? For much of the last several hundred years even the stories of the poor have been told by the rich.
With that said, I just wanted to say thank you for making your substack open and available to all. Even though you say you like to, you are one of the few people I don’t feel the need to fight.
Inspired. Love this: “The true warrior is the one who is willing, if need be, to die. Courage and not violence defines him.”
Oh my dear Charles, this brought tears to my eyes to read. Yes, I grew up with 4 brothers and have numerous nephews, and I know that physical fighting when done lovingly, is essential! I used to love to wrestle, my brothers taught me how, but I dated a man who had been a wrestler and he could not understand that pinning me and holding me down helpless simply caused me to panic and triggered PTSD (from long term abuse). I tried to explain that I loved the physicality of being strong; I wanted to wrestle with him just to let my body be strong, and feel the joy of testing my muscles against his. But he could not escape the competitiveness he learned in wrestling, so for him, it was all about immobilizing me. I love physical men and it has saddened me how we have taken the idea that physical fighting = toxic masculinity. I will repost this on all my social media and thank you for sharing! Thank you for fighting! Thank you for taking a stand, thank you for healing yourself and taking us along with you!
Thanks Charles for your openly shared experience as a Man.
I learnt an interesting saying some years ago when in Australia where there is a movement called 'Mens Sheds ', a space where men get together to make and fix things with all their shared tools as well as taking on community projects together.
They say 'Mens don't talk face to face, they talk side by side"
It has made a lot of sense to me over the years (working with Permaculture) as through positive action, moments of reflection can naturally arise.
Many men don't feel comfortable sitting and talking, so working together while talking is a great way to go too. The essential conversations and preoccupations will always arise while hands and hearts are active. Thanks again,
This is super cool Charles. I want to fight you!
One has to be the DEFENDER even until death. Honour and self sacrifice without glory or reward is our way. You are a fight club punk and I salute you!
Fifteen years ago my son went to a small private high school. Back then I ran into a student who also went there and mentioned that my son went to that school. A smile spread across the girl’s face and she said, “Nathan, he is always so kind!” My heart was proud. Nathan is tall, very strong, athletic, intelligent , good looking and he could have been the mean superior jock type. A number of years later I was proud of him for a different reason. He told me a tale from his senior year. A bully was picking on Nathan’s good friend, a small, nerdy computer geek. Nathan interrupted and told the guy to pick on someone his own size. The guy challenged Nathan to an immediate fight . Nathan said no, and said that it would be settled after school off campus. Nathan had his own car, paid for by a job at a fitness center and at that time had his own independent life so I was unaware of it all..They met for the showdown in a parking lot behind a local supermarket. The guy got the first punch in and bloodied Nathan’s nose, but Nathan went to work and got the guy on the ground and was pounding away with his fist. Nathan then realized he shouldn’t keep pounding so he jumped up and the guy fled in his car. The next day, Nathan was the hero at school. Years later he ran into the guy and the guy nodded his head, and said, “Yeah, I was a real jerk back then.”
I smile at myself for I am sure if I had heard about the fight when it happened instead of five years later I would have done the responsible parent thing and told him violence was the wrong choice, he or the other guy could have been hurt bad and he should have let the school administration handle the problem, blah, blah, blah. But when I heard the tale, it was Captain America stopping evil and teaching someone a lesson they needed to learn!
As a man one must make himself strong, in every way. Physical, mental, emotional, and especially spiritually. Our strength isn’t for ourselves. It is for others less powerful than ourselves. Our strength is to carry others when they need carrying.