Honesty: Brutal, Rigorous, Lying

“Are you proud of yourself tonight that you have insulted a total stranger whose circumstances you know nothing about?” ~ Atticus Finch – “To Kill a Mockingbird”

On the 4th of July a new acquaintance and I had lunch and it went very well. However, in the parking lot as we were saying goodbye, she said, “I need to tell you the truth about something.

“Go ahead,” I said.

“It’s going to be brutal.”

Now for some set of reasons, I said, “Go ahead.” Let’s just say I was caught off guard and quite taken with her. We might say here in the South that I was smitten.

Here’s what I wish I had said, and would normally say to someone, anyone who starts to tell a truth beginning with the adjective, “brutal.” “No thank you, not today,” or “Stop, I’ll be glad to hear a rigorous truth, but I try not to be brutal – I’ve had enough brutality for this lifetime.”

So, what’s the difference? Brutal is going to be about me, not you. Brutal is always going to contain some level of shaming, criticizing, belittling, or demeaning words. Hers contained all of these.

On the other hand, a rigorous truth is going to tell you something about them – what they need, want, or don’t want.

In the case of my acquaintance, she wanted me to stop calling her “hon,” or “dear,” or “darling.”

Rigorous would have been something like, “I’m uncomfortable,” or “Those words don’t work for me,” or “I feel patronized,” any would have been honest, sincere and vulnerable and require my deepest respect.

Brutal honesty, by the way, is kissing cousins with the prefaces, “with all due respect,” or “I mean no disrespect,” or “I hope you won’t take offense,” or “I’m telling you this, but I hope you won’t take it personally.” All these are requiring the responses like, “No, thank you,” or “I’m not going to be shamed today.”

Now a word about honesty and lying. If someone pulls out a photo of their grandchild, baby, or wiener dog, or hairless cat and they say, “Isn’t she beautiful,” or “the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?” Well any good Southerner should lie their face off and say, “Why, yes, hon, that little dear is the prettiest, most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, darlin,’” and make sure you look as honest and sincere as Atticus Finch, the lawyer in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“People who are brutally honest get more satisfaction out of the brutality than out of the honesty.” ~ Richard J. Weedham

Finding Your Rhythms: When to be Close and When to Separate

Entrain: “To draw along with or after oneself.” ~ Merriam-Webster

Entrainment is syncing our rhythms with someone else’s. Women who live or work very, very close to one another will entrain to another or several women’s menstrual cycles.

We are all easily drawn into other people’s rhythms.

However, entrainment is not usually beneficial in most relationships.

Most people don’t know what their true rhythms for closeness and separateness are. I know I didn’t even begin to explore my own pacing until my late thirties.

Did you ever have the feeling that you wanted to go, but still had the feeling that you wanted to stay…” ~ Jimmy Durante

Yeah, I know you don’t know the comedian, but he says it all. I would stay too long or not stay long enough. This could be at parties, other social events, and most importantly, in relationships.

Some of the beautiful, intelligent, creative women I’ve had the honor to know stayed with me a long time before kicking my young ass to the curb, or for that matter, even my old ass. But more than that, some would be very clear and committed to their own way and pace of doing and being before I got there.

I’ve asked hundreds of women what they were like after leaving a relationship. So many have said things lie, “I started yoga, kept a journal, planted a little garden, meditated…”

“Then what happened?” I’d ask.

“Then I met soulmate number 12 or 15, and within six months, I stopped yoga, my garden turned into weeds, etc., etc.”

By the way, many men do these exact same things and then “lose themselves.”

I adapted to a lover’s schedule, pace, needs, appetites, agenda, diets, etc. Why? Because I didn’t now what my own rhythms were for closeness and separateness were.

By the time my ex-wife and I got together I knew how long I could be at a social event – an hour. She would stay two or three, and we did this gladly with never an argument because we took separate cars and cared and trusted each other’s time frame needs and fidelity.

Now when I go out for dinner or coffee my maximum time for relaxed and refreshing conversation and interaction is right at two hours. And all my friends now this about me.

So, have you ever let your rhythms for closeness and separation get too far in sync and “lost yourself?”

It is one of the kisses of death to creativity, intimacy, communication, and way too often, contributes to the demise of relationships.

Here is the mysterious poem that illustrates this:

The Wind, One Brilliant Day ~ Antonio Machado

The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.

“In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I’d like all the odor of your roses.”

“I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.”

“Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.”

the wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
“What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?”

Translated by Robert Bly

From Rescuing to Resentment

“He was so angry at me you would have thought I had tried to help him.” Harry Stack Sullivan, M.D.

Look, I’ve certainly done my share of rescuing men, women, and a variety of small and large animals. The animals were all very grateful. But rescuing people is not a good idea. I have one friend recently who I gave a home, career, and money and she won’t speak to me after six years of what I thought was deep friendship.

When I was much younger, I tried to rescue my family from the emotional and physical abuse we all received. That didn’t go so well either. It took me well into my late thirties before I finally got it that no one in my family wanted to be preached to and be in my congregation and likewise none of them signed up to be my students.

“Okay,” you say, “but why are people that we try to rescue so angry at us?”

When we rescue and ride in on our milky-white stallions and our not-so-shiny armor we are explicitly and implicitly implying they are not competent to handle situations or people. It appears to the “rescuee” that we are more intelligent, wise, and that they need us because they lack the internal resources to handle their own lives.

Rescuing adults emotionally, financially, spiritually, physically, and intellectually is very close to “care-taking.”

There are huge differences between “care-taking” and “care-giving.”

“Care-taking” – “I don’t really want to go home for Christmas, but it is my duty or obligation.” “What would people think if I didn’t quit my job and take care of my ailing father?” “What if I refused to bake cookies for the first-grade class?”

“Care-taking,” unless you’re being paid or otherwise reimbursed for your efforts, more often than not leaves us drained, exhausted, and takes most of our energy, and guess what? Resentment is felt by both the one who receives “care-taking” and the one giving it.

Now, “care-giving” is a whole different ballgame. “Care-giving” comes out of compassion, generosity, and love. “Care-giving” leaves us energized; we feel good about ourselves. The one we care for ends up feeling respected, with their dignity intact and usually very grateful. There is no resentment on anyone’s part. When we care for the people we love, we do so with our boundaries and limits and health.

“Care-taking” says, “Listen to me; I know best.” “Care-giving” says, “Take my hand, we can get through this together.”

So, who do you “care-take” or try to rescue and who do you “care-for?”


“Why?” The Most Useless Question

Yesterday during an intensive session with a client, he said, “Why did she leave me? Why didn’t I see the red flags?”

Today during a phone session with a man in his late 60s, he said, “I’ve always asked myself why did I get to come back from Vietnam and so many of my buddies didn’t?”

Some of my “Why’s” include: “Why did my father become an alcoholic? Why did I?” and “Why did God/He/She/It make man’s best friend the dog who gets so few years to live when whales and parrots and elephants get to be 50 and 60 years old and you can’t take any of them for a walk in the park?”

There are 10,000 answers to every “Why?” we could ask, and none of them will really give us the peace “…that passeth all understanding…” as the Bible says.

The question, “Why?” can take up lots of wasted time and energy and get us humans to use so much of our allotted time on earth looking for the answers.

Ah! But, “How?” Now that’s a question worth devoting a lifetime to answering. How do we survive a divorce, a death, a longing? How do we heal and recover from alcoholism or being born into the family disease? How, as Stevie Nicks once sang, “…can the child within my heart rise above? …can I handle the seasons of my life…?” How can be taught and modeled for us; experiences, strengths and hopes can be shared among us.

But I have to tell you the truth, I still find myself in the deep, dark, empty well of “Why?” But I don’t stay there nearly as long as I used to.

I wish I knew what to tell you regarding why the things that hurt you, lost you, or found you occurred. However, I will keep encouraging and supporting you no matter how smart you are, jump into the oasis of “How?” and drink the cool waters of life.

…Be patient toward all that is unsolved and try to love the questions themselves…

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would

not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything…

~ Rilke Letters to a Young Poet


Every Time You Say “YOU,” You Will Pay!

The rule for men and women’s communication before, say Adam and Eve, was to not talk much about anything.  Adam never told Eve how he felt about the apple thing. Then there was a huge communication advance somewhere around the 80’s – “When you say or do, I feel…,” and then you would fill in the blank – “When you don’t show up on time I feel angry, disappointed, hurt,” etc.  To be sure this was a great break from the silent treatment.

I’ve had many clients say to me, “Well, I learned in couples’ counseling to say to my husband, ‘When “YOU” don’t make love to me often, I feel rejected, not sexy, not beautiful, and I need “YOU” to find me attractive.’”

“What did he say?” I asked. “Did you feel heard – really listened to?”

“Not at all! He got defensive and said in his harshest tone, ‘Damn, baby, “YOU” know I find you attractive. I married you, and it just seems like “YOU” are just too needy sometimes.”

Here’s what I used to do when I was not very smart just so you’ll know I learned the hard way what I’ve said so far. When I was young and dumb – when I was upset, disappointed, annoyed and even angry or hurt – “YOU” need to stop saying… or Why don’t “YOU…?” If only “YOU” would stop or start or, God forbid, I wish “YOU” would get some damn therapy. Well let’s just say my track record was not very good for this, and many other reasons, and that’s why I had to do what seems like 10,000 hours of therapy.

About 20 plus years ago I thought, “Why do I need to say, ‘When you say this, I feel…?’ Why not just say what I feel?” In other words, tell my lover, partner, parent, friend, child – “I feel…;” “I need…;” “I want;” “I hurt;” “I’m sad;” or “I’m angry.” Now you really smart people will say, “But how will they know why I’m sad or angry or hurt if I don’t tell them?”  When you take out the “YOU’S,” they can usually listen, and more often than not, even ask questions, like “Tell me what is wrong?” or “Tell me more.” If you don’t have to fend off any “YOU’S,” guess what happens — a conversation, communication — just imagine that.

So this is how most arguments or fights go, but don’t really go anywhere.

I’m going to tell about “YOU,” what you’re doing or saying, and how you’re wrong. Then he or she is going to tell “YOU” how “YOU” didn’t say that.

We tell the other person what they just did wrong, or “YOU” are not saying it right, and then you tell him/her, and they tell you, and this is a four-hour marathon where at the end I don’t know anymore about “YOU” and “YOU” don’t know any more about me – and I jokingly say, “This is too often called marriage?”

Every time you say the word, “YOU,” you will pay when you’re having a conflict, confrontation, or argument because there’s something about the word “YOU” that triggers people unless it’s followed by a compliment, and if not, we get our buttons pushed, or worse case, we really regress. As soon as I say “YOU” – the person almost always goes into defense mode. Hell, you may have already stopped reading this and are preparing a defensive rebuttal, and that is what most people do when they’ve had enough “YOU’S” hurled at them – they stop listening. “You” throws many into flight, fight, or freeze.

“I,” on the other hand, says, “Let me tell you about me, and then I want to hear your thoughts and feelings about this.” “I” tends to keep me in my adult self, my new brain, my neo-cortex.

…The truth is you turned away yourself,

and decided to go into the dark alone.

Now you are tangled up in others, and have forgotten

   what you once knew,

and that’s why everything you do has some weird

  failure in it.

From Kabir translated by Robert Bly

Seven Years to Seven Minutes

It ain’t dying’ I’m talking about, it’s living…”

Gus in Lonesome Dove

Hold on, there’s a good and true ending.

Let’s say your doctor tells you (God forbid), “You have seven years to live.”

Here are the four questions I had to ask myself when I did this exercise:

  1. Where will you go?
  2. What will you do?
  3. Who will you take with you?
  4. What are you waiting on?

When I answered these questions at seven years, I said I’d live in my mountain cottage in the pigmy southern Appalachians and travel to Austin. I’d continue to write and see clients part-time and would take my wife with me to both places.

Okay, now your doctor didn’t read the x-ray report correctly and he said, “Sorry, you only have seven months.”

Then I answered the same four questions. I was surprised by how those answers changed. The answers really changed when it got to seven weeks, and dramatically changed when told seven hours and then seven minutes.

Well, I did this exercise with a good man who came for a two-day Intensive Session with me in my mountain retreat. He had literally been told his cancer would take him in six to eight months.

Long story short – when I asked him the four questions with only seven months to live, he said: “I want to take all my old friends and family to the Redwood Forest in California and find a tree that we could make a circle around, lay down on the ground and hold hands.”

What a beautiful image he placed in my head. I asked him the last of the four questions: “What are you waiting on?”

He replied: “That’s asking an awful lot – the money for airline tickets, car rentals, etc., etc.”

I’ll come back to this in a moment.

His wife was with him and I asked her to come in the studio where I had a daybed.

I told him and her, “Now you only have seven minutes to live, and I’m going to step outside and give you your privacy.”

I had no idea what would happen. When the bell rang, I went back in and they were spooning and weeping and laughing. The wife wiped away some tears and said, “He told me something he’s never told me in 35 years of marriage.”

I never asked what that was – it was theirs’ only.

About a half-year later, his wife called me to tell me two things. The first was that he and she and 14 family and friends went to that magnificent forest, circled a tree and held hands. Not one person he asked declined. The second thing was that he was peaceful, serene and beautiful in the days before he went. He knew he was deeply loved.”

I ask you to try the exercise and answer the four questions, and then answer this fifth question posed by one of the greatest poets, Mary Oliver:

“…Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.”

~ The Summer Day


They Love You – In Their Own Way

When I was a boy the conversation went something like this: “Mom, does dad love me?”

“Of course he does son, in his own way.”

“Then why doesn’t he show it or tell me he loves me?

“He just can’t son, but trust me he does.”

As a young adult the conversation would often go like this: “John, do you love me?”

“Sure I do. You know I do.”

“Then why don’t you ever tell me you love me?”

“Why do you keep asking me? I’m here ain’t I?”

A whole lot of people – young and old – don’t get loved the way they need. Many good people try to practice the “Golden Rule” when it comes to love: “Do unto others the way you would have them do unto you.” Not bad! But what happens as they treat you the way they want to be treated, loved, adored, cherished and respected?

So for some time (though I have failed many times) I try to practice what I call “The Platinum Rule:” Do unto others the way they have been longing probably their whole lives.

In other words, send your loved ones and show your loved ones the love they need instead of the way we wanted to be love by our mothers, fathers, lovers, ex-girlfriends, or past husbands, wives, and yes, even our children.

When I ask my clients who are wrestling with love, “How do you want to be loved?” More often than not (especially men) will say, “I don’t know. No one has ever asked me that question and I’ve never asked myself.”

Then I might say, “Have you ever asked your loved ones how they want to be loved?”

“No, but they all know I love them in my own way.”

One client said, “Well I don’t want to tell them how I want to be loved. They should know after all this time. If you have to ask, then it doesn’t count.”

One time I said in response, “If I ask you to buy a new Volvo and you say yes and you do, do you think I’m going to say take it back because I had to ask you?” Hell, no! I’ll drive it with a smile.

“Alright then,” as we say in the South:

  1. Become aware of how you want to be loved.
  2. Ask your loved ones how they want to be loved.
  3. Tell everyone you really love what makes you feel loved.
  4. Occasionally ask your loved ones this question: “How well am loving you?”

And then, to quote the great American wise man, James Taylor, “Shower the people you love with love…”


Masculinity means so many different things depending on who you ask. In 1991 there was a meeting set up by Warren Farrell, one of the earliest pioneers in men’s issues, at his mountain retreat in California. A dozen or so of us so-called leaders of the Men’s Movement were invited to come and share our thoughts, feelings, and positions regarding the question of what true masculinity was, among other topics, including whether or not the Men’s Movement should be politicized like the earlier Women’s Movement.

By the way, this is where I got to be friends with poet Robert Bly. He and I shared a cabin together and it allowed us to start a relationship as equals and colleagues for over 20 years. This relationship helped to forge my understanding of my own masculinity.

It is kind of ironic that the recognized Father of the Men’s Movement was a character like Robert Bly. He is one of the most sensitive, kind, generous, and generative men I’ve had the pleasure to know, learn from, work beside and be friends with. It took a wild-haired bear of a man who is a poet and a master storyteller of fairytales and ancient fables to lead men right down into their well of pain. Here is a man who blends intelligence, emotion, music, poetry, passion and love of all things into what would be considered a new definition of masculinity.

As for the question, should the Men’s Movement be politicized, Robert and I, and a couple of other early pioneers, Shepherd Bliss and Aaron Kipnis, agreed that the Men’s Movement should focus on an interior journey, not an exterior one. Women had to become political to assert their rights as equals in every way to the predominant male culture. Robert and I said, “We’ve been political; let’s go into our souls, bodies, and hearts” for answers on how to live in the 20th and 21st centuries. Poetry – his own, Rumi’s, Hafiz’s, Machado’s, Jimenez’s, and dozens of others – was a way inward, and fairytales would help those of us who listened as he said – often accompanying himself on his Greek instrument, the bazuki – “We’re leaving our time now.”

One of the main reasons I was asked to attend this little-known conference was due to my approach to masculinity. I felt, believed and taught through workshops and writing that men who are abusing alcohol, anger, rage, and drugs should sober up and discover who they really are under all the layers of addictions.

Both Robert and I are adult children of alcoholics, which greatly impeded our growth and development of our masculinity; we talked about this and other issues while we shared that cabin and for 20 years after.

So what is masculinity? I can tell you much more easily what it is NOT.

True masculinity is not John Wayne movies.

True masculinity is not who has the biggest cock or stock options.

True masculinity is not homophobic, xenophobic, anti-feminine or anti-feminist.

True masculinity is not full of rage.

True masculinity is not oppressive.

True masculinity is as tender as it is tough and tenacious.

True masculinity is a balance between the wild and the sensitive.

True masculinity is not afraid of being called names like prissy, pussy, or fags because we read, write poetry, play music, sing to our brothers,’ fathers,’ and sons’ souls.

True masculinity mentors the young men and women.

True masculinity weeps, mourns, celebrates, laughs, wonders, looks at how we were wounded and how we have wounded others and our planet.

I could go on, but the truth is that true or deep masculinity changes over time with new information and experiences and at different stages of life. It changes as the seasons of a man’s life change. My own sense of masculinity at 67 is somewhat the same as it was at 35 but also much different. My masculinity now includes a kind of patience my younger masculine self did not have with people, processes and life in general. My masculinity incorporates the old Arabic saying, “Haste is of the devil, slowness is of God.” My masculinity, while still a little competitive, doesn’t do harm to other men. My masculinity finally learned lovemaking is 100 times better than fucking women I don’t know hardly or at all. My masculinity sits on the porch much more often and drinks coffee and eats banana nut bread without worrying about calories. My masculinity demands I stay in shape, but my ego is not damaged if I don’t, and as my old friend, Martín Prechtel, would say at our men’s conferences, “Long life and honey in the heart.”

Third Act

Scene 1

I’m an aging man sitting with his three dogs in a rented house way out of my price range. Divorced now for five and one-half years, I share custody with my ex of the Malamute, Benji dog and Baby Bella, the dachshund mix.

Now you folks reading this who are under 50, keep reading because you’ll get here someday, and the 50 and over, let’s talk about being relevant. We know we have a lot less life in front of us than we do behind us. But like the rearview mirror says, if you’re still able to drive, “objects may appear closer than they really are” (or something like that).

Those objects are former careers, ex wives and husbands, grown children, large homes we’ve had to sell and have scaled down to smaller apartments, condos and tiny houses, some of you with your partner of over 25 years, barely fit in those small spaces. Let’s be honest – some of us have put on a little weight, or at least I have.

If you are able to keep your house, you spend an inordinate amount of time mowing the yard, weed eating around your fence or sidewalk or fixing something all the time whether it’s broken or not. Perhaps you have a small garden or play 36 holes of golf every day when your aching joints or back will allow.

You retired prematurely instead of becoming re-inspired or re-imagined your future. Your pilot light went out, or so you think. Well, hell let’s reignite the damn thing! That’s how we stay relevant.

How does one do that when life’s matches are so hard to find and even some of those are moldy with age like some of us?

Scene 2

First, I had to accept my stage of life and the fact that I’m 67, even though in my head I think I’m 40, but with a really messed up body – damn arthritis. Second, I had to grieve the loss of my 40-year-old body which also includes my former devilish good looks and see my baby blues disappearing from sight. Third, and most importantly, I had to accept that I don’t know how to do my Third Act and stop beating myself up for not knowing and begin to learn.

You folks just getting to your Second Act, or coming to an end of it, you’re not supposed to know either – so cut yourself some slack and start asking us older folks – and that right there is a way we can stay relevant.

Scene 3

Here are a few ways to stay engaged and energized. If you wanted to be an actor but became a banker, go to your local community theatres and try out or work backstage.

If you were a teacher, volunteer to teach inner-city youth or community college or a seniors’ class at the assisted living facility. A carpenter can volunteer for Habitat for humanity – a plumber, electrician – same. Policeman/woman, fire fighter, doctor, lawyer or Indian Chief, help the poor and the homeless, write your memoirs, take classes in something you’ve always wanted to learn. Create, create, create a second career. Yes, I know you have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Showtime, Sundance – go ahead and watch a movie now and then, but don’t sit too long. As Einstein said, “A body in motion…”, or as the poet Rumi said, “Let the beauty we love, be what we do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

I know for a fact that the Third Act is less than total fun, but since we’re on this side of the grass, never stop asking the questions: “What do I love?” and “What is next?”

Designated Problem: Let’s Get Rid of the Label

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding about ourselves. C.G. Jung

“Mend his life.” “You really need help.” “Fix her.” “If he would just get into therapy.” “If she would only stop drinking.” “We’d be all right then.”

No, you wouldn’t be and neither would they. You see, one of the greatest barriers for people to overcome is being the “Designated Problem” in the family, marriage, or workplace.

The label impedes the growth and healing of everyone concerned. When all the focus and attention is put on the alcoholic, addict, non-communicator, the one unable to be in touch with their feelings or their reality – that’s just too much weight on anybody’s shoulders. The shame, embarrassment, and guilt is enough to make anyone unable to really change.

For over 35 years I’ve worked with angry, depressed, aggressive, traumatized men and women, and one of the first things I do is help them see the truth: that it is the system, dynamic or context that is the real culprit.

You see, even if the Problem Person does deep psychological, emotional and spiritual work and grows and changes, if he or she goes back to a toxic workplace, an untreated family, or a dysfunctional marriage, he or she will soon be the Designated Problem again, and again break everyone’s heart and hope.

For decades I was the designated problem in my family—the outcast, black sheep, troublemaker, alcoholic. No wonder my shoulders were bowed to the ground all through my twenties. Lord, the therapy and recovery I had to do to lift that burden!

I wrote about my work in the men’s and recovery movements in The Flying Boy: Healing the Wounded Man and Flying Boy Book II: The Journey Continues and aired my family’s less than clean laundry, and my own problems with relationships, alcohol and not knowing a feeling if it bit me on the ass. My dad and I didn’t speak for ten years he was so angry. Back then I was beginning to see that there was more to these problems than just me, my dad or my girlfriends.

“We” are the problem – wife as well as husband, children, grandparents, and even the babysitter. We all are the problem.

Most of us, I know I did, have to turn to an objective, third-party like a therapist, coach, sponsor, who can help to more readily identify each person’s patterns of behaviors, problems, histories, hang-ups and character defects, and I promise the formerly so-called Designated Problem will get better – indeed we all will.

So when you think you are or they are the sick ones, remember Rumi’s words: “The fault is in the blamer. Spirit sees nothing to criticize.”