Early on when I was writing, I wrote (and still do) a lot about what the expectations are for men in this world, especially in regards to men that might not fit into the mold of the “All American Male,” stereotype. I still dive into that area frequently, as it’s a topic that’s gained more curiosity over the years, but, in a lot of areas, does not get the press. For example, when I worked for the military, I had so many soldiers who had suicide attempts because they’re girlfriends ‘cheated on them,’ when they were away or deployed. The devastation was enormous. It was a frequent reason for suicide attempts and for soldiers to be sent home from deployments. The idea that these “GI Joe,’ types were devastated enough to ‘end their lives,’ over a breakup, really went against the idea or culture that these were guys out ‘messing around,’ and ‘not really caring about relationships.’ They were all about their relationships. Certainly, there are men that cheat. There are also women that do. I also was drawn to experiences men have that don’t always get looked at as heavily as they do with women. Again, the amount of men I have seen devastated by their girlfriend having a miscarriage is enormous. In this area, men often feel like because it’s not their body and they need to be ‘the strong one,’ for their partner, that this somehow makes it a ‘non-loss,’ for them. For many of these men, they were deeply grieving and they felt they could not discuss this with anyone. “It’d be selfish.’ Their job was ‘to be strong.’ I have a very good friend who got a girlfriend pregnant and would’ve done anything and everything to be the lone-provider for the child if his girlfriend did not want the child. The girlfriend kept the child; however, she also used the unexpected child as a weapon against him. She was more interested in ‘keeping him,’ than ‘keeping the child,’ and used the child as a means to do whatever she could to manipulate him. I will never forget sitting with him all night as he literally sobbed on my shoulder asking me, “Do I just give up my rights to her? How can I do that? This is all I ever wanted.” He didn’t, but he went through a horrible process and fought incredibly hard to be a dad that has his daughter one day a week, holidays, and weekends. There is an idea in our society that ‘men don’t want to be dads.’ There are those that probably gave that idea throughout history, but I know so many men who do want to be dads more than anything. If we even look at the experience of a gay male couple and a lesbian couple, the amount of work a gay male couple has to go through to start a family is enormous. It’s not super easy for lesbian couples, but it is different. Working with a lot of LGBTQA individuals and couples, I see so many men grieving for that lost chance to become a father. I see men who are divorced, single, etc. wanting to become dads. Again, when a single man tries to adopt or even be a ‘foster father,’ we assume there’s ill intent and society makes it very challenging. The individual’s sexuality is called into question, which in many places they won’t adopt to a single father; however, you see single women do it all the time. There’s no evidence that these individuals gay or straight or anywhere in-between would make ‘worse parents.’ I also have worked with so many men where their girlfriends have had abortions and they were not even informed until years later. I do understand that it is ‘the female’s body,’ and I also question if the male wants to raise the child on his own, does he not have the right to be informed and at least address the issue? It’s a challenging topic. Even as I write that, I go back to ‘and it’s the female’s body; however, I also hear, ‘it’s nine months and she could have her life back and provide a lifetime dream for a guy who wants to have the child. Still, I go back to ‘it’s the female’s body,’ but there are a lot of these issues in our society that are out there. I have to wonder as roles change in society, how it will impact the choices males are given, the acceptance males are given in regards to ‘being seen as a viable candidate to adopt alone.’ I want to also say, we do live in a society where see high rates of men abandoning pregnant women, which contributes highly to these ‘ideas.’ My sister was a teenage pregnancy. I know a thing or two about it. I do often wonder if (especially in teenage or unplanned pregnancies) because the mother has no intent to be with the male ‘for the rest of her life,’ and often goes about planning for the child as if the male is not going to be involved, what would happen if the males (in these situations) had more exposure to the process. What if, even after the child is born, they were given more than every other weekend to see the child. Would the bond be stronger? Our laws do tend (for lots of reasons) the mother, but what if the father, from birth forward, was given equal time alone with that child, would he be so quick to run? I don’t know. They are topics worth exploring. Biologically, it’s true, males are pre-dispositioned to ‘get their seed out there, to pass on as much of their DNA as possible;’ however as society changes and we evolve, I see a lot more males wanting to be dads. I also am interested in ideas of what life is like for the teenage boy who does not fit ‘the All-American Male,” stereotype. The assumption is ‘if a guy is not into masculine things, he’s ‘feminine or gay.’ Again, we return to the idea we live in a patriarchal world, where any sort of ‘femininity is weak.’ I do see this evolving and being challenged more and there’s a lot more work to be done. I was working with a teenager once who was very depressed and suicidal and would often say to me, ‘look at me, I’m not good at sports and in high school that’s everything.’ Having grown up in his shoes, I know the truth in that statement. It does not fare well to be a young man growing up with no athletic ability, even if you are amazing at a hundred thousand other things. When a man has a son, his first hope is often for ‘an athlete.’ I think that’s something that is embedded because if you’ve been a teenage male, you know that will make your life ‘a lot easier.’ I think about how we treat overweight males. It’s not easy for girls either, but we often ignore the fact, that overweight girls often can find a ‘sisterhood,’ that understands their struggle with weight. An overweight male is often left to deal with that on his own. We often leave young males to just deal with emotions on their own. Teenagers who are often ‘mature males for their age, are often left without peer groups of males (and are alone or risk only befriending females) because ‘it does take males a while longer to develop.’ Male friendship is another area that is an interesting topic. Again because of sexism and homophobia, males are not supposed to have ‘deep friendships,’ with their peers. It can lead to the ‘biggest fear that men have when asked,’ which is in some form to be called ‘weak,’ or a ‘pussy,’ which goes back to how we view felinity and women in society and is a different issue. Females are also allowed to compare bodies and talk with friends about their bodies. Males do compare bodies, but they can’t talk about it. This would probably label them ‘gay,’ which there is nothing wrong with; however, if you’re a teenage male and that is not your sexual orientation, having someone tell you ‘you’re gay,’ is confusing and reduces your chances of being able to explore your sexuality in ways other cis gender males can. I have many poems that explore these issues. I find as society evolves and changes, the role of ‘what is a man,’ changes. In some ways you see acceptance improving in certain areas and then it seems we swing back in other ways toward what’s been labeled as ‘toxic masculinity.’ I continue to write about my observations in this area. I’ll probably share poems from time to time that explore it. The poem I’m sharing today has a long history. I can’t tell you when I wrote it. I revisited it a few times. It definitely was an early poem and doesn’t tackle these issues as head on as I would come to in the future. It was one of the first poems where I wanted to ‘go there,’ though a bit. I didn’t know a ton of what I know now. It was like noticing a hole in the ground and not going in. I have since ‘gone in.’ My career as a therapist has introduced me to looking at the role of ‘being a guy in today’s society much more.’ I, often think, when we explore issues of being male, gender norms, the ‘male role in society,’ people feel like we are saying ‘it’s a backlash toward feminism.” It’s certainly not. I am a feminist. I know what structures stand. I know the role of patriarchal society has put into place many of the challenges I discussed above for men. Women are often ‘saving graces,’ for men that don’t fit into the ‘All American Male Rulebook.’ I think in order to change paradigms around ‘gender norms,’ there’s a lot to look at. We explore the challenges for females and need to keep doing so (as we do for everyone in the spectrum of gender), but, in that, we also have to look at the male side too. I feel after this introduction, I should be posting a ‘later’ poem in my career, where I really dive into some of these specific ideas I’ve discussed. I’m going to post, what I consider to be, the first poem I wrote as I stared at that hole today because I want to and because, for some reason, over the decades that I’ve been writing, this poem stays around. It comes back for some reason. I can’t explain it. I think it ‘sucks,’ and “I’m done with it,’ and then I just can’t get rid of it. It’s ability to hang around for so long and that it led me to explore other topics in this area, I think, are good enough. I’ve never said everything on here is the best thing I’ve written. I feel an energy and, there are a lot of days, I put things out there I dislike. If the energy feels strong to do it, I don’t fight it. I’ll be honest, I was listening to a discussion on the election and they were discussing this idea that they saw, in some areas, young Latino males and young African American males coming out to vote for Mr. Trump. The discourse was on ‘trying to understand the appeal of the president to these two groups.’ There was some discussion on how the president projecting this idea of what has been labeled ‘toxic masculinity,’ or ‘hyper-masculinity,’ appealed to these young men. I found the conversation interesting, not even totally from a political point of view, but from the point of view of what speaks to young men of different backgrounds and why. I saw this poem (which I think when I wrote it was talking about the ideas of religion and sex and being male, thrown in with a lot of things that I’d heard growing up), and I assume that’s where the energy that encouraged me to post this today came from. Read it, take what you want out of it, say it ‘it sucks,’ or ‘like it.’ Poetry exists to be read and make people react or think. It’s a statement and ‘what makes a poem good/bad is the experience the reader has reading it.’ That’s the criteria. So without further ado, here’s the poem.
Good boys love their mamas.
Good children love Jesus.
We’re listening to Elvis curl his lips,
trapped in Jackie’s cigarette the day she buried John,
not much older than them, you, or, I
wearing the audacity of death,
still in that stage between reality and dreams.
Under the table of understanding lies my body,
above me smooth boys who slip into bars,
bedsheets, and hot girls who aren’t afraid
of what’s underneath their clothes. Do I hate them
because they’re everything I will never know?
Good boys love their bodies.
Good boys do not beg.
Listening to American Pie
trapped inside Bette Davis eyes.
with imaginary lives and
icicle premonitions that drip,
down into the snow where we lay
arms spread angel wide,
trying to create the angels we lost
to frothy beers, whiskey, wine,
going down on a lover with our eyes.
Growing up underneath our clothes.
One day these destinies will fail to fit us, it’s true.
Good boys grow into things.
Good boys make great trees.
We’re listening to the Sex Pistols,
trapped inside a revolver,
lots of pretty poisons and masochistic plans.
Well done dinners that hate being swallowed.
Good boys sleep sound.
Good boys stay in their beds and don’t mess around.