Posted in Longreads and Essays, Musings and Reflections

Depression 1.6 – Tough Enough To Talk About It

(From November 9, 2011)

Recently my wife asked me what book I was reading.

“I Don’t Want To Talk About It,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, somewhat taken aback. “I was just curious . . .” Her voice trailed off.

“I Don’t . . .” I started to repeat, then I smiled. “That is actually the title, it’s a book about depression.”

We both had a good laugh.

We can laugh about it now although that wasn’t always the case. I am on medication, reading books like the one with the title above, and actually, I DO want to talk about it. Or actually, talk more openly and honestly about it. As I look back over my journals, I realize that I have been talking about it. But I was talking mostly to myself and resisting what was staring me in the face.

I was depressed.

And wonder of wonders I am not alone. According to psychotherapist Terrence Real, the author of I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, depression among men is a silent epidemic that we don’t want to talk about or deal with because it isn’t “manly.” He differentiates between overt depression and covert depression, the different symptoms of both, and how both can destroy lives and relationships if not acknowledged and healed.

While I have found the book generally very helpful, there are a couple of things in particular that have jumped out at me so far. Early on, the author describes his learned understanding of men as “wounded wounders.” I resonate with this idea. In a sense I have been very adept at recognizing and dealing with my pain. My plethora of writings reflect this. However, it is only recently that I have begun to move from the narcissism that such inner work can lead to and into the more transformative power of letting my vulnerability out, through the same power of writing.

Real also describes the relationship between depression and violence, namely the violence men perpetrate on other men, especially as boys. I understand this as well. I was a smart and sensitive boy, gifted with near sightedness and thick glasses. My peers teased me mercilessly about my lack of manhood whatever that means. I was called Gay and Queer as if those terms make one any less of a man. At that time it still hurt deeply. One guy even told me something like I might get good grades but he got the girls. Typical misguided macho stuff. But I believed it. It was only later when I looked back from the relatively safe vantage point of adulthood that I realized that girls and women were attracted to me mainly because I was a man that they felt safe with and could trust.

There were worse things done to me which for now will stay between me and my Maker. Suffice it to say that I have received more trauma than I have given. But I am not innocent. I have seen the monster within. I wrestle with him daily while at the same time comforting the boy who still cowers in pain nearby. It is a struggle but I must do so if I am to survive and be healed.

It seems that the only way left open for men and boys to prove their manhood is through violence. But we are not made to be this way. Depression arises out of the helplessness we felt when we were victimized by other men. It also arises out of the guilt we feel from when we victimize(d) someone else, man or woman.

But there was One who did not walk this way. He took the pain perpetrated upon him by other men; their abuse, their torture, their injustice, their hate, and He did not respond in kind. Even more astounding, He transformed it into new life, a way of love that encompasses everyone and everything.

That, my friend, is HOPE. I have never found a Man tougher or more tender. It takes a real man to face his pain, not throw it back in someone’s face, and come out on the other side striving to be a better son, brother, father, husband, and friend.

So Man Up. I mean, really. You, your loved ones, and the world deserve it. It’s time we made this crazy orb a safe place for everyone, especially other men.

Man Up Campaign

Man Up Ministry

The Meaning of Man Up



The hand on the joystick makes a subtle twist.
The view dips into the confines of a ravine
then bursts free to reveal the lights of a
town glimmering like eyes in the dark face
of the ground.

A red light flickers across the screen.
The finger touches the trigger.
Twin streaks race out into the night,
a burst of fire,
a surgical strike
divorced from the gore.

Tomorrow there will be another announcement in
another newspaper about another death in this
invisible war,

the terrorist,
the pilot of the drone,
the boy in front of his XBOX 360
killing from the comfort of

Reposted from November 6, 2011

Posted in Longreads and Essays

How a Mennonite Yankee Learned to Fight in Dixieland: The Shaping of Personal Conflict Style through Culture

Conflict is bad.

I am on the bus. The big fat bully, Glenn, has been sitting behind me, slapping the back of my head all the way home. I’ve taken it, though the dam inside me is about to burst.

Up ahead, through the bus windshield, I see my mailbox and suddenly I’m standing up, whipping around with my fist cocked, and landing a haymaker upside of Glenn’s head. I’m just as surprised as he is. Through his shock he jumps up, and we wrestle awhile. I tear his disgustingly nice gold chain from around his neck in the tussle. Ricky, my on-again-off-again friend and nemesis, ironically, is the person who breaks us up.

I don’t remember much about the long walk home down our dirt driveway, except that I was unhurt and Glenn got home with a big knot on his head and a broken chain in his pocket.

I do remember that Glenn and I became best buddies. Around the Fourth of July his daddy would buy him a whole crate full of fireworks. Glenn would bring them by our house and we’d have bottle rocket wars against each other. Conflict of another sort.

He and I even planned to start a turtle farm. We were going to go out into the woods and catch box turtles which we would sell to the local pet stores. It never came about, but it was fun to dream with a former enemy.

Growing up a Mennonite Yankee in Dixieland helped formulate the way I dealt with conflict. I was an outsider, outnumbered, different, quiet, patient to a fault, unwilling to fight, and so for the most part I kept my dukes to myself. That day on the bus I broke out of the mold and strangely, I earned the respect and friendship of my bullying neighbor. I still feel guilty about it. Perhaps this essay is an exercise in my ongoing wrestling with this dichotomy.

In my personal conflict style inventory, I discovered some interesting responses on my part in the midst of conflict. During calm times, when disagreement first arises I am a collaborator, then a forcer and on down to an avoider as my lowest score. There is a significant shift in my response if things are not easily resolved and emotions get stronger (storm times). At this time I am an avoider first. Collaborating falls midway with accommodating bringing up the rear.

What I gather from these responses is that initially in conflict I am good at collaborating and/or actively engaging in the conflict with a variety of responses. Avoidance is my least favorable response. However, if the conflict is not easily resolved, my emotions are engaged, and/or it simmers for awhile, I am an avoider extraordinaire. This response, coupled with my cultural experience of conflict as being bad, has led to me to struggle at times with how to engage conflict in a mutually constructive way.

Perhaps the greatest insight I have learned so far in my readings for this class is that conflict is not bad, no matter how much every fiber in my being resists the idea. I have dealt with conflict in the past because it’s a necessary evil. I may feel bad if I do, but I feel worse if I don’t.

To understand conflict as good, a vibrant part of life and relationships, is indeed a new and exciting concept, though like the bully on the bus I am still wrestling with the idea. Will I engage the fireworks, or stay in my shell like one of those box turtles my former adversary and I dreamed of catching in the woods?

October 2, 2003 – reflections for graduate conflict class

Posted in Leaves on the Poet Tree (Poems)

Yellow Jacket


The strength of woman is revealed again by little girls who,
with bee stings still showing baking-soda white on their dark bodies,
dance before us like calypso-colored swans.

The boys enter the pulsing place as if to a church,
sit down in silence, and watch in awe and wonder
the writhing rhythm of the dancers and the dance.

The dance is eternal. So too the wonder.
When I look at man, I see the lightning.
When I see woman, I hear the thunder.

Written July 26, 1996

Posted in Longreads and Essays

The Anorexic Comments of Boys


After school on the way to an appointment my daughter has a quick snack of tortilla chips left over from her lunch.

While munching she mentions to me that the boys in her school say she’s fat because she eats so well.

I am annoyed and immediately say so, telling her she definitely is not fat and the boys should be ashamed for telling her so. I wonder out loud if her recent “loss of appetite” at home is because of such comments.

So tell your son (or boys you know) that you’ll wash their mouths out with soap or better yet ban their video games for a month if you ever hear that they called a girl fat.

Tell your daughters (or girls you know) that they are beautiful.

Too many boys grow up to become men who only care about a woman’s outside (or backside).

Too many girls grow up wondering if they are beautiful on the inside (and the outside).

Posted in Longreads and Essays

Big Boys Don’t Bully

Is he gay?

Such is the comment I overhear in a conversation two men are having near me as they discuss the Miami Dolphin football player alleged to have been bullied by a teammate.

The question is troubling in several ways.

Somehow there is this idea that gays are wimps, not fully male, a falsehood which is becoming more and more outed as one “tough” guy after another courageously proclaims he is gay. Even in this supposedly “enlightened” day and age, “gay” is still used as a slur. If a guy somehow doesn’t measure up to the mythological idea of “man,” he is labeled gay. At the risk of being overly simplistic, a man is a man for one reason and that reason has to do with a certain part of his anatomy.

Secondly, there is this stereotype that football players are a different kind of man all together. They represent the ultimate of this male-myth (along with in the eyes of these believers, the few, the proud, the Marines). They are tough and should be able to handle anything, physically and/or emotionally. This stereotype is a gross falsehood as well, illustrated by the increasing amount of suicides and emotional issues that many football players have faced and continue to experience today.

Thirdly, it paints the victim as the problem rather than the bully. It says, “Suck it up and don’t say anything.” Somehow it is the person’s fault that he is being bullied. He has something wrong with him or he would be left alone. Weird, but I am surprised how often this idea crops up. Actually I am more saddened than surprised.

Perhaps it’s time to refresh people’s memories with the lyrics of the 1986 song from that manliest of classic rock bands, Boston.

What does it take to be a man?

What does it take to be a man?
What does it take to see?
It’s all heart and soul
A gentle hand
So easy to want and so hard to give
How can you be a man
‘Til you see beyond the life you live?
Oh, what does it take to be a man?

We can be blind, but a man tries to see
It takes tenderness
For a man to be what he can be
And what does it mean
If you’re weak or strong?
A gentle feelin’ can make it right or make it wrong
What does it take to be a man?

The will to give and not receive
The strength to say what you believe
The heart to feel what others feel inside
To see what they can see

A man is somethin’ that’s real
It’s not what you are
It’s what you can feel
It can’t be too late
To look through the hate and see
I know that’s what a man can be.

Posted in Longreads and Essays

First Person Shooter

“Get up! Get up!”

Those were the words of Kevin’s friends when they found him lying face down in the street, dying from a gunshot wound.

Two young men had approached them as they walked home after a basketball game and started shooting. Kevin’s friends realized he wasn’t running with them anymore as they fled. When they returned to the scene, there was Kevin.

He didn’t get up.

The incident happened in a nearby neighborhood. Kevin and his family lived not too far away from me. He was 21. He graduated from the local high school in 2010, was a running back on the football team, and was attending the community college in order to get a scholarship to study computer programming at Georgetown University.

The sad irony is that Kevin’s family fled Liberia in 1999 to escape the brutal civil war there. Now he is dead from the invisible civil war happening on our city streets.

Kevin is dead. There is no restart, no button to push to make him reappear as alive as ever. He wasn’t some avatar on a screen disappearing in a spray of blood. His last name wasn’t Zakhaev. His shooter isn’t called MacTavish either.

Another irony is that Kevin wanted to be a computer programmer. Perhaps he would have designed a first person shooter like Call of Duty 4. Or maybe an amazing nonviolent video game. We’ll never know.

But based on the response of Kevin’s father, I think perhaps the latter, which makes Kevin’s death even more tragic.

“I’m praying that they will find these people who did this,” Kevin’s dad said. “I really just want to know why. I’m a Christian so I don’t believe in vengeance, I just want to know.”

And all I can say is me too.

Posted in Longreads and Essays

Sticks. Squirt Guns. Laser Tag

“Bang! Bang!”

I am walking across the lawn at our community pool. Turning around I see two little boys under the picnic table pointing sticks at me. “Lord of the Flies?” I think, frowning. I am not particularly fond of being shot at even if the guns aren’t real.

Yet tragically there seems to be no end to the opportunities within our society to play war games.

Last time I checked, war is not a game. The marketers of violent toys, paint gun events and laser tag arenas (and the parents who allow their children to participate in such) should sit down with a soldier just back from Afghanistan or Iraq and have a heart to heart. I don’t agree with killing for any reason, but I have friends and family members who are in the military. Every time the paper shows “The Faces of the Fallen,” I look at the photos to see if there is someone I know.

But even if they are strangers to me, they are sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, kin to someone. These games cheapen the sacrifices of those who go to war. And those who remain behind.

This isn’t play and it isn’t pretend. This is for real.

So parents and guardians, show some compassion. Show some guts. There is a very important word in the English language I’d like to remind you of.

The word is, “No!”

Go ahead. Try it. Your kids may whine, but in the places where the bullets do, someone may appreciate your efforts.

Even if they don’t, at least you’ll show you appreciate theirs.

Posted in Longreads and Essays

A Bully Pulpit Made Of Paper (Or GSP’s Worldwide Antiviolence Tour)

Today’s article on Yahoo sports regarding UFC champion GSP was disheartening to say the least. I wonder if modern day males have lost any sense of critical inquiry with regards to historical attitudes regarding violence.;_ylt=AlsHzvOkgkWBYZTSuOI9L8o5nYcB?slug=dw-wetzel_georges_st_pierre_addresses_bullying_042611

It is ironic that Wetzel lauds the champion of a brutally violent sport for trying to stop bullying. Does anyone else see a disconnect here? How many boys have watched GSP beat somebody to a bloody pulp? What message are they receiving from such images?

It is a nice idea to have a message for victims and bullies but actions speak louder than words. I’m glad GSP is reflecting on his childhood but I wish the lesson could go a bit further. Children benefit from clear messages and not our society’s constant confusion around violence which the article and fighter in question contribute to.

The end of the article is just plain weird. There is an illusion to forgiveness and yet “the bully shuffling on by” smacks of hubris and a lack of true reconciliation. Ha. Ha. Look who’s the Big Daddy now. How childish.

If GSP really wanted to make a powerful statement against violence he should hold a press conference and state publicly that he will no longer participate in the UFC because of its violence and that it influences young people to think that violence solves problems. Then he could tour schools around the nation and explain why he has renounced violence. Can you imagine how many kids would line up to pledge to be nonviolent? What a powerful witness!

But GSP won’t do that. He’s got it too good.
Besides it takes a real man to give up fame, fortune, and fighting.

It takes a real man to take a real stand for nonviolence.