Dear New Dad,
Your fear is welcome
here is a place where
you can lay it down
just for these few lines
that pain you feel in your chest
is a new kind of love
it is here to open you
there is no way
to resist it reframe it divert it avoid it
let it transform you
magnified through the tears
in your eyes
let it penetrate
and unsettle in you
all that needs
to be shaken awake
to free it more
to burn away
what is dry and ready to go
let it unfold you
in those places where
you are creased and hidden
a seed splitting
in dark soil
let it reveal
a latent magic
made for this time
let it set the table
within and without
to sustain you
you have a bounty
let this love
bring the feast
Dear New Dad
there is fear
but this love
can hold it
©2022 Boysen Hodgson
Congratulations to Brandon, Christine, and Bindi Rose Clift — born November 7, 2022.
a Gift Received and Offered
In about 3 weeks I will be on staff for a ManKind Project men’s weekend for the first time since 2013. I stopped staffing shortly before my wife and I became adoptive parents. Now … the kids are older and more regularly stable, and our family can handle separation and transition with more ease.
This will be the 12th time I’ve had this opportunity and responsibility. And it’s a serious responsibility. Hundreds of hours of effort by dozens of men across New England.
It was 2004 when I attended this training. It’s changed some since then. It keeps changing. And what continues to amaze me is that I can still feel and remember that weekend in April 2004 in my whole body. The feeling of aliveness, exhaustion, and connection.
I’m sitting with excitement, serious intention, and a healthy dose of fear. There will be men there, like me, who have been hiding out, disconnected, suffering, alone. There will be men there, like me, who are looking for more meaning, passion, and purpose in their lives. There will be men there, like me, who have believed they’ve found all the answers in the books they’ve read and the podcasts they’ve listened to and the accomplishments they’ve recorded. I honor that work.
And I also know what it’s like to be in a living breathing sacred space with men. It’s not only about our physical bodies. Our bodies come in a range of different configurations of parts and hormones, genes and neurons. It’s not only about our socialization. Our socialization looks all kinds of ways. It’s not only about the shared experiences and identities. I know men who have experiences that I can’t even imagine, and identities radically different than mine.
We hold an intention to learn through adventure and experience together what each of us has struggled to learn on our own. And somehow it works. Somehow a kind of magic is created.
I didn’t know that other men felt as I did. Now I believe that every man I meet shares some of the shadows and gold that I carry within. I didn’t know that there are men who can be trusted to hold the grief, anger, regret, shame, and fear of other men … along with joy, gratitude, tranquility, and wonder! Now I know because I have seen it and created space for it.
I didn’t know that there is a way of being with men that is supportive and purpose-filled … that builds each man up and helps him see more clearly the goodness, power, and responsibility he is gifted with in this life.
I didn’t know the joy of connecting and getting to know men so very different than me, and yet the same. Each man’s journey is unique. And that is part of the gift.
We can lessen the burden we carry and we can lessen the harm we inflict. We can forgive and find mercy. We can love better and communicate more fully. We can empower the best in one another, through our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits.
Doing this has made possible the best things in my life — my relationships with my wife and my children.
That’s why I’ll give a significant amount of time to make this happen. That’s why I’ll be there and assist the men coming as participants.
It was a gift that other men created for me, without ever having met me.
How about you? Is this a gift you would like to receive?
maybe there is nothing new
that can be said
about a haunted house
maybe it’s not the house
but the man
in spite of best efforts
maybe it’s worth noting
that when the haunted
mostly it wants nothing
but to be noticed
will burn down the block
to not occupy space
with the spirit
did not call it
and so it stretches
up into the smoke
and spreads itself out
in every soft fingertip
maybe it’s quieter
for a moment or two
in the blackened field
of the razed neighborhood
then the sirens
what a man
refuses to see
it’s not the house
it’s worth noting
and looks at it
the thing haunting him
a soft rain can wash
from his face
when I was ten
being in my room
not mine really
I shared with two of my brothers
there were three mattresses
on the floor
and two battered dressers
and a closet
it was on the second floor
up the narrow steep stairs
the ceilings were
low on either side
sloped under the roof
covered in ancient wall paper
crooked farm house
I want to die
I want to die
I want to die
and thudding my head
against the glass
I think my Mom
had told me
we were moving
I don’t remember
the window looked out
over the front yard
there were maple trees
shading the whole front lawn
150 years old
planted when the house was new
I do remember
the glass in that window
there were ripples
in the surface
I didn’t know then
glass is still a liquid
even if it feels solid
slowly, so slowly
I didn’t hit it
hard enough to break it
I’m 51 now
and the maple tree in our yard
is 7 years old
What is the ‘Something’ that I should be doing? I see thousands of miles in every direction without moving or turning my head. There’s clear water in the Maldives. Bali is beautiful. And the graduates look stunning. Schooled. I see into the end game with every new tab opened and paragraph half read. I feel lost to follow-up and get back to and circle around to close the loops left open left and right and right. Now. There’s a massive die-off of farmed schools of salmon in New Zealand.
2000 tons of fresh fish in landfills. The soils of the Midwest are dying like school children, neglected and over-processed, largely ignored but for the corn-syrup saccharine platitudes, soy-bean snake-oil salesmen selling long-passed American dreams, and the amber waves of grain-fed cattle off-gassing in my timeline. You see the price of gas? Shocking. Elon heads to the bank to purchase free speech. Another break in Antarctic sheets.
It’s 105 degrees in Spain and 5 people I know are planning to walk the camino de Santiago this year. Insta wandering, I’m wondering. Is that doing something? Scientists in places far from here are screaming but their end is near sandwich boards cannot get attention over the din of separation. Division accusations multiply from god-fearing people peddling terror of transgender athletes ruining the gospel. It’s competitive sports cut down to what’s in your shorts. He and She and They and Them. All God! Damn! It doesn’t matter when winning and losing are both offensive to everything dying defenseless this minute.
Horrified Gene Roddenberry is sitting with Langston Hughes and the two of them can’t stop weeping. For the kids who die, uniforms red, exploring this strange new world. Malcolm and Moses are fighting again and nothing MLK can say will get them to let up and let their people go peacefully. Shop hopping Gandhi is looking for one thing home spun but the spinning wheels are running on an algorithm and all that’s woven is a narrative of numbing. Us. We keep saying … we need to do something. But the Edmund Pettus bridge is built to nowhere and we are all in bad trouble.
Thoughts and prayers. Future despair denied. More children just died. I pray for the families of the dead. We are all covid-coughing and sputtering our way to the grave. I pray that a new epic zombie limited series set in the near future will take me away. Thy will be done with one to the head. And post apocalypse say us all. The fight for Life for a monthly subscription. Church of the streaming service where all worshippers are welcome. The sons are here. The fathers are gone and we are surrounded by ghosts.
There are a baker’s dozen places to buy a gun within minutes of where I sit. Still. Around here in this every town rounds are easy to come buy. Stop by and see what’s new in recreational fun target shooting machinery of mass safety self-delusion. 2A rights, right? Hell yes! We the people say. Open late Friday. Get ready for the long weekend. Yes we can. A baker’s dozen, 13. Thirteenth amendment long overdue. Be proud and see red, white, and blue, clearly these rights to life and liberty are not for you. You already knew. The kids who die.
But what should I do?
by Boysen Hodgson
He cleans up after himself.
He cleans up the planet.
He is a role model for young men.
He is rigorously honest and fiercely optimistic.
He holds himself accountable.
He knows what he feels.
He knows how to cry and he lets it go.
He knows how to rage without hurting others.
He knows how to fear and how to keep moving.
He seeks self-mastery.
He’s let go of childish shame.
He feels guilty when he’s done something wrong.
He is kind to men, kind to women, kind to children.
He teaches others how to be kind.
He says he’s sorry.
He stopped blaming women or his parents or men for his pain years ago.
He stopped letting his defenses ruin his relationships.
He stopped letting his penis run his life.
He has enough self respect to tell the truth.
He creates intimacy and trust with his actions.
He has men that he trusts and that he turns to for support.
He knows how to roll with it.
He knows how to make it happen.
He is disciplined when he needs to be.
He is flexible when he needs to be.
He knows how to listen from the core of his being.
He’s not afraid to get dirty.
He’s ready to confront his own limitations.
He has high expectations for himself and for those he connects with.
He looks for ways to serve others.
He knows he is an individual.
He knows that we are all one.
He knows he is an animal and a part of nature.
He knows his spirit and his connection to something greater.
He knows future generations are watching his actions.
He builds communities where people are respected and valued.
He takes responsibility for himself.
In times of need, he will be his brother’s keeper.
He knows his higher purpose.
He loves with fierceness.
He laughs with abandon, because he gets the joke.
This is a picture of mature masculine, of healthy masculinity — it is one redefinition of masculinity for the 21st century. By no means is this list complete. You are welcome to come and add your gifts to this community. www.mkp.org
©2010 Boysen Hodgson. All rights reserved.
Used with permission by the ManKind Project.
I hear you.
But how about we wait until you’ve had a chance to smell a box full of kittens.
How about we wait until you’ve been in the ocean again, holding for that big wave to catch you off guard and knock the wind out of you.
And what about one more time screaming in the rain as your clothes get soaked and you spin as the drops smack down on the pavement.
Streets washed clean in rivers of spring.
What if we waited until you actually hit that one note you’ve been working on in the shower for these past months.
It’s right there.
I hear they’re coming to NYC in July.
We could take the train.
Maybe until you’ve been in love.
Maybe until you’ve had your heart broken in love.
I don’t want you to miss that longing pounding crying pain.
And loved again.
What if we waited until you’ve made your first full turkey-day dinner.
Held hands awkwardly at the table.
And meant what you said.
Oh and there’s this time, to buy wine on your own,
The confounding abundance of it.
Maybe wait until you’ve ordered your first drink at the bar.
There’s something to be said for that first hangover as well
I think we all need a story about throwing up on someone we love.
What if we hold off until you’ve met someone.
What if we hold off until you’ve experienced god.
And the ocean — did I mention the ocean already?
It changes every time. It’s never the same. Not even once.
What if we waited until you saw the sun rise on one side of the island and set on the other side?
What if we spent a day just looking for one shell.
Not that one. That’s almost the one, but I think we should keep looking.
What if we waited until you’ve just watched your children open presents for their 8th Christmas.
Or 9th. That’s the one I think. It just, I don’t know it’s hard to describe … sparkles.
I almost forgot. Sledding.
You really can’t miss that.
And then some time later that year, we can go to the beach.
I’ll keep an eye on the blankets and you can go down to the water.
Have a race with your kids to see who can go under first.
Ocean water and tears have something in them.
I think the salt might change things.
How about we wait until after that some time.
Me: the towhead on the right.
I was born in 1971. I’m a cisgender heterosexual white man. Everything I say here is from my perspective. Results may vary.
GenX is a transitional generation.
From analog to digital.
From outdoors to indoors
From the Lone Ranger to Mr Rogers … and From Mr. Rogers to HeMan … and Hulk Hogan and Die Hard … from Tyler Durden to Ted Lasso and “Top Gun’’ to “This is Us.”
From the Cold War to the Culture Wars. (and back to the Cold War?)
Rachel Maddow AND Tucker Carlson are both Gen X.
“I like you just as you are.”
“Don’t be a girly-man.”
We are the last generation who had any time in a world not saturated by advertising DIRECTLY intended to make us life-long product consumers.
We are the last generation to live without the ubiquitous availability of streaming pornography.
Analog to Digital.
Homogenous to Broadly Heterogenous
From hegemonic belief systems to the end of truth
There are lots of wonderful mythologies about GenX men — about our toughness, cynicism, ‘above-it-all-ness’ … Resilience. And in many ways — these are true!
And what I learned — and what I think many other men in my generation learned — is to be experts at hiding, dodging, and adapting. Unlike the silent generation — we were taught to have a voice. Unlike the Boomers — we were taught that we weren’t the center of the universe.
We are a generation where post-modern frameworks for understanding & deconstructing gender, politics, national identity, capitalism, and more came into the mainstream.
Shit’s broken. We know it.
We pretend day to day that it isn’t. Many of this are doing this for our kids. (They know it’s broken too, but we play a game of make-believe so we can keep getting by.)
The promises about what it’s supposed to be like … are lies.
The buckets that keep things organized … good and bad … are bullshit.
What I see in working with GenX men is toughness built of hard work and practice, AND also a rigid shell of armor, sarcasm, and cynicism adopted to shield the festering wounds of living in this transitional time.
Underneath the facade of resilience — we are still trying to internalize and understand — still trying to grasp what it means to live out the idealism that we learned in our childhoods, heal the trauma of our personal histories, and not collapse in the bludgeoning reality of the present moment.
We are the generation trying to figure out whether we want to stay in the matrix, break out of it, or burn it all down completely.
And this energy of contradiction, this energy of push forward and retreat is taking a tremendous toll.
I grew up believing that women were strong, capable of anything and motivated to succeed … and the reason for our society collapsing.
I grew up being taught that women should be in positions of power … and that they should be restricted from accessing power.
Both — at the same time — from different voices.
I grew up being taught that my feelings were valid and welcome on the one hand, AND that those same feelings would get me hurt — physically and emotionally — by my peers and by adult men in my world.
I grew up being taught that equality between men and women was the way it should be … but what I saw modeled around me was mostly the glorification of submissiveness, and men’s anger and frustration at being asked to make things different.
So what I witness in the ManKind Project with the men’s healing work we do …
Is GenX men attempting to integrate the contradictions we learned about manhood, equality, men’s roles in the world … How do we have feelings … and use them well. How do we express the healthy aspects of ‘traditional’ characteristics associated with masculinity?
How do we reconcile that in order to reach gender equality, we have to face the shadow that maintaining dominance by threat of violence is the essence of the social and political construction of manhood.
What am I without that?
How do we go to where the hurt is … and heal there.
How do we stop hiding from each other?
How do we overcome the cultural push to backlash against feminism AND against masculinity.
Well. It’s complicated.
And complicated doesn’t sell well.
Ambiguity is scary.
I did learn though, the answer usually starts with talking about it. Maybe we should spend a Saturday in the library.
“You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…
ANDY: …and an athlete…
ALLISON: …and a basketcase…
CLAIRE: …a princess…
JOHN: …and a criminal.”
To a man sitting in pain and confusion. I feel it also. Maybe this will resonate for you. If you’re a man with some of my out-facing characteristics, it may be easy to feel like a target right now, even with those we care for and are who we are actively working for justice and dignity with.
Here’s the thing I’m slowly learning. *I can hold the target without being the target.* This is the martial art that the times demand from me. This is the nonviolent protest of the privileged that this karmic play is asking for.
Shouldering the weight of history, using gifts both earned and unearned, AND shielding our beautiful souls are all parts of the work for men right now. Know who you are. Let what is true land. Experience it. There may be fear, sadness, anger, shame there. (May there also be pride, gratitude, and excitement!) I keep looking in the mirror. Ah yes! I see that in me. And it does not define me. I am a royal flush, white, cis, straight, educated, middle class, able bodied … the list goes on. There is no way for me to experience the subjective reality of my sisters and brothers who were not born with my stacked deck. Don’t argue with reality. Reality wins.
Know that I am not my ancestors, and yet I carry their legacy. Know that I am not a ‘bad guy’ and yet I swim in the same unseen water of culture. I have absorbed the same messages, learned the behaviors, taken the bait more times than I can count. Know that I am not the patriarchy, and yet I am a beneficiary (and an unwilling symbol) of it.
I will never be a perfect ally. Sometimes … I won’t even feel like an ally. (to you or to me) This isn’t going to be pretty or easy. I’ll keep showing up anyway.
Can I hold the container? Can I make space for rage and heart-shattering grief, and BE the rock, be the river, be the soil? Sometimes. Sometimes the weight of it is collapsing me.
The intensity of the heat and the repetition of blows hardens the steel. Now is the time to hone our edges and learn to slice with the precision of dragonfly wings. Cut the people free from the restraints of gangrenous systems. I set down the bludgeon I have used against my brothers and sisters, but first let me plant one stake. This marks the corner of the new temple. Bring your shovels.
I’m not alone. You are not alone. There are many brothers out here feeling this pain, and working together. I stand with HER … the big global her that is emergent. To be part of this emergence, I am asked to dig deep and bring forth the best of HIM — and there is SO MUCH power, compassion, and solidarity there to call forth. I will continue to be what I want to see as much as I can. I will stand with. Sometimes right now that means standing behind. This does not make me second, or less, or sub, or oppressed.
The weight of my legacy of privilege is immense. It is weight that I can use to help move the lever of history.
Another strong mention of the ManKind Project and #menswork. MKP believes in men; we love, support, and challenge ourselves to grow. And for many, the beauty and generative goodness of men gets buried in the muck of ‘toxic’ socialization, often now called ‘toxic masculinity.’ Under multigenerational wounds and damage, the true potential of men is suffocated. The damage caused is frequently played out in the world as violence to self (suicide, addiction), other (domestic violence, murder), and the world (ecological destruction).
The term ‘toxic masculinity’ can be misused or misunderstood, and yet it is valuable. We need men (and people) of strong character. A ‘masculine’ character trait, like strength, grit, stoicism, aggression, or even kindness can be used to help or used to hurt. Some natural human character traits that have been consciously and unconsciously repressed in men (excised from ‘masculinity’ as a typology), like empathy, compassion, communication, and interdependence, need to be reintegrated in a healthy way. How character traits are expressed changes with time; what was appropriate and needed even 75 years ago may not be what society needs now. And some distorted and hyper-expressed traits of masculinity (what we might call shadow aspects) are indeed toxic to healthy community AND to the men who embody them.
What masculinity was is not all it will be. What was life-sustaining and essential generations ago may be life-damaging now. The process of change is constant and necessary. How we adapt and shape change will be our legacy.
#Menswork is about taking responsibility for our impacts. It is about taking conscious responsibility for the process of change. This is soul work, heart work, and head work. Character is required and the healthy expression of character is a practice that we undertake to create a better world. We do the inner work of #healingmasculinity, creating a culture where there’s room for more beautiful masculine and feminine expression from all people.