My Journey As A Man

Steps in the quest for a fuller life

One of the articles in Gender (IC#16)
Originally published in Spring 1987 on page 29
Copyright (c)1987, 1997 by Context Institute

A POT OF SOUP is cooking on the stove and my two younger sons are playing quietly in the next room. Today is my day home while Linda is off teaching school, so I have the kids. She and I alternate days working and being the home person. Cody, my three-year-old, comes by my desk and begs to go for a walk. He settles for a hug. I begin to think about my Journey: how I, as a man, got here in this very untraditional combination of roles that feels so right and good to me – the magical connection I feel having both mother and father in me. Yet, I am more.

Jesse, my one-year-old, is learning to walk. Actually, he is in that stage of being able to walk, but choosing to crawl. I think he is reluctant to let go of crawling because he is so good at it. I know that space. I’ve found it hard to let go of models that work for me. Yet, like Jesse, something in me always calls me on. Often grieving is involved for what’s left behind, like a small death. But, if I stick with the process, I’m eventually led to a re- birth. To me, that calling forth, moving through the letting go, the grief, and the rebirth as more, is the very essence of universal Maleness. It is that which calls me to be more than I am: to be father, mother, me, and always more – to be the best possible version of myself.

I came into this world connected to my mother. For nine months her feelings were my feelings. I knew intimately her every mood. We shared our blood. Then that connection was cut. I kicked and cried in protest. I was no longer her. I had lost that sense of belonging, that connectedness; I had lost my first experience of the universal Feminine. A sister came along one year after I was born, and I didn’t get my fill of nursing.

I would spend a good deal of my early adult life trying to re-connect, to find that sense of belonging in my relationships with women. To be held, to be nursed, to be cuddled was often my objective, though I often interpreted this in sexual terms. I thought women had something I needed, that they could take me places I couldn’t go by myself. Behind lover, they were mother to me, and behind mother was connection to the universal Feminine for which I searched. Sometimes I would find a piece of that connection, only to lose it again, for it was not mine, not me!

I remember tormenting a young puppy by hanging it by its tail. It wiggled and howled so wonderfully. Then Mother intervened, and I began to learn of the feelings of others. Somehow, Mother helped me to connect with that puppy, to know that puppy’s pain. I belonged to that puppy as much as it belonged to me. She started me on the process of reconnecting with the world, a process that would culminate years later in a Quest. I became a nurturer, a lover. I learned to connect with people, with that deep part of them that hungers like I did, and that was called onward, like I was. My journey took me into the ministry and finally into pastoral counseling.

Later, when Mom died, I finally realized that there is a part of me that is mother, a lover and nurturer. As I left her grave, grieving and letting go again, the feeling came that I wasn’t really leaving anything behind. I was her … and more.

My dad is in a wheelchair. He had polio when he was 19. I learned later in my life of his heroic fight to regain the use of his body. At first, he was in an iron lung: only gradually did he learn to use all of his upper body again. In his own way he was a warrior, surviving, and later providing for his family. Truly, a self-made man. He convinced our small town to put in handicap curbs years before it was in fashion, and he devised his own driving device that allowed him to drive with his hands alone. From him I received a sense of quiet strength and determination.

As I grew up, my dad gave me what he could. He introduced me to the world and taught me forthrightness and integrity. He was a business man. When I was around 12-years-old, Dad took me to the local bank where I applied for and got a loan to buy my first bike. I used my pony as collateral for it and made $6 a month payments. Even now, I keep books on my books. I know where every dollar is, and that has allowed me to live a fine lifestyle without selling my soul.

Strength, determination, integrity, and forthrightness – each quality calls me on beyond myself, from who I am into who I can be. Dad transcended his limitations, pushed at the boundaries of his possible world. He was my male model.

When I was around 30, an event capsulized my growth into and beyond my Dad. I was to meet my wife in downtown Portland for a birthday party. Our trip was a big event since we lived in a very small community. We saw each other about a block apart and she waved big and gave a skip and jump. I responded with a small wave of my hand. When she reached me, she chided me with the observation that I was not my dad and I was not in a wheelchair. It was true. I had been living with just half of my body; I even earned my living with my head and heart, not my arms and legs. But I must admit that I had been bothered by something about my manhood when I would arise at 6 a.m., raise the curtains and turn on the lights so the men passing the parsonage would see that I too "worked" for a living. Of course, I would then go back to bed.

Slowly, I found there was more to me than I had thought. I had a bottom half. At 38 years of age I took up soccer and skiing and loved them both. But again, in moving on, I had to face a dying, a letting go. I got in touch with a great sadness: I could not share with Dad who I was. I could not take him to the magic places I knew. I could not climb the mountain and have Dad see me, to really see me as I knew myself. In one workshop, I was challanged to walk to the top of the mountain and to leave my Dad at the bottom; to do it for me and me alone. I did and I found that I was more than my father. I am born of his loins and am seed of his breath, but I am more than him.

I began to learn about therapy and to know the parts of me. I Gestalted myself through numerous sub-personalities. One of them wanted more love. As with nursing, I seemed to have always wanted more. But another part often got in the way: I also wanted to feel powerful, to feel that what I did made a difference. It seemed as if I had to choose. One part usually chased the other one away.

Then I became a therapist and thought I had found the best of all possible worlds. Therapy is one of the few professions where I could be both powerful and intimate with people at the same time. I was both loved and potent. Then a deeper level of my awareness began to assert itself: an awareness that I was more than these parts. I was like the man who had finally come home and found that home had changed. Though I found I spent a good deal of energy nurturing or protecting these parts from each other and the larger world, neither of them was me! Or, more precisely, not even all of them were me. I was, continually and essentially, more than the sum of my parts. My love and acceptance of them were not enough.

My life took me through a divorce, being a single parent, and a second marriage, bringing two more sons. My oldest son Corban is now 16 and learning to drive, so I am in the "white knuckle" phase of parenthood. A 1- and 3-year-old at times seem downright easy, though often I think they are dealing with the same maturation issues as the 16-year-old is.

As I looked around for some sort of rite of passage for Corban, I began to read about Native American Vision Questing. That’s what Corban needed! It sounded great. He needed a Spirit Journey, a Walkabout of the Soul, a time to ask the Big Questions. Then it occurred to me that he hates missing his shower in the mornings, and that indeed, it was I, not he, who was ready for a Vision Quest. Over the next 6 months I began to craft my rite of passage, to make it the best I could. I pulled out all the stops to make it just right for me. I had to answer to no one, for this pilgrimage was mine and mine alone. I asked my Dad for something to take with me on my Quest. Since my mother was dead, I asked a group of women that I was close to for a gift. They made me a patchwork medicine bag in which I carried all my sacred objects to the mountain. The night I was to leave, I gathered a large group of men and we feasted, told stories, did a sweat, and sang songs. Then I was out in the night alone.

The momentum from my months of preparation and that night of celebration carried me up the mountain and far from any marked trail. It took me through my fears of being lost, hurt, and alone, and left me empty, high above the treeline on the mountain. When I reached my spot on the mountain, I fell down and wept. The tears would not stop for another day. My tears were no longer personal; I was crying for the world, for its healing. For the first time since birth, I was connected again. The universal Male had brought me back around to the universal Feminine. At that time I knew myself to be more than mother, more than father, more than the parts of me. I belonged to the Earth, to the Universe. I had come home. The Universe welcomed me with tears of gladness, my own tears. I and the universe were one.

I came home from the mountain and found my life deeper, richer, fuller. Linda says that I am much more "present" with her. Now, as I nurture, I also call forth. I challenge myself to become the best possible version of myself. In my work as a pastoral counselor, I am aware of a shift from being what Robert Bly calls "life-preserving" to "life-giving." Because I no longer need clients to love me or acknowledge my strength, I am a better therapist. In addition to nurturing, I find myself holding people accountable to their dreams, their highest selves. That universal Male essence of calling forth is beginning to assert itself in my life. I am finding the magical qualities inside me that I and the world so badly need. I can give birth, too! I have something to offer – something intrinsic that is me. I don’t have to find it in a woman, or earn it. I am it! My birthing, my magic as a man, is my connection to that very energy that has driven us up the evolutionary spiral, and now calls me/us to our spiritual home. That life-giving energy transmutes matter to spirit and is Creation’s response to incarnation. The "more" in me calls me to an ever larger conscious unity with the Mother. And I come, not as a son, but as a lover and protector.

Who am I? That is even the wrong question. "I am that I am!" (So says the burning bush to Moses.) The question is, How am I? I am always becoming the best possible version of myself, for I am Male. And I do it because I belong to the Universe. I journey as a warrior for, and a lover of, the World.

Linda is home now, and I want to make some biscuits to go with the soup for our supper. I look through the door into the next room and see that Jesse has just stood up and walked.

For Men Who
Tend Children

by Kathleen McQuillan

The child calls him Momma-John
Giving him away
In public places
In tender moments.

He does not flinch,
Instead, responds
To incessant toddler chatter.

Hands rough
He still touches gently

Like a woman would

He soothes
Shares wisely
Caresses blonde curly tangles.

Of the art of nurture
The patient art of mother-love

No soft full breasts

But tending, nonetheless,
The child thrives.

And who may he become
Because of Momma-John?