The whole man

 In the last two thousand years we have seen many role models for men. From the crusader to the Renaissance man, from the man in a uniform to the man in the gray flannel suit, from the explorer to the man of letters; these diverse images float through the contemporary man's mind like a multiple choice test for male correctness. In the last fifty years, we have witnessed the march of the male role models in a new form?the warrior, the wimp and the wild man.

The warrior is really the old crusader fighting passionately for his belief system, be it a religion, a race, a nation or a form of economics. This form of behavior is based on conquest and takeover. Whether it's the kamikaze pilot dying to demonstrate his devotion, the Muslim or IRA terrorist's blind faith in his cause, the Weathermen, the Black Panthers, the KKK, Kruschev pounding his shoe on the table and declaring "we will bury you", a wheeler-dealer making a killing, or corporate takeovers, the model is clear: vanquish the opposition no matter what.

In personal relationships the warrior is a total disaster. He perceives his partner as the opposition and devotes his energy to control and conquest. Maintaining power is his chief concern. He is constantly embroiled in conflict and debate. Female power is perceived as the ultimate threat of emotional truth over logical truth. Such a man is always in a holy war, needing total obedience to his way of thinking in order to feel secure. He is often violent in response. The warrior is insecure at the core, which explains his obsessive compulsive need to control his external environment in order to feel safe. He lives in constant fear of loss, and even winning brings only temporary satisfaction.

The spiritual warrior was, for a while, a popular alternative for men. This is the man who is on the side of spirit, engaged in the internal struggle for self-realization. He is often a loner, a man on a solitary path, searching the world within and the world without for signs of God's presence. The problem with this model is that it is still based on war. When this type of man enters an intimate relationship, his independent path is threatened by the prospect of commitment to another human being. He too falls into the holy war syndrome, protecting his need for separation in order to maintain the sanctity of his spirit. The spiritual warrior is also often in conflict with the entire material universe, viewing money, home and any material possessions as a denial of spirit. His basic flaw is his perception that spirit and matter are separate. His basic behavior is perhaps less violent than the physical warrior, but not necessarily so. After all, every warrior sees himself as spiritual, with God on his side. The crusader is thinly disguised by the euphemistic spiritual warrior.

With the advent of the woman's movement, many men became wimps. This "soft male" was a response both to fathers who were dominant warriors and mothers who were smothering nurturers. When the father began to disappear from the home, ceasing to participate in the raising of his sons, boys grew up in a female world, imitating their characteristics as well as what they desired in men. It seemed like the way to win female love was no longer to wear a uniform and conquer the enemy but rather to be sensitive, compassionate, sweet and gentle. Their perception of a world brought to the brink of destruction by male control also contributed to men who no longer wanted the responsibility of authority.

The problem with the wimp is that he is a wimp. Even though his softness seems attractive at first, when women attempt to relate intimately to such a man they are often frustrated and disappointed. He may have many commendable qualities, he may have tapped his female side, but he can be as emotionally inaccessible as his father was physically. He often doesn't even know what he feels, let alone how to express it. His emotional world has been stifled by inadequate male bonding and overwhelming female influence. He is unhappy, indecisive, helpless, powerless, empty, lonely, and angry without knowing it. The wimp is an overcompensation for the warrior, an extreme and unsatisfying reaction, who cannot fulfill himself, much less a powerful woman. When a liberated woman and a soft man try to have a relationship, the traditional roles become reversed, but the dynamic of power and control, conquest and subservience, continues.

The Wild Man Movement is a healthy response for men in recovery from warring and wimping out. Robert Bly's appeal to so many men in need of their male identities should not be surprising. A poet in touch with the rhythms of the earth, his call to men to gather for ceremonial rebirth fills a huge gap in the male psyche. Here men can gather as men, talk about their feelings among men, and retrieve the lost, primitive parts of their initiation into malehood. They can beat their drums, pound the earth, chant their chants and recapture the primal meaning of masculinity.

The problem is, what happens when the wild man comes back to his family? His male identity, so bruised and fragile, now recovering with fellow men, can be suspicious and unsafe with women. He has learned how to take care of his male needs with other men, a valuable lesson for sure, but can he bring his process of recovery into harmony with healthy, heterosexual relationships. Has his tribe become overly male? And his tribe replaced his family as the prime source of nurturing? Men's groups, like women's groups, are wonderful vehicles for healing, but the healing process remains incomplete until men and women come back together, discovering the joy of unity.