The Third Man
Updated: May 11
“The good man is the man who, no matter how morally unworthy he has been, is moving to become better.” — John Dewey
It is no joke to be a man out there these days.
“Toxic” masculinity, “male privilege”, #metoo, “patriarchy”...
Many men feel truly lost, unsure of how to be or behave, and following a prescription given to them by a society that does not provide the tools and training men intuit they need in order to become the men their hearts demand, and then men our World is calling for.
These men show up to my men’s groups, coaching calls, and workshops, many afraid to even speak to their own experience as a man for fear of upsetting others or saying the wrong thing.
What does it mean to be a man today?
How do you know you’re a man?
Where are the healthy male role models we can look up to?
Is it even possible to be a man right now without offending someone?
Who do we look to for answers to these questions?
As someone who has spent the last seven years as a leader on the front lines of the Men’s Work movement, I can report from my own experience that men in general right now are struggling to know how to answer these questions.
We have no collective rule book or consensus -- no general “order of operations” manual to guide us as men, and very few surviving traditions or rituals passed down from men of old. Not to mention, the increasing difficulty in knowing how to act in a time where the very rules of the game seem to be changing on a daily basis...
In truth, the last 70+ years has arguably witnessed the biggest amendments to what it means to be a man in our culture that we have ever experienced in the entirety of human history.
We are in the middle of a profound transition. A necessary transition, but a confusing one -- and not just for men, but women as well, along with everyone else in between.
But before we can try to answer the question of “how to be a man in the world today”, it feels important to examine the ways men have previously been in the world, leading up to this modern moment, and the changes being demanded of us.
For the last 70+ years, from what I can make out, we have experienced two very powerful, very wide pendulum swings on the spectrum of masculinity in our culture in the West -- a double course-correcting that has taken place over a very short amount of time during the last few generations, producing two generalized ways of showing up as a man, each on opposite ends of said spectrum of Masculinity.
The first of these two ways of being a man swung the pendulum hard right-of-center -- this man was the rugged individualist, the stoic survivalist, the “Marlboro Man” trope of the 1950’s hero.
This paradigm served a very specific purpose.
For a long time this type of man kept us all alive.
He guarded us while we slept.
He fought our wars.
He protected the women and children.
He did whatever was necessary to survive and keep the family provided for.
He was the product of hard times. Seriously hard times.
This man was forged from the trials and tribulations of history.
This man explored and conquered the unknown frontiers, literally and figuratively, for better or worse.
This man was strong and brave, because he had to be. For all of us.
This man came home from long days at the docks, the mills, the mines, the office, or the breadlines, doing whatever it took to feed the family and put clothes on the children.
This man came home from the battlefields of Europe and the South Pacific to a culture with no real understanding of emotional processing or post-traumatic stress.
These men did not have the tools, nor the luxury of expressing their feelings.
Feelings don’t put bread on the table.
These were Men who got the work done, but at a cost.
The Great Depression gave few fucks about your feelings.
Neither did the Nazis.
It took a special kind of grit and tenacity to survive foes of such renown, and the result was a lot of hard, stoic, emotionally closed off men with little connection to their hearts, and a lifetime of unprocessed feelings and trauma that eventually killed them with cancer or heart-disease.
These types of men were necessary at the time. Some of their qualities still are. These men, or the sons of these men, raised us. We know these men. Many of us are related to them, worked for them, or still do.
But the necessary savagery required to survive history was equally unleashed onto the women and children, whether in the bedroom or at the dinner table, and the culture of masculine expectation, entitlement, and power-based dominance that comes from the ability to endure hell and still persevere, created the boys-clubs, harassment allegations, and rape-cultures that we are now fighting hard to put down.
The “old-guard” of the political, industrial, and social elites are still peopled with these men, and we’ve watched many of them tumble under the revelations of the #metoo movement.
This man is worth eulogizing as much as he is worth exposing, that we might learn from his mistakes while salvaging his positive attributes.
This brings us to the second type of man that emerged as a knee-jerk response to the first type.
Born from abolitionists, suffragettes, Feminists, conscientious objectors, the Civil Rights Movement, and the men who supported these causes, the second type of man is the sensitive man; “Mr. Nice Guy”; the peace-and-love hippie, AKA, the SNAG (Sensitive NewAge Guy).
He is the extreme “left-swinging” pendulum correction to the 1950’s Marlboro Man.
He is a son of the Feminist revolution and hippie movements of the 1960’s & 70’s.
He knows his body and is connected to his emotions.
He practices yoga and conscious dance, meditates daily, and listens to his woman.
He studies non-violent communication.
He respects Her rights and Her sovereignty, easily deferring to Her choices and decisions.
He is in touch with his Feminine side -- he keeps a journal, makes art, plays music.
He fights for the rights of the oppressed, and is an ally to all in need.
He protests injustice in the streets and writes letters to his congressman.
And while many of his qualities are excellent and good, many are also the product of attempting to mitigate the dark side of the Marlboro Man; many are the result of the shadow of Feminism.
For he is also the “yes-dear” sitcom dad; the hen-pecked husband who can’t defend himself.
He is the man who hesitates first and acts second, if at all.
He is happy to let his girlfriend, partner, or wife wear the pants and guide the ship every time.
He is connected to his heart, but cut off from his cock.
He has a crystal for every chakra and can recite poetry and “The Four Noble Truths” from memory, but has no money in his bank account, or ambition in his spirit.
He takes his lead from the women in his life, and believes the best way to make them feel safe is to dim his expression of masculinity, assertiveness, and sexuality.
He turns his partner into his mother or his therapist by over-processing his experiences on them instead of relying on and sharing with his boys.
He explores his feelings at the expense of his desires.
He hopes that if he is nice enough, she will eventually let him sleep with her.
I personally relate deeply with this second type of man. He is the man I spent most of my life embodying, as the love-child of hippie parents.
We were taught (consciously or unconsciously,) that the best way to make ourselves “safe” men, “good” men; was to cut ourselves off from our sexuality, our assertiveness, our leadership.
I spent decades being nice, instead of being honest.
I spent decades being passive instead of being direct.
I spent decades playing small and thinking it was helping.
I spent decades defaulting to “her”, when what she really wanted was for me to make my own decision. And I did all of it, believing I was doing the “right” thing.
Feminism was necessary and good and helped create opportunities for women that never existed before. But its weaponized extremity emasculated a generation of men, convinced to cut themselves off from their power, rather than learn to wield it with competence, confidence, and compassion.
We are now at the cusp of these two extremes coming fully into view.
It is a time of reckoning.
It is a time of reimagining, and exploration.
It is truly an exciting time. It is also a challenging one.
It is perfectly understandable and correct that the sins of the shadow of Masculinity be exposed, condemned, and corrected.
It is perfectly understandable, given the amount of abuse, that many have lost trust in men in general.
But how can we make these necessary changes without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
How do we identify and root out the negative aspects of masculinity inherent in both these two archetypes, while celebrating, preserving, and integrating their positive qualities?
How do we upgrade the modern man without denigrating him?
How as men do we move forward in the face of our pain, our programming, and conditioning?
How as men do we move forward in the face of history?
How can we guide ourselves, other men, and our sons, brothers, and fathers forward in a way that honors everyone?
How do we help usher in this new kind of man?
By becoming him.
A third type of man being born.
He is already here -- in greater and greater numbers everyday.
These men really do exist.
I work with them.
I train with them.
I stand by them to help build a better world together for all of us.
This time he stands with the pendulum balanced squarely in the center, with fluency and agility drawn from his time spent in both extremes.
This is a man who has done the work to cultivate himself and draw upon the positive aspects of both sides of the masculine equation:
Strength AND sensitivity;
Power AND presence,
Humor AND depth,
Kindness AND Killer Instinct.
He is the type of man that is just as at home and enjoying himself at a modern art museum as he is seated in the front row of an MMA fight with his boys.
How do we become this Third Man?
How do we merge the better qualities of left and right?
The qualities of presence, honesty, trust, accountability, responsibility, purpose, direction, desire, dedication, communication, leadership, claim, love….
All of these qualities are qualities that can be PRACTICED like anything else.
It’s just a matter of identifying the practices, and then doing them.
Really doing them.
This is the art and technology of “Men’s Work” -- an act of self-development that a man takes on voluntarily to improve himself, both alone or in the company of other men -- through the study and practice of its various traditions and modalities, I believe we can consciously evolve the masculine experience across the planet, in our lifetime, for the good of everyone.
You do not have to be BORN with these qualities in order to obtain and wield them with honor and clarity, for the good of everyone around you.
Discern which qualities you wish to develop - then seek out a technique, a teacher, a coach that you resonate with, and go from there.
(For example, if you need to practice STRENGTH, hire a personal trainer, or take on a Qi Gong practice. If you need to develop SENSITIVITY, study communication styles, and adopt a body-scanning meditation technique.)
One of the best things you can do is to join a Men’s Group.
If you don’t like it, find another.
Like everything else, not all Men’s Groups are created equal.
And, some vibe differently for different men.
TRIBE MEN’S COMMUNITY is a great place to start.