The Following is a transcript for episode 68 of The Path to Authenticity. It was the first in a series of four conversations between host Tom Gentry and Ed Tilton called Getting Real About Manhood.
Tom Gentry: I want to read something that speaks to why we want to do this podcast and the purpose of us doing this series and initiating this conversation. All right. Okay. It’s the first paragraph of the preface of a book that shaped my philosophy about manhood. And it says . . .
“We’re living at an important and fruitful moment now. For it is clear to men that the images of adult manhood given by the popular culture are worn out. A man can no longer depend on them. By the time a man is 35, he knows that the images of the right man, the tough man, the true man, which he received in high school, do not work in life. Such a man is open to new visions of what a man is or could be.”
That’s what we’re talking about. To me, and I’ve talked to you about this, one-on-one, our whole template for what a man should be in our culture, at this point we need to just throw it away and start over. There are elements of it that I think are useful, and that we need to hold on to, but in a lot of ways we’ve been missing the point. And, it mentions the true man and the real man. And, we often hear in our world, “well, a real man” would this, or “a real man” would that. And, one of my favorite musicians . . . There’s a line from one of his songs. Jason Isbell is his name. And, early in the first verse he says, “I used to want to be a real man. I don’t know what that even means.” And, when I started to do work on myself, specifically related to my relationship with my ex-wife, and how I showed up in that marriage, I started to see I don’t know what a real man is. And then, the more I looked at it, really, neither does anyone else. It’s a really ambiguous idea, but on the other hand, there’s a lot of shame attached to it because, “I don’t know what a real man is, but if you’re not it, man, you’re a piece of shit.”
So, there’s this there’s this ambiguous benchmark that we have as men that we’re supposed to live up to, but we don’t know where it is. We don’t know what it is.
What’s your experience been with that?
Ed Tilton: It’s always been this, like, it’s an unforgiving hindsight that I was never privy to. So, it’s really about, for me, it’s always “this is how ET would handle this situation.” And, then finding out that apparently society had the answers to the test the whole time. And, I just did it all backwards, that it’s “oh a real man wouldn’t have cared when he broke up with that girlfriend,” or “a real man probably would have punched that guy for saying those things.” And, it’s being evaluated on a test that I didn’t take, or answers that I didn’t even . . . that don’t fit me. I’m not that person. So, I’m judged by the things that I don’t do, to be a person that doesn’t . . . that I wouldn’t even recognize.
Tom: And, on top of it, that projection of a real man is completely subjective. So, if it’s a woman projecting it on to us, or even another man projecting it on to us, it’s based on their experience of what they were taught a real man should be. And, there are some commonalities. We know that. Like a good man takes care of his family, a good man accepts responsibility for his mistakes and taking care of what he needs to take care of. You may or may not be honest, depending on where you come from or what your belief value system really is. But, aside from that . . . So, what we’re left with and what society sees is manhood, is this . . . what we’re hearing referred to as toxic masculinity. The tough guy, which here’s where I think this is all important, and where it ties in to this podcast, because from an emotional standpoint . . . Alright, conventional wisdom tells us that guys aren’t supposed to be afraid. But, real emotional experience – the reality is that we are. Everybody has fears and, courage. Isn’t about not having fears. It’s about what you do. It’s about the action you take in spite of them.
Now, I hate to get too political in the very beginning of this thing. But, you look at the leader of our country. The way he responds to everything . . . he’s constantly coming from a place of insecurity. He can’t admit to doing anything wrong. He can’t admit to something he said live on TV yesterday. He is so insecure that he can’t be perceived as even making some silly mistake, let alone being seen as weak by a leader of another country. Or, he just refuses to ever admit he is wrong.
He’s succumbing to those fears that come up, of how he’s going to be perceived or whatever it is. And, what is that? He is not grounded in reality. He’s pretending to be something he’s not. He’s being fake. He’s being the opposite of authentic. And, I’ve been around enough to know. I know you’ve been around enough to know that our real personal power rests in our authenticity. Yeah. And, go ahead.
Ed: But, and I would just say like our journey to be authentic is directly related to course correction. If I know who I am, in my core, and this is where, going back to your comment of the man . . . The more authentic I am, the easier it is for me to admit that I’m wrong. To admit that, that I was impulsive or that I was short-sighted or whatever, because I know that I was acting, and for me, this is always the piece of that was fear. I was acting out of fear. I was acting out of guilt, or shame or embarrassment. And, it’s easier for me to name the thing. And, if I know who I am, and I think that amongst the political landscape, I gotta think that there’s a part of me that has a lot of sadness and compassion for how hard it must be for him to not even know who he is. And, I look at it and that man has got, I think it’s been characterized a couple of times on Saturday Night Live . . . But, he’s got Trump steaks, he’s got Trump wine. He’s got Trump hats. He’s got Trump . . . Even his own personal brand has changed over the course of his lifetime, and it’s gotta be hard to be like you’re Donald Trump the steak guy. And, then it’s oh you’re Donald Trump, the casino guy. And, you’re Donald Trump, the hotel owner.
Tom: It screams I’m lost. And, but, the other part of it is it’s . . . Okay, Maybe if I put my name here, I’ll feel good enough. There’s always going to be another . . . He’s trying to feel good enough.
Ed: And, I think the real danger is, when we work to feel good at the expense of other people’s satisfaction, or identity, or wellbeing . . . I’m going to build towers and not pay my employees.
Tom: Or, I realize if I course correct with this pandemic, that it will save lives, but I would also have to admit I was wrong before. And, he can’t do it. He can’t do it. And yeah. It just, you think about how that affects everyone . . . the effect that that has around him.
Let’s get away from Donald Trump at this point. Imagine that was your boss who acted that way. You’d want to quit your job. Day one. It would be miserable to work for someone who’s so insecure. I’ve had bosses, female bosses, by the way, not only men do this, who just, no matter what, would not admit they were wrong, just were completely incapable of doing it.
And. In, in this particular situation, I’m thinking of in my career, it was tolerable because it came up seldom enough that it wasn’t an issue, but it was also emblematic of more than that. It got to a point where this person projected her insecurity and her anxiety onto me so much that it could never be good enough. And, finally it was like, okay, I’m throwing my hands up in the air. I’m not, I can’t do this anymore. It wasn’t about me. And, it got to the point where it made me so miserable. It was like a quality of life thing. I had to walk away. And, this repels people. That’s what happens. Where, on the other hand, like I’ve said, even with the President, if he would say, if he was to turn it all around and say, “you know what, I made a mistake. I should have done this, or I should’ve done that, or I shouldn’t have said this,” I’d be the first one to pat him on the freaking back, man. And, what that speaks to is that when we do show up in a real and authentic way, people respond to that. It brings us closer to people, where being fake pushes people away.
But, at the end of the day, this all goes back to our emotional experience as men, and how we manage it. That’s why this is relevant. And, one of the reasons why I want to do this, and I’m motivated to do this is because I don’t think we always think of this manhood dilemma as life or death, but it very much is life or death. And, the way that that has played itself out in my world, aside from being surrounded by alcoholics, is that, as a young adult, I had friends who took their own lives . . . A number of them over the course of a few years. And, invariably it was about some emotional turmoil that they were going through, and they didn’t know what to do with it. They didn’t know who to talk to, or how to talk about it, and they ended their lives. They suffered in silence. And so, for me, if nothing else, this is about empowering men to talk.
And at the root of all this, from a gender standpoint, in my mind, is the idea that – when I think about this really pisses me off – this idea that emotions are inherently female . . . And, I think that there is some . . . I think women obviously experience their emotions in a different way than men do. But, the idea that men aren’t every bit as emotional as women is just a fucking joke.
Ed: It’s a joke, and my wife would agree with you. It’s true. I’m an emotional guy.
Tom: I’m an emotional guy too. And, it’s just a joke. The idea that we, as men, don’t experience emotions, or shouldn’t experience emotions . . . And, what it does, is it engenders shame. And so, we go through life with this unwritten rule that we’re not supposed to feel it. If we feel it, there must be something wrong with us. So, in addition to being sad or mad or whatever it is, we feel shame because I’m not supposed to feel desperate, or whatever it is. And, it’s the unspoken message that we’re not supposed to talk about it. And, if we do, there’s something wrong with us. And, if we do, it’s an expression of weakness, and any guy who’s ever had to really tell a hard truth to somebody, about himself, knows that’s a crock of shit, because it takes courage to get real.
Ed: It does. I think the way . . . ‘cause I’ve thought a lot about how does this happen? How did we get here? Or, how do men understand this? How did I become socialized to see things in this particular way? And, I think that it goes along almost perfectly with the example you were giving earlier about the boss. And, in this piece of . . . ‘cause I’ve had those. And, I think what ends up happening is that the target is ever changing. The way that the boss shows up is never the same way twice. And, the way that the culture in the organization starts to develop is only through hard action. Just the same way that, as a man, I start to understand that I get to have emotions, but I only get to have part emotion. I only get to be angry. I only get to be calloused. I only get to be stoic. And, that makes it really difficult. When previously, when I had some of these jobs, to ask for help because my boss didn’t want me saying I don’t really know how to put this budget together. I can’t quite get the numbers right. Because the numbers keep changing because that’s not okay. I should just be able to figure it out.
Tom: Yeah, it’s not okay because he takes it as a reflection upon him and it goes back to his insecurity. So, then it spreads, that’s the thing. Then we have to feel insecure to support their insecurity,
Ed: For sure. And, so for me the example that you gave of the boss, is what I feel often is the unattainable real man, and the culture, and the community of the organization is often how I feel, or have to respond in relation to that image or that toxic person. I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be the person at the top that tells lies and won’t accept responsibility, but I also know that the person that asks for help is also the person that’s getting fired. And, my fear of abandonment can come up quick. And, I don’t think you and I are the only ones that have done things impulsively out of a desire for belonging, only to be really just dissatisfied with who we become. Just feeling gross because I’m hanging out with a couple of buddies and they start telling some jokes that I don’t really agree with. But if I say, ‘hey guys, I don’t really think that we should be making fun of this particular topic.” I’m not going to be accepted.
Tom: And, if you don’t know who you are, then you feel like that’s a problem.
Ed: Absolutely. And that’s part of the thing that I would say is when I first started having my sense of manhood, or my sense of masculinity, that inner voice sounded a lot like Opie from the Andy Griffith Show. It sounded like this whiny kid that was just like “I don’t think we should do that,” and that didn’t ever sound like somebody I wanted to be. And, I think that’s one of the things that I would probably ask a lot of the people who are listening to this show. I’m curious what their first voice of masculinity sounded like for them. Because that’s, for me, that’s the starting point to the whole understanding and identification of manhood, is we know what the media portrays. But, we also inherently know where our starting point is, as well.
Tom: Yeah. This stuff runs deep. And, when you mentioned the Opie thing, “Aww shucks, I don’t think this is a good idea,” That’s showing up in a situation as a little boy, not grounded in who you are. There’s no conviction in that sort of statement. “Wow, I don’t know if we ought to do this or not.” Where, if you know who you are . . . I think power is an important part of this to tie in. Personal power. Because as men, we need to find our own personal power, because the one who feels good about himself, doesn’t say, “oh man, I don’t know if I’m ought to do this.” He says, “this is bullshit. I’m not doing this. You guys go ahead. I’m like, I’m out of here.” That’s what someone who knows who they are says. And, whenever we don’t do that, we’ll never . . . we compromise that part of ourselves. We feel shitty about ourselves.
Ed: And, I think we fragment ourselves.
I think that we cut off a little part of who we could be, for the sake of who we had to be in that moment.
And, the more we cut off the parts of us, that could be the smaller, we have to understand, are living to be in terms of our living and, our living in a more authentic option to difficult situations, and not being so fragmented, and having more resources to show up in relationships better.
Tom: Yeah. This is tough stuff.
Ed: So that got deep quick.
Tom: It did. I’m thinking maybe we reel this back in a little bit. And, I talked to you about why I want to do this. And, you knew. But, why don’t you tell people what brings you here, and why you want to do this, and how your path to who you are as a man as evolved.
Ed: Yeah. I mean for me. And, this is the second time that I’ve been on the podcast. And, I’d encourage anybody who is maybe listening to this for the first time to go back and listen to my episode. and get a sense of my life story. But, as it relates to my desire to really be part of this . . . It’s related to the birth of my son. That everything, my understanding of who I am as a man has been crafted over the last 30-something years. And, there’ve been versions that have been really great and more authentic. And, then there’s been backslides that I’m not real proud of. And, what I’ve found that’s helped me a lot is having an honest community, that’s willing to share feedback from a place of compassion.
And also, willingness, that it’s not just unsupported feedback. It’s, “this is my two cents. This is how I would have done it. This is how I’m willing to help you.” And, as I look to – my son just turned one. As I look towards his future, to really start to foster a community, or change to allow him easier access, to develop his own tribe. And that’s one of the things. At the end of the day for this podcast and what we’re doing of just being able to say it doesn’t have to be this way any longer.
And going back to what you said, people don’t have to feel like there’s no way. That you can be a man, in whatever sense that you understand, and be supported. And, this is where our sense of a community online, or on the internet or, however you’re listening to this podcast, can really start to shape how we connect with one another.
I grew up in a town of 75 people, with maybe 15 men. I was the only other man in my community. The only little kid in my community growing up was six years younger than I was. And, I was restricted to just living in my community. Now, we have the ability to connect so easily, and in that same vein of being able to connect, I want to offer a sense of belonging.
Tom: And you mentioning this, mentioning your hometown, reminds me of a point that I wanted to get across. And, one of my reasons for wanting to do this . . . And, first of all, I didn’t mention it, but that reading I did that was by a guy named Robert Bly, who wrote a book called Iron John, that basically looks at the transition into manhood through the lens of ancient fairytales, mythology and Robert Bly was known as starting what was referred to as the mythopoetic men’s movement, which took place beginning in the eighties, maybe even the late seventies and was prevalent for awhile. This book, Iron John, that quote about this not working, that was 30 years ago, by the way, 1990 was when he wrote that. But, I grew up in the Midwest, in a blue collar town. You grew up in a rural community in the Midwest. The guys where I come from, they don’t want to read esoteric shit like this. They don’t want to read about how the transition into manhood relates to fairytale. They don’t want to hear about the divine masculine, and the divine feminine. They’re going to look at you and say, “what the fuck are you talking about.” And so, although that appeals to me, and I get a lot of it. I don’t think most guys do. And so, the resources that are out there for us, as men, tend to fall into a few different categories. In my observation, it’s either – a lot of books and leaders out there who were trying to teach guys how to be men – they’re either writing about chasing tail, or it’s all about Jesus, or making money or then the guys who I’m more inclined to lean to, are the more esoteric, divine masculine, finding your authentic self, all that kind of stuff.
And, I’m not knocking it, but it brings me to this quote that I shared with you the other day, which I’m going to dig out here and read real quick, by Richard Rohr, who is a priest out in New Mexico, who’s written a lot about manhood and a lot of other stuff. And, one of the things that he said is regarding manhood, and addressing manhood, and the dilemma of manhood.
“It’s a question of naming the mystery of human transformation in a language that grabs the souls of men.”
So, it’s about language. It’s about expressing the idea of becoming a better man in a way that grabs the souls of men. And, that’s not going to happen by us telling men that they need to get in touch with their feminine sides. And, I personally don’t even believe there is such a thing. And if, to the extent that there is we’ve created . . . It’s an idea that someone plucked out of the air and then everybody took it as truth. But, that idea isn’t gonna grab the souls of most men. Most men don’t want to hear about getting in touch with their feminine side.
And, when they hear about emotions, that’s what they think about, because that’s what they’ve been taught – that women are supposed to feel, and men are supposed to not.
Ed: Just the simple fact that if you tell me to get in touch with my feminine side, and the point of language . . . I know by walking around telling my other male friends I’m getting in touch with my feminine side, I’m likely not to be accepted. Right. As opposed to just getting in touch with like my authentic side.
Tom: Who I am as a man.
Ed: And, I would believe that’s not exclusive to one gender or another.
Tom: No, it’s not. It’s, this whole thing is perpetuated by both genders. Women are pretty invested in this stuff, too. And, I see it a lot out there about women who will talk about the title toxic masculinity thing. And, especially with this President. Man, he’s brought it all out. He really has emboldened people to be jerks. The women who I want to hear from are the ones who are able to accept their part in it. “This is the way I’ve seen things and I’ve perpetuated this idea, too.” And, it isn’t just one sided. It really isn’t. And, I’ll tell ya. One thing I’ll tell you is, just being a single guy, and being on dating apps and stuff, I’ve seen plenty of women out there who it says right on their profile that “I don’t have time for any sensitive, touchy-feely guys.”
There, there’s plenty of that out there. And, then, this goes to the whole thing about the idea that women do want men who are sensitive. And, I think there’s a kernel of truth to that. I think, and one of the ideas for the name of the show we talked about is “Man Versus Meathead.” I don’t think women want sensitive guys who are too touchy-feely, but I also think they don’t want a fucking meathead, who has no empathy, and isn’t able to experience emotion.
And, so where I think, just as a species, we got off track with the idea of men and emotions is here. As a man, you have the ability to compartmentalize things in ways that women don’t. We’re able to put things in a box and keep it over here for a while I get shit done. Where women, their emotions tend to, I think, based on what I hear and read, I’ve been told their emotions are just more kind of omnipresent. They’re there and they’re experiencing them in a more continual sort of way, where guys can compartmentalize.
Imagine that you’re chasing down the saber-toothed tiger. And, you can’t stop and talk about how afraid you are. You’ll get killed. So, the need was just inherent to compartmentalize the fear, the pain, whatever, the sadness of loss, whatever. First survival. And so, we have misconstrued that compartmentalization as an absence of emotional together.
I think what we’re really supposed to do, what I’ve learned to do, and, I’m sure you’ve learned how to do is . . “oh man, this really sucks. I really need to talk to somebody about this, and maybe I need to weep, but I’m at work right now. It’s not time to do it.”
So, I need to compartmentalize that until it is the right time to do it, where I think most guys would just opt to pretend that it doesn’t even exist, which never works. Because it always comes out somehow. It does. And, so I think we need to teach guys how to compartmentalize this stuff, and how to manage this stuff effectively.
And, instead, and to dispel this myth that we don’t feel or that we shouldn’t feel. But, what we really need, what a powerful man does is . . . “Here’s the crisis. Somebody over here died, and that makes me really sad, but it’s still happening. I got to protect my kids and get the hell out of here. No matter how afraid I am, I can’t panic.” That’s what it’s about. That’s what this is about. It’s not about “these feelings don’t exist.” It’s about, “I need to separate that from what I’m doing right now, because in order to be the leader, in order to protect the people around me, I got to get shit done. I don’t have time to feel right now.”
I could just go on and on about this stuff, and I know you could, too.
Ed: Yeah, and I think that’s part of, this being the bigger conversation, a reoccurring conversation, I’m excited about the possibility of continuing the conversation, and other listeners to give their input. I know I’ve said a lot. We got real. And, just to see like where are other people coming from.
Tom: And, obviously this isn’t just for men. I think a lot of women would benefit from hearing our points of view, too. I like to think of myself as a pretty healthy guy. I know I work on that. And, so do you so. But also, this is an opportunity for . . . there are other guys out here who think this way, and feel this way and who have a clear understanding of this stuff. But, like you said, there was only what, 15 guys in your whole town in the Midwest. What’s the odds that one of them would be on the same page with us?
But, to be able to connect in a bigger way, like this, my point is, we want to connect with . . . the point of doing this is to engage people and to let you know you’re not alone. And, that there is a group of people that you belong to – like-minded people. And, also maybe open your mind to some things that you haven’t considered before.
But the point is to be better dads, and husbands, and friends, and mentors, and bosses. And, that’s the point . . to really have a clear understanding of who we are, so we can be happy.
This has been great.
Ed: Yeah . . . to be able to provide a larger space for me to find happiness and contentment with myself, to allow other guys to be part of the conversation that maybe they didn’t even know that this was a part of the conversation that was going on. And so, I would just ask if there’s any guys out there, or any ladies who have input, or any part of this is resonating with you, just to be part of our conversation, to reach out to you, Tom. And so, that, I’m of the belief that through a communal understanding and engagement, and an identity, we can advance.
Like our own comfort in how we engage others.
Tom: If you guys show up, we’ll we will, too. I’m willing to do some live stuff, or create a Facebook group, or whatever is going to help.
And, I want to hear about what you guys want to talk about. I want this to be interactive. And, if you have an idea, or you want to hear us talk about something, I just want to be clear that I’m really open to how this could unfold, and I know you are too, and I’m excited about it.
Ed: Me too. Thanks man. I appreciate being on the podcast, and this is the perfect way to start the weekend.
Tom: Absolutely, it is. I appreciate it. This is going to be a blast. Thanks for doing this with me.
Ed: Absolutely. Absolutely. We’ll talk soon, buddy.