I left school in 1966 and I am now 66 years old. This seems to me a great reason to celebrate my decade of freedom that started that year, nearly 50 years ago. It was the year The Beach Boys released the album ‘Pet Sounds’, The Doors released their eponymous album and John Lennon met Yoko Ono leading to the end of live concerts by The Beatles and their break-up. The Vietnam War was causing chaos, almost revolution, in America, but it didn’t really enter my consciousness.
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I lay under the duvet cover screaming, screaming out loud. I could feel the break coming. I felt helpless and hopeless and I did not know what to do, I did not know how to deal with my wife, with my life. I was lost; as a husband, as a man, as Graham. I knew something was wrong, something more than the clash of brute force and stubbornness, something more than titan struggle that had been going on downstairs. I was so lost I could not even work out what was wrong, I just wanted the world to go away.
There is a “crisis of masculinity in Britain” because of the pressures rapid economic and social change have placed on masculine identity says Diane Abbott, a senior British Politician. The rise of a “Viagra and Jack Daniels culture” is an indication of the pressure young men are under to live up to “pornified ideals”.
I left home and school at 18 and went off to work in the theatre. I was rebelling against what I felt was a restrictive background. Yet I was shy and not at all sure of myself.
Everyone has different definitions of success and masculinity. Do not compare yourself to others. You’ll either feel over confident or very disappointed. You are your own set of standards. Sometimes all you need to succeed is the determination to show others what you are capable of. All you need is to have confidence in yourself to fulfil your vision and be happy.
Understanding your influences is the start of your growing awareness. As a man, your father is important to you. Whether you know him or not.
My son came back from touring in the UK with his band and came to me for advice. He was a punk drummer at the time, energetic and fast, with his own idiosyncratic life as an artist and musician. His life was sorted out, and he loved what he was doing.
Urmila and I had dinner at ‘El Gaucho’ on Mojacar Playa. It’s a fabulous Argentinian steak house that has live Flamenco on a Friday night. It’s normally full but during August – Spanish holiday month – it’s chaos.
There were at least a dozen 8-10 year old girls in flamenco costumes, with their families. Seeing them all dancing on stage together was not what I went out for!
My eye was caught, however, by the British family at the table next to us. There were the mother and father and three young girls in the 8-10 year age range. What caught my eye was the behaviour, or lack of it, of the father.
He was just not engaged with his daughters, he seemed to leave it all to his wife, that was a mother’s task.
So says GoodSirs in ‘5 Hard Facts You Ought To Know About The Modern Man‘. It goes on to say,
If you know a man being there for his family, pursuing a life worth living, and handling his business, give him a pat on the back. Why? Because according to statistics, guys like that are becoming more and more uncommon in our culture.
I’m sure the statistics are true, as far as any statistics can be true, I am not writing here to challenge them. What I disgaree with is that they describe the modern man. I think that we, as men, are richer than that and that there is more hope than the article allows for. But it is hope that I am writing about not the facts. It is the future that I look to. It is the possibilities in men than give me a vision for the future.
While building a confidence course for other men, Graham Phoenix learns the source of his own determination.
I am launching an online course for men. Last week the sales were not at a level I expected. I fell into a crisis of confidence, a crisis that felt like its claws were digging into the core of what I feel about myself as a man. This crisis involved my relationship or, more accurately, my imagined relationship with my dad.
Self-confidence and a man’s relationship with his father are key elements I examine in the course. I had not expected that creating it would bring these so personally to the fore. The process of resolving my crisis, however, has given me certainty and enabled me to see my dad for the man he was rather than as an ideal in my mind, just what I intend for students of my course.
My father passed on many years ago and has become more of an image in my mind rather than a physical reality. He has always had a powerful influence on me in ways that I didn’t understand. My belief was that he was the cause of my tendency to dominance and anger. In writing about him last year, in ‘My Father Was An Angry Man‘, I highlighted that he was a man who liked to have the last word and be right.
It was a powerful attitude to fight against when I was growing up, learning how to shift from being a boy to being a man. I developed a masculinity of dominance and anger. It worked for me in many ways, on the outside I became a powerful man, but inside I was a different man, a weaker one.
Recent events have caused me to re-assess my relationship with my dad and my power as a man.
I was sitting one evening with my wife, playing with a Ouija Board. This is a game where the influence of everyone present is used to answer questions. Some people believe it enables a spiritual presence to communicate, others that it’s just a bit of fun. My wife has spiritual intuition and started talking to me about a presence she felt.
The spiritual presence of my dad was in the room and he wanted to let me know that he was there supporting me. He apologised for leaving me to deal with family issues without my understanding what was going on. I felt a calmness and a compassionate connection that was at odds with the vehemence of my original feelings about him.
Several days later I was being taken through a Journey process by a friend. This is the process developed by Brandon Bays that was instrumental in her defeating serious cancer. I have come to appreciate it as a way of discovering and resolving hidden, internal issues. It involves falling through the layers in our minds to discover and resolve what’s underneath.
I was working on the issue of self-doubt, digging through the layers of causation and my attitudes to them. One of the underlying causes was the fact that I was born with a club foot. This happened in my mum’s womb and was connected with my birth being a breech. My foot is not normal and required two major operations when I was young.
My mum had boatloads of guilt over this and during the Journey process I went back to a point when I was five years old. It was after an operation, when I was at home with the family, trying to walk again. I felt my mum’s doubt and concern about the situation. I absorbed this realisation in the Journey process and saw that the source of my self-doubt was something external to me, something I did not create.
At the end of the process, though, I was shocked to realise that I had been holding, deep down, the idea that my dad was not a strong man. Rather than seeing him as a determined man, someone to emulate, I felt that he was the weak one. It was my mum who was the strong one, emotionally involved. She channeled her guilt and doubt into positive action. She was determined that her pain should not affect my life. Having a club foot was bad enough, she didn’t want me to take on her emotions as well, although, ironically, that’s just what I did, because I absorbed a sense of weakness about being a man from my dad. Unlike my mother, my father was not emotionally involved. He was unable to help me cope with the situation, unable to shield me from my mum’s guilt. He had no alternative view for me, no masculine view. His dominance was a way of cloaking this, a way of appearing to be in charge. My mum’s emotions held sway and he seemed to be powerless.
In creating the course for men I encapsulated my views on masculinity and revealed the man inside. I saw the project failing and events not going my way. This spoke to my need to feel validated as a man. Would my failure destroy my outward masculinity? Were my inner emotions still controlled by doubt? If so, then I was not the man I revealed in the course. I was failing in the very issues I was helping other men deal with. The core of the crisis was the question of whether I was living a lie and whether others would see this.
Last year I wrote on the Mask of Masculinity. I said,
“For many years my Primary Question was, What if I’m found out? I regarded the life I was leading as a lie, a mask, a masculine stereotype. My fear was being found out. My fear was that people would see the real me, weak, indecisive and scared. To avoid this I put on a front of strength and determination. What I hid behind was a view I had of masculinity, a view that protected me.”
In having the crisis, was I back behind the mask of dominance and control that I learned from my dad? The idea that I can only move things forward if I am in control is one that had been eating away at me. It took me back to seeing my dad not being able to control the situation with my foot, to him feeling locked out from the powerful emotions coming from my mum.
My dad pushed it out of the way and acted as if it didn’t exist. Be a man, be dominant and people will listen to you, even if they don’t want to! This was how I dealt with my previous career. It worked, for a time, but resulted in several business failures.
After a few days of anguish, of feeling a void inside, I came to a resolution not to be bound by my mum’s doubt or my dad’s weakness. I took action on what I wanted to see happen with the launch. I saw I didn’t need to take control, I just needed to communicate. In four days I tripled sales. What is even more important, though, is that my wife saw a transformation in me and in my energy. She saw me move from being a man on the verge of giving up to a man on a mission.
I feel different inside. I feel an inner certainty, a knowledge not just of what I want, but that what I want is what will happen. The difference is that this is devoid of dominance, it doesn’t push others out of the way but it offers me and my experience to them. I now know the simple power of my inner core as a man, I know that what I want, what I do, is valid.
What do I feel, now, about my dad?
Maybe he was just teaching me to be independent, to trust myself and be strong inside. If so, that’s where I have finally reached. Is that what he wanted all along? Could he only achieve that by detaching from the pain and from the emotion? I have a sense that his presence after the Ouija Board was him connecting with me, showing me he wasn’t disconnected after all.
How does this inner work play out in reality?
It appears in me knowing what I want and knowing the direction I want to go in. Others will choose to come alongside and work with me, or have relationships with me, not because I put pressure on, not because I am the loudest. People will come with me because they choose to, because they see power in what I am doing. There is nothing I can do to create this other than be sure of it myself and allow others to see my belief in it.
Then the magic happens…