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Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World

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Books for a Better Life Award Winner

Here is a landmark book that reveals the way boys think and that shows parents, educators and coaches how to reach out and help boys overcome their most common yet difficult challenges -- by the bestselling author who changed our conception of adolescent girls.
Do you constantly struggle to pull information from your son, student, or athlete, only to encounter mumbling or evasive assurances such as “It’s nothing” or “I’m good?”  Do you sense that the boy you care about is being bullied, but that he’ll do anything to avoid your “help?”   Have you repeatedly reminded him that schoolwork and chores come before video games only to spy him reaching for the controller as soon as you leave the room? Have you watched with frustration as your boy flounders with girls?
Welcome to Boy World. It’s a place where asking for help or showing emotional pain often feels impossible. Where sports and video games can mean everything, but working hard in school frequently earns ridicule from “the guys” even as they ask to copy assignments. Where “masterminds” dominate and friends ruthlessly insult each other but can never object when someone steps over the line. Where hiding problems from adults is the ironclad rule because their involvement only makes situations worse.
Boy world is governed by social hierarchies and a powerful set of unwritten rules that have huge implications for your boy’s relationships, his interactions with you, and the man he’ll become. If you want what’s best for him, you need to know what these rules are and how to work with them effectively.
What you’ll find in Masterminds and Wingmen is critically important for every parent – or anyone who cares about boys – to know. Collaborating with a large team of middle- and high-school-age editors, Rosalind Wiseman has created an unprecedented guide to the life your boy is actually experiencing – his on-the-ground reality.  Not only does Wiseman challenge you to examine your assumptions, she offers innovative coping strategies aimed at helping your boy develop a positive, authentic, and strong sense of self.

From the Hardcover edition.



It’s Time to Enter Boy World

Like many parents, I wake every morning with my mind filled with Post-It notes of all the things I’m behind on. On April 12, 2011, I opened my eyes with only one thought: it’s time to write a boys’ book. For years I’ve wanted to write a book for boys that would be a complement to one I’d written for girls, Queen Bees and Wannabes. When parents and teachers would ask me about the possibility, I’d thank them for their confidence and promise that I’d get around to it one day, not really sure that I would. Ironically, my two children are both boys, which always gets a laugh when I’m introduced as an expert on girls. How can that Queen Bees woman, that Mean Girls woman, be the mother of only boys?

The truth is, I’ve always taught boys, and they constantly write to me for advice. But up until now I’ve never publicly shared their struggles and what I’ve told them. Some of their problems are important but small, like “How can I tell a girl I like her?” or “How do I tell a girl I don’t like her?” or “How do I stop my friend from bugging me about how short I am?” Other questions are bigger, like, “I have a coach who screams ‘faggot’ at one of the kids. Some of the other guys are going after him too. I hate it, but what can I do?” “I want to quit the team but I can’t tell my parents.” Or, “My dad always, always thinks I’m guilty of something, or lying, or lazy. Every time he lectures me I just want to explode, but I smile and say nothing. My mom makes excuses for him. I can’t live like this but I don’t know what to do.”

I put off writing a book about boys because I wasn’t certain I could deliver the level of insight that I’d been praised for in Queen Bees. Did I know boys well enough? Could I get them to tell me what I needed to know? I knew that boys are much more complex than popular culture gives them credit for. I knew there was a lot going on beyond their clipped responses like, “I’m fine.” But I wasn’t sure that I could write something that was equal to what boys, parents, and adults who care about boys need and deserve.

I needed a sign.

I got it when I was least expecting it. In the spring of 2011, I met with Cartoon Network’s CEO, Stu Snyder, and Alice Cahn, the network’s vice president of social responsibility, to discuss the possibility of working together on their “Stop Bullying: Speak Up” campaign. I’d brought along Emily Gibson, who helps me strategize new partnerships. As usual, Emily got right to the point. “Stu, I’m really glad we’re meeting, but I’m not sure I understand why. Rosalind is more known for her work with girls, and we know most of Cartoon Network’s viewers are boys, so why her?”

Stu immediately answered. “You can see it in her eyes.”

What’s in my eyes? I wondered. Do I have something weird in my eyes?

“You can see she has boys in her eyes,” Stu said. What was he talking about? Then I realized exactly what he was referring to. I’d seen that look. I’d even written about it in another book, Queen Bee Moms and Kingpin Dads. I just hadn’t realized it was my facial expression too. That look says to others: “I’m regularly attacked with Nerf guns as a display of affection. I’m not surprised to receive an email or phone call from the principal. There may have been a time, just once, when I realized the boys’ principal was calling and I pressed Ignore because I just really didn’t want to hear what the boys had done. At any moment I must cope with the following challenges: my children destroying something of high value, hurting themselves doing something mind-blowingly stupid, or facing a hygiene problem so severe that lesser beings would flee or vomit. But because I’m these kids’ mother, I’ll hold them accountable, patch them back together or bring them to someone who can, while shaking my head at the ridiculous reason we’re at this place, seeking help. And yes, I’ll force these desecrators of bodily hygiene to clean up after themselves—even if they claim they can’t smell anything wrong.”

I returned from my meeting in Atlanta, and the next morning I woke up ready to write. I had just needed someone on the outside to let me know I was ready.

For Better and Worse: How I Started the Queen Bee/Mean Girl Craze

There are a few more things to know about me beyond that I have a reputation for working with girls. I’ve taught in schools for almost twenty years. I started by founding a nonprofit organization that taught kids from fifth to twelfth grade a social justice and ethical leadership course I developed called “Owning Up™.” That early work is the basis for the training I still do with educators and administrators. About eight years into teaching, I wrote Queen Bees and Wannabes, a book for parents of girls about what the world looks like to a girl and how parents can best guide their daughters through it.

I wrote about girls because I felt that our understanding of girls and the connection between their friendships and their personal development wasn’t as good as it needed to be. By 2000, a lot had been written about girls, self-esteem, and body image, but I couldn’t find anything intended for a general audience that spoke to girls’ group dynamics. I believed that girls’ conflicts with others were unfairly dismissed as drama and cattiness. We weren’t giving girls real-life skills to handle conflict with their dignity intact. I saw that girls were valued based on their ability to conform to the unwritten rules of what I termed “Girl World,” and that these dynamics in turn impacted girls’ ability to be socially competent as girls and women.

I can’t quite remember the sequence of when and how all this happened, but right before Queen Bees was published, I was profiled in a New York Times Magazine article entitled “Mean Girls.” A few days later, my literary agent asked if I’d talk to a woman named Tina Fey, because she was interested in buying the rights to the book. I had no idea who she was. I’d just had a baby (my oldest son Elijah), so even if I was watching TV, I was so tired I couldn’t remember anything I was seeing anyway.

Before you think I was jumping for joy that someone had asked to buy film rights for Queen Bees, you should know that I was already jaded enough about media and entertainment that I needed to be convinced. I’d had a couple of strange calls from people asking to buy my life rights—which would have made for an extremely compelling story of a woman desperately trying to raise money for her little nonprofit from fancy foundations while wearing clothes decorated with baby vomit.

But I took the call. Twenty minutes later, I was convinced. If someone was going to do something as crazy as taking a nonfiction, how-to parenting book and turning it into a major motion picture, Tina was the person to do it. All I asked of her was that she not make it stupid. She promised, and I believed her. Not only because she was clearly intelligent, but also because she appeared to be motivated in the same way I was. If you’re going to put yourself out there, you can’t do it half-assed. (That said, with more than twelve years of parenting under my belt, I’m much more accepting of personal mediocrity.)

With the popularity of Queen Bees and Mean Girls, I was increasingly called upon to speak on girls’ issues, which was great but also made me uncomfortable. While the attention on girls was needed, the message was also sometimes watered down or used as a way to demonize girls. In addition, with all the conversations about girls, boys, as a distinct group, disappeared. Recently, with the avalanche of attention on bullying and school shootings, the closest we’ve come to recognizing boys’ issues is in our discussions of teen suicides, which we generally attribute to homophobia and lack of gun control. Not that those issues aren’t worth discussing—but they’re far from the only boys’ issues that need to be addressed.

Could I Get Boys to Help Me?

With every book I write, I ask the people I’m writing about to help me. But when I decided to do a book for boys, I remember wondering if it would be possible to get boys to reveal their deepest feelings, thoughts, and most meaningful experiences. Could I get them to answer my questions day in and day out? Would they really read twenty-page drafts of chapters multiple times for no reason other than that they wanted to? (I did offer to write college recommendations if they worked hard.) Yes. They did, and it was far easier than I expected. First, I put out a few calls to schools—public, charter, private, parochial, international, all boys, big, small, urban, suburban, and rural—and held my breath. Almost immediately, schools of every type were on board. Then a few weeks later, as I was wrapping up a high school presentation, I mentioned to the students that I was working on a boys’ book and if anyone wanted to help me, they should please let me know. I couldn’t believe the response. Boys walked right up to me and volunteered. (So did girls, by the way.) After that, I made the request after every presentation. What surprised me the most was who came forward. Looking back now, it makes perfect sense that the “golden boys” with the highest social status, like the athletes, volunteered, but they weren’t the only ones; many different kids volunteered. By email and Twitter, boys found me and told me they were on board. Within a month, I had over 160 boys contributing to what you’re about to read. In their own words, here are a few of them telling you why they did it.

I feel that helping people who are in bad situations I have already been in is a duty. —Mathias, 16

I’m doing it because I want to be part of something bigger that will make a difference for our gender and my “peers,” but also because I feel like our “Boys World” is something that’s been kept in the dark for too long. —Victor, 17

Sometimes I think working on this book helps me more than the other boys. —Grant, 15

I want this book to inform, educate, and reform the social structure of boys in their natural environments. Things happen in the realm of boys’ worlds that are never mentioned in the public eye, or are brought to concern by adults. By contributing to this book, I hope to redefine the way of thinking when it comes to how boys interact. —Cody, 18

Once we began the project, it was nonstop arguing, debating, and laughing—and an occasional tear when boys shared something particularly painful. The boys made me realize that things I’d assumed about them for years were wrong. They told me stories that were so funny and stupid, I cried from laughing. I gave them problems other kids wrote to me about, and they had intense debates about how to help these kids they didn’t even know, then emailed me because they were worried about what had happened to the kid in trouble. They shared their most personal stories, feelings, and opinions—all to help you know how to reach out to the boy in your life in the best possible way.

I’ve also asked parents to share their experiences, concerns, and worries with you. They’re going to tell you some stories that I hope will make you laugh and make you remember that you’re not alone trying to raise these people who sometimes seem determined to make it as rough on you as possible.

We’re going to walk a difficult line in this book. You may read something that challenges you to the core. That’s never pleasant. In fact, it’s usually a highly anxious experience that leaves you wishing you’d left well enough alone. If this happens to you, I’m asking you to face that challenge without shutting down or beating yourself up for being a bad parent.

You also don’t have to like your son or any of the boys he hangs out with. You’re allowed to have moments of resentment when you’re busting your butt for him and he doesn’t seem to notice. You’re allowed to be angry that the child who used to give you hugs and kisses turns away from you. You’re allowed to fantasize about the fabulous carefree life you’d have if you weren’t driving him to games all weekend. You aren’t a bad parent if you go out with good friends and admit these feelings out loud. If you don’t acknowledge them, then you will become one of those parents who robotically smile as they tell you that their kids are perfect, but in reality can’t laugh at themselves or ask for help when they come up against the real-life, no-holds-barred, humbling work that it takes to raise a boy into an honorable man.

How Are You Really Coming Across to Your Son?

I’ve sat with a lot of parents who insist that they’ve talked to their sons about how important honesty and integrity are to them and been completely confused when the boys haven’t acted in ways that reflect those values. In their confusion, they tend to blame others. While it certainly can be true that parents talk to their sons about values, I’ve realized that parents often speak to their sons about their family values without placing them in a context where these values will be called upon. It isn’t enough to say “Be honest” or “Do the right thing,” because in moments of conflict many of us lack the skills to move through the fear and put our values into action. The context of the situation really matters more than a catchphrase. What’s way more useful for boys is to talk to them about what integrity looks like to you under duress. This book will bring these moments of conflict front and center and then show you how to make your values meaningful within the problem your son is facing.

This gets us to role-modeling, one of the most-talked-about concepts in parenting and teaching, but also one that frequently isn’t supported with our actions. Our children aren’t stupid, and they’re not naive. They see when adults around them act hypocritically. They see what we value and believe by our actions, not our words. If we try to present a perfect image of ourselves, they will see through it. In order to earn our boys’ respect, we must examine our own behavior.
Rosalind Wiseman

About Rosalind Wiseman

Rosalind Wiseman - Masterminds and Wingmen

Most famously the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World—the groundbreaking, fully revised edition of her best-selling book that was the basis for the movie Mean Girls—Rosalind Wiseman is an internationally recognized expert on children, teens, parenting, bullying, social justice, and ethical leadership.

Her latest book, Masterminds & Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World will be published in September, 2013. In addition, as a gift to teen boys she has made a companion text available for free, entitled The Guide: New Rules of Boys’ World.

Wiseman’s other publications include Queen Bee Moms and Kingpin Dads, that address the social hierarchies and conflicts among parents, and the young adult novel Boys, Girls & Other Hazardous Materials. She is the author of the Owning Up Curriculum, a comprehensive social justice program for grades 6-12 which is in widespread use across the country. She also writes the monthly “Ask Rosalind” column in Family Circle magazine, and is a regular contributor to several blogs and websites.

Each year Wiseman works with tens of thousands of students, educators, parents, counselors, coaches, and administrators to create communities based on the belief that each person has a responsibility to treat themselves and others with dignity. In 2011, she was one of the principal speakers at the White House Summit on Bullying. Other audiences have included the American School Counselors Association, International Chiefs of Police, American Association of School Administrators, and countless schools throughout the US and abroad.

National media regularly depends on Wiseman as the expert on ethical leadership, media literacy, and bullying prevention. She is a consultant for Cartoon Network’s Speak Up, Stop Bullying Campaign and has been profiled in The New York Times, People, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and USA Today. Wiseman is a frequent guest on The Today Show, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN, Good Morning America, and NPR affiliates throughout the country. She also serves as an advisor to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

A sought-after speaker on bullying, parenting, ethical leadership, and the use of social media, Wiseman’s presentations transcend cultural and economic boundaries in her appeal to ensure children’s and teenagers’ well being. Her engaging and forthright delivery promises to capture audiences and inspire them to build positive relationships among each other

Praise | Awards


“Rosalind Wiseman, who so insightfully explained the world of girls in Queen Bees and Wannabes, has done it again. This book is a powerful exploration of the inner life of boys, which is far more complex than many parents and educators may realize.  Wiseman reveals the unwritten rules boys must both abide by and try to overcome, and she helps parents understand boys’ reactions, as well as their own.  This is an essential guide – not just for parents but anyone who wants to better understand their own childhood and its impact.”
--Anderson Cooper
“This book is a gem. Rosalind Wiseman offers readers deep, nuanced, up-to-the-minute insight into today's boy. She explains how and why boys, in so many areas, make it easy for parents and educators to miss out on their suffering and their strength. Most important, she shows how to reach out and lift boys up without getting on their nerves.”
--Wendy Mogel, PhD, author of the New York Times bestseller The Blessing of a Skinned Knee
"Rosalind Wiseman, the well-known ‘girl expert,’ has a real feel for the inner life of boys, and for the way they interact with their parents. Her new book, Masterminds and Wingmen, contains some of the best advice for communicating with boys that I’ve ever read: wise, clear and tough. The brilliant chapter on why boys lies to their parents is alone worth the price of the book.”
--Michael Thompson, coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys

 “Trying to communicate with boys – teenage boys especially -- can sometimes feel like cracking the world’s most complicated secret code. What makes Masterminds and Wingmen so remarkable is how thoroughly it decrypts boy-world language.  It allows us to really connect with boys.  If you want to understand what’s in your son’s head, read this book!
 --Michael Gurian, New York Times bestselling author of The Wonder of Boys
“Rosalind Wiseman is perhaps America's foremost guide through the complex social hierarchies and cruel logics that govern adolescents' lives.  And Masterminds and Wingmen maps the foreign territory of boys’ social and interior emotional lives as deftly and compassionately as Wiseman’s earlier book on girls.  With clear analysis and down-to-earth practical advice, this book will guide many many conversations between parents and their sons.”
 --Michael Kimmel, author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men
"Rosalind Wiseman brings a distinctive perspective and voice to whatever issue she takes up. She did it in Queen Bees and Wannabes. Now she's done it again, revealing the inner workings of 'Boy World.' I found the book insightful and useful, as both a father to sons and as a professional working with violent youth who must deal with the most serious life issues facing other people's sons."
--James Garbarino, PhD, author of Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them
“Don't even try parenting, teaching or coaching a boy without reading Wiseman's book -- a field manual that you’ll absolutely need if you wish to enter the strange and wondrous world of guys.”
--Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That's Leaving Them Behind
“The world bombards boys with confusing and destructive messages – the net result is the creation of characters instead of young men with character.  Masterminds and Wingmen will help parents, teachers, and coaches understand young boys and make a difference in their lives.  An intriguing read.”
--Dr. Kevin Leman, author of Have a New Kid by Friday

From the Hardcover edition.


WINNER 2013 Books for a Better Life Book Award
Reader's Guide

About the Book

Masterminds & Wingmen overall:
-What message or idea from the Masterminds has stuck with you the most?
-Have you changed your parenting style as a result of anything you’ve read?
-Was there a quote or comment from one of the boy editors that you could resonate with?
-Have you ever had an experience with your son that you wanted to ask other people about but you didn’t. What do you think stopped you?

Chapters One-Three: It’s Time to Enter Boy World, Why Doesn’t Batman Ever Smile?, Popularity and Groups
One goal of this book is to get the reader connected to the mindset of a boy growing up today. One of the best ways to do that is to remember meaningful (both positive and negative) experiences when the reader was growing up.
-When you were growing up, what gave you social status in your community? Do you remember a guy who best represented this image? Do you remember his name? Is it the same or different for your son or boys in your community today?
-Who did you look up to in school? In the community? What did these people come to be in life? Do you still look up to them?
-When you were growing up, how did you know what social status you had? Did someone tell you about your social status or did something happen where you learned about it yourself?
-What do you think people remember about you when you were a teen or a boy?
On page 34 a mom strongly voices an opinion when a boy in her car calls another boy “gay” and “retarded.” What stops us from confidently expressing ourselves when our children are around others, or even when it is just you and your son?"

For some people, the boy role descriptions can be hard to read because they all seem negative. Readers look for and ask about the positive leader and wish he was included in these roles. The boy editors didn’t want to list a role as the “positive leader” because they believed most parents would stop reading the other descriptions and assume that’s what their son was. These roles are also specific to a dynamic: when boys are in conflict with each other or one person is powering over another. Remember boys’ roles can change based on their environment or circumstance. Like a Mastermind who makes varsity as a freshmen and is now surrounded by older boys or a boy that can be one way with his neighborhood group and another way at school. And boys’ roles aren’t life sentences. Masterminds can realize the price of their arrogance and inability to have genuine relationships. Punching bags can learn to stand up to their friends and flies can realize that people will like them if they stop trying so hard. And strange as it may seem, Champions don’t usually like walking around thinking they are these morally upstanding people all the time.

 Chapter Four: Six-Packing
-Did it surprise you to see how often we talk about girls and body image but we don’t do the same for boys?
-Can you see how boys’ body image has changed since you were a boy?
-What do you think are effective ways to talk to your son about these topics?
-Do you think men should?

Chapters Five-Eight: Breaking Through the Wall, Lying and Reconnaissance, Rage Against the Machine, Our Parenting Profile
One of the editors commented, “The problem with the advice adults give us is that they never consider social status as part of the issue.” What’s the best way to give advice where the parent acknowledges the possible social consequences of whatever action the child takes and still reinforces the value of conducting oneself ethically and honorably?
-What is your reaction to Avery’s quote on pg 102?
My mom thinks that my older brother is the more truthful person and he lies all the time. He just knows how to get away with it. When I lie I always get caught. I’m a terrible liar. After he lies, I will go to him and say why did you lie and he’ll say because I am just that good. I get so mad and I want to tell my mom and she has already laid down the law and doesn’t want to hear it. When he thinks I’m lying it feels like I am trapped so I Just say obviously you think I’m lying you got what you wished so give me the punishment. But I do hold a grudge about and that’s what I don’t tell her anything.
-Have you experienced what Avery’s talking about with boys in your life? How do you think this impacts boys’ relationships with adults in their lives? Is it confusing that boys have talked extensively about how much they lie or deceive and then get frustrated when their parents or other adults don’t believe them?
-Could you relate to the different types of lying that the boys described?
On page 193 the subject of teasing boys is discussed. The Landmine asks, “What do you tease your son about? Does he like it? How do you know?” What do you think about Rosalind’s advice about how to approach a boy in this situation? Did any adult relentlessly tease you as a child? How did you handle it?  
-Parents will always embarrass their kids and in Masterminds, Rosalind describes the difference between good embarrassment and bad embarrassment. Do you have a sense of how your son is embarrassed with you? If so, how did you son respond and did you talk to him about it after?
-What do you think is the most difficult aspect of raising boys for parents to be honest about?

Chapters Nine & Ten: Social Networking, Video Killed the Radio Star
-What video games did you play when you were young?
-What games do you play now if any?
-What games does your child play? Do they play online?
-Is it hard to establish and follow through on rules you set for media and technology?
What are some of the success ways you have talked to your child about technology and how you expect him to behave while using it?
-Parents often wrap together talking with their sons about inappropriate use of technology with respecting women and girls. In Masterminds, the word dignity is usually used instead of respect to communicate that everyone inherently should be treated with worth. This is because the boys often see respect being overused or when adults are lecturing them. How do you feel about using dignity instead of the word respect?
-If you found your son participating in humiliating someone with technology (including forwarding) how do you think is the best way to approach him about it?

Chapters Eleven-Thirteen: Friendly Fire, Frontal Assault
-Have you watched your son (or daughter) have a friendship that you really didn’t like?
Why? Have you communicated to him what you feel? Looking back, what do you think your son took away from what you said?
-If you grew up around physical fighting, how does that influence what you want your son to do in a similar situation? What type of fighting have you seen? Did you or other people in your family get into fights when you were a child or boy? If you hate fighting, how do you think that has come across to your son?
What do you think about the statement, “Fighting is never the answer.” What do you think the other person you are parenting with thinks about that statement?
In the Redemption chapter, have you gone through an experience where your son really messed up that you can laugh about now? What did you want him to learn from his mistake?
Did it surprise you to read how often boys say racial slurs to each other? Do you think it’s possible for your son and his friends to say similar comments?
There’s a section called the Gray Area, where the rules about drinking are discussed. Do you think Rosalind’s advice is realistic? If not, why not? 

Chapters Fourteen: No Man’s Land
What do you think are the particular challenges more socially inflexible or sensitive boys experience?
 In this chapter there is specific advice about what parents should say to “neurotypical” children. Was that advice realistic or unrealistic to you and why?

Chapter Fifteen: Field of Play
What has surprised you about your reactions to your son’s involvement (or lack thereof) with sports? What has surprised you about other people’s reaction?
What first comes to mind when you remember walking into your school locker room for the first time?
After reading this chapter what do you think you need to tell your son?  
Chapter Sixteen: Outward Bound
How and when should dads talk to their son about homophobia?  
Do dads have a special responsibility to talk to their sons in case their sons may be gay? Do they have a responsibility to talk to their sons even if they think their son is straight?
 If you were overheard a child saying something homophobic, would you say something to them--even if you knew your child really didn’t want you to?

Chapter Seventeen & Eighteen: Girl World and Girl Troubles
Moms: How has your son seen you handle confrontation in general but specifically with men? (Teachers—students)
Dads: How has your son seen you handle confrontation in general but specifically with men in comparison to women?
Do you talk to your sons about periods etc? Why or why not?
 What kind of relationships/interactions do you have, if any, with your son’s girl friends or girlfriends?

Parting Thoughts:
During the book tour, I spoke with a father and he followed up our conversation with this letter:
“I am a father of two sons and a daughter. You said, ‘Locker rooms are tough situations…Those moments are seared into people’s memories.’ You caught me with my guard down because, before I could stop myself, I was remembering locker room horrors of when I was on the football team as a freshman in high school. While you were talking, I became self-conscious and embarrassed because tears were welling up in my eyes. I attended a Catholic school that was so small they combined the varsity and B-squad in the same practices. Since we practiced together, we used the locker room at the same time. The verbal, psychological and physical abuse showered on us in the locker room was a routine part of our school day.
“The team had two coaches—men who were also our teachers. One taught us science and the other taught us English. I had grown to respect and trust them, but when they put on their coaching hats I didn’t recognize them. After the second or third practice, I made the mistake of going to my English teacher for support and comfort. It turned out to be a most painful and humiliating experience: His tough-guy rebuff left me feeling hurt and deeply betrayed. I think that was the point in my life when I vowed to NEVER ask for help again—especially from men.
“For me to admit to my dad that I was scared and intimidated into joining the team—and then staying on the team—was taboo. To have a wimp for a son was intolerable. I would have rather chopped off one of my hands than to let my mother know what was going on. Every single day of the season I wanted to quit, but the fear of public shame and humiliation always stopped me. I remember the massive feeling of relief after we played our last game and turned in our jerseys and equipment.  
“Over the years the intense social pressure to prove that I am a man NEVER let up. In college I joined a fraternity and went through a semester of hazing to be accepted into the brotherhood. I joined the U.S. Marine Corps and proved I was a man by surviving their boot camp and being promoted to sergeant in an infantry company.
“The man code of constantly proving oneself kept right on going when I joined the business world. So many times it is portrayed as healthy competition that keeps our economy vibrant and strong. I don’t agree. I say it is destructive and dysfunctional. It fosters distrust, enormous stress and superficial relationships, and leaves men feeling exhausted and intensely lonely. By the time I was in my 40s I’d had enough and began tentatively searching out other men who might feel the same. I eventually found them, but there were many years when it felt like I was searching for a needle in a haystack. 11 My persistence has paid off because I am now actually starting to trust some of the men in my life and consider them to be true friends. This is something brand-new to me.
“I think that the man code is deeply embedded in our culture and has been for centuries—if not millennia. But I believe that if enough men become aware of how destructive it is, we can create a systems shift. I think it’s crucial that men model this empowering way of life to other men and boys. Words are important, but actions are even more powerful.”
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