Perhaps the most surprising and rewarding response to my book on men’s spirituality came from my next door neighbor. We had exchanged pleasantries but both being introverts and having very different social and vocational circles, we did not have a lot of obvious common interests around which to bond until one summer when the slope between our houses desperately needed some attention. We cleared some brush together and since he had a truck we drove to get a few loads of mulch to put down. This gave us an opportunity to converse more than we ever had in the few years we had lived side by side. I learned about his life as an airplane mechanic with its geographical twists and turns from South Africa to various places in Canada. He even began to share about some of the pain in his childhood and a previous marriage and then on to present struggles with a blended family; I reciprocated by talking about my life. At one point, he stopped me and said, “I know, I’ve read your book.” This took me by complete surprise because I had never told him I had written a book and he did not strike me as the type who would read books, never mind books on men’s spirituality.

Men often find it difficult to be vulnerable, as I did when including some personal experiences in the book. Sometimes it is even more difficult to be vulnerable with the man right next door! I made the false assumption that we had nothing in common because he was an airline mechanic and I was an academic; he fixed cars as a hobby and I wrote poetry. We did not realize that underneath we had some deep similarities as men who sometimes felt insecure and had experienced pain. We had to strip off the masks of having it all together, then we had to let go of the idea that our primary identity is what we do for work, and then finally we could get to the tender layers underneath. We were both men in pain and once we saw this commonality, a deeper relationship began to form.

For most of human history men have been the warriors and leaders but I think we have finally begun to know ourselves deeper as men since women showed us the way in the feminist movement. Women began to identify their worth apart from men which made men begin to reflect on their own identity as men. For most of history men have been pathetically un-self-aware. The “#metoo” movement has confronted certain men with the pain they have caused but also the pain that men have inflicted on women in general. Harvey Weinstein may be the one on trial right now but all men are culpable to some degree. Part of why men have been violent and abusive is because we have never been able to deal with our own insecurity, pain, and brokenness; instead we cover it with workaholism, social bravado, and domestic aggression. It is vital for men’s spiritual identity to begin to acknowledge the depth of our pain and brokenness.