Fire in the Belly

Jeremy Sharp, PhD men's issues Leave a Comment

I’m borrowing today’s title from a book by Sam Keen, a former philosophy professor and contributing editor to Psychology Today. The full title is Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man. I was suggested this book by a co-worker at CU-Boulder (thanks, Matt) about six months ago as we were co-leading a men’s group together. Keen writes on several topics related to masculinity – relationships, spirituality, work, and purpose are just a few. But the ideas that stood out most to me at that time in my life and continue to do so are his words on the necessity of male friendship.

According to Keen, all men need male friendship to function as complete and whole individuals. Keen describes his own experience in a “men’s group” – a leaderless group of 7-8 guys who’ve gotten together once a week for several years to talk about anything and everything. He says that the group has kept several of the men alive over the years as they struggled through various life issues – substance use, divorce, depression, challenges of fatherhood. He speaks of the group in an almost sacred way. And while he writes from a heterosexist perspective, I couldn’t agree more with his message.

I’ve been lucky enough over the past seven or eight years to be part of a group of men much like Keen’s. We don’t meet in person, but we maintain a message board online that’s allowed us to stay close as we’ve drifted to different parts of the country. We post to the board almost daily – joking with one another, sharing music and movie recommendations, talking some often-needed nonsense. Over the years, the posts have taken on more reflective tones as we’ve shared about struggles and triumphs in our relationships and careers. Now we talk often of marriages and the children who are turning us into fathers and uncles. I would do anything for any one of the men in this group. The cameraderie and support is such a valuable piece of my life – it keeps me sane, gives me a place to share the emotional stuff that would otherwise stay inside, and definitely helps keeps my marriage healthy.

When I work with men in therapy, one of the first things I ask about is their support system, particularly their male support system. And if they don’t have a good one, part of our work always includes building that network. A well-known author on masculinity (Michael Kimmel, I believe – don’t quote me though) has said that men in the United States embody the idea of being “heterosexual but homosocial.” Many men are afraid of emotional intimacy with one another yet crave this type of relationship in their lives. In leading a men’s group at the University of Colorado, I found that men just need permission to get together and share deeper stuff. Once they learned that it was okay to be vulnerable, it was unstoppable. This is a big reason why I don’t subscribe to the pop-culture idea that men have less emotional capacity than women or don’t connect “that way.” I think men certainly have the desire and the capacity to connect on an emotional level. It’s a hope of mine to get a men’s group going here in Fort Collins as well, simply because I know how meaningful it can be.

Thoughts or comments are always welcome  🙂


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