Welcome back to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast! This week we talk to Wayne Levine, founder of BetterMen.org and a mentor for men looking to get their life back on track. He also leads men’s retreats and facilitates men’s groups. Wayne has also written a book called Hold on to Your N.U.Ts: The Relationship Manual for Men. It’s a good read and I highly recommend it. Some of you might be familiar with Wayne’s articles here on the site.
In this interview, we talk about mentoring, the problems modern men face, and his work helping men become better.
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another episode of The Art of Manliness podcast. Now, men today face a variety of challenges and personal struggles, many feel that their life if empty, the relations with women hurting and that they just do not have any control over their lives. What steps can a man could take to turn their life around? How can they start feeling like the man they’ve always wanted to be?
Well, our guest today is in the business of helping men find the answer to these questions. His name is Wayne Levine, and many of you might be familiar with some of his work here on The Art of Manliness website. Wayne is the founder and director of the West Coast Men Center, where he coaches and mentors men and facilitates men’s groups. He is also the author of the book Hold On to Your N.U.T.s, the relationship guide for men and he earned his Masters’ in Clinical Physiology from Antioch University in Los Angeles, and Wayne lives in Oak Park, California with his wife of 25 years. Wayne, welcome to the show.
Wayne Levine: Thanks for having me Brett.
Brett McKay: Well, it’s good speaking to you again and so Wayne, men’s coaching, tell us tittle bit how you got involved with working with men.
Wayne Levine: I got involved with men at a time when I had no men in my life, except for the guys who I was working with and some of my employees and one of my guys said, hey you should come to this open house we’re having and I knew that he had something to do with some sort of men’s group, but I did not have any details. So, I went to this open house that these guys were having, and I gathered in this hall, which was like 40 or 50 men and we started off by playing war ball inside this place and it was insane.
Brett McKay: What is war ball?
Wayne Levine: War ball is like dodge ball inside with more than one ball. Crazy, right?
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Wayne Levine: So, balls are flying all over the place, off the walls and then they started talking about some issues that are going on amongst the men and I heard them talking in a way that I had never heard men talking before. I do not remember any of the specific content, this was a long time ago now, in the early 1990’s, but I thought I don’t know what is going on here, but I want some of this and all of a sudden that night I could feel that there was some solution to this problem that I have been carrying, this cyclical feeling I would have of missing something, this isolation.
I had a wife and I had two little kids and everything was fine in the business, but I was lonely oftentimes. I did not have guys to hang out with and I could just see guys on the other side of the street working in their garages thinking how come I’m not with them, what is going on. So, it began this journey where I did a men’s weekend, was involved with these guys for long time and learned about myself, learned what it meant for me to be a man in a company of these other guys and it put me on this path that now that is what I am doing all the time and it is pretty remarkable because back when I was 32, 33, I had no close relationships with men and now I’ve got more than I’m able to deal with.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. So Wayne, how is exactly what you do different from traditional therapy, you say you are not a therapist, but you are a counselor or a coach. What is the difference?
Wayne Levine: Well, I went to school to get my Masters in clinical psych and the plan was to become a marriage family therapist. When I went to school, I found out pretty quickly that being a therapist, may not be the thing I wanted to do because I found that they weren’t teaching me anything about men, none of the students were learning anything specifically about the needs of men and we were learning about every population out there, young, old, of color, gay, lesbian, everyone had attention given to them, except men and so it became clear that I needed to find another way of sort of presenting myself. So, although I was very close to become an licensed therapist, I decided not to and one of the other reasons I did not that because there are very strict rules, especially in California around what therapists can and cannot do.
And one of the things therapists can’t do is have dual relationship with their patients, meaning that the only relationship I can have with you is therapist-patient. That’s it. But my original vision was to build a community of men of which I was a part, so I had no interest in having patients, I just wanted to work with men and so it was a whole different way of looking at it and so far the guys in this area are responding to that and a lot of these men who have come for help have become friends and they become, they were volunteers on the men’s weekend that we do and we are doing things together and we are building community and we are doing things with our families together. So, it has nothing to do with therapy, it has nothing to do with the diagnosis. It just guys getting together and taking care of each other.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. You mentioned that when you were going to school that there wasn’t a lot of stuff out there in the textbooks or in the classes on men’s issues, so how did you find out, how did you learn how to deal with men apart from being a man, your own experience, what did you do to kind of find out how to deal with men?
Wayne Levine: Well, I think that looking back now, I can see that this has been my spiritual journey. I’m doing my higher purpose work now, so there was something that was driving me that was sort of out of my control, I think the whole time. My father died when I was nine, so I grew up without a father and it’s fairly ironic to see that I am now father to many men and I’ve been looking for that all my life, and I think that that search for father led me on the search to take care of myself, to figure out what it means to be fathered, what I was missing and after I did the men’s work the weekend and I was involved with these guys for couple for years, I learned a lot of tools. I saw hundreds of men dealing with their issues and I learned how they were being helped to find the truth to commitment to being held accountable with these other men.
And that’s really where I got my chops and then of course, I read all the books out there from the 1990s about men’s work and communities of men and then I think, really I rely mostly on my own experiences and I figured whatever helped me will probably help a lot of other men because as special as I once thought I was, through this work I’ve realized that I’m not so special. I am very much like the other guys. The details of my life are uniquely mine, but we get distracted by the details and for the most part, I think 95%, we all respond to the same things because we have a lot of the same needs.
Brett McKay: I imagine you’ve seen hundreds and maybe even thousands of men with your work, what are some of the biggest problems that you see facing men today that reoccur in the people that you meet with?
Wayne Levine: I work with men, but I also work with couples, I work with women and fathers and sons, and so I’ve gotten a pretty comprehensive view of what is going on for the guys. The first thing that comes to mind is isolation. Men are isolated from each other. They are isolated from each other now a days because of career, because of geography, because of the Internet, because our culture does not support us to get together in a lot of the places where men used to gather no longer exit. We are isolated because we are taught that we need to do things by ourselves and we have very distorted views of what it is to be a man, so guys are isolated by their confusion and by their shame and the sense of weakness that asking for help is somehow unmanly. So, the best thing that happens in circles like ours, a better man is that we bring the men together. I mean, if you just bring men together, you are more than half way there. So, all the groups and churches and temples and everywhere where they get together, that is the most important step.
Brett McKay: So, why are male relationships so important? You seem like you’ve been talking about this a lot, why is that so important?
Wayne Levine: Well, men these days are highly feminized, which means that we view the world through our mother’s eyes, through women’s eyes. And that happens because of what happens in our families, it happens because of what mass media presents us with and because as boys, a lot of us did not have and continue to not have enough masculine influence in our lives, we’re feminized and so one of the things that we need is to be initiated into manhood. Now, that initiation needs to happen just naturally back in the day up until the 1800’s in the industrial revolution, boys were brought up by men, they were raised by the men. Men were close to home, the boys were taught traits, they were taught what was expected of them as men in their community by their fathers and uncles and grandfathers and brothers and neighbors. When men started going off to work, the women started raising the boys and I think that is where the imbalance began. So, we cannot learn how to be the best men we can be, unless we are in the company of other men. That make senses?
Brett McKay: Yeah. That makes perfect sense. So, you talked about you have these men’s groups, what do you do, you say like getting a group of men together is half the battle. What is the second half?
Wayne Levine: Well, in our groups, I facilitate them and so, we check in and we find out quickly what is going on with the men and I fathered a man, I teach the man a certain way of asking tough questions, holding each other accountable, minimizing the advice and just finding out what’s going on with the man, and what happens is now the other men learn how to do that and so, we start feeling more comfortable in the company of men. We start opening up to help whatever it looks like. We start growing comfortable with trusting our own guts, which is something most men get to a point where they’re not trusting their instincts anymore, so it takes time to start trusting what’s going inside of us.
So, being with the men helps us to work all that out and what we say all the time is how you show a peer meeting in our circle of men is really how you’re showing up everywhere. So, all the things that you do that sort of tear your relationship down, all the things that you’re doing that aren’t working with your kids, all the problems in your life will eventually show up in the circle of men and we can respond to it and you can get honest feedback and then you can get some ideas on how to change it and be that man and husband and father that you would like to be.
Brett McKay: And apart from the isolation that a lot of men are facing these days and not being initiated into manhood, what are some other problems that you see men are facing these days?
Wayne Levine: Well, one of the biggest issue that we’re dealing with all the time is subject of the book that I wrote and it is a relationship manual for men. So, men for the most part, they do not have the tools they needed to be the men they want to be in their long-term relationships. Whatever they learned from their mom and dads in terms of what it means to be a man, what a relationship or marriage looks like, a lot of us did not see very good examples and so we go out in the world and we just keep repeating it. As much as a lot of men would prefer not being like their fathers, they end up being like their fathers. And so, we teach tools for them to understand how to behave with their women, how to take care of their women without compromising who they are, so obviously a lot of our time is spent dealing with that main relation.
Brett McKay: Going back to the initiation, you talked about how it happened actually and we have talked about that on our own side about rights of passage that used to happen naturally, so what can men do now to be initiated a manhood because a lot of men do not go to church where there is usually lots of different types of rights of passages where boys become into men, lots of men are joining up in a fraternal organizations where there is once a right a passage. So what do we do now?
Wayne Levine: Right. Well, a lot what happens, lot of the ceremony that happens in organized religion really has very little to do with manhood, I mean, it’s more these days about the party and compare and keeping with the Jones, especially in the Jewish community with Bar Mitzvah, a lot of it is really empty. What men could do now is there are men’s weekends and they will be treated all over mankind project has a weekend, a betterman.org, we have our weekend. Sterling men’s weekend is still going on. There are a lot of guys out there who are doing things and at these initiatory weekends, it’s the beginning of an initiation process. Obviously, it is only 24, 48 or 72 hours. It is not like the old tribal initiations where the boys were taken out for weeks or months at a time and did really put through the paces, but it is a beginning. And I think what men need to know is that they can be initiated into manhood, they can feel very differently about themselves as man, but they have to be committed for really for the rest of their lives. They have to be committed to this journey of learning because once you are 30, 40, 50 years old, it takes real effort to learn new behaviors and to see yourself differently and to be consistent, so that the rest of the world responds to you differently. So, doing a men’s weekend, being a in a men’s group, doing reading, reaching out to the men in your life, revealing yourself, opening up, telling the truth and getting past the shame that there is really anything inside of you that should not be explored and that cannot be shared with another man who is on the same path.
Brett McKay: Excellent. So, we will be talking little bit of some of the problems that men are facing, we have isolation and just problems in general with relationships with women. What are some things that men can do today, right way to start turning their life around
Wayne Levine: Well, at the risk of repeating myself, it is looking for the relationships they already have with men and deepening them, going to your father and thanking him for doing a great job and for helping to make you a success and being with him on his terms and getting help to let go over the anger and so counseling is good. So, guys need to do that, but I would really encourage men to look for male counselors and those male counselors need to be men who have done their own work and that are really firmly planted in their masculinity. I think it’s a real trap for men to go to women counselors. I think that men need men and so, we need to fight for that so. And I think that those guys who are fathers, spend time with your sons, you are being an example to them in everything you do, every day and so getting together with other men who have boys of your age, going out and having fun, and opening up and putting into practice, and making some of those changes and being that father that you wished you had. I think that’s another good thing that can happen.
Brett McKay: Definitely. So Wayne, just from your experience dealing with men, what are some kind of characteristics that men have who have been initiated into manhood? I mean, is there is something like defining characteristics; you even look at that man and say that man is comfortable with his masculinity and he is a man.
Wayne Levine: Well, I think that we innately feel that when we are in the presence of a fully realized man. When you are with somebody and you are like, I want to be like that guy or I like being around this guy. So, what are the qualities of those men that you really like being around, well they listen. They are not fully in their egos, they understand commitment, you can count on them, their word means something, they understand the differences between men and women and they do not treat you like a women, and they do not treat their women like men. These are just some of the things I have on top of my head. That’s a really important sort of notion of treating men like men. We are not brought up understanding that. As boys for left alone, boys will treat boys like boys, they get it and they will treat girls very differently, but somehow that gets lost along the way and the way we deal with each other as men can be fantastic and I think a lot of that is lost these days because we have to treat everyone the same. There is no difference. It’s deconstruction of genders, just apalling to me.
Brett McKay: And usually, it means like treating everyone like a woman, that’s what, I mean…
Wayne Levine: Well, more so, of course, because when you are going to do punch a woman in the arm and say what’s going on, right.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Wayne Levine: But for men, it is okay to do that sometimes, right. There are things that we do with men, there are things that we do as men that we need to do, that would be ridiculous for women to be involved with, like I can’t give you details, but we do some of that on our weekend. [Laughter] Believe me, if my wife could see the idiocy on our men’s weekend, but she has an understanding of that, she knows that we are very different and she does not care what I do as long as I’m happy doing it.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Wayne Levine: And I think good women all over feel that way and want to support their men that way.
Brett McKay: Especially, if they see the results in their own lives and the relationship they have with their men.
Wayne Levine: That’s all that matters and so healthy women that’s all they care about. Those women who are just busting balls because they are so insure, they’re not doing their men any good and of course, it is an indication that the men are not taking care of their women either, but as I am working with women more and more, there are some women’s group going on and I have a feeling I will have more women that I don’t know what to do and they need to learn a few tools about how to not burst your men’s balls and what it really means to support that because it is very difficult for the men to get over these wounds, especially the father wound that we deal with and so we all have something to learn.
Brett McKay: Definitely. Well, Wayne, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us. It was very interesting and hopefully, we all learned something and take something from this.
Wayne Levine: I appreciate talking to you and your audience, men and women at Art of Manliness were terrific and when I have done writings and gotten their comments and it’s always been a great dialog, so I appreciate what you are doing.
Brett McKay: Thank you, Wayne.
Our guest today was Wayne Levine. Wayne is the founder of bettermen.org where he coaches and mentors men and facilitates in men’s groups. If you would like to find out more about Wayne and his work, check out bettermen.org.
That wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manliness tips and advice, make sure to check back at The Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com and remember we got a book on sale too, it’s The Art of Manliness Classic Skills and Manners For the Modern Man, you could find it at amazon.com or any other major bookstore, and for more information about the book, check out the website at artofmanlines.com/the book. And until next week, stay manly.