A book about setting men free

by Steve Biddulph,
Finch Publishing, Sydney
Paperback, 212 pages.
ISBN 0 646 17303 0

Steve Biddulph is best known as the author of "The Secret of Happy Children", a very popular book about raising children published in 1984 and still selling well. Since then he has written "The Making of Love" and "More secrets of happy children".

Steve Biddulph has a great talent for sifting through other thinkers' ideas, picking out the good bits, drawing on his own personal and professional experience to fill in the gaps, and, most importantly, expressing the result using no more words than necessary.

Manhood is no exception. Once again, he has distilled the best elements out of the works of leading thinkers in the field, added some original ideas, and put them down in a form that every reader can immediately understand.

The book takes the form of a practical guide for men who want to transform their lives by taking what the author calls the "Seven Steps to Manhood" -

  • "Fixing it" with your father
  • Finding sacredness in your sexuality
  • Meeting your wife on equal terms
  • Engaging actively with your kids
  • Learning to have real male friends
  • Finding your heart in your work
  • Freeing your wild spirit

Each step is covered by a chapter ending with a summary of the key points, and, most importantly, a clear list of suggested actions.

Manhood is a good introduction to the men's movement in all its diversity. Steve Biddulph draws heavily on the work of Robert Bly, best known as author of Iron John. By analysing the mythical story of Iron John, Bly explores the process by which boys become fully-functional men. The relationship between boys or men and their fathers is the main focus of the story - boys need a father-figure to show them how to become a man; the modern reality is that boys are raised by women and don't get the fathering they need. "Father hunger" is an important concept for men to come to terms with, but I found the language and sheer volume of Iron John rather heavy going. I fear most readers would give up before Bly gets to the point.

Steve Biddulph, however, captures the gist of Bly in a very down-to-earth way. He does not require his readers to be academic, poetic or New Age in order to relate to his material. He addresses the common denominators of manhood in a profoundly practical and approachable way. For example, he tells the reader in simple terms how to satisfy their father hunger.

I also found that Manhood echoed a lot of the ideas presented by Warren Farrell in The Myth of Male Power. Again, Steve Biddulph manages to explain in a few paragraphs what Farrell took hundreds of pages to say. Steve Biddulph says that "men are not winners. There are very few happy men. Men and women are co-victims in a pattern of living and relating that is in drastic need of revision. Simply blaming men doesn't change a thing. We need help to change ourselves. That is where the Men's Movement comes in." Unlike Warren Farrell, Steve Biddulph makes his point without setting men up as victims, and his tone is neither apologetic nor angry.

In keeping with his earlier books, Steve Biddulph could well have called this book "The secret of happy men". He knows that many of the major social crises we are now facing will not go away until men stop feeling lost, trapped and miserable. I recommend this book to both men and women who are open to learning the "Secret of happy men". Selected quotes from Manhood:

Quotes from Manhood, by Steve Biddulph

"... men, too, need to become orgasmic, as opposed to just ejaculatory. One way to start is by placing less emphasis on the mechanical outer performances or actions, and more on the inner qualities of sensory and emotional experience. We men feel pretty lucky if our partner asks what we would like to do in bed. But the most magical women is the one who asks what we would like to feel."

"It's not possible to build a new identity on an inferiority complex. We had black pride, gay pride, women's pride but men were supposed to start out with shame."

"The result of this lack of male contact [for boys] is a problem we are all aware of: that in today's world, little boys just grow into bigger little boys. These emotional children in adult bodies then spend their lives pretending. The loneliness of this and the confusion - not knowing how to be comfortable with one's feelings or how to be close to others just makes the pretending more compulsive and more isolating. The loneliness of men is something women rarely understand."

"Good friends [at times of relationship crisis] will listen to you talk about your problems but they also have fun, take you 'up the bush', eat, cook and play. They will also - when the time is right - point out that it's time you got back to your family and sorted things out. It's as if male friends and elders bathe your wounds, refresh you, give you a hug and then throw you back into the ring!"

"If your father is dead, then you might have to 'dig him up'. Here are some ways:

  • Write a letter to him as if he were alive.
  • Visit the significant places in his life.
  • Talk to others who might know more about him.
  • Decide to dream about him.
  • Talk with a male counsellor about him, in order to reactivate your feelings and recollections."

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